Urban reform coalitions in Freetown: A conversation with Joseph Macarthy

Jun 5, 2023

ACRC defines inclusive urban reform coalitions as partnerships between government, experts and civil society organisations – often directly involving communities and groups most directly affected by the issues at hand – to drive sustainable urban transformation.

In this episode, Joseph Macarthy, executive director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC), joins Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael for a conversation around coalition building for inclusive urban reform, drawing on his experiences in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Discussing SLURC’s ongoing work with with the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) and the Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP), Joseph talks about collaborating with community residents as co-researchers, the development of a Community Action Area Plan, and how City and Community Learning Platforms can provide a space for genuine dialogue among different actors in Freetown.
Joseph Macarthy is executive director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC) and ACRC’s Freetown city lead, also overseeing city of systems and housing research in the city.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael is a postdoctoral research fellow at the African Cities Research Consortium, supporting research across the crosscutting themes of finance, gender and climate change.


The full podcast transcript is available below.

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Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Welcome to the African Cities podcast. I’m Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael, a postdoctoral researcher at African Cities Research Consortium. Today, I’m joined by Dr Joseph Macarthy to discuss the experiences from Sierra Leone on coalition building for inclusive urban reform. This podcast interview is part of mini podcast series produced in preparation for the Urban Reform Coalitions Conference held in mid-June in Manchester, organised by ACRC in collaboration with Manchester Urban Institute. My guest today, Dr Joseph Macarthy, is executive director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC) and professor at the Institute of Geography and Development Studies, Njala University. Joseph also co-leads ACRC’s Freetown city of systems research. Welcome, Joseph.

Joseph Macarthy Thank you very much.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you. To kickstart our conversation, please tell us briefly about yourself, the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, or SLURC, and your role in ACRC research in Freetown.

Joseph Macarthy Thanks very much. I think you have said it all. I am the executive director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, but also lectures at Njala University. The Sierra Leone Urban Centre is one of its kind in Sierra Leone. It focuses specifically on urban research and it’s so much about the level of urbanisation and the challenges associated with it and the implications for city development. So we aim to research seven thematic issues, which I cannot bore you with, but we are also into capacity building, which is so much about providing training and skills. We also undertake knowledge management activities, but we are also into advocacy and policy influencing. So I lecture at Njala University, but that I cannot really go into. With regards to the ACRC, I am the city lead researcher. What this means is that I am responsible for coordinating the Freetown city research team, more or less also working to link up with our external research partners. And I’m also responsible for writing the city’s synthesis report. Beyond that, I am also the research lead for the city of systems report and also for housing domain reports. So I am a three in one person. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. Since the main focus of our interview is about SLURC, may you please discuss, using examples, what SLURC does in partnership with the Federation of Urban and Rural Poor in Sierra Leone, and the local support NGO, Centre for Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation, in collaboration with public and other stakeholders.

Joseph Macarthy Firstly to say that the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre is now seven years old. And before that, the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) had existed a few years before and also CODOHSAPA, the Centre for Dialogue on Human Settlement, had also existed about a few years before. But basically what existed at the time was really the lack of capacity on their part, especially to drive the kind of desired change. And this is because they were really not so much aligned with, for instance, an academic institution that can possibly improve on their capacity to act, but also in terms of the kinds of engagement that were required. So SLURC came in as part of these same projects that we were together working on, to fill this particular gap, especially in terms of working with these organisations, more especially in terms of improving their research quality, their research capability, because there were doubts initially in terms of the kinds of reports that they were producing, and these were somewhat because it was not quality assured, and all those kind of things. So we came to add value to the kind of work they were doing. So we have been working with them to collect a lot of data on the different informal settlements, especially related to the different projects that we have been undertaking, and this has really involved using a variety of participatory research approaches. And we have kind of improved their experience, but also their skills, especially in terms of engagements like community mapping, but also in terms of the community enumeration and profiling that they used to do more. And over the period, this has actually involved co-learning, especially working together with them, and in one of our research which is tied to the ARISE research working together with Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, we have elevated them based on the level of improvements in their research capacity to work now together as full researchers, which means that their skilfulness, their knowledge, their ability is so much enhanced and now we can even work with the community residents as co-researchers. We have also worked with the community, especially in terms of pilots in certain activities that we have produced as part of our research output. So we have been working with them to pilot some of the implementation actions that have emerged from our different research. And there is also the element of knowledge exchange, which our relationships together have really fostered. We have also worked together with them to even designate some of the research findings that have emerged as part of our outputs, while also in terms of giving out messages or disseminating research outputs to their fellow community residents, we’re also raising awareness, but also mobilising them, driving change within the communities.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. In relation with this, please tell us about the SLURC-curated multi-stakeholder city and community learning platforms, or CiLPs, in Freetown and their role in Covid-19 response, and also bringing some urban reforms.

Joseph Macarthy The learning platforms were generated especially to build a democratic space within the city. Freetown, like many other cities, suffers a lot, especially in terms of development deficits. And this is also characterised by inequality, poverty and all kind of things. And we consider that people in these settlements, we have two sides to this city. We have that which is planned and better serviced, but we also have that which is really lacking, especially with regards to these. And this amounts to issues of exclusion, whether we find it socially, politically, economically or otherwise. But there is also marginalisation and vulnerability. And this means so much in terms of access – of people to services such as water, such as energy, such as health. But it’s also the fact that these particular spaces have grown without any recourse to planning. And because the city has been overgrowing, it has led to the growth and expansion of informal settlements. The city suffers from housing scarcity, and there is also the problem of affordable housing. And we observe also that a lot of people, especially the low income, really suffer a lot in terms of political representation, they don’t have a voice. And these are the places when there is urban disaster, weather, health disaster, or whatever, the challenges are a lot. So we felt that we needed to create a kind of platform that really bring the voices of the people to anchor or to hear, on the development processes within the city. And we also need to organise them so that they can also start to have a reflection among themselves of the kinds of issues, the kinds of concerns that relate to their communities. So the learning platforms are of two types. We have the community learning platform, which organises the residents to really speak out, to discourse around the challenges that they face and what kind of common front engagements they need to undertake, especially either by themselves or by the city authorities, to be able to bring about change. But also how that can be fed within the city learning platform, which brings together different sets of actors, especially across the city. So the learning platform, I would say, is a creative space, and it is intended to promote genuine dialogue among the different actors. It normally involves people engaging in conversing more or less, having some level of debate, some level of knowledge exchange. So learning from one another, especially in terms of what the city is about, what kind of vision we have about the city. So this co-learning is also a part of the city learning platform. And the idea is actually to propose a kind of pathway to urban equality, one that really serves the needs of all, rather than just a few.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. And then, keeping on on this question, who are involved within that platform? On the one hand, you mentioned that there is a community level and there is the city level. Who are the partners?

Joseph Macarthy So the community level involves the different stakeholders at the community level. For instance, you have different organisations, but also you have women’s groups, you have youth groups, you have religious groups, you name it. So these are the kinds of persons who really have a lot of membership and who also are a lot knowledgeable about their communities. Then FEDURP taps from within these existing structures. So they come together to really discuss pertinent issues regarding their communities. And that sets the agenda for the city learning platform. At the city learning platform, we draw from either any of the SLURC research, but also research from other actors, like the NGOs, to also bring together a range of organisations, either at the level of the local government but also at the central government. To really see those that are pertinent to a particular issue, to sit together, hear from research outputs around these particular areas, also hear from the communities while also to see how we can converse to really come around a kind of agenda for action that can really work towards addressing some of these issues.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. Staying on the same lane, what are the added value of building coalitions, anchored on residents of the informal settlements and other disadvantaged groups in Sierra Leone, regarding influencing pro-poor, inclusive reform? Particularly the issue that you mentioned earlier, in knowledge co-production involving academicians, universities and other partners that you mentioned. So, what advantage, what added value would this building reform relations bring?

Joseph Macarthy Okay. Firstly, just to say that the platforms provide spaces for lateral and vertical linkages. We have different organisations come in, but also from across Freetown. And of course, we know that there are a lot of power imbalances, especially across, because you have those that are stronger, especially those coming from the states, while you also have those coming from the communities. So there is that kind of linkage, either laterally or vertically, across board. And this particular kind of setting, the interactions that take place, the discussions that take place, really add value, in the sense that it draws attention to the critical concerns, but also the challenges faced by people living in informal settlements, or you can call them low-income households. But also it helps the discussion, especially for these city-level actors getting to hear firsthand from the community members. It really not only draws attention to those particular critical issues, but it also drives a change in the mindset of some of these actors, especially those who are not really aware of the nuances within these informal settlements, the kind of challenges that they experience and all those kind of things. And those particular practices also add value in the sense that it informs, especially in terms of urban development practice. Of course, we have had what we refer to as the community action area plan and during the process of putting together or developing that particular community action area plan, a lot of engagement was done with the community. And what came out from that interaction was the idea that, though they continue to be harassed about issues of eviction, threats of evictions and all those kind of things, but the point is, there is really no alternative to the kind of planning that takes place within the city. One that really focuses on their communities, one that really looks at the neighbourhood as one that really is a little different from what actually obtains or what actually exists within other areas of the city that we regard as planned. So it was so much about what alternative can we provide? So we took them through a range of actions. It was a planning process and it was an alternative kind of planning process that focuses on the community-level realities. And this particular engagement with them kind of developed some design guides, especially one that really can promote order within their settlements, and one that can be used by them to advocate for change, one that really can help them to further the development, the future development of their localities. So the CAAP process was very, very critical, especially in terms of adding value to them because they have used it as a kind of condition, especially to engage NGOs that want to do some spatial development within their spaces, to really guide them, especially in terms of how this can be furthered and all kinds of things. So these are some of the ways in which the platform has helped the community, but individually also it has helped to increase the understanding of residents, because many of them have lived within these communities over the years, but they don’t understand exactly beyond the very places where they live, the don’t understand the broader aspects of the city and, more especially, in terms of how the community is situated within the broader confines of the city. And so we have also, as part of the process, helped to build their capacity, but also to give them a voice. So I think, to a large extent, the city learning platform has significant value to the residents and their groups.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. With regard to this community action planning and how it’s feeding to the broader city-level planning and what would be the role of SLURC and other partners, in translating, in bringing forward the community-level identified problem and solution to the city level to inform citywide planning?

Joseph Macarthy Well, planning in Sierra Leone is, according to law, to take place at three different levels. There is the planning that takes place at the national level. But you also have that which takes place at the city level. And this normally involves the design of structural plans. You also have what we refer to as neighbourhood plan, which is supposed to be generated especially to ensure that the different sites or localities within the city gets connected within the broader planning framework. But there is also the action area plan, which really has not been considered or been given a lot of attention over the years, and this particular element relates to particular areas that seems to be a lot considered as being disorderly. Those relate so much to the informal settlements that are normally facing threats of eviction. So we felt that the local councils haven’t been using the action area plan for a long time because of lack of capacity. And also even the neighbourhood planning has not been done for a long time because of lack of capacity on the part of the planning institutions. Why does the community, the informal settlements continue to face threat of eviction? We wanted to showcase that planning is still possible even in the absence of those.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael In line with that, particularly these community-level action plans, how do they inform city-level planning? And what is the role of SLURC and other partners in translating these community-identified problems and solutions to inform urban planning at the city level?

Joseph Macarthy So the community action area plan was meant to demonstrate that planning is possible within informal settlements and rather than just threatening to evict them, it is also possible to include them in the city by way of ensuring that some level of planning takes place. So like I said, initially, planning takes place at four different levels, there is the national-level planning, but there is also the city-level planning and there is the neighbourhood planning and there is the local action plan. But then the local action planning and the neighbourhood planning has been missed out for a long time. And this explains why most communities have developed organically without any recourse to planning. And so therefore in the absence of action area planning and neighbourhood planning, we wanted to showcase that planning is still possible within these communities because people here don’t identify themselves in terms of neighbourhoods, they identify in terms of communities – that is, the very places where they live. And these can range, for instance, in terms of settlement from maybe 2,000, as much as 18,000, as the case may be. So we felt that people identify themselves so much with the communities, and so let us see how we can showcase to the city council, but also to the ministry, that planning is possible amidst all the odds. So that particular community action area plan was meant to serve as a design guide, so that the city council can now see that there are a lot of principles that can be undertaken and practised to ensure that these particular communities also become an inclusive part of the city, especially in terms of ensuring that they are spatially planned. So that particular method, that particular planning approach has been already factored within the broader Freetown city council framework of planning, while also within the national level. The only thing is, the city council is still trying to practicalise it into slum communities that they are seeking funding to be able to translate into action and SLURC has been providing a lot of technical guide, technical support, especially in terms of how this can be undertaken.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. In such platforms, especially bringing in city-level officials, central government officials, NGOs or universities, when you bring them together in the same platform with community groups, there is always this power asymmetry – you have also mentioned it earlier. So what mechanisms are put in place, to ensure the demands of the informal settlement residents and other disadvantaged groups are seriously considered and to enhance their bargaining power, vis a vis the more powerful members of the platform or the coalition?

Joseph Macarthy Yeah, indeed, unequal power relationship is a major factor, especially influencing the platform. But yet, there are what you refer to as demand and supply sides of our engagement. Ultimately, local community dwellers want to have change in their communities. They want to have improvements in their lives and wellbeing. At the same time, politicians need votes from residents within these communities. For instance, the mayor of Freetown can only really be assured of getting a second term if, and only if, the informal settlements are onside, because informal settlements make about 35% of the city population, which is huge. But at the same time, also NGOs wants to ensure community ownership of their interventions. So there is the demand and supply interactions between the local people, the politicians and the changemakers. And we know that there is need for us to really capitalise, SLURC needs to capitalise on these relationships. So SLURC’s mechanism to enhance the bargaining power of informal settlement residents, and especially the poor, and to ensure that their demands are seriously considered by powerful actors, especially the states, the national-level actors and the city-level actors, have been about mediating the demand and supply side elements. And this is carefully crafted and done through strengthening the vertical and lateral relationships that I talked about. Of course, this has involved having periodic city learning platforms, maybe after every three months or maybe after every four months, with follow-up mechanisms to ensure that what were discussed are really being translated into action, some way somehow. But it has also been about building capacity of the residents for advocacy, and to also ensure that they engage the different stakeholders. And so it’s not just about creating linkages, but it’s also about ensuring that there is advocacy on the part of the communities, while also engaging the different stakeholders, either at the level of the state or outside, to ensure that what we have promised, also what we have discussed, are really seen to be informing the kind of actions that we set. So yeah, it has been really a matter of mediating the demand and supply side of our engagement with the different actors, both at the community and at the city level, in terms of strengthening those kind of linkages I was talking about – the vertical and lateral – but also in terms of building capacity for advocacy, while also engaging in continuous learning. At the same time also, in terms of dealing with the power asymmetry, when we initially started the platform, we felt that there was a need to highlight some guiding principles. And five guiding principles were identified for our engagement with the different stakeholders. And so these principles have been the landmarks that really define our engagement, that actually ensure that we remove the power dynamics from the room, ensuring that there is a common playing field. So those five principles that we highlighted, which we put together into these particular principles of engagement for the city learning platform, actually have, number one: to have a shared vision and common purpose. Secondly, to share knowledge and information across the different parties involved and third is to promote sustainable and knowledge-based solutions. The fourth is to promote collaboration, participation and communication, and the fifth one, which is very central to this particular question, is how do we ensure we foster mutual respect and trusting relationships across board, so that nobody feels too big, nobody feels too little? And how do we ensure that once we meet as a platform, we are creating a level playing field, so that we all feel comfortable and have a kind of trusted conversation?

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you. It’s not only the power asymmetry, it’s not only the communities or the informal settlements on the one hand, and the powerful actors on the other, but also within informal settlement communities themselves, there is a power asymmetry, in terms of gender, ability and other factors. So how do you deal with this power asymmetry within communities and try to bring the community together to have a united voice vis a vis the other powerful actors?

Joseph Macarthy So the community learning platform takes place within the communities, and it is normally driven by the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor with guidance by the CODOHSAPA, which is their guiding agency. So basically what this means is that it is not luck that really drives that particular process within the community. We drive the city learning platform, but the city learning platform is directly linked to the community learning platform, which is being organised, which is being run by the Federation. So we are aware as an organization, SLURC, which ensures that there is some level of organisation across board. There is always the insistence that the Federation has to ensure that it recognises that these communities are not homogeneous, they are entirely heterogeneous, especially in terms of the demographics, in terms of the socioeconomic statuses and all those kind of considerations. So basically the Federation itself has membership or draws membership from the communities themselves. We have 60 to 72 informal settlements across Freetown. And so each of these communities have their own Federation members, while at the city level we have the Federation, which is situated within each of these communities. So what that means therefore, is that the different communities are represented at the city learning platform, but also what this means is that the different set-ups, especially in terms of the groupings – for instance, the men’s group, the women’s group, the youth group, the religious groups and all those kind of things – also have representation. So it’s not like all the members from the communities will have to meet. But it’s key members who are being selected as part of the Federation, who normally comes to really discuss, because these particular persons are trusted by their membership, they know that these are the persons who normally champion a lot of activities because they have undertaken a lot of reforms within their community, so they are highly respected, they are highly trusted. And so these are the people who normally undertake or organise some of these sessions. Even within themselves, they have a lot of consultations that take place. So before they come to the city learning platform. So we are aware that not everyone can be represented, not everyone can take part, but at the same time it’s possible for everyone to be represented, while at the same time we also know that there are a lot of issues regarding this, and those are issues we normally take up with FEDURP, which they are also a lot open to.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. What are the other challenges that you face in bringing together diverse partners to stimulate inclusive urban reform, particularly from SLURC’s experience in Freetown and other Sierra Leonean cities?

Joseph Macarthy Yes, so as you ask the question, I am reflecting about the difficulties we really encounter. It’s bringing different actors together to converse or even act on collective issues or given issues. It’s really not an easy one at all, especially when you have different organisations who may be competing with one another or possibly ignoring one another when it comes to different interests. And also, even the approaches of doing things and all those kind of things. Those are critical challenges that exist in almost every society. But basically, I think amidst all those challenges, we have always worked towards ensuring that we really break through and ensure that things work. I think one of the key learnings we have had, especially in terms of the major challenges that possibly can deter organisations or their representatives from coming, is the issue of interests. What’s really the kind of agenda you are setting for discussion within the city learning platform engagement? Does it interest all? What we have done normally around this is to curate discussion points around sectoral or domain issues. And so we know, for instance, that when it comes to particular issues of health, not everyone will be interested. When it comes to particular issues, for instance, maybe livelihoods, possibly it may not attract everyone. But at the same time, there are also certain things that are crosscutting. So what we do is to carefully look across the different sectors and the members that we have been engaging over a period to see whether this particular theme meets their own needs, especially in terms of the kind of work they are doing. And sometimes, even when we feel we may be doubtful as to whether this meets their interests, we sometimes consult them beforehand that this is what we are doing. I mean, are you interested in attending and all those kind of things? So I think fashioning the discussion points to meet the collective interest is very important. Then secondly, also, I think it’s the element of trust because we discuss a lot of issues. But when you discuss and nothing works, people may no longer feel confident to attend. And also people come – especially the city-level actors, especially the local and national-level actors – they come with a hope of getting knowledge, getting understanding. And the kinds of messages that we are giving out, is it something that they can trust to be able to possibly do their programming or that kind of work? I mean, are we just wasting their time? I think the element of trust goes toward also the kind of conversation we are going to open with them, discussing directly with the community residents. I mean, sometimes this generates a lot of challenges, especially in terms of organisations wanting to protect themselves or safeguard themselves. So what particular mechanisms do you put in place to ensure that what they say there stays there and does not go outside of there? But also there is the other element of timing of the event, because every organisation is so busy, everyone is so busy. So how do we ensure that we really schedule the events at a time that really meets the confidence of almost the majority? It may not be all, but at least it does not clash with many other engagements of the other actors. But also we have to be very careful that whatever topic we are going to discuss does not involve taking a political stance because as much as possible we have to be apolitical. Sierra Leone is very sensitive when it comes to politics and people won’t want to associate with anything that is political. So we have as much as possible to ensure that we are apolitical in our engagements. Also the principles of engagement is very, very great. It has been very useful, especially in terms of the elements it provides for us and the assurances it gives, especially in terms of the mutual respect that we endeavour to ensure, also the trusted relationships we endeavour to ensure. And also when people come, especially new members, they want to be sure that the ones that they are going to listen to are really experienced elites that are going to steer the discussion, the conversation and those who are going to present, especially on the critical topics that are being shared, whether they are experienced persons, especially in those particular areas, because they don’t want someone to waste their precious time. So more or less we ensure that all of these elements are really looked at. We may not exhaust all, but as much as possible, we try to ensure that these are really looked at to be able to ensure the participation of all.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. My next question is, building on what you mentioned about having a non-partisan quality for political stance in the discussion, but broadly, what are the challenges and opportunities of the decentralisation, devolution and broader political, legal and planning regulations in Sierra Leone and Freetown, in particular, for pro-poor urban reform coalition building exercise?

Joseph Macarthy Well regarding the challenges and opportunities, of course, decentralisation and local government are a critical part of our political structure in Sierra Leone. Local councils are considered to be at the delivery end of the platform, in the sense that they are regarded as the highest development authority in their localities. Previously, local councils used to be the highest political authority, but now they are the highest development authority. And what that means is that the element of power seems to be removed a lot from local councils, and so being transferred to the national level. And within the communities, whilst development deficit is very, very key and people expect that when they vote, they are really voting for people to bring about change, in most informal settlements, there seems to be a disconnect between the residents and their political representatives, which means that most of them really in terms of having a voice at the national level, it’s a lot difficult. At the local level, yes, because they have councillors who represent them, even though sometimes the councillors may not live within the settlements, but I think the critical challenge has been really at the national level. Yes, there are a lot of laws, there are a lot of powers that are being exercised in terms of bringing about development. I think a critical challenge has been devolution. Devolution is a critical challenge to the effective functioning of city systems. People want water, people want better healthcare services and all those kind of things. Yes, within the committees, there are ward committees that are provided for by the local government act, which requires that local-level consultation on issues have to be made. But mostly these ward committees are a lot ineffective, which means that the councillor possibly is the major voice that comes from these communities, rather than the communities themselves discussing at what level to inform the councillors, what to take to those particular levels. So we have a number of laws that really exist within the broader development structure of the country and the city. One of these relates so much to even the laws regarding planning, which I was talking about, of which you don’t see the effectiveness, especially in terms of, for instance, translating the action area plans into effect, or the neighbourhood plans into effect. We don’t really see those driving change or being put into effect. And so some of these can exist but only on paper. There are also a lot of reforms taking place within the Land Ministry and there are also intended plans to drive change, especially in housing, because these two matter so much to informal settlements. With regarding water and electricity, there has been a lot of reforms. What is critical is that informality is a major part of our economic processes within the city. In terms of employment, in terms of residents, in terms of livelihoods, informality is a critical part. So its participation, especially in terms of these sectoral issues that are grounded so much in informality. To what extent is participation, especially in decisions regarding the functioning of these systems, how really is participation guaranteed so that the voices of the local people is being included into the kinds of actions? And I think the reason why the city systems have really not been functioning properly, which creates a lot of deficit, which the informalities have always been stepping into, that particular gap has been as a result of the lack of effectiveness in terms of these particular systems operating in ways that can really effect the kind of change that people want to see. More broadly, in terms of really organising coalitions for change, this is not effected so much in policy and it is only a matter of a kind of trial that different organisations within this work have been really working towards, because we think that given the current situation we have to re-organise, we have to re-examine what kind of actions we need to take, especially given the serious level of deficits. How can we ensure that even while participation may not be really guaranteed as such, how can we ensure that we open that particular space? How can we ensure that we do urban development but also the planning engagements in more different ways? So I think this reality is slowly gaining pace. And so therefore I think there is a whole lot of prospect for it.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. Earlier, you highlighted that the local councils have become the highest development authority. Previously, they had the highest level of political authority, or the political authority was transferred back to the national level. Does this have any impact or what’s its effect on building urban pro-poor  reform coalition, like CLiP, or the community and city-level learning platforms.

Joseph Macarthy So like I was saying, we don’t really have specific laws for reform or that drives reform coalitions. These are only things that are being experimented by SLURC and a few other organisations working together with communities and the city authorities. So what I was saying is that yes, there is decentralisation, but at the same time there is some level of disconnect between the residents and their representatives. Of course, there is meant to be ward committees within the communities, within each of the wards there is meant to be a ward committee. But these ward committees have been a lot ineffective. And so what that means is that it gives a lot of leverage to the superior voice rather than so much consulting with the community. So at the level of the city, yes, there is some level of representation, even though it maybe a unilateral voice. But at the level of the national, this is what is really missing, because you have members of parliament who may not sit within these communities, but who represent the communities and the extent to which their deals are being really scaled up to the national level is a lot difficult. And the fact that devolution is really not very effective in Sierra Leone is really affecting the effectiveness of systems functioning. And so we have a situation where informality is driving so much of the economy and most of the sectors are saturated by informality. So whilst the public providers exist, they may not be serving the entire city. You have a significant share of the city population that really misses out of the formal services and therefore have to rely on other forms of provision. And so in terms of participation within the broader policies and even the laws that guide, for instance, access to land or issues about housing and all those kind of things, whilst participation may be provided for, exactly how people participate and the guarantees of participation is a lot missing. And so, in the absence of this, we have created the platform as a means of really holding some of the duty bearers kind of accountable. But at the same time, ensuring that we broker that particular gap that’s always existed in terms of the relationship, to ensure that there is what is also called informal settlements, and these are part of the city. And if we have to talk about inclusive cities, these are the kinds of conversations we need to start having. And these are the kind of issues that seems to be missed out, especially in terms of your delivery or your programming and all those kind of things. How can we better shape these things to reflect a more inclusive kind of city?

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much, Joseph. My final question is what’s the progress in identifying and strengthening a reform coalition that would capitalise on ACRC’s Freetown studies?

Joseph Macarthy Yeah, the ACRC study is anchoring into the city learning platform, which was created a few years back. The fact that the ACRC study focuses more on systems rather than isolated strands of engagement which are sectoral, but also a bit more on the political elements that underlie development, I think these are very fundamental to the city learning platform and it’s really reshaping the focus and driving a lot of attention, especially in terms of how do we ensure that we revitalise and make the reform coalition a lot more active in Freetown. And so in view of this, we have had the first ACRC city learning platform, which was held to more or less share some of the ideas that have been emerging from the work whilst looking forward to a final workshop sometime in May in Freetown, which now will bring together all the different actors to really showcase to them really the outputs but also the key learnings that have emerged. And this now will have to be driven at the domain level because, like I said, the domains in Sierra Leone are mostly sectoral and you wouldn’t want to come with someone who is not talking in housing, but who can be a major stakeholder to effect change. So how do we ensure that the different domains, the five domains that we are prioritising in Freetown, how do we build learning platforms around these, and ensure that we broker that relationship between the different audiences but also the different level of concerns, whether at the community level or also within the city? Because all of these people have, for instance, desire for health, they have desire for housing. How can we ensure that this is made better? We have huge challenges in Sierra Leone. How do we ensure that capacity is being built, and what are the key drawbacks that we need to be aware of, and how can we undertake these things in more different ways? Informal settlements are a major problem within the city and the idea of chaotic development, what kinds of actions do we need to undertake? Also, how can this be undertaken? So yeah, there is a whole lot of potential for driving this change and for building coalitions for reform, especially in a city where this has never been the practice before, which have only started in the last two to three years. So I think there’s a whole lot of potential. Thank you.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much. I have finished the questions that I prepared, but if you want to say something, your last message?

Joseph Macarthy Yeah, just to say that we were privileged to have had this particular study in Freetown, because having a political economy approach to the development issues in Sierra Leone not being really done at the urban level. And I think it was really eye-opening for us. And yeah, a lot of learning has taken place and also how do we ensure that the coalitions that we are forming really become really active and in which particular ways and what we need to be aware of and all those kind of things. I think it has really opened up the space for us. I think that’s some of the key issues.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you very much Joseph, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to discuss your experience in building and sustaining reform coalitions. Joseph, we will be looking forward for your presentation at the Urban Reform Coalitions conference to be held in Manchester between 13 and 15 of June, which is organised by ACRC in collaboration with the Manchester Urban Institute. Thank you very much for being with us.

Joseph Macarthy Okay, thank you very much.

Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael Thank you Joseph. You have been listening to the African Cities podcast. Remember to subscribe for more urban development insights and interviews from the African Cities Research Consortium.

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Header photo credit: ICLEI Africa. Cockle Bay informal settlement in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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