Sierra Leone’s political trailblazer Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr faces obstacles

Freetown, Sierra Leone

When Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr was elected mayor of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in 2018, many noticed the brilliant and brash British-educated parent as a rising political star.

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She launched environmental initiatives inside the climate-vulnerable West African state, appointing Africa’s first Chief Heat Officer and pledging to deal with the metropolis’s mountain of garbage and construct a cable auto system to enhance mobility.

But as Aki-Sawyerr’s first time period attracts to a shut, a lot of her agenda has been thwarted by infighting and authorized battles.

Her troubles have highlighted a number of the political tensions on this youthful democracy, which emerged in 2002 from a decades-long civil battle, and the place elections are anticipated in June.

Aki-Sawyerr’s critics say she has squandered and wasted taxpayers’ cash to gain the poor. She accuses the authorities of blocking her as a member of the opposition All People’s Congress (APC).

The present president is Julius Maada Bio, who narrowly received the 2018 election championing the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).

Read: Sierra Leone releases white paper on constitutional evaluation

“My biggest shock has been to see programs, interventions, initiatives held back because of a perception that I am a political opponent as opposed to a collaborator in development,” Aki-Sawyerr, 55, advised AFP from the newly constructed skyscraper she working in — a donation from the South Korean authorities.


A twin British citizen who skilled as a chartered accountant and reduce her tooth in London’s personal sector, Aki-Sawyerr returned to Sierra Leone in 2014 to assist combat Ebola – work for which she was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

She says she has no plans to depart Sierra Leone, despite the fact that she has been separated from her husband and now grown kids for eight years.

As mayor, Aki-Sawyerr has secured giant quantities of external funding, which includes a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies Award.

But domestically, she has raised hackles along with her vivacious fashion – favoring her personal, internationally skilled groups instead of veteran officers for large tasks – and plans to streamline outdated processes.

She has been scrutinized, investigated for corruption and referred to as to testify about her initiatives inside the Riksdag.

She is likewise combating costs of obstructing police and disorderly conduct inside the arrest of one among her councillors.

He is accused of inciting cost-of-living protests final August that spiraled into anti-government riots.

Cost of residing protests

It is frequent for Freetown mayors to go head-to-head with the central authorities.

But the backlash Aki-Sawyerr has acquired for doing so appears unprecedented.

“You have to know how to deliver, but you have to (also) play politics,” stated activist Valnora Edwin.

“Unfortunately, she seems to be falling right into their trap – she could have a court case until it’s time to nominate candidates for the election, and then she won’t be fit (to run).”

One of Aki-Sawyerr’s major objectives has been to overtake the metropolis’s guide tax system.

“I kid you not, it was a book — it was a ledger written in by hand,” she stated.

With monetary help from the UK authorities, the mayor had satellite tv for pc photographs taken and roofs and different metrics measured to construct a digital property tax database.

She claims to have added 70 percentage greater taxpayers into the system. She additionally raised tax charges for many who already pay taxes.

But inside days of its launch, this system was frozen by countrywide authorities for nearly a yr, and compliance stays low.

One resident who refuses to pay his property taxes is lawyer Chukwuemeka Taylor. He says it is shuffling to lift tax charges on present ratepayers, whilst supplying insufficient offerings.

“I have to do the roads myself, I have to manage the sewers myself and I pay property taxes?” he stated, accusing her of milking the tax concern to attraction to poorer voters.

She talks to you

The mayor has supporters amongst low-income earners.

“She has a lot of challenges… but she’s still pushing,” stated Marie Bob-Kandeh, head of a girls’s group on the market.

Last yr, the mayor supplied shades in markets to defend distributors from the new solar.

In the slums, she has labored with donors to construct public bogs and water faucets.

“She talks to you,” stated Susan’s Bay slum resident Nancy Sesay. “When there’s trouble, she comes.”

Presidential, parliamentary and neighborhood elections are scheduled for June 24.

Aki-Sawyerr says she intends to run once more for mayor. But her celebration is anticipated to select her as its presidential candidate towards Bio, who will bid for a second time period.

Asked if Sierra Leone is prepared for a feminine vice chairman, Aki-Sawyerr stated: “I think people respond to what they are presented with, and if they are presented with the right person, they respond to that.”

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