By Mohamed Massaquoi
Since the end of the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, frantic efforts have been made by the government, individuals and institutions to rebuild battered cities and towns across the country. Though some of the towns and villages have rapidly transformed, yet a good number of them are still struggling with development process. The eastern district town of Kenema is no exception to some of these challenges thus the urge by indigenes and friends of Kenema to seriously collaborate with both the district and city councils to embark on development in the towns and villages across the district.
Kenema is the third largest city in Sierra Leone, after Freetown and Bo. It is also known to be the eastern region provincial headquarter town situated approximately 200 miles east of Freetown and about 50 miles south of Bo. The city is a cosmopolitan trading center with a population of 128,402, according to the 2004 census.
The past fifty years have recorded very low level of infrastructural development in the city and its immediate environs, thereby hampering the effective delivery of public services. Economic empowerment is a major issue in the city, with about 75 percent of its total populace living below the poverty line.
Illiteracy stands tall in the city, while unemployment remains the factor responsible for the rampant anti-social behaviours by mostly youths who dropped out of school or have never darkened the walls of a school. There is currently a high incidence of teenage pregnancy and early marriage in the Kenema general area, with a whole lot of children being catered for by single parents, mostly women.
Prostitution among young girls of school-going age has virtually graduated into a common practice in the Kenema city, with some parents turning a blind eye due to poverty and the fact that some of the girls involved are actually school dropouts turned bread winners for their parents and homes.
The reality of the situation therefore is that while infrastructural development and effective service delivery remain huge challenges within the Kenema township, the very human capital is under threat as evident by the fact that the future of the vast majority of children and youths – commonly referred to as leaders of tomorrow – is bleak.
It is in view of this that the need for a development conference has been deemed necessary. The conference, which is scheduled to hold for two full days, will bring together government functionaries from the area, parliamentarians, media practitioners, civil society activists, educationists, business men and women, traditional authorities, youths and students among others to map the way forward for the development of the district.
It is hoped that the Kenema Conference will stimulate debate on emerging development and democratic issues as well as putting structures in place to implement the recommendations or outcomes of the conference; evaluate the role, obligations, responsibilities of government functionaries from the area and traditional leaders on the development aspirations of the township; propose initiatives and programmes to strengthen cultural values in line with modern trends in development; and to also identify and understand legal frameworks and necessary mechanisms for the promotion and consolidation of democratic and developmental initiatives.
It is my fervent hope that participants at the conference will make good use of the opportunity to hammer home major points which have served as stumbling blocks towards the political, social and economic development of our beloved city.
See you in Kenema!