June 15, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
It is hard to believe that Sierra Leone, despite having Ministries of Works, Housing and Infrastructure and Transport and Aviation, and agencies such as Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA), among others, could still not have roads in one of its major cities well paved. These authorities have continued to pay little or no attention to repairing and maintaining the main roads in the Kenema Township.
With the rapid deterioration of some major roads across the country, one must question the seriousness of institutions charged with constructing and maintaining these roads. Simply, these institutions need renewed vigour. In the wake of the raining season, proactive efforts have to be made to safeguard the lives of road users.
The deplorable state of roads in Kenema does not only remind us of the government’s aloofness to the plight of its citizens, but also serves as a reflection of the much-touted campaign promises during electioneering year.
There is new evidence that Kenema roads are crumbling faster than they can be fixed. The roads are facing high repair costs and a government funding crunch occasioned by the outbreak of Ebola, commencement of the raining season, and the delay by parliament to approve the Kenema City Council’s 2015 budget.
The trauma and discomfort experienced by journalists during the just concluded Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Kenema, pronounced a vote of no confidence in the authorities saddled with fixing and maintaining roads across the country; the discomfort portrayed road authorities as having no modicum of concern for the welfare of Sierra Leoneans.
Kenema, the headquarters of Eastern Sierra Leone, is undoubtedly rich in human and mineral resources, but its roads are in a deplorable state. The countless potholes and irritating detours that decorate Kenema roads leave motorists to face difficulties in a city known as the ‘wise man’s land’. These detours have turned out to be death traps.
“Most of the inner roads in our town remain badly damaged due to total neglect by the relevant authorities,” says Abudullahi Swaray, a resident of Maxwell Khobi Street.
“Our roads are damaged; they also have big potholes due to lack of maintenance works,” reinforced Idrissa Conteh, a motorbike rider.
For example, Blama Road which connects the Bo – Kenema highway and Hangha Road has huge craters. It has not witnessed any major repair for the past 20 years. The government has ignored pleas from residents and road users to get the deathtraps repaired.
Abu Sesay, a tele-center operator says, “We took the matter to the notice of the authorities concerned on several occasions urging them to carry out repairs. The problem is yet to be addressed.”
Most of the roads, including the streets that are controlled by the Kenema City Council, have similar problems and require immediate repairs. The link roads across the city have gradually metamorphosed into deathtraps for many users. “You hate…to hear about the families who have been destroyed because of a stupid pothole,” one passerby along Hangha Road lamented.
“Travelling on a bike within the township has become difficult and stressful. We have to zigzag around the potholes every time,” says Fatu Kamara, a resident of Wesley Street.
Successive governments have decried the sorry state of the roads and have repeatedly pledged to fix the problem. Billions of leones have also been allocated for road projects, but the road situation, if it has changed, has only become worse. “It’s bump, bump, bump, bump,” said a Kenema delegate at the just concluded SLAJ AGM. “Kenema roads are just horrible. It’s pretty remarkable for a major city that gets so much traffic to be in such a sorry state; and it has been like that for years.”
The Mayor of Kenema, Joseph S. Keifala, said he was aware of the deplorable condition of the trunk roads in the city and that he has drawn the attention of the relevant authorities to it.
“Yes, I know the trunk roads in Kenema are bad and getting worse. The trunk roads belong to the government. It is the responsibility of SLRA to repair and maintain them,” said Mayor Keifala. “I have held a meeting with SLRA and they have promised to come to our rescue; and I am still waiting for them. But the council has been filling the potholes and patching the roads.”
However, the seeming indifference by government to the mismanagement of funds leaves many wondering whether other allocations might not fizzled away as has been the case.
The government has to do more than just awarding road contracts. Concerted efforts should also be made to ensure the implementation of road contracts. Particularly, efforts must be made to ensure that materials used on road repairs are of high quality.