June 30, 2017 By Joseph S. Margai
Citizens have this week expressed their dissatisfaction over the removal of photos of past leaders around the base of the historic cotton tree in central Freetown.
The cotton tree, situated on Siaka Stevens Street, one of the principal streets in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, gained importance in 1792 when a group of former African-American slaves became emancipated and settled in the then Province of Freedom.
Since then, it has become a centre of attraction for many people, including researchers, historians, and tourists, among others.
Few years ago, photos of past leaders were placed around the trunk of the cotton tree to serve the dual purposes of beautifying the iconic tree and educating both citizens and visitors as to our past leaders.
But that is now the past as photos of past presidents have been removed, leavin g only the giant photo of the current president.
Solomon Caulker, a resident of Freetown, told this medium that the removal of the photos of past leaders was a deliberate attempt by some unpatriotic citizens to destroy the rich history of the country.
“The cotton tree is a very important site in Sierra Leone’s history. The placement of the photos of our past leaders, considering the role they played in the development of our country since independence, was a welcoming idea. But the removal of those photos does not send a good signal,” he said.
He said the photos were not mere photos as they were accompanied by inscriptions of who the past leaders were and the role they played in Sierra Leone. He added that that was another way of narrating Sierra Leone’s political history in a simplest way.
Samuel Michael Koroma, a civil servant in Freetown, said the history of the cotton tree cannot be overemphasised, thus anything that is placed close to it will attract public attention.
“It is very close to the Law Court Building and hundreds of people go to the court every day. Besides, Siaka Stevens Street is one of the busiest streets in Freetown, hence the photos of the past leaders always send a message to people who do not know anything about our history,” he said.
He disclosed that the only photo that was spared is that of the current leader, President Ernest Bai Koroma, who people see every day on television or at events, adding that those whose photos have been removed are the ones some people were not fortunate to have seen.
He called on whosoever removed the photos to replace them because they are significant to our rich history.
Meanwhile, Education and Outreach Officer at the Monuments and Relics Commission, Mohamed Faray Kargbo, said his office is not aware about the removal of photos of past leaders around the cotton tree.
“[The] Cotton tree is a potential area for monuments but at the moment we have not taken control of the site yet. It is still controlled by Freetown City Council. If it would have been under our purview we would have known what should be placed there and what shouldn’t,” he said.
However, Mayor of Freetown City Council, Franklyn Baba Bode Gibson, said he was unaware of the ugly development and promised to investigate and also replace the missing photos.