“Aw for do” is a similar phrase to “Na for biya”-both offer a tone of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of endemic suffering and consistent catastrophes. It is a phrase uttered by many Sierra Leoneans, and cuts across class and gender. It is not just a saying however, it is an attitude that insinuates a mentality of incapacity in the face of oppression.
A country of 6.5 million people, Sierra Leone has been a fragile state for decades. The eleven year long civil war that ended in 2002, crippled the economy and some of the country’s most important institutions as well. In 2012, a cholera crises happened and a national emergency was declared. The outbreak resulted in 232 deaths, mostly from Freetown’s poorest communities. The Ebola crises occurred two years later and has resulted in 3953 deaths. Most of these cases in the Western Area are from Freetown’s slums-overcrowded and unsanitary communities, situated within an already overcrowded and unsanitary city. On September 16th ,2015, heavy flooding took place in Freetown, and currently, there were approximately 4,000 homeless people at the National Stadium, waiting for food, clothing, new shelter, and relief. This year again,the rainy season has started,and Freetown is at high risk of flooding.
“Aw for do?”
It is no secret that most of these disasters and epidemics, are completely avoidable and can be controlled with efficient and effective programs. The slum communities of Kroo Bay, Moa Wharf, Dwozark ,and Susan’s Bay-to name a few, have been the assumed recipients of Government interventionist programs-and have still remained the same to date. These projects have either been under-funded, cancelled mid-way, or the funds have simply dissipated in the confines of different government offices. Apart from the many catastrophes, Sierra Leone also suffers from endemic corruption, a sickness that has rendered our core institutions weak and inefficient. This has led to a repetitive narrative of the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized, bearing the heaviest weight and being the hardest hit when such disasters occur.
Slum growth in Sierra Leone expanded rapidly after the end of the eleven year long civil war, when those who had lost their homes and sources of livelihood in Sierra Leone’s hinter-land, moved to the capital city in the hope of regaining a source of income and start life anew. Kroo bay is one of Sierra Leone’s largest informal settlements. The houses are dangerously clustered together in a swampy area where pigs and humans cohabit under shockingly hazardous circumstances. In 2004, the World Bank stated that Sierra Leone stood at 177th place -last on the list of the development index. That year, floods swept Freetown, and Kroo Bay community was the most affected-shacks were destroyed, and water-borne diseases ravaged children and adults. More than ten years later, in 2015, this community has been badly affected again, and many more lives have again been lost.
Certain NGOs such as the YMCA and Restless Development have attempted to help with short term relief when flooding occurs. However, the funds and resources needed to come up with long term solutions rests primarily on the government. And this is where civic authority has to trump governmental inefficiency. Sierra Leoneans need to start demanding more from the government. That is not to say just the current government in power, but all those who are in a position of authority to influence the way that policies directly affect our daily lives.
The attitude of “aw for do” needs to be done away with-for good. Lethargy in the face of state negligence only continues the cycle of abject poverty, oppression and corruption in the face of the suffering of ordinary and marginalized Sierra Leoneans. The next time a disaster of this sort happens (which unfortunately, it will), shall we utter another collective heavy sigh, bow our heads and say “aw for do”? Or will we instead demand that the government and all those responsible to implement policies of change that they have put in offices, by us, do their job properly? I hope we choose the latter, in a bid to save our lives and our nation.