The Case For Eminent Domain in the Socio-Economic and Political Development of Sierra Leone

By Dr. Yahya Kaloko :

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DR. YAHYA KALOKO

Just recently I was moved by two pronouncements relating to developments about to take place in Sierra Leone.  These initiatives address two key problems namely, a congested capital city, and youth unemployment.  The first was announced by the City Father of the Freetown City Council on April 8th, and the second was from HE President Ernest Koroma on April 15th.  T he Mayor talked about “Fixing Freetown – The Freetown we want to see” calling on everyone to be part of the positive change.  HE The President, on the other hand, launched the most ambitious youth initiative in the history of our country, the National Youth Program with the objective to create a million decent new jobs over three years.  From these two events, one could see a confluence of larger than life developments which if effectively embraced and managed, will pivot Sierra Leone to an international stage worthy of emulation.  While it is not yet clear how the mayor plans to fix Freetown, however it is worth noting that achieving these goals require in part the adoption of strategic and extraordinary policy measures, prominent among which is the invocation of Eminent Domain.

Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain can be defined as “the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation”.  Among some of the benefits of Eminent Domain are helping to remove blights in a community, and it helps greatly in job creation.  The policy in every respect delivers benefits to the whole public.   It is a concept I believe is currently used in Sierra Leone, but not many Sierra Leoneans acknowledge its context.  In recent years, some properties have been demolished to create pathways for the installation of electrical power grids, and for road construction.  A vivid example is the road construction that is currently taking place from Pademba Road to the eastern part of the city.  We all witness the benefits from these government actions, opening access roads where in the past many thought impossible.  In many ways, this is a form of Eminent Domain.

The main problem I envisage with the pronouncement of the City Father in particular is that currently there is very little room available to change the face of Freetown without considering the invocation of Eminent Domain.  Most of the strategic areas of the city are privately owned and underutilized.  Some of these areas are eye-sores to the city.  The Freetown Municipality and the national government must develop a strategic partnership aimed at reclaiming some of the land in some key areas of the city.  With Strategic Planning, Negotiations, and Execution, Eminent Domain could strategically change the face of not only Freetown, but the country as a whole, and will feed into the President’s Agenda for Prosperity, and the ambitious National Youth Program.  In this respect, well-meaning Sierra Leoneans must not only want to do the right thing, but must be willing and have the courage to do so.  Success in this area requires looking beyond self for the good of the country, a spirit which has been lacking for so long in the history of the country.

The question I propose for discussion is:

SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT STRATEGICALLY APPLY EMINENT DOMAIN IN SOME KEY AREAS OF THE CITY AND THE COUNTRYSIDE TO SUPPORT THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND PROSPERITY OF SIERRA LEONE?

Sierra Leone is currently basking in the dawn of new era which for most citizens, just a few years ago, was unimaginable.  The momentum of this new era must be used to fine-tune existing institutions and building new ones with the capacity to reboot business and entrepreneurship, rebuild the middle class, empower the youth, and enhance participation for those with the requisite skills and knowledge in the unfolding economic exuberance of the country.

Many have attributed the poor state of Freetown to congestion.  I strongly believe that the main problem the city faces is not congestion.  Congestion is an outcome of decades of neglect, the lack of effective and strategic management of the city’s real estate infrastructure, and lastly the war.  The land opportunities of the city are underutilized and at the same time overburdened.  The urgent situations the city and the country at large face especially in the area of unemployment won’t be solved without a more holistic approach to marshal and maximally exploit the collective involvement of Sierra Leoneans and businesses operating in the country, as well as the international community.

Changing the face of Freetown and the country at large requires moving focus away from the same old tired set of socio-economic development assumptions, e.g. tax and spend, the government must take care of everything, and everybody must be happy with handouts from some political elites or “me bra”.  Above all, it was the lack of effective and strategic leadership in past decades to serve the people’s needs.  It is also attributable to the sacrifice of bold long-term initiatives for incremental action that left Freetown and the rest of the country gasping for economic oxygen.  Well thought policies, effectively planned, executed, and managed will provide the needed engine for economic growth and prosperity for the rest of the country, and will go a long way in realizing the dreams of the City Father and the President.  Freetown will continue to serve as the commercial and political capital, supported by economic activities taking place around the country side, e.g. mining and agriculture.

A viable commercial city requires a capable and functioning business infrastructure that can support socio-economic interactions between businesses, people, as well as public and private entities.  The current disposition of the city lacks such an infrastructure.  Enabling such services requires strong government policy initiatives, with inputs from the public, and must be backed in part by the invocation of Eminent Domain for the greater good of the city, and the country as whole.  An example of a success story, like many others, Sierra Leone could emulate is the state of Qatar which less than a century ago was poverty stricken, but has become, according to a BBC report “the richest nation in the world … .”  Sierra Leone has more economic potential than Qatar and many others.  Her natural wealth and other potential surpass Qatar.  But the difference is in leadership, and the ability to strategically use the state resources for the benefit of her people.  As I stated in another article, Sierra Leone does not have a fiscal problem, but a management problem, i.e. how to manage the abundance of natural resources and human capacity not for self, but for country at large.

Though my proposal may sound crazy to some, however I firmly believe from a long-term strategic perspective, temerity is needed by any well-meaning Sierra Leonean to contribute ideas that could help in the ongoing economic emancipation and prosperity of the country.  My hope is that many will see this as long-awaited ideas to show case the country, starting with the capital.  The President projects the creation of one million jobs for young people over three years.  In support of his job creation, the application of Eminent Domain has the potential to create millions more jobs in support of all population demographics for decades to come.  Is it going to be easy to achieve that goal?  Not necessarily.  But just like in starting a war, or a tenuous debate, the first shot determines the course of history for the participants.

It is worth noting that the country is experiencing a moment in its history when the narratives have to be compiled, analyzed, and written by its citizens and not by philosophical kings from somewhere else.  I personally feel despite all the political and ethnic wrangling, this is a unique moment when all of us, at home and abroad must converge to find meaning for what the country represents, not only in natural wealth, but more importantly also in its human capital.  To borrow from the Sierra Leone Ambassador to the United States, HE Bockari Stevens, we have the right to constructively criticize the current regime, but we must love our mother land.  In showing our love, as a group we must brainstorm ideas needed to support the President and the City Father in realizing their leadership dreams for a sustainable and prosperous city and country.  A country that cannot put its house in order, and cannot collectively find solutions within to solve its socio-economic and political challenges, will lose the opportunity or right to develop its narratives and write its history.  The history will end up been written by someone else with an agenda to selfishly reframe the country’s interests.  Eminent Domain should become part of the country’s narrative and the agenda to change the face of Freetown and the rest of the country.  This will help greatly in empowering the people of Sierra Leone at home and abroad.

For a start, I propose a strategic transformation of the Freetown landscape bordering Connaught Hospital, the city’s main health facility through SierraTel for the application of Eminent Domain.  All properties bordering south of Lightfoot Boston Street towards the sea must be considered for new development.  This is an area which can be used to build a modern global infrastructure to attract tourism, create jobs, and contribute to the night life of the city.  Let us take a view of this area from the proposed site of City Hall and looking towards the sea, and we all can see the untapped natural potential the city and the country are losing.  Many countries endowed with the natural beauty that downtown Freetown has, have exploited such God-given gift to entice greater development, tourism, jobs, prosperity for its people, and a better quality of life.  Because of the existing strategic infrastructure, Government Wharf, this has great potential to promote tourism, showcase the country with the construction of Five Star Hotels, central shopping mall befitting the city and the country at large, and other recreation centers especially at a time when Victoria Park is proving to be a less strategic land mark for the city.

I was in Barcelona, Spain the other day, and just around the city’s downtown area by the waterfront experienced the tremendous economic and recreational opportunity the city provides to the citizens, and its attractions to tourists.  Marseille, France and many other smaller countries in the Caribbean also showcase their waterfront natural wealth to attract tourists.

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Near Downtown Barcelona

It is my hope this contribution kick-start a much needed debate to consider fundamental changes to the landscape of our country through the application in part of the concept of Eminent Domain.

All of us must be willing to do something genuine to make Sierra Leone greater than she is.  As contentious as this may sound, I strongly believe it has some of the hallmarks needed for a sustainable economically developed Freetown and Sierra Leone, and feeds into the City Father’s dream for the city, and the President’s strategy for job creation, empowering the youth, and ultimately the Agenda for a Prosperous Sierra Leone.

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