The construction of a new road or rehabilitation of the existing one between Matru Jong and
Bendu Cha located
opposite Sherbro (Bonthe) Island at the extreme end of
southwestern Sierra Leone could revolutionize the quality of life for hundreds
To travel in this region of Sierra Leone is like
traveling during the era of Caucasian District Commissioners who moved around in
hammocks borne on the heads of African bearers. Palm trees and their products
dominated economic life then, palm trees and their products dominate economic
life now, along with some cassava and rice cultivation. But the sense of
economic despondency is such that even the palm kernels and cassava produced
here are transported elsewhere for processing into palm oil and "gari." A palm
kernel mill in the region was abandoned decades ago.
The obligatory well dug by compassionate
non-governmental organizations is a guaranteed feature in the center of many villages,
openings surrounded by banana, palm and mango groves. Commercial activity is
rare, there is no food, not even fruits for sale. The occasional traveler is
therefore advised to come with their own bread.
Sparsely populated, this is a part of Sierra Leone
where a vast amount of empty, fertile land sits uncultivated. While people in
Freetown stand in queues for taxis and poda-podas in the morning, here men and
women can be seen, cutlass in hand, heading to their farms. While kids in
Freetown hawk bread and other items by chasing after vehicles, here, children trekking
miles to school run into the bushes when the occasional vehicle slows down next
to them. While citizens in other parts
of SL fret about mobile phone rates, the Sierra Leoneans here have to stand at
specific spots at specific times to get coverage. In this frontier, Mende is
the principal language, a greeting of "Kushe" in Krio is always answered by a
cheerful "Buwa" in Mende.
A decent road from Matru to Bendu could relieve the
region of its sense of abandonment and isolation. A new road will bring Bonthe as
close to mainland Sierra Leone as Kissy in Freetown is from Targrin (Lungi)
because Bendu is less than an hour away by boat from Sherbro Island. The new
road will act as a magnet for people wishing to invest in much needed palm oil
and cassava mills. With many people eating a meal of locally produced rice only
after having to work hard to separate the grain from the husk, rice mills will
be most welcomed. With a new road, mobile phone towers, now non-existent will become
new symbols of modernity on the landscape and provide villagers with much
needed means of communicating with the rest of the world.
Perhaps kids will be less inclined to run into the
bush when vehicles approach if they have smartphones.