After six years of ernest roadbuilding Sierra Leone’s roads are still a mess




Paul Conton


Sierra Leone King Jimmy bridge collapses

Six years into the “greatest road construction program in the nation’s history”, one could be forgiven for wondering whether the roads are not falling apart faster than they are being built.  At this rate, we all reading this will be dead long before Sierra Leone will be able to legitimately boast of good roads. In the capital, a relative handful of roads have been resurfaced, in a few cases widened at great cost, but the vast majority of roads remain in a sorrier shape than ever before. Reports from the provinces indicate that, as usual, the situation there is far worse. During this, the height of the rainy season, many ‘roads’ are impassable.


In Freetown the flagship road project, Wilkinson Road, continues to have its problems. Despite near continuous efforts to clear its drains there are frequent blockages, causing large streams and ponds of water at different places along its 5 km length. As elsewhere all over the capital, a tremendous quantity of debris, garbage and topsoil is being washed down

Adelaide Street, central Freetown

from the surrounding mountains, silting up not only the gutters but also Freetown’s beautiful beaches and bays. The roads and gutters are the pathways for this material to the sea. One of the original criticisms of the Wilkinson Rd project (read natinpasadvantage)  was the complete absence of any kind of environmental study to go along with it. The drains were covered, in the modern fashion, which is good, but no apparent thought or effort went into reducing the solid waste that is clogging them. When this happens on Wilkinson Rd during a downpour, the huge concrete slabs are ripped open by the pressure of water, and the runoff pours onto the road. As unplanned and uncontrolled home construction continues apace, denuding the surrounding hills and increasing the aggregation of runoff, the government appears to all intents and purposes blissfully unaware of the tremendous environmental damage being done to the ancient capital.  Important roads and

Kissy Rd during downpour

intersections where water runs down from the hills are riddled with potholes (read New England Road is a Death Trap). I had the misfortune to be caught at Kennedy Street, in the East of Freetown, during a relatively small downpour and was amazed to find the entire road, recently refurbished, turned into a foot deep river of fast-moving water, hazardous to the strongest of pedestrians, within only a few minutes. Projects like these, hastily planned, at the behest of politicians and without the benefit of professional advice (SLRA has become a powerless tool in the hands of the politicians) are tantamount to a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.  Neighbouring Kissy Road, across which all the runoff from Mount Aureol must flow, suffers similar problems. (read Kissy Rd. floods)


Zimmi to Jendema road

If experience is any guide, given the political priorities, one can be certain that however bad Freetown may be, ‘upline’ is worse and reports from there speak of fatal road accidents caused by bad roads and tortuous journeys with vehicles stuck in mud for hours on end (read road nightmare) and important population centers  cut off from vehicular access. All of this comes at a time when strategic roads in the capital, such as the Congo Cross Bridge through Brookfields and the new Waterloo Rd are around the 40-year mark and are beginning to show their age. 


1Kingharman Road during downpour

The APC roadbuilding strategy is poorly thought out and probably fatally flawed. From a position in the eighties where road maintenance was entirely done by in-house units of the Ministry of Works and the Freetown City Council, these units were completely dismantled. Road repair work is now sporadically parceled out on a street by street basis (in a municipality of, who knows, 1000 streets?) to small private contractors, some of whose competence is questionable. The vast majority of roads in the capital and elsewhere are simply ignored. Regular inspection and spot maintenance, which is vital for road maintenance, has been abandoned. These activities are not associated with large individual contracts and are not favoured by our politicians. The APC’s preferred method for disbursing the available road funds is to hand out large contracts for major roads (alternatively, large contracts for a number of selected minor roads). These contracts are often shrouded in secrecy, and in at least some cases allegedly inflated. The selection of specific roads is, as far as one can tell, not done by professionals but by politicians. There is no serious study accompanying the process. No traffic planning or monitoring by road traffic specialists. In all my years in Freetown I have yet to see an automatic traffic monitoring device, of the type you commonly see in countries where traffic and roads are seriously planned. Economic analysis? Environmental study? Public engagement? Inspection of roads and bridges? Forget it. If continued the APC strategy means that we may end up with a few solid roads and very many dirt tracks.