Mayor says the issue of Bonthe needs urgent Cabinet decision
January 20, 2015 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk) reporting from Bonthe Island
There is an age-old cold war between Bonthe and Mattru Jong and it seems the former has already lost its constitutional status as the District Headquarter Town of the Southern district. Almost all important government offices have relocated from the Island to the main land Mattru Jong in a conspiracy of personal purpose, leaving the headquarter town isolated like the island it is.
The District Medical Officer (DMO) is now based in Mattru Jong; so also are the District Census Officer (DCO), the District Deputy Education Officer, the main office of the National Elections Office (NEC), the District Ebola Response Coordinator (DERC), and the Local Unit Commander of the Police force.
Since President Ernest Bai Koroma came into office in 2007 he has visited all district headquarter towns across the country except Bonthe. Quite recently, the people of the district headquarter town were looking forward in earnest to the official visit of Local Government Minister, Diana Konomanyi, during her tour of the country’s districts but the minister instead diverted to Mattru Jong.
The only relevant constitutional authority in the town, apart from the small police post, are the Mayor and the District Officer, the latter said to be incapacitated by ill health for some time now.
“People just want things the easy way,” says a very frustrated Mayor of the Bonthe Municipal Council, Layemin Joe Sandi, adding that it is a clear demonstration of lawlessness.
Mayor Sandi says the colonial masters knew best why they made Bonthe town the headquarter district.
“Rather than restore the glory of Bonthe Sherbro Island, which is the constitutional district headquarter town of Bonthe District, they want to bury it,” says Mayor Sandi.
Bonthe Sherbro Island is located in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, with 32 miles long and 15 miles wide covering an area of approximately 230 square miles. The western extremity of the island is Cape Ann.
Back in the days, the island was one of the two Crown colonies (the other being Freetown) of the colonial masters Britain. It was once a citadel of political, educational and social activities; a melting pot of economic boom and the birth place of siblings of the colonial masters and great men and women of today. It hosted prosperous international companies like PZ (Peterson Zochonis) and the UAC (United Africa Company) and a comfortable zone for Lebanese and Syrian business men.
History has it that the first Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, Sir Milton Margai, got his basic education from Bonthe Island. Historically also, the town was home to the Sherbros before the arrival of the White Man. Then the Creoles and the Mendes came, to give the town a kind of cosmopolitan life.
Now Bonthe Sherbro Island is no more economically viable; and politically it is heading the same direction. The town now stands an impressive relic, and a clear shadow of its former self; with everybody, from youth to women and old people, getting frustrated with the way and manner the town is losing its significance. There’s virtually no significant economic activity in the town and the people are poor.
The main occupation of its more than 10, 000 inhabitants (last Census count), is fishing but the Ebola scourge in the country has brought that thriving economic activity to a halt as all trade fares in the district have been banned to avoid large gathering of people.
Government once started a fisheries project, which when completed, would not only have boosted the district’s fishing industry with preservation, manufacturing and exportation of sea food but also provided employment for its young people. However, the project structure is now eroding and its vision lost in the fog of neglect.
Located outside the map of Sierra Leone, Bonthe district is made up of 11 chiefdoms, and the district headquarter town is strategically positioned at the center. It is about the same distance from the surrounding chiefdoms of Dema, Sittia, Nongoba-bullom, Bendu-cha, Kuamebai-Krin, etc to the island by sea, as opposed to the distances between them and Mattru Jong village.
Contrary to what many have been led to believe, crossing the Sherbro river to Bonthe Island can be fun, says Ransford Wright, National Co-ordinator of the Independent Radio Network (IRN), who last week led a team of engineers and radio people to the island on a locally made boat; his first ever trip to the town.
“People have been erroneously talking about the river linking the island to neighboring places; our river is not a monster,” says Mayor Sandi, adding that it has always been the lazy excuse by government officials to redirect focus to the mainland.
“We’ve talked and talked and talked about our situation but nobody seems to be listening,” he continues. “The issue of Bonthe needs an urgent Cabinet decision!”
Equally, the old and young are singing the same frustration.
“We’re most unhappy with the way the government is tolerating the situation,” says Rev. George S. Sandi; a maddening sentiment repeatedly echoed by the youth population roaming the town aimlessly.
However, all is not lost as the Mayor enthusiastically describes the island as the City of Hope, and there are some things to celebrate about.
Government has planted about 250 solar-light poles across the well-structured streets of the island bringing light to what would have been one of the darkest places in the country. There is also a government road project visibly ongoing.
The IRN has also just boosted the town’s struggling community radio station, Radio Bontico 96.9 FM, with a complete radio station equipment of 700 watts transmitter (replacing its old 100 watts station), giving the district headquarter town a powerful and far-reaching tool to make its legitimate cry heard all over the country.
Several meters from Radio Bontico is the less imposing Bonthe Prison (now Bonthe Correctional Center) which first hosted the Special Court of Sierra Leone indictees, Foday Saybana Sankoh, Chief Sam Hinga Norman and other men who bore the greatest responsibility for heinous crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone during the country’s decade civil war (1991 -2002).
In addition, Bonthe Sherbro Island still remains the only place in the entire Sierra Leone that has not recorded any Ebola case since the virus broke out in May 2014.
Note: This is a Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) sponsored reporting.