Friday, January 12, 2007

Developing Rural Sierra Leone

There is a huge misconception among many Sierra Leoneans that once things are okay in Freetown, Sierra Leone is okay.  This misconception led many to deny there were rebels in Sierra Leone until rebels finally ransacked Freetown.  Following the war millions of dollars were donated to various charities in Sierra Leone to help develop the country, but most of that money ended in Freetown, leaving rural Sierra Leone to continue to wallow in poverty and disease.  But unless there is rural development in Sierra Leone, the country will continue to be poor and underdeveloped.  There are a few steps we all can take to improve the conditions of our “upline” dwellers.

The first line of action that will boost rural development is to decentralize government and private agencies and have them operate in various parts of the country.  It makes no sense for one to travel all the way from Daru to Freetown to get an identity card, passport or an airline ticket.  There should be offices in the provinces to handle these issues.  Moving those offices to the provinces will also move some jobs with them and that will alleviate the current overpopulation of Freetown without adequate housing. Even the University of Sierra Leone should have campuses in all the three provincial capitals of Makeni, Bo and Kenema and that would allow many who could not make it to Njala or Freetown to still get a university education.

Another move that will benefit rural development is a good road network.  It is disheartening to see mangoes and oranges rut in villages during orange and mango season due to lack of transportation.  Today, thanks to a good highway between Makeni and Freetown, one could leave Makeni in the morning, go to Freetown for shopping and return to Makeni without much hassle.  If we have similar roads connecting Makeni and Bo, Kenema and Koidu and so forth, people in the provinces will be able to run businesses without traveling to Freetown.  This will help spur rural development.

 Another move which the current government and telecom industry are beginning to tackle is communication.  For years, one had to travel to Freetown to make an international call.  But now, thanks to mobile phones, one can call from most parts of the country.  There are also radio stations sprouting all over the country which is a positive development.  We still need to have electricity, health care and viable schools to improve the provinces. Private investors should also think seriously of investing in domestic flights that will the provinces to Freetown.  This boost trade and economic development.

Many will argue that there is no money to embark on the programs I have outlined above, but that is not the real issue.  What needs to happen in Sierra Leone is a change of heart.  We need to know that Sierra Leone belongs to all of us, not just city dwellers.  We have to find a way to sustain our villages so the hundreds of people who now roam Freetown without shelter or jobs can return to those villages and live healthy lives.  Until we help develop rural Sierra Leone, our country will continue to fare badly. 

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