Africa’s population will be urbanized by 2035, according to IsaAfrica. As population grows, basic amenities will become stretched to breaking point. In order to meet this challenge, governments across Africa are planning and preparing for change.
A $2 billion Diamniadio city was built to relieve Dakar’s population pressure. In 2013, the project was launched with a 10-year completion deadline. In the Diamniadio district, about 30 km from Dakar, you’ll find Senegal’s main airport, a conference centre, a sports arena, government ministries, universities, entertainment areas, and an express train.
A new all-electric BRT system has just been launched in Senegal, the first in Africa. 150 buses were purchased, each carrying 150 passengers and running for more than 250 kilometres on a charge. 20 charging stations were built.
Kenya’s smart city project, Konza, is progressing. This is a smart city with a national data centre and Wi-Fi points everywhere. There will be over 185,000 residents in the city. A number of similar projects are underway in Africa.
There hasn’t been much change in Sierra Leone since independence. We are not developing in a sustainable way. Acess to basic necessities such as uninterrupted electricity and pipe-borne water is scarce for majority of the population. It’s estimated that half of Freetown’s population cannot get water from the Guma Valley Dam. Water supply comes from other sources for many people.
When the Guma Dam was constructed in 1961, there were around 300,000 people living in Freetown. The population of the city now exceeds one million three hundred thousand. The Guma Dam does not meet the needs of the city’s population.
In other countries, when cities grow, authorities implement mitigation systems to address the needs of the growing population, but not in Sierra Leone. Despite having plentiful rainfall, half of the country’s population struggle to access clean water. The Guma story isn’t unique; many other utilities and public service providers lack capacity to meet the city’s population growth.
Originally designed for 324 inmates, the Pademba Road prison now houses over 1,500 prisoners. There are many roads in Sierra Leone that are still the same since independence in 1961. Several streets are congested, including Abacha Street and Fourahbay Road.
Conakry, our next-door neighbour, is not teaching us anything. The growing population has led to flyover bridges being built on roads that were once two lanes.
Sierra Leone has a long way to go when it comes to electricity. Although successive governments have spent billions of Leones on a variety of electricity sources, sustainable electricity is still a dream.
Transportation problem persists. While Freetown is small compared to other cities, people are struggling getting around. Roads are very narrow, and there is not enough suitable public transport to serve the population.
It’s good to see the World Bank and Government of Sierra Leone making available 50 buses under the Resilient Urban project. The country needs it but it is important to think about sustainability. Successive governments have invested in new buses, but after a while, they are no longer on the road because of the lack of maintenance culture.
The previous APC government purchased 100 buses at a cost of $12 million, yet not a single one of those buses can be seen on the road today. The APC government’s minister for transport said at the time that the 100 buses were specially manufactured for Sierra Leone during a radio interview.
He said the engineers had studied the country’s roads before the buses were manufactured. Listening to that interview, I laughed out loud. He also promised to invest in water transportation for Freetown, but it was just a gimmick.
What other transportation options are there in Freetown? How can we make our roads less congested? Have we thought about building a coastal road?
Freetown doesn’t need everyone owning a car; a good water transportation system will reduce road traffic. Cable cars could also be utilized by those living in hilltop communities.
There are many problems with Freetown’s planning. Outside Freetown, we had the opportunity to plan the construction of new communities in Waterloo, Jui, and Peninsula.
Is it possible to decongest Freetown by developing Lungi, which is close to Freetown, encouraging people to relocate there? It will be easier for people to relocate to Lungi with proper transportation system, whether a bridge or water transportation. However, we must look beyond transportation. We need a planned city as the Nigerians did with Abuja when Lagos’ population grew out of control.
There is a problem with the sustainability of Sierra Leone’s development. Solving our developmental problems is like the fire brigade tactics – we keep going back and forth without providing lasting solutions.
There needs to be a national development plan that transcends political parties.