Freetown, the home of the free: Research scoping trip to Sierra Leone

Photograph: Lumley beach, Freetown, Sierra Leone
    Dominic CallejaInstitute Manager

Sierra Leone, a small nation on the west coast of Africa has a number of challenges facing its development. It persists in occupying some of the lowest positions on international indices[1][2]. Despite a troubled past[3][4][5], this beautiful nation appears to have a bright future. The new government has been elected with a mandate to tackle corruption, to drive an ambitious development agenda, and to invest heavily in the future of the nation under their flagship Human Capital program.

In Febuary Silvia Tolo (lecturer in the Risk Institute) and I were delighted to visit Freetown, Sierra Leone, to meet with a number of stakeholders to identify collaboration opportunities, targeting the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), and Official Development Assistance (ODA). The moment you step out of the airport your greeted with the bustling activity, and welcoming locals that would become the enduring character of the whole trip.

Meeting with Prof. Osman Sankoh, Statistician General Sierra Leone, and Director of Stats SL. And... owner of the finest shirt I have ever seen.

Freetown, so named by the English Quakers who purchased the land following the outlawing of the atrocious slave trade, to provide a home for repatriated slaves, hence the name. The city certainly lives up to the name! As we travelled around the city we were struck by the life, movement, vibrancy and colour on every road side and around every corner. The sense of community is palpable. Sierra Leone is blessed with a young population, two-thirds under 35, this is reflected in the ebullience and effervescence of activity throughout the city of Freetown.

The streets however paled in exuberance compared to the fever in the National Stadium when we took some R&R time to watch F.C Kallon take on Anti Drugs Strikers. Arriving at the stadium two hours early, we expected a deserted scene. How wrong we were. One stand of the die-hard F.C Kallon faithful were already chanting away. Their 3 foot base drum echoing around the Panathenaic like Stadium. Unfortunately their wasn’t too much R&R for the team, as they continued to work in spite of the distractions.

The new government, under the stewardship of the Honourable President Julius Maada Bio, is embracing science, data and technology to advance their ambitious development agenda. In this climate, we were welcomed by a raft of key stakeholders. During the trip we co-developed an exciting research program with the Ministers of Youth Affairs, Hon. Mohamed Orman Bangura, the Dpt. Minister of Energy, Dr Alhaji Hassan Barrie, and the Chief Innovation Officer for the Directorate of Science,Technology and Innovation, Dr David Moinina Sengeh.

With the guidance of the previously mentioned stakeholders, we submitted an initial proposal to GCRF in collaboration with Professor Osman Sankoh, Statistician General Sierra Leone, and Professor Redwood Sawyer at the University of Sierra Leone. Dr Hindolo George-Williams, of the Risk Institute will lead the collaboration. As a Sierra Leonean national he has driven the interest of the Risk Institute toward supporting projects and collaborating with partners in Sierra Leone. He will continue to push this agenda, we hope this initial proposal is the first of many. With the new government, their ambitious development agenda, and the opportunities GCRF presents, now is an opportune moment for us to tackle poverty in this nation with mathematical and scientific research.

2 hours before the game, the die hard have already taken their seats. They might have started, but the team hasn’t stopped working just yet.