What is ACRC’s research in Freetown all about? How does housing connect with land, youth employment and the rising costs of imported materials? How do political systems both help and hinder meaningful change? What attention is paid to informal settlements? Does the government’s agenda intersect with residents’ needs, and where are the gaps? And how can these gaps be explored and understood, to drive forward urban reform processes?
These are some of the key questions explored as part of a recent radio segment on Radio Democracy 98.1 FM’s Freetown Urban Talk, which brought together key ACRC researchers from the housing and informal settlements domains for a conversation about ongoing work in the city.
Francis Reffell is the founder of the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA), a non-profit organisation providing technical support to its community counterpart and SDI affiliate, the Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP). He leads ACRC’s research on informal settlements in Freetown alongside Braima Koroma.
Alexandre Apsan Frediani is a principal researcher in human settlements at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and leads ACRC’s housing domain alongside Ola Uduku.
The full podcast transcript is available below.
Intro Welcome to the African Cities Podcast.
Osman Kamara Hello, good afternoon and welcome to a special programme coming to you live from 98.1 FM. And in the studios this afternoon I have three of my panellists and we’re going to talk on the urban, the Freetown Urban Talk. That’s the name of the programme this afternoon. And as I earlier on told you, I have three panellists and to my immediate right if you can introduce yourself, sir.
Francis Reffell Good afternoon, dear listeners, I am Francis Anthony Reffell, the founder and director for the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation, CODOHSAPA for short.
Osman Kamara Thank you very much for joining us. Alright, I will get to you brother. In the studios, we have, it’s a reunion, Mr Macarthy, you can introduce yourself and your position, sir.
Joseph Macarthy Yeah, thanks. Hello, everyone. I am Dr Joseph Macarthy, I am the executive director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, but also lecturer at Njala University. It’s a privilege to be here.
Osman Kamara Alright, welcome. In the studios on my extreme left, you can introduce yourself, sir?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Hello, everybody. My name is Alexandre Apsan Frediani. I’m a principal researcher at the Human Settlements Group of the International Institute for Environment and Development, which is a policy thinktank research institute based in London. Thank you for the invitation today.
Osman Kamara Okay, firstly I will start with you, Mr Macarthy. Give us a brief knowledge about the consortium, what it’s all about.
Joseph Macarthy Yeah. The African Cities Research Consortium consists of a number of universities and other research thinktanks across Africa, but also in Europe, that have come together to explore cities in Africa with funding from the FCDO and the consortium is led by The University of Manchester in the UK. There are a lot of eminent scholars who are looking at the urban in a more critical but also different way, because urban development is becoming key and is so much an issue now in the development agenda. But so much in terms of how the direction has been really explored has not been one that is really competent. So therefore it is so much about how do we do things differently, how do we look at cities as centres for change, as engines for the productivity of the countries where they exist? And how do we ensure that urban reform is done in ways that can drive issues of productivity, especially in terms of more inclusive ways, but also address issues of inequality. So the research has been done in 13 African cities. Six of these cities are currently being explored, especially in terms of the various issues that really are very contingent to their very development and how this can be explored, especially to ensure that change and tangible change is being effected. So I think that’s what the research is about.
Osman Kamara Alright. So, Alex, take us to what the research is all about.
Alexandre Apsan Frediani So, there are very different themes that are involved in this research. There are issues related to power, to politics, that is being researched in the various cities. There are also city systems that are being researched, so there are water systems, there are waste systems, health systems that are very important to shape opportunities in cities and the different teams in the different cities are leading research on that. And then apart from the systems there are, what the colleagues from the African Cities Research Consortium call the domains. Domains are particular areas of of work that we feel needs further investigation and that can bring about positive change that are related to issues of health and nutrition, for example, around informal settlements, around neighbourhood economic development, but also issues of land. And in terms of the work that I do, it relates to housing. So I’m co-leading the domain across six different cities on issues related to housing.
Osman Kamara So, Mr Francis, how can you, you know, describe the such components that you are leading?
Francis Reffell Right. Thank you very much. Well, let me say co-leading. As Alex mentioned, there are different domains. So for me, we are looking at the informal settlements domain but at the Centre I also support uptake. But firstly around informal settlements, like everybody else mentioned that this is about urban issues, urban reform. And if we talk about urban reform, especially within the Freetown context, you cannot leave out informal settlements or commonly what we call slums. And so the component that I’m co-leading on or I’m directly involved in, which is informal settlements, actually looking at informal settlements, you know, holistically in terms of the governance systems, you know, in terms of services and, you know, the occupancies and everything and you know how it actually connects to the city of systems. You know how the city operates on how it impacts on informal settlements. So we are looking at all those dynamics that are related to informal settlements. Coming to the issue of uptake, of course, we have a sense of research is about gathering evidence, gathering data to serve as evidence so that you are able to reach out to communicate those issues to, you know, the powers that be, the policy actors, you know, interest groups and parties that, you know, that are connected to those issues. So uptake will actually drive that agenda to actually raise those issues with the respective duty bearers and, you know, policy actors within, you know, the corridors of state functions and, you know, at a state level as well as at the local level. So that is basically what I am involved in.
Osman Kamara Alright. So, Mr Macarthy, what are some of the key issues in this research?
Joseph Macarthy Thanks so much. So for Freetown, we are really focusing on five key pillars as part of the research. And these pillars really differ across the 13 countries. Here we have identified – when I say we, I’m talking about working together with our stakeholders – we’ve identified housing as a critical challenge to the development of Freetown, and so therefore it is one of the main domain areas of research. We also have health, nutrition and wellbeing. Of course, you will agree with me that even the recent epidemic and the critical issues, especially with regards to food, regards to access to health, and with regards to even nutrition issues, these are very vital issues that needs to be explored, especially with regards to looking at our own development climate. While at the same time also we think that a lot of the issues really are a lot different, especially in a polarised city like Freetown. So therefore what really operates within informal settlements is may not be the same as that which operates within the wider city. So informal settlements is also another domain that we’re exploring. But we also have youth and capability development because we know that the issue of youth is so much critical to our country. I mean, youth unemployment is so grave. So that is another area of research. We also have safety and security, of course. I mean, the August issue event actually brings to light the very reason why safety, but also security issues should be matters of concern. So there are five domain areas that we are researching, but we are doing this alongside other three elements. Of course, you know that development is a political issue. It’s also a very critical economic issue. And so the enablers of change but also towards the very problem that we are talking about has to do with politics, so how those political systems enable or disable solutions to some of these issues that we are talking about. But we are also thinking about the city being seen as a system. Of course, cities function because there are a range of activities going on and sometimes we tend to classify these activities, especially in terms of higher clusters or even sectors. But looking at it sectorally, I mean it gives the impression that we are looking at things in bits witand we think that the manner in which cities as complex as we are, do function really goes beyond particular sectors. And so it’s so much about how does the functioning of the city, how the functioning of the city is being driven by a range and combination of these different forces that are being generated from the different sectors that we’re talking about. So dealing with one particular sector may not really bring the city the solution that we need because it has relevance to others, it has connections to others. So how are these connections being explored? But at the same time we also open up for the uptake of the research because it’s so much about not only producing or generating knowledge for its own sake, but so much about how does it meet the the needs of the city, how relevant is it, and therefore Freetown is situated within the broader context of Sierra Leone. How does the agenda of the government, how does the actual needs of the people, how do they intersect, and what are some of the gaps and how can these gaps be explored differently in ways that can actually drive the kind of change we want – the urban reform that we are talking about? Thank you.
Osman Kamara Alright. So, Alex, how can you describe Sierra Leone in terms of housing?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Well, I would not attempt to even start answering that question. I think we have here experts in the room that would be much better qualified to talk about the housing conditions in Sierra Leone. It’s the I mean, what I can get back to you on this question is maybe share with you some of the key highlights of some of the issues that are emerging that connects to some of the findings that the group is generating here, but also to the other groups in the other cities that we’ve been working on. And I think the one key aspect that’s coming up is that with policy and planning are not focusing on rental housing. Rental housing is massively one of the main forms of acquiring housing in cities in sub-Saharan Africa. And it has very little focus from government and policymakers to protect tenants against rogue landlords. So tenants rights issues is definitely a key topic that is emerging, it’s very important for us to think about ways of tackling it. Secondly, there is a growing recognition that local governments have a very important role to play in securing access to affordable and adequate housing. And actually they don’t optimise those capacities while at the same time, the national governments often fail to provide the right devolution mechanisms to empower local governments to be able to respond to the housing challenges. I think this is a topic that is very, very hot in Freetown, and that I think it deserves further discussion and also continued conversations of how local municipalities can actually increase their capacity to response to the housing challenge. And thirdly, I think there is one area that is often not addressed in much detail is the role of smallscale developers. The main developers of housing for low-income groups, and you can argue actually in the city, are those smallscale developers in informal settlements that are building small units incrementally. And they are shaped by all sorts of challenges in terms of access to finance, in terms of also the high price of building materials that keep fluctuating. We’ve seen in Freetown, for example, as in many other cities, that Covid and now the war and issues related to climate change is making the price of building materials triple in some materials. And this is an ongoing challenge that in the end of the day, those that pay the price are the tenants, are the residents that end up living in more expensive accommodation because landlords will then devolve the cost to rents, to tenants or that they would just not improve the conditions within which they live. So that’s actually continues perpetuating the challenge, the housing challenges that we see and which contributes to the cycle of poverty that exists in many urban contexts in sub-Saharan Africa.
Osman Kamara Alright. So what should be done, Alex, to tackle some of these issues?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Well, again, you’re bringing the tough questions to me today.
Osman Kamara I’ll ask the same.
Alexandre Apsan Frediani And I think we actually have been in a very fascinating workshop in the last few days, bringing together ministers, local government representatives, private sector, civil society, precisely talking about what could the housing policy in practice do to respond to some of those challenges. And I think there is an opportunity there is an invitation from the ministerial level to to think about new housing policy. And I think there is an opportunity there to try to influence that process in ways that you can recognise the needs of the most marginalised groups. So I would say that one point of departure that has been recognised by the workshop that we have had in the last few days and also in the conference that SLURC brought together, is that policy development can be a space to join forces and to influence that it can try to tackle some of those challenges around coordination, devolution, access to finance, but also the protection of housing rights, which is something very important. But also what came up in our conversations, is that policy alone is not enough, that there is a need for action, even for demonstrations on the ground, on other ways of producing housing, in ways that it can be affordable, that the costs can be low, that we can use local materials. So I think those are initial pointers, but I am sure my colleagues are going to have more tangible responses to this question.
Osman Kamara Alright. I want to ask the same question to Mr Francis. What should be done to tackle some of the issues of housing presently in sub-Saharan Africa or Sierra Leone, to be specific?
Francis Reffell Thank you. I think already, Alex, have given the context in terms of the problem. Maybe I would just add one or two to that. Firstly, it has been established that there is a situation of about 500,000 plus housing deficits so that we can figure that out. It tells you that there are a lot of people, both within the urban setting, as well as the rural settings that are struggling with issues of housing. The other point is that a lot of individual efforts are being made for people to access what we call housing. And those individual efforts are actually being hamstrung with the fact that those efforts are within low-income earning bracket spaces and so a lot of the margins of shanty structures, especially within the urban centres. In Freetown, for example, it is estimated that 35 to 40% of residents of Freetown live in informal settlements or what we call slums. And so you of course, I am sure as a journalist you relate with those scenarios and you can also envision or have realised, you know, what are the conditions there, mostly issues of overcrowding, limited spaces. You know, these structures actually do not have services. There’s a whole lot of environmental health risk in fact, there is now the emergence of climate change impacts because of the locations of these areas. And so this is really a huge problem that we are grappling with. But as you ask, how can we make a turnaround of this situation? Alex already made mention of that. Firstly is that there is a whole systems inadequacy and failure. I mean, over time, you know, government has not been able to put its act together, to be able to address these issues. And so it has become very compounded and complex at the moment. But then the silver lining is that already there are a lot of discussions. As I mentioned, for example, we had a very long engagement with various actors, you know, within the lands and housing sector trying to figure out how we can solve this issue. I think paramount amongst most of the discussion is that there really has to be reform around housing policies. So if there are, of course, I mean, it’s indicated there are some bits and pieces, I guess somebody even mentioned somebody within the ministry, we mentioned that the laws or the policies are very segmented. So that means we have to integrate those segmented existing policies, you know, to be able to speak to the issues. The other issue that we said is that as much as we want to change the narrative through policy reformation that has to really anchor on a principle of inclusiveness. What has given cause to the issue of the emergence of slums and informal settlements is that, you know, most of the development plans and, you know, actions are actually focused on formalities, and they’re leaving out, you know, the informal sector. But we are beginning to realise that if we want to really bring about a very pragmatic reformation within the urban centres that it has to be inclusive, that is irrespective of who is where, the relevance of everybody is very key in this, including those in the informal sector, including those in the government sector, including those that are in slums, you know. It’d be interesting to know, for example, that in Freetown, informal sector in terms of economy, you know, in terms of labour, you know, in terms of services, you know, is driven a lot by the informal sector, people living like our Okada riders, our taxi riders, our maids. You know, even within the government sector, some teachers, you know, have found themselves in those kind of environment. Right. And so if we are talking about an urban reform one to really bring some pragmatic change, then our discussions, our actions should be very inclusive, bringing on board all these different sectors, you know, within. And of course, if the past days of our engagement, you know, with all different, you know, people drawn from different areas, including informal dwellers, it clearly showed us that there’s a need for us to act together. You know, I think the other thing in one of the closing, you know, discussions that and I think just trying to take a cue from somebody that is from the informal settlement, is that from time immemorial we’ve been talking about reforms, we’ve been talking about policy and all of that. What he was saying and emphasising that now is the time to act. You know, we have gathered a lot of evidence and we continue to gather a lot of evidence, but as much as we do all of this grounding, you know, all of these bits and pieces, these are soft. We are, you know, elements of these are driving actions. You know, it has to be backed up with real action. So if we have a policy, let you know those that are responsible for translating those policies into actions that would be of benefit for people down there. Let us now go into action rather than every other time we gather evidence, we gather, you know, review policies, and we keep it in. And so I think now it’s time to act, so then we can really talk about change.
Osman Kamara Alright, so. Mr Macarthy, how can you describe Sierra Leone in terms of housing? Because Alex said you have the right authority to answer.
Joseph Macarthy Yeah, I think housing is a very key challenge in a situation where our country is also experiencing urbanisation. And this trend seems to be really something that has to be recognised and has to be taken very seriously. And it’s not so much the question of how the urbanisation has to come. It’s so much about how do we prepare for it because it is already at our doorstep. And once the population grows, once cities and towns continue to grow, there is so much need for housing. And this has been happening against a background of very small stock of house, especially when you look about the kinds of conditions that really takes place or is already the case for many settlements, especially those that we describe as informal settlements. And I think our recent statistics also shows that there are a lot of houses that are overcrowded, and this brings with it a lot of epidemic challenges, while at the same time, even in the very conditions like places where they exist, especially, the unstable, those that are located in unstable locations. I mean, you find that whenever there is a disaster, I mean, they are normally they are very first that we become concerned about because their situations are a lot very dangerous. So housing is so much a challenge because the stock is not enough to accommodate the entire population and in their desperation to also accommodate themselves because a lot of low-income, low-income families are initiating actions to really deal with their own housing demands, especially when there’s no alternative, and so in their desperation, they normally build anywhere. And some of the houses they build are just mere shacks, which really are not enduring at all. They are not protective enough. They are not safe at all. And so this because is like this heavy rains. They become particular areas of disaster occurrence. And so we have had this particular problem for a long time, we have grappled with it since 2015 whenever there is a rainy season, we start to talk about it. 2017, we’ve been talking about it and this should not be something that we should only be talking about it when crisis occurs, I think we have to prepare for it. We have to prepare for it. And the time should be now because we are tired actually about this and a lot of knowledge and a lot of research has gone into this particular kind of conversation. And it’s has come not only from the point of view of the demand for housing but also the supply, which has also come from a range of perspectives, especially in terms of the disaster risks that will cause. But also, as part of the conversation, a lot has been discussed, especially in terms of, for instance, the kinds of building materials that we use. And why is it that there is so much affinity for imported goods? Are we really thinking about alternative means, especially to ensure that we reduce the cost of housing by possibly initiating other forms of action to really address the building materials that we use, the kind of building materials that we use, how we really work towards looking at our land, the problems of access and affordability of land. How have we been really initiating actions to ensure that people really are able to acquire land for housing? But, even if they cannot acquire by themselves, what alternative mechanisms can we learn from elsewhere, from other countries in terms of the kinds of initiatives that have been really put, that have been taking place in those particular places that we can from, especially in terms of some of the community-led initiatives that has really proven well in some countries in Asia, but also in Latin America. And these were part of our conversations in the most recent conference that we had. But, also, it’s so much about how do we open the space for discussion because often housing is at least seen so much from a technical perspective. And as long as you don’t belong to that particular space, your voice gets drowned and it’s not so much that it’s only one perspective that matters. I think there is a lot of people who have lived in these particular places, they have their own tacit knowledge, they have the understanding of the very places, they have their own ideas in terms of how these places can be shared properly. Possibly they don’t have the resources, but the initiatives are there. So how do we really tap into some of these initiatives and possibly make them lot right so that we, with very little minimal resources will contribute to the ideal conditions that can enable their existence within such collective activities. But there are also a range of governance issues, especially in terms of the kinds of collaborations that are needed. I was talking earlier on about the functioning of the city in terms of the different systems that exist. And so often we tend to look at issues, problems from a very isolated strand, looking at issues from just a kind of sectoral understanding. Leaving out other pertinent issues because the problem for housing it’s not only for it’s not only about putting up a structure, there are several aspects to it. For instance, service provision, connectivity are very critical to it. Electricity or energy is very critical, too. So how do we bring all of these as part of that particular space to be able to really get the kind of shared understanding of what are the kinds of actions, initiatives to take? But at the same time, also, there are also problems regarding access to finance. So these are critical issues that needs to be really looked at when we have to look at housing. We don’t just have to look at it from the very isolated point of view. Well, we have to open up to have a more holistic kind of understanding and that holistic understanding brings the kind of reform that we are talking about here.
Osman Kamara Alright. So I’m coming over to you, Alex. The issues in those slum communities. Is it the same with other countries?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani So you have some issues that are similar. I mean, the experience of insecurity of tenure and the threat of evictions and displacement, it’s something that is similar to many other contexts of informality and where housing precarity continues and is definitely something that is the same. But there are factors in that from a Sierra Leonean context and also context from Freetown that make some of this experience also very different and to be expressed in very different ways. You have a certain wave of migration that’s very recent, in the case of Freetown, you have the relationship between the residents of Freetown with the provinces that remain very dynamic, flow of people coming in. In other countries, you have a situation where people have more static in some contexts, some others, it’s similar as well. And you have also, you know, especially in the Western area, continued population growth that’s continuously putting pressure over land that is also quite particular to the case of Freetown, it’s something. But then also what I might want to talk about is also the response in terms of in other countries and contexts, some of the lessons learnt that we are drawing from other places and trying to adapt and see how this could work in the context of Freetown is for example, using participatory planning processes of how communities could be involved in the design and planning of the settlements as a way to respond to this insecurity of tenure. And we’ve seen a great appropriation by community groups and residents here and making that of their own. So in other contexts I’ve worked, for example, there has been strong emphasis on a map on the design of a new community plan. But I think here in Freetown, we’ve seen that other ways of disseminating, for example, some of those values. We’ve seen jingles being produced by residents and disseminating that through local radio as a way to to share the ideas of what should be done and how that should be improved within their own communities. We’ve seen how also local groups, savings groups have been set up and are able to then with the right support and the conditions to invest and make those improvements in a coordinated way and not necessarily in a different and fragmented way. So I think that’s some of the lessons and maybe the last one that I might want to to bring to light is all the aspects of protecting residents’ rights that I think doesn’t need so much investment, but that governments could do much more. And we’ve seen that from other countries on how the rights of those living in precarious living conditions could be protected. They could be better recognised, but also protect against the different types of violations as the one that I mentioned before around tenants rights violations. We’ve seen here, for example, how tenants are expected to pay two years in advance for their rent. And then even when the deposit is there, they may not even be given a deposit in the end of their contract. You know, this has a huge impact on the livelihoods of very poor communities that are often they don’t have where to go to protect them against this type of violation. So this is just some of the, I think, comparative elements that I think it’s been useful for dialogue with communities and our colleagues.
Osman Kamara Alright. So what are some of the immediate actions you think, you know, government or other individual should bring to tackle some of these issues?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani I think there is a room here for us to think about what is regularisation of tenure. I think that’s a really we heard from the ministries here, for example, on how their regularisation procedures are not targeting low-income groups and there is no policy or mechanism that actually focus in securing tenure for those living in informal settlements. I think this is a massive blindspot that policy and I put it here nicely that policy is not recognised and in other contexts like for example in South Africa you have a whole policy around human settlements that look at the different aspects of the rights of those living in informal settlements that should be protected and should be encouraged. So I would definitely think that one place of departure is to focus on regularisation policies that work not just through the distribution of titles, but actually work. In ways that empowers communities, that strengthen the collective agency and capacities of communities to manage land and to be able to manage housing collectively to protect against evictions, but also other forms of displacements like market led displacements. When we start regularising, suddenly the market prices start going up of those properties, and you have a developer that comes in and buy half of the informal settlement and generate a different type of of development and people being pushed to areas that are more marginalised and in the outskirts of cities contributing to disorganised urban growth. That is not good for the city because it keeps the city unsustainable, generate more and more costs to connect to those areas of the city and makes the lives of those residents in those communities even worse because there is less livelihoods opportunity in this context. So I would say one point of departure could be the focus on some of those issues.
Osman Kamara Alright. So what are some of the rights you think should be observed for people living in the slums?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani So when we talk about the right to adequate housing, we’re really talking about the security of tenure. We are talking about the proximity to work. We are talking about adequacy, in terms of adaptability, of living material. Those are different elements, that is not us coming up with them, but they are actually recognised in UN conventions and in the right to adequate housing and that has been agreed by international standards and committees. So I, I would say that focusing on some of those issues is a point of departure and that we should be really focusing on some of those rights to be able to protect the, you know, the housing rights of all those residents living in the frontline of the challenges that the city is presenting.
Osman Kamara Okay, now, Mr Francis, is it possible to relocate people from slum communities or to remove the slums from those people?
Francis Reffell Thank you very much. If I can just answer directly, what is two sides of the coin that you have presented to me, that is upgrading as well as relocation? Yes. Firstly, to echo what the slum dwellers say, that we have the problems, we have the solutions, so that speaks to the situation that, as Alex mentioned, there’s a need for participatory planning. And they have become the problem not of their own making, but because, as I mentioned before, that there are, you know, systems inadequacies and systems failures. And on top of that, there is so much concentration of opportunities, economic opportunities, job opportunities in those services and the like in Freetown. And so this is serving as a driver or a pull factor of people moving from upcountry to Freetown in search of these opportunities. I normally see that, you know, when we are discussing in this room, I see if we do a quick or a random check of us in the room, you realise that majority of us came from the provinces. Why is that? Because we are all running after the opportunity and we come and some become successful, some don’t. So at the end of the day, some do not because the kind of systems that exist does not cater for everybody. And so those realities have made us become destined to become the problem. While at the same time they are saying, even though we are a problem, we can also provide solution. And so because of that, that is why they have agreed among themselves that governments we are partners in all of this. So in that case, can you remove the slum from the people and not the people from the slum? So therefore, upgrade where possible, relocate where necessary. But it is also informed by the fact that if you look at the landscape like you asked Alex if, you know, a slum situation that is similar in that countries, the peculiarity of Freetown is that, you know, Freetown is sandwiched between the sea and the hillside. And so is a long stretch of, you know, settlements. And naturally, it happens that those who have the resources occupy the best parts of the spaces available, those who do not have no option but to occupy those dangerous. And of course. A good proportion of those in informal settlements are along the seacoast. And so it has created those complexities. So now we are seeing because these people are very highly vulnerable to every climate change impact, so in those cases, governments should not continue to, you know, or we should not continue to keep them in those situations. So therefore, government will have the option to resort to relocation. But within relocation also, there are standards that has to be respected, as Alex mentioned, around human rights issues. You know, global standards have been set. You know, we had relocation. I’ve often challenged officials who say a couple of years back, we give land to people in or they wait and they came back. There are many factors to that where they came back. Number one, Alex mentioned that is that you want to be. You know, they want to ensure proximity to their places of livelihood. You know, if you are a labourer in an office, you know, let’s say you are at Cala Town and you work at your building, you need to spend money on transport to go to your office. And so you are saving money for other priorities. Well, if you are living in Joy and you have to take transport every day, how much is the labourer working at? You know, I tell you, bill, pay, pay to be able to support his transport on a daily basis and leave in other priorities, you know. So those are the things and other thing I always ask them, is that you say you give houses and did you provide them with the legitimate documents to show that, you know, it has been very you know, it has been very unstructured, a kind of a firefighting response, you know, to this kind of situation. So, now, the principle of upgrade where possible and relocate where necessary is what we are pushing for. Why is that? Because, as I said, we have to protect you know, we have to ensure the safety and security of these people. And we are only demanding that government should ensure that if they are resorting to the concept of relocation, they have to respect those things, ensure that people’s livelihood go with them to ensure that they have access to easy access to their place of work and all of that. But it’s also possible, I mean, to have work in other places where informal settlements have been upgraded, you know, to actually ensure that, you know, there is a safety and security improved, you know, in the lives of these people. So it is a two side of the coin, and it depends. And, of course, the key driver for this, the option that government want to take is that is around financing, obviously. And of course, as I said before, the peculiarity of Freetown, in most cases, we do not have like land space, you know, that could be improved on. But there are many ways of, or what we need is more innovative approach to solving the housing you know challenge you know. In other places it has worked where small parcels of land have been improved on. You know, the approach of densification, high-rise, of course, but we are not asking much. There are still spaces within Freetown which could be improved. There are still informal settlements, which could be improved upon as long as, you know, all actors, you know, that have interest, have a stake in housing production and market in common. But that will be. I also want to encourage, you know, like the private sector, 35 to 40% of the population is a huge market. They will want to argue that these are low-income earners. But as I said, if you bring in innovative approach that we bring down, you know, the costs and ensure affordability, these people will be willing to, you know, finance their own housing opportunities.
Osman Kamara Okay, Mr Macarthy, you can agree with me that any time, any time as a country we faced something like out of the people living in those slum communities are mostly affected. So any research around the health of those people?
Joseph Macarthy Yeah. Our centre, the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, have been doing a lot of research in various areas, various aspects including public health, open health. And over the period a lot of work has been undertaken in both formal and informal spaces within Freetown, but more especially with regards the informal. One thing is clear that the health of the people is generally influenced by the social determinants.
Osman Kamara What do you mean?
Joseph Macarthy Of the very places where people live. Of course, the conditions of the settlements generally have a lot of issues regarding, for instance, the type of housing, the quality of housing, the sanitation, even issues of access to, for instance, water, issues of waste disposal. And all those kind of things bring a lot of challenges. And so therefore the health conditions are a lot tied with these particular issues. And even with regards to the way in which they are able to navigate around the settlements, issues of connectivity, because there is no way they can live without connecting with the wider city and these particular areas, some of them are not properly connected in terms of roads. And so some of these places are lots prone to injury, especially by people walking around. And this is so because people need to live and their livelihood is somewhat tied with the connections, with the city. And where opportunities, especially for income-generating opportunities, opportunities do not exist. They have to take the risk of possibly moving everybody from the hillside areas down, down while also from the coastal areas of town to be able to really navigate the wellbeing issues. But more fundamentally informal settlements, yes, they have PHFs, public health, public health facilities. But then it’s so much a question of where are they located. Sometimes the communities are provided with, but then there are particular areas that may be located far away from these healthcare services. And so therefore, like in the case of Dworzack, you have the health centre located not far away from where the market is, where it’s obviously a very large area and people are living way up the hill, living closer to the American embassy, have to come down to access this. So the location itself is so much a deterrent because it’s more or less not centrally located to service everyone within the community. And therefore access is so much an issue. But at the same time also whilst they will have to, some of them, do take the risk the issue of costs especially in terms of accessing the healthcare services, the costs, issues of affordability is a lot challenging for some of them. And so even where they are sick, some of them normally choose to look for alternatives from within the very communities. And so therefore some of them even against their wish to have to go for drug peddlers because they already have interactions with them and some of these can negotiate prices fundamentally lower and some of these drugs may have lasted for several months and may not be in any good shape. But this is what they can afford. And so therefore, whilst they may have health challenges, they already have challenges, especially with regards to the pocket which makes access to the services that has been provided a lot difficult. And so the very conditions of the people, but also where people live, is so much a driver of the health, whilst at the same time they connect with the city, especially in terms of having to always commute, but also in terms of a lot of challenge in terms of the injuries and all those kind of things they are exposed to. But also, in terms of how do they access the health that is being provided, especially with regards to the location, but also with regards to the cost forces them to possibly find alternative means, and some of these alternatives may not be really the kind of solutions that they need.
Osman Kamara Alright, Mr Macarthy, time is not on our side. I’ll ask your very last question: what’s the way forward we should do?
Joseph Macarthy So like we started all over today, this research, like I said, is really looking at a number of issues within Freetown. We looked at housing and we have lenghtily discussed housing here. But there are also issues about health, nutrition and wellbeing, but also so much that the city has been polarised and we want to build an inclusive city. How do we ensure that we leave no one behind? Because we have people who are living in informal settlements as much as they are other people who are living in planned settlements. We also have issues of youth, especially in terms of the issue of unemployment, but also in terms of capacity. What kind of enablers do we really require to make sure that our city becomes productive, our city is one that is able to really ensure that it grows within a kind of framework of equality, kind of while at the same time we have issues of safety and security being addressed? How do we ensure that we really look at these particular issues within the context of the political ramifications of the city, while at the same time also what are the kinds of opportunities, the incentives that exist that we have to build on? And so, therefore, the political economy of the city is very, very fundamental. We have to look at its other issues with regards to how else can we or what can we do differently, especially that can unlock opportunities unlike what we have been doing. So it’s so much about having a kind of fundamental shift, especially in terms of the kind of reform. So we are pushing for a reform agenda and it’s so much about also coalition building. Who are the kinds of, what kind of coalition, who are the kinds of interests, who are the kind of persons that really have interests, that can really drive the kind of agenda that we have, passion that we can collectively work towards building, that we can work to collectively to what’s ensuring that we provide these kinds of answers. Why is working within the framework of connecting communities with government but also working with the civil society space that exists?
Osman Kamara Thanks very much, doc. I’m going to ask the same question to Alex. What’s the way forward?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani I think the way forward more immediately, I just wanted to come back to this idea of the role of research. I think is quite impressive what the colleagues from the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre and the partnership with CODOHSAPA, FEDURP and other researchers have been able to use research as a platform to bring people together. And it’s not any more the researchers, the academics up in the ivory tower, looking down into the society, it’s actually researchers saying, we are part of that society and we are going to be using research to collectively build alliances to reflect about our challenges, but also to come up with concrete answers and possibilities and spaces where those can be designed collectively. So I think it’s a really exciting endeavour and it’s not a new one. It’s something that there is a very vibrant community around the actors that is involved in this particular project that there has been for a while working together, and I think that type of coalition is what you need to bring change and bring change, not just today, not in a way that addresses immediate only immediate problems, but one that is able to actually build the type of institutions that you need to sustain and drive reforms in the long term. So I would focus on the way forward in continuing nurturing that space of action that comes through research, research that involves communities. That communities are equal actors in the process of knowledge production, but also of solution making and that involves civil society, that involves government authorities from the different levels. That brings the private sector on board as well. And I think that’s a precious but also very important place from where change can happen.
Osman Kamara Alright. Same question to you, Mr Francis.
Francis Reffell So, you know, the city is like a living organism and if you have a fault with the eyes, it’s going to affect your function. Informal settlements is a kind of sore that the city is suffering from. At the same time like one bad fish, we are bound to affect the rest of the other fish. And so it with that it’s going to affect, you know, the meal at the end of day. In Africa, we say that “ubuntu” – I am because you are. That means that what I am trying to communicate is that you might be living in a privileged location, housing sector where is secure. Others may not. But we have to recognise the fact that we are all part of this living organism called Freetown. And so if some parts are disturbed, you will not be at peace, you know, you are not assured of a total safety and security. So we are asking that, you know, it should be everybody’s responsibility to make sure that we collaborate, participate together, we make sure that we recognise, you know, everybody to be part of this drive that we actually bring transformation. You know, just closing that in the conference, I said that no one wants to do business with the poor and the only business they want to do with the poor is election business. Right. Right now, politicians are out there. Vote for, I mean, register so that you can vote. Why is that? Because they want to maximise their vote. But to recall the voice of the slum dwellers, they are saying that if our votes count, our voices count too. So on that note, I plead with everyone else to support this agenda, this initiative, to make sure we arrive to establish a mechanism that is inclusive in terms of urban planning and development. Thank you.
Osman Kamara Thank you very much, guys. But before we close the programme, how long have you been in Freetown, Alex?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Well, this time I’ve been, I’m in my second week, but I’ve been coming here for a while. I think it’s been how long? We started working together for 5 to 6 years. I think we’ve been working together. I was one of the co-founders of the Sierra Leone…
Osman Kamara Okay, did you get any Krio learned? You get any Krio learned?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani A little bit.
Osman Kamara [Speaks in Krio]
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Okay.
Osman Kamara [Speaks in Krio]
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Well, that’s way beyond my capacity.
Osman Kamara What about the food?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Oh, the food is very good.
Osman Kamara Cassava leaf, you love it?
Alexandre Apsan Frediani Yes, cassava leaf is very good.
Osman Kamara Alright, thank you very much, guys. Well, that’s our special programme we come to you live from Radio Democracy 98.1 FM. So until we meet another time, we’ll bring this edition to you this afternoon, my name’s Osman Kamara. Bye bye.
Outro You’ve been listening to the African Cities podcast. Remember to subscribe for more urban development insights and interviews from the African Cities Research Consortium.
Header photo credit: ICLEI Africa
Note: This article presents the views of the author featured and does not necessarily represent the views of the African Cities Research Consortium as a whole.
The African Cities blog is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0), which means you are welcome to repost this content as long as you provide full credit and a link to this original post.