September 10, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
In awe, Hawa Kabba, a lactating mother, stands in front of her demolished makeshift house locally known as ‘pan body’, her eyes reddish with fury, carrying her three-month-old baby as she tries to come to grips with the government’s directive to demolish her house at Crab Town, Aberdeen Creek, because it was built on a wetland – Tourist Attraction Area (TAA).
Screeching, she says, “This move by government is totally unjustifiable. My husband cannot pay expensive rent. When we were constructing our house four years ago, where was the government? Why didn’t they ask us to stop building? I have lived in this community [Crab Town] since 2011. Now the government is saying my house is an illegal structure.”
It was a pitiable sight on Tuesday, 8 September at the Crab Town community as a bulldozer was unleashed on the various make-shift structures on the orders of the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. The mission of the bulldozer was straightforward: ensure all houses built on the Aberdeen Creek TAA are brought down.
“Everything is gone. My documents, my money, my phones…I’m on these clothes since the day my house was demolished,” says Mohammed Kamara.
Another resident who identified himself as Alimamy Kamara, says, “We [himself, wife and three children] have been sleeping by our [demolished] house. The children could not go and write their West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) because they are completely devastated. I’m trying to find somewhere for them to stay.”
In a country where the dearth of shelter is palpable, government should be seen providing affordable housing for millions of its citizens instead of just demolishing dwellings, albeit some illegal. Consequently, residents of Aberdeen community are sending a Save-Our-Souls (SOS) appeal to President Ernest Koroma.
“We want to tell President Koroma that majority of us have no good means of livelihood. Demolishing our houses has increased our suffering. This is not why we voted for him for a second term in 2012,” says an outspoken Mohammed Kamara.
“President Koroma, please respect our human rights. Tell the police to stop firing teargas at us and using thugs to terrorise us. Provide urgent emergency accommodation and relief for us, we are now homeless,” says Foday Sahr.
Analysts are concerned about the increasing spate of demolition across Freetown. They say, rather than concentrate on defeating the Ebola virus in the country, the government has been preoccupied with massive demolition of houses and rendering already poor masses homeless.
“This demolition exercise has left women, men and children on the street. It has ruined any opportunity they had to work, to go to school and put them at huge risk of violence, crime, ill-health and insecurity. It’s a stark example of how continued human rights abuse drives and deepens poverty for millions of Sierra Leoneans,” says Yusuf Conteh, a political and social affairs analyst.
According to Mohamed Allie Nabay, the local MP, councilor and the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs have a case to answer when it comes to the demolition of their houses. In his view, they share the blame.
“We have an elected MP here, we voted for him even when our lives were at risk. But he refused to alert us about the demolition of our houses. The Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs did not raise the red flag when we were constructing our houses, which they now refer to as ‘illegal structures’ built on the TAA. Our councilor did not tell us to stop developing this area, nor issue a ‘stop the building’ notice to us.
“How come the government is now seeing our houses as ‘illegal structures’? Where were they when this place [Crab Town] was completely swampy? Where were they when this community was being developed?” queries Nabay.
To other residents in the community, the whole demolition exercise is political. During the 2012 general elections, the APC considered the residents of the community as their supporters, hence never questioned the legality of them residing in the TAA.
Musa Sillah says, “During the 2012 elections, APC came here to campaign to us; we sang and danced with them and we voted overwhelmingly for them. They never said we were living here illegally.”
The demolition of the houses has elicited condemnation from Sierra Leoneans across the board, with many saying the exercise is totally uncalled for, unacceptable, inhuman and has the potential of putting the government of the day in a negative spotlight.
“This exercise will definitely affect the image of the APC government. APC is increasingly becoming unpopular as many of its activities lack human face. This was what the then ruling party – Sierra Leone People’s Party – did in 2004 at Murray Town before they were voted out of power in 2007. APC seems to have forgotten soon,” says Emmanuel Samura.
“I have spent all my savings developing my house. Now, it has been demolished without proper notice from relevant authorities. Where does the government want me to go from here?” asked Khalil Mustapha, another resident whose house was demolished.
As the demolition exercise continues, the quest of finding an alternative resident is the current concern of those affected. Many residents believe that they have equal right to live in any area they can afford to, as owning a house is a basic human right which should not be subverted.