Slum Dwellers Deserve Better Lives Too!

I have heard a lot of condemnation of people living in slum areas around the city in particular. Two recent events have left me wondering whether we actually understand what those poor people living in squalid conditions go through day after day. The ‘human-organised’ disaster a few weeks ago which saw many homes bulldozed around the Aberdeen area leaving many homeless and the natural disaster yesterday which flooded the city rendering thousands more homeless are equally worrying. Many blame it on the slum dwellers for choosing to live in such places as if there are better alternatives but they choose otherwise. We quickly say they could better go back to their villages and live better lives without spending a moment to think why they are there in the first place. If you spare your time to know their stories, you will soon realise that these slum dwellers live in squalor not because they want to but because they are driven by necessity to do so.

Think of many of us who came from our small villages, got educated in the cities and decided to stay here. As an Engineer, an Accountant, a Chemist, or the like, you would prefer to stay in the cities with better amenities than returning to a village of less than 20 houses. Rural communities in Sierra Leone have long been forgotten in our development agenda. Our rural communities are characterized by poor road network, poor healthcare facilities, lack of social amenities, no quality schools, etc. While decentralization has failed to create equal opportunities, we should not be angry with people migrating from rural areas in search of greener pastures in the urban areas. Like you the professional Accountant or Engineer loitering the streets of Freetown for a good job, the traders, craftsmen, prostitutes and even criminals are similarly here because they have better chances here than anywhere else. As we are all here in search of better lives, please stop condemning those who have not been fortunate to make a good living like you, it is not their choice!

Your story might be different because you can afford a two-bedroom apartment in a better community while they cannot. But being a matter of necessity, they have to find shelter at all cost, be it at Kroo Bay, Susan’s Bay, Moa Wharf or Orloshoro. What have we done to change their lives? Nothing absolutely! Instead, we have often hastily condemned them as if they have no right to be here in the city when in fact most of them are born and raised here.

Is Sierra Leone the only country with, or has ever faced, huge rural-urban migration? The answer is NO! The UK and many other More Economically Developed Countries urbanized during the 18th and 19th centuries. In India, an estimated 160 million people have moved to the cities in the last two decades while it is projected that another 230 million will move to urban areas in the next two decades. Our urbanization problem began during the 11-year rebel war which has since put enormous pressure on the city’s meagre resources. In the wake of such urbanization forcing people to dwell in slums in pursuit of survival, other countries around the world have seen slum dwellers as people who belong to society and deserve better lives. Civilized nations around the world believe that everyone is entitled to the dignity of a secured shelter and where such is not available, it becomes a responsibility of the government and its partners to work towards improving the lives of people in slums. We have a lot to learn from two world renowned slums: Dharavi in Mumbai, India and Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.

Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum with a population of more than 600,000 people residing in about 100,000 makeshift homes. The government of India recognizes these slum dwellers as people of India who deserve better lives.

Instead of breaking their homes without any better alternatives, the government has rather come up with a Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) which is headed by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). The development plan is meant to provide many amenities including wider roads, electricity, ample water supply, playgrounds, schools, colleges, medical centres, socio-cultural centres etc. It will also feature commercial and industrial areas as seen in the following plan.

Coming down to Africa, Kibera is the continent’s largest slum with a population of up to 270,000 people (Source: http://mapkiberaproject.yolasite.com/maps-and-statistics.php).

I first heard of Kibera when I attended a conference in Nairobi where Jamie Lundine did a great presentation on their Map Kibera project.

It was then I realized that the slums we have around are mere miniature slums. But have the slum dwellers of Kibera been left alone and criticized? No! The government of Kenya, like that of India, believes these people are part of the Kenyan society and as such deserve an improved quality of life. The government has started developing Kibera and is currently building permanent houses for the people with proper sanitation. The slum can now boast of tarred roads, mobile clinics and police stations, working street lights and free WiFi throughout the slum. This is humane and shows a great sense of responsibility.

Our people at Kroo Bay, Susan’s Bay, Moa Wharf, etc deserve better lives too. It is our responsibility to change their lives. They vote when it is election time, they are tax-payers, they are citizens of this country and above all, we are all equal in the sight of God. What happened to them yesterday is neither their making nor their choice. They are suffering because they have for long been neglected.

The flooding that took place yesterday is a natural disaster, the kind of which happens everywhere around the world. Thanks to government of Sierra Leone, the humanitarian organizations and individuals who stepped up to help victims of this devastating disaster. The pictures below speak volumes, what a pity!

Flooding_img_2 Flooding_img_3 Flooding_img_4

Flooding_img_1 Flooding_img_9

Flooding_img_5 Flooding_img_6 Flooding_img_8

In my next edition, I will discuss Physical Resettlement of these slums as is being widely discussed versus slum development options.