“We need to work together to build an integrated approach to urban development that creates cities that people want to call home, that give hope for a better future and a better tomorrow. We can do this by working with global initiatives on climate, migration and other priority areas.”
– Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr
Born and raised in Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr was elected Mayor in 2018. She graduated from Fourah Bay College with a bachelor’s degree in Economics, where she was active with the International Association of Students in Economics and Management (AIESEC) and became the first African on AIESEC’s Brussels-based International Exchange Committee in 1988. Aki-Sawyerr also holds a masters degree in International Relations and Politics of the World Economy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a chartered accountant.
Aki-Sawyerr was recognised for her work during Sierra Leone’s Ebola crisis with an Ebola Gold Medal by the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone in December 2015. She was also made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in January 2016.
Freetown City Council has launched a strategic development plan called Transform Freetown to improve the city and provide a productive, safe and healthy environment for Freetown communities. The first stage of the project was a program of extensive community engagement to determine which areas of Freetown were lacking in public services. Resident satisfaction data about service levels was collected via 310 meetings and online data collection platforms. Priority sector working groups determined targets and identified initiatives that would most comprehensively address challenges. Funded came from development partners and the private sector.
Four key priority areas were identified – resilience, human development, health and urban mobility. In terms of resilience, the plan aims to identify resilient solutions to prevent and recover from disasters by scaling-up community-based disaster resilience efforts including environmental awareness in education systems, increasing vegetation across Freetown by 50%, ensuring effective multi-stakeholder collaboration, increasing revenue, building 5 000 quality low-cost homes by 2022, and ensuring new developments abide by new regulations. To improve human development, by 2022 all schools are to adhere to teaching and safety standards and all school children are able to take public exams in transparent conditions, market-driven skills training is to be provided to at least 20 000 youths, and adult literacy classes, with a special focus on women, support for those living with disabilities is to be increased, and 4 000 tourism jobs are to be created. Health objectives focus on reducing maternal mortality by 40% by establishing blood banks and supporting sex education in Freetown’s schools, increasing the adoption of healthy behaviours with ‘Healthy Freetonian’ days, ensuring health promotion in schools, and providing safe and sustainable water supplies. To improve urban mobility, congestion is to be reduced by 50% by eliminating parking and street trading at specific locations, setting up a single regulatory authority for city transportation, maintaining appropriate road signage, and road safety campaigns to increase public understanding.
In addition to city-wide improved sanitation measures and increasing the availability of water and handwashing stations at key locations, such as markets, to facilitate regular handwashing, Freetown improved the safety of informal settlement residents by enhancing food security through a program of urban farming. Community groups in informal settlements received training in urban farming skills, and received support from local youth groups. Community members then received vegetable seeds, soil, and appropriate containers in which to plant vegetables. The informal settlements also received improved access to water, outside the rainy season, to support the initiative. Communities were initially provided with compost and later trained in making their own. Ensuring locally available and adequate food supplies had the added benefit of increasing compliance with lockdown measures, which also contributed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection.