July 8, 2015 By Sheriff Mahmud Ismail
I felt a shiver down my spine, my hair stood on end and I was motionless like a canoe stranded on the mud; but I was savouring the moment of history being made – the country’s national anthem accompanying the delivery of 100 new buses. It started with APC party victory song, then it caught on; with electrifying spontaneity, nationalism took the better part of everyone!
“High We Exalt Thee, Realm Of The Free. Great Is The Love We Have For Thee…”
An emotional, involuntary rendition of the first stanza of the country’s national anthem by proud and happy Sierra Leoneans. Their coarse voices competing with the loud melody of the waves banging against the berths of their country’s natural harbour. It was as if nature too was celebrating with the needy people of Sierra Leone.
Public transport has been a major problem in the country especially in the capital Freetown. Following the country’s 11 years destructive civil war and owing to urbanisation, the population of this small mountainous city has more than quadruple. Freetown holds about half of Sierra Leone’s population, a situation that has overstretched the city’s resources- from water to health services, electricity, down to transportation… The APC government is bending over backwards, under very difficult circumstances, to respond to the competing needs of its citizens. With the deadly Ebola outbreak and its penetrating and far-reaching socio – economic ramifications, the government’s job has only become difficult. Nonetheless, it is pulling through. Just a couple of months ago, it announced the payment of tuition fees of all kids in public schools for a period of two years. The government, as part of its post Ebola recovery program, is also providing seeds to help farmers restart their livelihood, providing cash to vulnerable groups, free health care to Ebola survivors and now; it has muscularly risen to the occasion with 100 new buses to help address the public transport challenges.
That emotional patriotic display is clearly an abiding acclamation for a job well done! USD 12 Million project of 100 diesel engine buses, spares estimated to last for two years, a technical team to serve for six months, two mobile garages and new equipment for the main garage (of the Sierra Leone Roads Transport Corporation- the agency responsible for managing government’s transport) is definitely a giant step by all estimation. Fifty of the buses will serve the densely populated city, seventeen of which will serve school kids, four will serve as airport shuttle, the rest will be divided up to serve university students and the rest of the public. For every destination in- city, the minimal cost of Le,1,000 will be the fare.
“This is good news,” said Mrs. Baindu Brima, a mother of three. “I usually won’t sleep until my kids return from school, and a lot of the time they come home very late. For those of us who do not have enough to pay the extra, our kids suffer a lot – waiting and running around for the few vehicles that would take them. These buses are going to be a huge psychological relief for both parents and kids,” she declared.
Critics say the problem of public transport is not just the shortage of vehicles. “There are other attendant factors which just the buses will not address. Those are structural problems and the transportation network’,” said a staunch opponent of the APC government.
While this observation may not be untrue, the government has bitten the bullet and is engaged in a many pronged approach to transform the country. Civil works are taking place everywhere with roads including four carriage ways and bridges being built all across the country. The whole country is transforming in an unprecedented fashion. A friend of mine from the provinces visited me in Freetown few weeks back. After a whole day’s walk to Goderich and Spur Road in the West of the city, he said to me:
“My brother, I got lost in several places; there is so much great infrastructural development going on that one cannot help missing some hitherto familiar places. The whole place is changing beautifully!”
As the Minister of Transport and Aviation – Mr. Leonard Balogun Koroma puts: “A lot of efforts have been put in to open up the city, it will not be a hundred percent, but there are reasonable good enough roads on which these buses will ride” .
The buses were commissioned on July 7th, 2015 by President Ernest Koroma whose development Agenda for Prosperity appears to be defying all odds in his avowed quest to improving the lives of majority of his people.