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Bonthe Island is on the brink of collapsing – things are no longer at ease

Bonthe Island is on the brink of collapsing – things are no longer at ease

The deliberate failure of the central government to pay attention to the issues affecting the Bonthe Sherbro Island has left it to be isolated and forgotten in the country.   (Photo: Remains of Paterson Zochonis (P.Z). Can Monuments and relics Commission preserve this?)

At the moment things are no longer at ease for the Island and her inhabitants except if the Good Samaritan could emerge and breathe a relief on them.

Bonthe Sherbro Island is situated in the southern region of Sierra Leone. The is 32 miles long and 15 miles wide, covering an average area of approximately 230 square miles with its western extremity been Cape Ann.

It will interest everyone to know that Bonthe Sherbro Island is the site of an early 19th Century British Post against the slave trade which was acquired from the Sherbro people by the Freetown Colony in 1861. This Island was strategic in developing the colonial economy of Sierra Leone. It was Sierra Leone’s first administrative capital and the first Municipality, thus, Bonthe Sherbro Island was one of the two Crown colonies (the other being Freetown) of the British colonial masters.

The Island was once a citadel of political, educational and social activities; a melting pot of economic boom and the birth place of siblings of the colonial masters and great men and women of today. It hosted prosperous international companies like PZ (Paterson Zochonis) and the UAC (United Africa Company) and a comfortable zone for Lebanese and Syrian business men of that time.

Very close to the Community Radio Station (Radio Bontico FM 96.9) is the less imposing Bonthe Prison (now Bonthe Correctional Center) which first hosted the Special Court for Sierra Leone indictees: Foday Saybana Sankoh, Chief Sam Hinga Norman and other men who bore the greatest responsibility for heinous crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone during the country’s decade civil war (1991 -2002).

Sir Albert Margai’s primary school, St. Patrick’s at Otto Street

Sir Albert Margai’s primary school, St. Patrick’s at Otto Street

It will take one approximately five hours to travel from Mattru in the same Bonthe district to the Island using locally made boats that are powered by outboard machines. Similarly, it will take about one and half hours to get to the Island from Yagoi. However, if one uses a speed boats from Mattru to the Island, it will take about one hour and 30 minutes from Yagoi.

History told us that both the first and second Prime Ministers of Sierra Leone, Sir Milton Margai and Sir Albert Margai got their primary education in this Municipality, though interestingly, in two different mission schools – Sir Milton in the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) primary school at Victoria Road and Sir Albert at the Roman Catholic, St’ Patrick’s school at Otto Street. Historically also, the town was home to the Sherbro even before the arrival of the Whiteman. Then the Creoles, Mendes, Temnes, Fulas and Mandingos followed that migratory trend which today gives this township the amicable cosmopolitan life it enjoys even under severe socio-economic conditions. Now Bonthe Sherbro Island is a very pale shadow of those decades and is no more economically viable with living and working conditions getting extremely hard for the inhabitants.

The town now stands an impressive relic, and a clear shadow of its former self; with everybody, from youth to women and old people, getting frustrated with the way and manner the town is losing its significance. There’s virtually no significant economic activity in the town, and the people are poor. The main occupation of its more than 10, 000 inhabitants (last Census count), is fishing but the Ebola scourge in the country brought that thriving economic activity to a halt as all trade fares in the district were banned to avoid large gathering of people, thus,  impacting negatively on our Own Source Revenue mobilization drive of the Municipal Council.

The fisheries project which would have boosted the district fishing industry and local economy with the preservation, manufacturing and exportation of its much needed sea food; and at the same time, create employment facilities for its jobless youths, has still not commenced full operation. At the moment, the ice plant is the only equipment used to produce ice-block for Korean fishing boats along the Sherbro River fishing areas.

Bonthe, unlike other district, is naturally divided into two main regions: the main land and the Riverine areas. This natural division of Bonthe has precipitated an age-old cold war between Bonthe Sherbro Island and Mattru in the Jong Chiefdom; and it seems as if the Municipality of Bonthe has already lost its constitutional right as the District Headquarter Town of the Southern district of Bonthe. Almost all important government offices have relocated from the Island to the main land of Mattru in the Jong Chiefdom leaving the headquarter town isolated and abandoned. Among the offices that have relocated to Mattru include the District Medical Officer (DMO), the District Census Officer (DCO), the District Deputy Director of Education, the Deputy Director of Agriculture, the main office of the National Elections Office (NEC), the Office of the Assistant District Officer and the Local Unit Commander of the Bonthe District Police force.

“The unconstitutional relocation of these important officials of government and their offices to Mattru Jong chiefdom has not only grossly undermined effective and efficient service delivery to our people in the Municipality of Bonthe and other chiefdoms in the Riverine areas of the District; but has also contributed to the under performance of the Council. This remains unacceptable, as I urgently and most humbly call on His Excellency the President the Vice President and Ministers of Government, to take a cabinet decision on the status and development of Bonthe in achieving the Agenda for Prosperity,” said Mayor Layemin Joe Sandi, in one of the interviews with this reporter. 

Bonthe Secondary school at the Island in dilapidated state

Bonthe Secondary school at the Island in dilapidated state

The Island is in dire need of a construction of jetties and waiting rooms. In as much the people continue to appreciate the initiative of His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma for the provision of a Ferryboat to promote a safer means of transportation and at the same time promote Agriculture in the district, yet, they are challenged with a safer landing and taking-off points for the Ferryboat at Yagoi and Bonthe respectively.

In a report conducted in 2010, out of a sample of 2841 households in Bonthe district, only 27.7% of households have access to improved source of drinking water.

It implied that, in Bonthe district, 73.3% of households used unimproved source of drinking water. Of that total (73.3%) only 1.1% used appropriate method of treatment. Protected wells as another source of improved drinking water, accounted for 17% of household who used that source. 59% used surface water which is reported as an unimproved source.

Bonthe Sherbro Island used to benefit from electricity supply until late in the nineties when Blackstone and the Peter L. Tucker Generator Plants at BONTECH finally gave up. Currently, there is no electricity for the municipality of Bonthe.

Bonthe used to have a Police Division of its own to police the rest of the eleven Chiefdoms in Bonthe district and the Municipality in particular. That colonial arrangement remained intact until in recent years, when a police station was built in Mattru in the Jong Chiefdom. Sadly enough, the Bonthe District Police Division, which was known to be in Bonthe Island, the district headquarter town of Bonthe district, was unofficial moved to Mattru reducing the Bonthe Police Division, in Bonthe Island, to a mere Police Station with a current man power of thirteen (13). The Police in Bonthe lack basic logistics that include stationery, Police patrol boat and decent accommodation. The police station rehabilitation project which started many years back is still to be completed, whilst the police barracks need serious rehabilitation. Most police officers transferred to Bonthe sleep on the bare floor of the unfinished Police station building, making life very unbearable for Police Officers on the ground.

There is also an ardent desire of the people for the re-establishment of a banking institution in Bonthe as the current government policy on Education, which demands that all teachers must open a Bank account for payment of salaries cannot effectively yield its required dividend if Banks are not existing in district headquarter towns for ease of purpose. Quite apart from teachers and other government functionaries who shall be banking with the Bank in Bonthe, it is also expected that the full operation of the Bonthe Fisheries Project will add value to the running of that Bank.

In all of these, the inhabitants of the Island who currently feel neglected are looking forward to seeing that the values and history of that place is not missed.

By Joseph S. Margai

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