Sierra Leone has suffered severely from the economic fallout from Covid-19, and the capital, Freetown, is no exception, says its mayor, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr. She is now focusing on a sustainable response to rebuilding following the crisis.

“Here in Freetown, the impact on the economy has been huge. We continue to be an import-dependent country, so it was extremely tough when borders and airports closed and many jobs disappeared in all sectors,” Ms Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr tells fDi. 

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“We already had youth unemployment or underemployment of around 60% in a population where 65% are under 35. Inflation has risen. There have been inter-district lockdowns for a number of weeks, and although agriculture has now got moving, these things are never smooth. For example, there were reports of fresh food wasting at checkpoints because they couldn't get through.”

Gradual reopening

The country is slowly starting to open up its borders and resume flights, however, and Freetown is starting to look ahead. 

“We’re continuing to work on transforming the city,” says Ms Aki-Sawyerr. “The pandemic has pushed water demand to the fore and we’ve been able to increase water supply in informal settlements by 20%, so we’re continuing to work on sustainability models for this. We’ve also had a campaign in Freetown to distribute locally made face coverings, which we’re targeting at traders in the markets.”

The city’s pre-Covid focus for investment was on tourism, she says. “Clearly, this has taken a big hit globally. We’re currently renewing our focus on the green sector and waste management, making sure that investment in these sectors continues to grow. One of our big sustainability initiatives is Freetown Tree Town, which will see us planting 500,000 seedlings this rainy season out of a target of one million.

”A city where you invest in the green economy is one that will lead to jobs and improved living standards, so we’re partnering with the private sector on some of these initiatives. For example, we’ve converted a huge derelict roundabout and lorry park into a beautiful green space in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank. We’re also developing a house-building initiative based on a public-private partnership model and this is attracting interest from a range of companies.”

Infrastructure schemes

The city is also working with the World Bank and the ministry of finance on a major new sanitary landfill waste management scheme being built just outside the city. 

“This will be a huge investment, and in addition to the World Bank, we will need private sector expertise in construction and operation,” says Ms Aki-Sawyerr. “So we’re seeing opportunities for local and international collaboration.”

One of the city’s biggest green initiatives is a mass transit cable car project, which is a key plank of its central business district regeneration, she says. “We’re working on this in conjunction with the ministry of transport, development partners and private businesses. It will really fill a gap because we’ve never had mass transit, which was bad news for the climate.”

The city is also continuing to support start-ups. “We’ve partnered with business incubator Innovation SL to hold pitch nights focused on transforming Freetown and we have picked up on some of the ideas that have come out of them, such as for tourism, plastics and recycling,” says Ms Aki-Sawyerr.

“There is a lot of room for growth and collaboration with the private sector on this as part of our post-Covid recovery.  An exciting example of this is the partnership [centred on small and medium-sized enterprises] we are working on with the city of Milan, which is focused on waste management on our side and fashion on theirs.”

This article first appeared in the August - September edition of fDi Magazine. View a digital edition of the magazine here.