Titus Boye-Thompson, Communications Consultant
The after effects of the All Peoples Congress choice for Mayoral candidate for Freetown has opened up the floor for a sober reflection of the future management of the city of Freetown. In the first instance, the welcoming of any choice other than the incumbent was a sign of the city’s apathy against the man who had held this city together for the past five years. In the run up to the decision to select Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, many disregarded the presence of sitting Mayor Franklyn Bode Gibson as a serious contender. The major contenders came out to be Tunde Macarthy , Madina Rahman, Yvonne Aki Sawyer and Oluniyi Robbin-Coker. The eventual denial of the symbol to Mayor Bode Gibson came as no surprise to party stalwarts and other stakeholders. The question then is why does it seem that Bode Gibson has failed this city of Freetown for which he had been put in charge in the last five years?
Many in Freetown are unhappy with the lack of municipal services. The failure to keep this city clean and manage its waste properly and the lack of order and lawlessness in the city generally. Some also blame the Mayor for failing to manage the issue of street trading and to effectively take control of major market sites and trading areas within the Central Business District. It was as if there was no law or city edict to control the spread of petty traders and the lawlessness of parking, motor vehicle and traffic abuses as well as a general disregard for the public health effects of a filthy environment. The spread and enlargements of slums are also a case in point. The city management did nothing to curtail the spread of slums especially at riverine areas and bays. The unhealthy living conditions in places like Marbella, Susan’s Bay, Kru Bay and Moa Wharf were all indications of a demise of city management and the evidence that the Mayor lost responsibility for ensuring that the people of Freetown are protected from the bad public health impacts of slum dwelling.
In all the pre campaign posters and positions taken by the Candidates, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr ran a more spirited message slogan, “For wi kontri, for wi city, for wi community.” The indications were that the incumbent has failed to build the necessary frameworks and networks to take advantage of the leveraging power of the City’s management objectives and its place in the country as the largest metropolitan environment. Many blame Mayor Bode Gibson for being too complacent, egregious and aggressive in situations where tact, diplomacy and skilful management of emotions would have earned him a better result. Political analysts are agreed that Mayor Bode Gibson squandered the chance to strike out a good relationship with the Presidency and Central Government because of his personal style which invariably lacked sophistication in constructing meaningful collaborative relationships. In this failure to build and maintain meaningful relationships, the Freetown City Council suffered from a lack of resources and ended up owing its staff a backlog of salaries and emoluments.
There are some concern that the failure of Bode Gibson as Mayor contributed in some measure to those who objected to and attempted to raise the question of why it has to be a Creole who should have priority consideration for the position of Mayor of Freetown. Many refused to accept the arguments about the founding principles which dictated that the Creoles have a right to hold out the prospect for political leadership in Freetown as their main area of settlement or to the fact that Freetown was built by them in its entirety or also to the historical precept of Freetown and the Western Area being the area of land that the Creoles had been assigned to settle by treaty and other means over the years and as such have an inalienable right to managing the affairs of this city. The unwritten principle of allowing the Creoles to manage the affairs as political heads of this city is practiced by the two major political parties and as such the tradition is gaining traction and credibility based on the sensitivities that the position of Mayor of Freetown evokes. The perception therefore that as a failed Creole Mayor, Bode Gibson allowed the contemplation of other persons apart from Creoles should be given the same right to stand for Mayor, was not in itself entirely invalid or to be discarded.
When the events of the Mayoral choice is further examined, it is significant to note that a non-Creole presented himself for consideration on the grounds or pretext that he was a citizen of Freetown like everybody else who was born in this city. What he failed to demonstrate was seriousness on the part of his candidature but his argument is still not without merit since there is no rule or principle that sets out a clear descriptive criteria for the selection of candidates for Mayor. In the event, it can always be argued that any person born in the Western Area can be eligible to put themselves forward to stand for Mayor of this city. This has for some time ben a very serious constitutional and legal problem for the Creoles as they face the prospect of being side-lined entirely out of the political leadership of this city. When you consider that this is the only part of the country where these people have their ancient monuments, historical sites and sacred burial grounds, all monuments that come directly under the supervision of the City Council, the loss of political leadership of the Freetown City Council for the Creoles would turn out to be one of the most devastating disadvantages that a group of people identified as a clan to endure. No other tribe faces this prospect of being denied the ability to manage their ancient sites and edifices because each tribe have a traditional claim to their own areas and such claims are protected by Customary law. The Creoles have no such safeguards and as such are at risk of being disenfranchised within their own space already provided to them through treaty or otherwise bought from the original owners as a place to have them resettled.
It is for this reason that a Mayor such as Franklyn Bode Gibson may be perceived as an even greater failure for neglecting to preserve the history and traditions of the people of this city and specifically to safeguard the Creoles within the political landscape. One would have thought that the Mayor of Freetown would have led the call for Constitutional review to rectify some of these legal loopholes h=that are now threatening to wipe out the Creole influence in this country. Mayor Bode Gibson was in fact apathetic about the Implications of the Constitutional review and its Implications for the Creoles of Freetown. He made no significant contribution to the process nor did he channel any significant City resources to protect the integrity of Freetown as the Capital City of Sierra Leone and as the home of the Creoles. It is a shame that such an opportunity to make a lasting difference was so woefully ignored. The Mayor could not even take the cue from the Paramount Chiefs who were representing every District in Parliament but a provision for which the Creoles were conspicuously absent as the Western Area was never represented by an appointive member in Parliament. The position of the Paramount Chiefs to de-politicize the Chieftaincy would have been helped by a buttressing campaign to offer effective representation for the Creoles in a supervisory body outside of Parliament but with oversight functions to law making and administration. The chance to integrate the Creoles with the rest of the country on an equal footing and elevate their representative capacity within an upper chamber or oversight legislative body has been forgone due to inefficiency or otherwise a dereliction of duty on the part of Mayor Bode Gibson. For all these reasons, this has been a wasted tenure, lacking in administrative innovation or indeed devoid of strategic thinking and direction. The perception that Bode Gibson has failed Freetown as its Mayor is not without foundation and good cause.
The challenge for Yvonne Aki Sawyerr is greater than anyone would imagine. She first of all has to manage her relationships very well, strike a good working relationship with staff at the Freetown City Council, the central government and the Presidency. She must take full responsibility for hosting the seat of government and therefore must not allow herself or her position to be side-lined. She must act swiftly and impose Council edicts as and when they are necessary to be implemented and she must adhere to firm discipline within a principle of fairness and responsibility to the residents of this city. Freetown must once again become a great city to live, work and learn. In all of this, she must remain guided by her campaign messaging, “For wi communiti, for wi City, for wi kontri!”