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Lungi Ė Capital of Sierra Leone
By Isa Espadon Blyden, WABC-AFRICA Productions
Feb 24, 2009, 17:08
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Much as there is a general fondness for Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, it has outlived its function and even overall purpose as a center of administration. Most adversely situated, its currently failed infrastructure for transiting passengers between Freetown to Targrin Point has impacted on air transportation to the country where passengers who fly for thirteen hours to Sierra Leone spend another thirteen getting from Lungi to Freetown. (The ferry transit system was not designed, nor is it scheduled to accommodate airline passengers from other countries). The road to Lungi via Port Loko is a five-hour horrendous journey over rocks, ditch-like potholes, and the hovercraft is often non-functioning for prolonged periods of time. The Pam-Pam boat service that transfers the traditional economic population to and from Targrin Point is not always safe even though it is the most rapid of all the systems outside of the helicopter service that is also unsafe. So in fact, the inhabitants are almost landlocked!

The Lungi Sound on the other hand, presents greater potential as an administrative capital for Sierra Leone. From this point, direct access to all areas of the country is possible. It is much more viable economically and commercially than Freetown has ever been. Its existing infrastructure though scant, includes an airport. In order to realize the creation of Lungi as the capital, the construction of a six-lane highway and overpass is of the first order; a railroad is of the second. This highway would lead away from Lungi to key geo-political and commercial centers in the country. For example, one lane would lead to Mile 91 and thence the southeastern districts, one to Makeni, and thence Kabala and Kono; another to Masiaka, and one to Port Loko and thence Kambia and Guinea. It would be maintained by city, district and national road tolls paid by motorists at access points. A feasibility study for the construction of such a highway should be undertaken with the greatest rapidity since it should have been done after Sierra Leoneís independence in 1961, as well as one for the capital city layout with a view to embarking on its immediate realization. It could take as long as three years but less than five to complete with not only the political will, but also enthusiasm and support of the entire nation.

What are other benefits of Lungi as the potential capital of Sierra Leone? Easy and convenient access by air, land and sea is made possible. Lungi also has arable farmland and the major agriculture produce at present is oil palm, plantains, fruit, swamp rice and millet, palm wine, plantains, corn, rice and cassava when one takes the surrounding chiefdoms into consideration. The populationís major occupations are: farming, artisan, cattle rearing traditional masonry, fishing, and rice production. The soil is rich in red and yellow clay deposits. Its proximity to Lunsar for example, implies the presence of iron ore. Platinum, gold, copper and bronze may also be present, which could be the reason for British government interest in land purchase in this area through DFID.

Space is available for the creation of a center of administration and residential quarters for the ministers of staff. About 85 miles from Lungi is Barbera, a coastal fishing village with a skilled population in fishing. This offers possibilities for the development of a fishery on the Sound. The industrial zone at Kissy would be accessible and its expansion to include by-products from ginger, tombi, sorrel, or coconut beverages, a palm wine brewery, oil palm refinery, sugar, rice and groundnut oil factories would make Sierra Leone a more robust economic center and its products attractive export. It would also end the presumed poverty in all communities afflicted given the current international financial collapse.

Better infrastructure in Lungi for tourism would expand to include the Freetown Peninsula which has greater tourist potential. One thinks of ferry boat rides around the Peninsula, the Sound, or tours to historic islands that were once active commercial trade centers ĖTasso, Banana, Plantain, Bunce, to name but a few of the islands off the coast of the country east or west. .

At present, the current capital is suffering from the absence of public transportation incumbent by the Freetown City Council within the city and a disorganized transportation structure provided by private taxi and poda-poda companies. Congestion from the presence of a large residual population from the war which ended in 2002 breeds lawlessness, misery, miscreant children who beat up the police for example. An underlying tension that has even crept into the educational institutions (consistently degenerating since the end of the war and poorly addressed), where overcrowded spaces, electric shortages is affecting the growth and development of school children forced to suffer in such an environment. (One would have expected that given the amount of exposure and international experience, the former incumbent would have initiated greater innovation in postwar reconstruction out of concern for overall national welfare,( given the visible consequences of such neglect), as well as in those of security and electrification of the country).

Schools in the new capital Lungi would be constructed to accommodate the number of registered children so that there would be only one shift of study, and school buses would be available as a part of an organized and regulated transportation system to facilitate the capitalís inhabitants. There will be bookstores and libraries in the capital and after school study centers for children to participate in for a fee inclusive in the overall school fees. Teachersí salaries would be increased and allowances given to offset the expense of living in the capital, or alternatively a regular transit system to and from Freetown would be available. This is not a utopia but an imminent feasible project!

Taxis and "poda-podas" would be owned and provided by the city of Lungi and registered with the municipality in order to ensure accountability in the event of accidents, loss or theft by local taxi drivers common in Freetown at present. Market infrastructure inadequate and poorly facilitated to accommodate vendors has resulted in their spilling from the stalls onto the streets, sidewalks and buildings! Not so in the new capital Lungi! Large spaces for market infrastructure made available on the Targrin Sound, at Mahera, Barbera, Lungi center, and in the chiefdoms would make healthy markets develop, and their close proximity to agricultural produce, would ensure bigger and more vibrant market cooperatives with a healthy cross section of the nationís population participating than is now possible. Unlike those in Freetown, they would contribute to gross domestic productivity by one hundred percent since major market points of trade would converge to this new center.

All in all, immediate consideration of Lungi as the capital of Sierra Leone should be given. Greater fortification of the airport would be required. Road tolls and security clearance to enter the Sierra Leone Airport Authority Zone as it should be called, by all entering or leaving should be imposed. The capital itself should be constructed in Petifu Junction, the current seat of administration of Loko Massama Chiefdom located about forty miles from the airport. Sierra Leoneans should participate in the creation of this new capital, to ensure impartiality. Investment from Sierra Leonean nationals should be encouraged. If the population is encouraged to invest in development of its own capital it will take greater responsibility and exercise strong vigilance of its security. This has not been the case in Freetown that has had a history of invasions starting in the eighteenth century from pirates, the French, Temne from and most recently in 1999 that definitively altered its destiny and security.

Continuous electric supplies, street lights powered by solar energy, 24-hour supermarkets or shopping malls would make the new capital a third West African dream (The first is Ghana with Conakry in second place) . The process of its creation alone would mean a seventy-five percent increase in employment in every occupational sector for at ten years or more that would lead to security and growth. Youth currently idle enough to throw huge rocks and stones at itself in frustration and displeasure, would be given opportunity to function responsibly in a structured employment environment with a promise of growth.

The new capital Lungi would bring greater increase in monetary yields through expanded markets in the entire country and would actually realize the potential for development in other areas of commerce as the natural outcome of a postwar economy. Banks would be directed by the demand for more innovative ways to develop new products and services from a new consumer population in need of such to first serve their interest, and then that of indigenous and foreign whose activities with the flush of industries would be engaged in responding to increased regional demand for not in imports but export. The single currency by then Ė the ECO would increase trade volume between Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia and Guinea, and likely the francophone countries in greater number eager to trade in the new ECO, as they rush to purchase in bulk Sierra Leoneís unique produce absent in their own countries. One that comes to mind is cola nuts ó a prized commodity in the francophone countries who hold culture and tradition dear. Banks would be directed to create more innovative products and services for the demands of a new and vibrant consumer population that would swell their coffers. Moreover, as the seat of administration for the Mano River Union that has increased its population to 37 million with the accession of Cote DíIvoire, possibilities for a new direction toward economic and commercial stability becomes a fact. I wonder if we could get started tomorrow?

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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