Kissy Road in Freetown, once a scene of
murder and mayhem in Sierra Leone's civil war
For anyone who has seen Edward Zwick’s film Blood Diamond,
walking through Kissy Road in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is chilling.
This is the main thoroughfare of the West Side where hundreds
of its inhabitants were brutalised or slaughtered by rebels in the
country’s civil war which finally ended in 2000 after nine bloody
years of tragedy and turmoil.
Now, due to the massive influx of refugees during the war and
the neglect during its 49 years of independent rule, the West Side
is a sprawling ghetto which runs into the sea as people try to grab
what little space is available in their daily fight for
The only legacy of 150-odd years of British rule are
street signs declaring Walpole Street, Bathurst Street, Upper
Brook Street, fixed to dirty, foreboding shadows of once-majestic
buildings which have been left to rot and crumble.
A few coaches and engines are all that remain of the
Sierra Leone Railway Company which was used by Her Majesty the
Queen during a visit in 1961, and during its heyday connected the
country east to west in an amazing feat of engineering.
Surprisingly in the middle of all this poverty where nothing is
wasted, except plastic bags (from iced drinks) which litter every
street corner, is a railway museum where half a dozen engines and a
few coaches in various states of preservation as well as a small
collection of oddities including faded photographs and yellowing
newspaper cuttings are stored.
The proud curator showed us Her Majesty’s now bare state coach
and gleamed with pride, almost as much as the gloss painted livery,
over his collection. A strange irony that a government spends money
on keeping old railway stock nice and shiny while allowing the
tracks of a once-praised railway line to become no more than
makeshift pylons for electricity cables.
Away from the madness and a journey of an hour into the
countryside by 4x4 and eventually down a rickety, steep track is
the village community of Charlotte. Self-sufficient by growing
vegetables to sell at market and catching fish in the river,
everyone is expected to do their bit.
The younger men clear drainage ditches and fill potholes on the
steep track and throughout the village, children babysit their
siblings and older people tend the vegetable plots which give them
sustenance and a living.
They also have the only decent access to a breathtaking
waterfall and each visitor must pay 5,000 Sierra Leone dollars (£1)
for the pleasure to be led there by village guide Akim.
It is a 15-minute slog over difficult and narrow paths running
alongside the river which feeds the crops of Charlotte, but it is
well worth the effort and sweat.
Akim sees me filming with my phone and,
although most people own mobile phones here, he’s not seen one
which can record videos. I show him how to
use it and he films his own home movie of the falls, during which
he turns the camera on himself to make sure he gets in on the
The community has a medical centre supported by foreign aid and
a school where small children are taught the basics before they
have to make the two-mile journey by foot to primary school from
the age of five.
Other tourist attractions include the Tacugama Chimpanzee
Santuary and away from the packed downtown areas of Freetown are
the fabulous beaches of Lumley, Lakka and Aberdeen.
Side stretches down to the ghetto and the sea