Updates from Freetown | Zejeplay's Journal

I have been in Freetown for two weeks working on my research project. For two weeks now folks and life has been very eventful. Here is a quick summary of my initial observation. Transportation: Movement from one place to the other by any means is extremely slow and difficult. For starters, there are no sidewalks. Therefore, vehicles, Okadas and pedestrians all share very narrow pot-holed roads and it is more dangerous to walk than ride a car or okada. Speaking of Okadas, the[y] are here to stay–annoying and marauding, they no doubt control this city. They are the preferred method of transportation for many Freetonians, and particularly popular among our young women running “quick missions”. Unfortunately, very little has been done by the central govt. to regulate and more importantly generate any serious tax revenue from this bustling revenue base. Communication: Perhaps if there is anything that needs serious government regulation and an overhaul – it is definitely this area. S/Leoneans are being massively exploited by the numerous phone companies. I don’t know about the tariffs but as an end user, I am significantly feeling the pinch as subscribers (actually consumers) are punished for calling across networks. As perhaps one of the poorest nations on earth, the cost of communication here is almost prohibitive. The internet is painfully slow. It takes an average of 30-35 minutes for me to open a web-page on my Zain ISP on a regular day.
For some folks, it is even worse. The SLBC [Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation] had made some significant improvement in programing and quality compared to previous years – no doubt compared to most of the countries I have ever visited. More importantly, there are many programs, which address real problems like the recent violence in Kono and Bo; many of which [are] to the obvious discomfort of the ruling APC [All Peoples Congress party]. But it would seem like some of these initiatives are basically from new and younger journalists eager to make their mark. However, there is much to be desired. Electricity: This is perhaps the most improved sector of our development. I stay at Regent Road, Lumley. We have been getting electricity on an average of 15 to 20 hours daily. Sometimes, we get it throughout the day. At Lowcost Housing Estate, where I am doing my fieldwork, I see people watching TV and Nigerian movies during most of my visits. In fact, I watched Suna Nallo's visit with the president at one of these homes. This is very different from my last visit in May, 2009 when we only got electricity for about two days throughout my month and half visit.
Politics: Politics is definitely abuzz here and depending on who you talk to (or hang out with) political persuasion seems to swing in both direction. The SLPP [Sierra Leone Peoples Party -in opposition] folks ( I mean the politicians and their batolites) are very confident that Marda’s election presents the best opportunity for ousting EBK [Ernest Bai Koroma, president of Sierra Leone]. I visited “Stop Press” ( the SLPP social bastion) two days upon my arrival ( as I always do) and as usual it was reeling with many of their kind among them JJ Blood, John Ben, Andrew Keili, Emmanual Gaima, some of their legal folks and sympathetic journalists like my comrade Boozable, and a host of others coming at different times. At this joint, even a bottle of our local Star Beer is Leones 6.000.00, but no one seems to care as what they lose in cash, they certainly gain in political discuss. The atmosphere here seems cordial and would appear as if what ever cracks emanated from one of the hotly contested primaries seem to have dissipated – at least on the surface. During one of my recent visits, the violence in Bo ( which everyone is now familiar with) was a major topic of discourse. On my first visit, the SLPP folks were mainly engaged in the in the Fadika issue (which has been significantly outplayed by the APC media outlets). Some “strategists” believe that Fadika is contemplating cross-carpeting to the APC .
The popularity of EBK may have been significantly dissipated by the “below-par” economic performance of the government. Life is tough here – no exaggeration. The prices of staple food is almost prohibitive, and in part exacerbated by high transportation prices. Rice is Leones 180 thousand per bag among others. Petrol is almost Leones 5000 per liter ( roughly Leones 24 thousand/gallon). But S/Leoneans here are more concerned with “bread and butter” issues than the politics we “internet diasporans” mostly talk about. My “driver” ( Lets call him Joe) who picked me up from the airport is among the many folks who holds an apathetic view of our politics. A very young boy ( roughly 18), who should really be in school, ( as he sounded extremely intelligent) told me that he saw no difference between the two parties. Life for him and many others is extremely difficult here and he works in a garage as a “fitter” and sometimes drives when the opportunity avails itself. Sierra Leoneans are a very generous people, which sometimes explains in part why we have not been very successful business people – even as our presidents strives to “run the country as a business”. I asked Joe how much he charges per day to help me around and his classic response was - Bra anyting normor. Even when I insisted, he only insisted back. But, like Joe, most of our people here are willing to offer any service you request before even negotiating price. -- Zej, Freetown

Zej is the pen name of Steven Rogers. a Ph. D. Candidate in Urban Planning and Public policy and a Research Associate at the Institute of Urban Planning, University of Texas, Arlington.

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