On the re-opening of SLPP Office … “We would never encourage violence” John Benjamin...

Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View: Trip to Bo, part 1

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

It didn’t seem like we’d arrived in Sierra Leone’s second largest city when we stepped off the bus and onto the side of the highway. My first glimpse of Bo, and the rest of the few days I spent there on a reporting trip for Awoko newspaper, didn’t give the impression of a city so much as a place to stop for a snack or relax for a few days.
Maybe it was the lack of streets and a grid that made the place seem temporary and utilitarian. On either side of the highway were a few permanent structures  restaurants, tin-roofed shops and mobile phone stalls. And there were plenty of roadside hawkers selling fruits and vegetables, peanuts and eggs. But the road only extended in one direction. Among Sierra Leoneans, the city has the nickname of “sweet Bo,” but it could also be called “sleepy Bo.”
The trip had started early that morning at the bus station in east Freetown. The sky was just beginning to lighten, but outside the bus, hawkers were busy advertising their baskets and crates of water, soft drinks, bread, eggs and jewelry to the passengers inside.
Once we got moving, the dense streets of Freetown faded away, blurring into countryside. The shacks and houses gave way to trees, grass, hills and rivers. I fell asleep intermittently as music videos blared from a TV screen at the front of the bus, depicting by turns singers in rural villages, and the deluxe fantasy worlds onChetanyaly found in music videos. Occasionally I’d wake up and see the landscape of palm trees and grass interrupted by towns or small roadside settlements. Some of these contained full buildings with roofs as well as huts and shelters topped with dried palm fronds.
At every stop we made, there were people ready and waiting to sell things to the bus passengers. One woman brandished three live chickens, dangling by their feet in her hand. At another stop, a place my colleague Betty said was famous for its bush meat, children sold peanuts, cucumbers, guava and all sorts of other snacks. I tried a fresh guava for the first time. Betty told me some of the children might be working part time to pay for school, but some might not be in school at all.
When we arrived in Bo about four hours later, it didn’t seem much different from the towns we’d passed, except in one important way. On every road, at all times, motorbike taxis zipped around like bees, far outnumbering the cars and trucks in the street.
Mohammed, a former Awoko employee, picked us up from the side of the road in Bo and drove us to his house to eat. We followed the paved road for just a few minutes before it changed into a dirt one covered with potholes  though in truth, they weren’t really potholes so much as trenches and crevices, filled with muddy water, that rocked the vehicle up and down and back and forth as we drove over them.
When we turned up the dirt path to where Mohamed lived, it was clear that Bo was the place to move for any Sierra Leoneans looking for a quiet place to live. Compared to Freetown, this place was downright tranquil. Apart from the motorbike taxis, that is.
We soon went out to do some reporting, which brought us to the city center. The city was clearly built around one long highway, and the two roundabouts in the middle of the city were the only things that indicated we were really in a city.
Clustered in the city center were a lot of mobile phone shops and supermarkets. There were also several diamond shops, which I’d never seen before, advertising themselves with pictures of diamonds on their painted signs. One glittering sign was made of mirrors.
We met with our guide in Bo, Aruna Kamara of Radio Bo, and went to our first interview, in a government building that seemed more like someone’s house. There we found the secretary for the local chiefdom, who explained the difficulty of extracting taxes from people. The chiefdom had collected 55 million Leones for the year, which was about a third of what he expected, and about a seventh of the normal amount of 350 million. This meant he couldn’t really pay his employees regularly.
We went to another room to talk to the Paramount Chief of the area. He sat behind a desk piled with stacks of papers and folders, with a wide-brimmed leather hat sitting on one of the stacks and a large brown ceramic fish perched on the edge of the desk. He was reluctant to agree to the interview at first, but gave us a few answers.
As a prominent official in charge of security in the chiefdom, he said the police were making progress in quelling the problem of armed robberies in Bo  but the police, like many government departments, face shortages in staff. And the difficulty in collecting taxes meant a lack of revenue to pay people.
I thought about this lack of revenue as we drove over the bumpy dirt road just outside the main street in Bo. Later, my colleague told me there is money for projects like fixing the roads  but it still doesn’t happen. Bo clearly needs more infrastructural development. But I was starting to appreciate the calmness and proximity to nature that lack of development brought  the clean air and lack of trash.
For the first time in many weeks, I slept without the sound of pounding music or car horns in the background, looking forward to the next day of reporting.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Tuesday Sepemter 06, 2016

Comments are closed.