HOW FREETOWN EXPUNGES THE GHOSTS OF ITS PAST, PART 2

 

 Titus Boye-Thompson, Strategic Media & Development Communications Unit

 The first part of this article waded through the historical ties between the Temnes and the Creoles, two sets of peoples whose destiny was intertwined even before the slave trade was declared over. It is the case that the Temnes were cordial and accommodating enough to have provided land for the settlement of slaves from England, the first group labeled the Free Poor came to these shores after escaping destitution in the streets of London. They were accompanied by prostitutes and loose white women who were felt to have been without hope in English society presumably after having consorted with free white men in London.

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Moving on to the present day or more particularly, more recent times, the relationship between the myriad peoples who eventually settled in Freetown and called this place home makes for much more interesting sociological study in terms of the establishment of society and the manifestation of cultures and mores. The sum total of the various altercations, admixtures, marriages and inter-marriages, gambling, wine, women and song has culminated in what is present day Freetown. This notwithstanding the case that some now infer a dichotomy between the Freetown that has grown from that process of assimilation to the Freetown we now experience. Freetown is undoubtedly a city largely subjected to rapid growth due to internal displacement and urban migration during the long drawn civil war. To subscribe to this dichotomy is fallacious for the simple reason that the exigencies of war impose on every nation the necessity to adjust. When a kin flees carnage, how easily can it be for you to restrict his sojourn in a safe haven to a matter of time or space? Hence the problem that Freetown now face is a problem of maladjustment and unpreparedness more so than one of diversity or segregation. There is therefore no reason to subject anyone living in this city to discrimination or exclusion on the basis that they do not belong here.

 

The dynamism of Freetown’s individual communities presupposes a fractured space, conjoined by self sustained existences in communities of interest rather than one characterized by a centrally shared vision or sense of belonging. There are unique experiences from Fourah Bay to Bombay, Kror Jimmy to King Jimmy and from Berry Street to Mary Street. These experiences though disparate yet were characterized by certain commonalities of a uniquely Freetown vibe. The disparate nature of these communities were superintended on the educational system as pupils came from all backgrounds to meet at school or college. It is that socialization that enhances the inter-mix of cultures and domestic arrangements and tend to solidify the uniquely Freetown experience. The fact that one who engages in soft drugs like cannabis or imbibes the local brew of totapak at the time may equally be a senior prefect shows the extent of pluralism and meritocracy within an education system that was largely sanguine when it comes to relating educational attainment with poverty. So it is that places like Kror Jimmy could produce a Professor in sociology, Kairaba city a chemist cum poet and Kanikay an Oxford Don. The context here is the pluralism of cultures and traditions that allowed for progress even in the face of poverty and a building of a society where social class or caste were denied in the face of that genuine desire to belong and be part of it all. Those who attained high grades in school did so notwithstanding the effects of poverty that surrounded neither them nor the multitudes of bad influences to which they were exposed. Poverty and need were not a disparaging factor because the city of Freetown had an ingrained support structure that saw its peoples relying on each other and a code of superintendency or hierarchical structure that cascaded from one cadre to another. The Creoles were integral to that cascading of aspirations, as they encouraged the families of other tribes and cultures to see education as the pathway out of poverty. They were forceful in the education of the people of Freetown and some of whom they took into their households as domestic help but still enlist them into formal education.

 

There is a more peculiar relationship amongst Freetown’s communities especially in relation to the favored choice for Mayor. Freetown is the only seat of elected office where the Creoles have a right to ascendancy or otherwise, a more effective claim to determine the person who occupies that seat. The decision to opt for or promote a Creole for Mayor is one that has found favor within the political parties. It is clear that the creoles have no claim to be elected to political office nowhere else but Freetown. To deny that right to ascendancy in Freetown would be unjust. This is not to say that the Creoles would be unsupportive of a Mayor who is anything but a Creole but it would be difficult to retain the Creole support for that political party that is seen to effectively deny them the right to govern Freetown. The existence therefore of a Creole Mayor is not an accident but a deliberate strategy to retain the sense of belonging and to exercise that pluralism that accords for equal opportunities for all sections of the communities in Sierra Leone to p[lay their role in governance. Take the Creole Mayor out of the equation and they have no meaningful claim to representation and their influence in the political life of Freetown becomes adversely diminished.

 

Having , made the claim or even the case that the Mayor of Freetown should invariably be a Creole does not excuse any Creole to aspire to that role, unless that Creole has something to give to this city to make it a better place to live, work and learn. The choice for Freetown’s Mayor is under much tighter scrutiny and under a greater burden to perform because of the necessity to maintain the Creole dominance of that position. It is clear that once it becomes apparent that the Creoles would have nothing to give, then their right to ascendancy in Freetown is jeopardized.

 

The present choice for Mayor is the result of an open and transparent process. The APC party unleashed a selection process that was clearly unique, introducing the concept of an electoral college with representatives from rank and file of the party. Franklyn Bode Gibson came out victorious in that process to the chagrin to others like Theo Nicol who worked hardest to woo and cultivate the support of the masses. Those candidates who scored less than four votes exhibited a clear demonstration of their lack of support and recognition in the party and hence had no claim to ascendancy as Mayor for Freetown. To support the Mayor after such an exercise is a respectable position to take and would be quite opposed to a stance of undermining the Mayor and his administration at any given opportunity.

 

In the event, Freetown managed to have moved on from a settlement of re-captives and freed slaves to that of a multi-cultural society. The challenge has always been to integrate its peoples into a cohesive community of equals and in some respect, this city has done well to address that challenge. The governance of this city now has to take cognizance of the rightful claims of those who founded this place and have made it wha5 it is in this modern age. The talk of separation or differentiation amongst its peoples are lost in that argument to secure the position of city father to the preserve of the Creoles who have undoubtedly enforced theirs as the dominant culture. Freetown’s ghosts have been expunged by the passing of time. Its identity more rounded by intermarriage and cohabitation and its cultures molded by an acceptance of its diversity. The Creoles have been influential in the trade and commerce of this city with families known and established as merchants and tradesmen. The Bombas Palmer, Coffee Nicol, Ashwood, Akinwumi, and Malama Thomas families of old have given way to other communities of traders such as the Koromas and Kamaras of Temne Bata. Nonetheless, there still remain fourth and fifth generations of Creoles of lesser names who continue to hold on to their stalls and shops across the City. The need to de-congest Abacha Street does not affect only one tribe but all those who occupy that thoroughfare. This is not an instance of tribalism and to portray it as such is wicked. This is a vision to drag Freetown to the modern era, a modern city and a place well prepared to engage in Sierra Leone’s prosperity as the capital city.

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