As part of his one day state-visit to Sierra Leone, the German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, His Excellency, Heiko Maas, has paid a courtesy call to Her Worship the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, OBE. The meeting happened on Monday 25th, February, 2019 at the Mayor’s Parlour at the Freetown City Council.
The Mayor gave a brief overview of the city’s history and the Council’s priorities for the city moving forward, highlighting that they reflect the challenges facing the city. “Perhaps most striking is the rapid level of urbanisation that Freetown is experiencing now, which puts tremendous pressure on the environment… We are committed to working with Freetonians and central government to reverse the negative impact on the environment and to ensure that our city has a resilient future.”
The German minister was particularly curious about the Transform Freetown process and the Mayor willingly obliged to satisfy his curiosity by explaining the Council’s work over the last nine months. The Mayor stressed on the extent to which the opinions of communities and ordinary individuals were factored into the development of the Transform Freetown Plan. She explained some of the targets and initiatives in the Transform Freetown Plan and did not pass on the opportunity to present the Minister with a booklet of the Plan’s overview.
The conversation moved on to current affairs and the discussion of rape and sexual violence against women in Sierra Leone, after the visiting Minister asked the Mayor about her thoughts on the issue. Whist acknowledging that the issue and its causes cannot be oversimplified, the Mayor explained that the findings of studies available to Council indicate that high levels of unemployment and the explosion of informal settlements as a result of rapid urbanisation and the pressure on housing are major contributing factors. Sky-rocketing rent prices in Freetown have led to the explosion of informal settlements (about 35% of the Freetown’s residents live in such settlements). As such, multiple families live in very close proximity, which leaves women and girls vulnerable. “This is not the full answer. I am not a gender-based sexual violence expert but we do work with experts. I am woman, I am mother. I am totally committed to seeing things change in our time,” says Mayor Aki-Sawyerr.
Mr Haas ended the visit by signing the City’s Visitors Book and walking with the Mayor to nearby Big Market, where His Excellency presented Her Worship with a gift.