Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the brand-new mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone, speaks at the 2018 Concordia Yearly Top in New York City City. “For years, there had actually been no structure, no focused thinking about a technique for the city,” she states. “The method my brain works is with strategies. I need to have an order of business.”.

Riccardo Savi/Getty Images.


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Riccardo Savi/Getty Images.

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the brand-new mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone, speaks at the 2018 Concordia Yearly Top in New York City City. “For years, there had actually been no structure, no focused thinking about a technique for the city,” she states. “The method my brain works is with strategies. I need to have an order of business.”

Riccardo Savi/Getty Images.

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr strolls up the stairs from her workplace in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to her vehicle when she notifications that the sky has actually darkened and is beginning to open.

Tiny drops of rain fall. Within seconds they have actually ended up being big and squishy, sprinkling versus the concrete– and she has actually forgotten her rain boots. Her hot pink slingbacks will not make it through a rainstorm.

Aki-Sawyerr, who was chosen mayor of Freetown in Might and is the city’s very first female mayor in almost 40 years, asks her motorist to take a detour en route to an outside conference with market ladies. She is intending to discover a street supplier offering rubber shoes. As the vehicle weaves through sheets of rain, she finds overruning rain gutters and makes frenzied calls to members of her group back in the workplace.

” Have you seen this area?” she asks. “We’re near Victoria Park. Whatever is flooding. Have we noted this?”

Aki-Sawyerr, 50, is consumed with trash, rain and the crossway of the 2 in Freetown. The city is the capital of Sierra Leone, a little West African nation that is ranked 184 out of 189 on the U.N.’s Person Advancement Index, implying it has a few of the worst health, financial and social indications of any nation worldwide.

Freetown is lovely– and disorderly. Its occupants are knocked in between rolling green hills and the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout the nation’s almost decade-long civil war, which ranged from 1991 to 2002, individuals from Sierra Leone’s hinterlands left the seaside capital for shelter and services. In the war’s consequences, the migration continued, as individuals tried to find tasks in a constantly weak economy. As Freetown has actually grown, it has actually progressively been defined by largely jam-packed areas made up of small tin-roofed houses that being in precarious locations, such as on the sides of Freetown’s hills or along the ocean.

The nation’s six-month-long rainy season, blended with a hardly operating waste collection system and overcrowded streets, each year produces catastrophes of varying magnitudes. The city, house to 1.5 countless the nation’s 7.5 million individuals, made headings in August 2017 when a landslide eliminated more than 1,000 individuals. Flash floods routinely close stores; lorries get stuck browsing the city’s washed-out and potholed streets; and garbage gets flushed from messy roadside rain gutters into individuals’s houses. One bad seaside settlement, Kroo Bay, has actually flooded every year considering that2008 Cholera is a yearly hazard, specifically in bad areas that are probably to be overcrowded and least most likely to have any sanitation system to mention.

The August 2017 landslide was a wake-up call for the nation. It was credited to not just downpours however a mix of overcrowding, bad public facilities, little oversight of fast brand-new building and construction in ecologically delicate locations, and logging. After the catastrophe, the federal government understood that not just human lives were at stake. Even huge donors like the International Monetary Fund saw Sierra Leone’s vulnerable environment as a possible damper on the nation’s currently anemic economy.

Aki-Sawyerr states she decided to run for mayor after managing Operation Clean Freetown, a federal government effort that became part of a big post-Ebola healing program that began in2016 The task intended to “[reduce] the danger of upsurges by enhancing strong waste management in the city.”

” I came face to face with how bad things were” in Freetown, Aki-Sawyerr discusses over a late breakfast of boiled cassava root after going back to her workplace from her conference. “I chose I needed to run.”

She broadened this work as mayor. Her very first job in workplace was to recognize the places with the most egregiously stopped up rain gutters that were missed out on in Operation Clean Freetown and have them cleared. Plastic, dead animals, medical waste and food were eliminated so water might stream.

However cleaning up rain gutters was simply a primary step. Aki-Sawyerr intends to construct a working waste collection system, instead of having most of Freetown’s locals just get rid of waste any place they can– on the side of the roadway or in stacks around their areas. She likewise intends to increase access to toilets, an enthusiastic objective considered that just 13 percent of Sierra Leoneans have access to tidy, safe centers, according to the World Health Company.

And she wishes to promote tourist. “We reside in among the most lovely cities worldwide,” she states from her workplace, which keeps an eye out over the Atlantic Ocean and beings in a historical 19 th century structure in the middle of the city’s aging downtown. “Individuals must be coming here, not attempting to leave.”

She has other objectives, too, varying from increasing access to education to licensing street suppliers so that they sell main markets and not on the city’s congested alleys.

” For years, there had actually been no structure, no focused thinking about a technique for the city,” she states. “However the method my brain works is with strategies. I require to understand where I’m going. I need to have an order of business.”

Aki-Sawyerr recognizes with Freetown’s dysfunction, having actually matured in the thick of it. She was born simply after Sierra Leone acquired self-reliance from the British and a year after Siaka Stevens ended up being prime minister. His almost 20- year guideline would end up being understood for corruption and mismanagement, gutting the nation’s public organizations and eventually plunging the nation into war.

After finishing from the nation’s leading university, Fourah Bay College, in 1988, Aki-Sawyerr relocated to England on a Commonwealth Scholarship to study at the London School of Economics. She then worked as an accounting professional, fulfilled her other half and had 2 kids. Aki-Sawyerr constantly made routine journeys to Sierra Leone to visit her moms and dads and brother or sisters and began going home more often throughout the Ebola break out.

Utilizing business knowledge she acquired in the U.K.’s economic sector, she took a management position with the National Ebola Reaction Center in January 2015, managing the nation’s reaction and helping with coordination in between the federal government, donors and lots of NGOs.

She left as the break out subsided however once again went back to Sierra Leone in January 2016, simply after the epidemic ended, to monitor execution of the nation’s post-Ebola healing. She acquired a track record for needing in-depth weekly development updates. She likewise assisted handle relationships with federal government donors, utilizing her abilities as an accounting professional to track financial resources and task requirements.

And now she has Freetown in its whole to manage. Aki-Sawyerr states she performed the Freetown clean-up within weeks of taking workplace in part “to show that something can occur. We require to get individuals thinking in the city.”

The city was basically broke when Aki-Sawyerr took workplace in May, an outcome of tax codes that had not been upgraded for years and bad taxation efforts. The yearly spending plan of Freetown has actually had to do with $4 million. With little income can be found in, after wages for the city’s staff members are paid, there’s very little left for anything else.

Aki-Sawyerr is intending to discover methods to enhance coffers. She not just wants to upgrade tax codes however wishes to present brand-new income generation plans, such as parking charges. She has actually likewise set up mobile payment for regional taxes and is obtaining loan from personal business for particular tasks.

She can’t identify how loan is invested, however– that depends on the Freetown City Board, a chosen body that supervises the city’s everyday financial resources and operating.

She hopes that input from Freetown’s residents will assist the council’s decision-making procedure. In the months after her election, she has actually hosted 48 city center conferences and thought about information gathered from 310 neighborhood requires evaluations about the concerns of Freetown residents. “I found out throughout Ebola that ‘neighborhood sensitization’ does not indicate informing the neighborhood what to do however truly listening to their issues.” And there is a lot to think about: grievances about all levels of civil services, from absence of markets to traffic issues to restricted leisure centers.

She has actually established working groups to act on the grievances. “You require a procedure for whatever,” Aki-Sawyerr discusses.

Aki-Sawyerr’s no-nonsense, results-driven technique makes her stick out. And some Freetown City board members have actually shown up their noses at the group she has actually generated: well-dressed youths who type on Excel spreadsheets, talk through concepts with the assistance of brilliantly colored sticky notes published on white boards and respond to a multitude of text and WhatsApp messages and call in a busy corner of her mayoral suite.

The staffers are a mix of Sierra Leoneans and expats. Some are from the African diaspora and, like Aki-Sawyerr herself, had actually as soon as looked for more competitive economic sector tasks in the U.K. Some employee have actually been employed straight by Aki-Sawyerr; some are personal experts now offering for the brand-new mayor. And some are supported by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Modification, which is understood for assisting to personnel top-level federal government workplaces however made an exception for Aki-Sawyerr. “Whilst we usually operate at the governmental level it was a special chance to dive into city government when Yvonne was chosen,” states Emily Stanger Sfeile, the Sierra Leone nation head for the institute.

Aki-Sawyerr understands that she is viewed as various and is delicate to what her years in the U.K. can represent in a nation with a current colonial past and restricted travel chances for the large bulk of its residents. She states she has actually been teased for speaking “the Queen’s English” and called “an outsider.”

She was likewise physically assaulted weeks after taking workplace, although the factors are unclear. There had actually been some violence prior to the election, with political leaders targeted.

However she isn’t regretful. At a conference with other regional authorities– generally males in smooth fits– she lets her associates understand she will not be bossed around. When a top-level minister notes that a brand-new spending plan from the federal government must be out by Friday, Aki-Sawyerr reacts, “then we’ll anticipate the cash by Monday.” Everybody laughs. She does not.

Therefore far, she does appear to be popular. Paul Conteh, a speaker at Fourah Bay College, states that Aki-Sawyerr isn’t “revealing commitment a lot to her political celebration, however rather to Freetown. As an outcome, individuals appreciate her.”

En route to her morning conference, she was peppered with abundant shouts of “Mayor! Mayor!” as she travelled through soaked city streets. A boy standing under an awning whispered to his pal: “You understand who that is?! That’s Ms. Aki-Sawyerr!”


Mara Kardas-Nelson is an independent reporter reporting on health, global advancement, politics and the environment. She is based in Berkeley, Calif. Follow her @marajennkn