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The Freetown Landslide revisited

Manya Seisay

Why protecting the environment is essential to Sierra Leone’s security.

Trigger Warning: This article details a catastrophic event and fatalities.

When the Freetown Landslide took place in 2017, approximately 1000 lives were lost in a preventable, man-made tragedy.

I find myself revisiting the event in 2019 because I believe it’s important:

  • To honor the innocent lives lost.
  • To support the survivors.
  • To make sure it never happens again.

Lest we forget: respect for the environment is the best protection for humankind.

Active prevention can transform tragedy into some measure of triumph, so that all who lost their lives that day will not have died in vain.

Reflections on the Pre-Civil War ecosystem

Part of my childhood was spent growing up in Hill Station, a suburb of Freetown. We lived at the O.A.U. Village on the edge of a lush green rain forest where we could sometimes hear families of wild baboons calling out to each other.

I always had the sense that Mount Sugar Loaf belonged to nature.

The terrace of my parents home had a panoramic view of tropical skies, the great leagues of the Atlantic and the pristine heights of Mount Sugar Loaf.

In pre-Civil War Sierra Leone, you could see clouds of bats flying from Mount Sugar Loaf over Hill Station on their way to Victoria Park Market where they used to hang upside down in a massive tree.

I always had the sense that Mount Sugar Loaf belonged to nature. One poignant memory I have took place on a midwinter night. Of course, in Sierra Leone, the winter months are part of the gloriously hot dry season.

At the time, my maternal grandparents were visiting us. We were all sitting on the terrace waiting to experience a rare phenomenon: the blossoming of the Queen of the Night flower which only takes place in the small hours and wilts before the dawn.

My mother, an avid gardener, had nurtured the delicate plant so expertly that we all got to share something brief but unforgettable: each of us inhaled one of the rarest, most awe-inspiring perfumes on earth.

In the dim, golden light of the kerosene lamps, my parents and grandparents sat on cushioned wicker sofas, sharing their stories. The distinctive arpeggio of my father‘s laughter rang out like a bell.

As I looked past them I saw the moonlit silhouette of Mount Sugar Loaf across the valley, enveloped in exquisite darkness. In those days, it was practically uninhabited.

The seeds of disaster

In the cold light of day, the ever-increasing deforestation was rampant.

My mother’s words of warning from those long ago childhood days echoed in my mind.

The destructive practices of yesterday would pale compared to the impact of unbridled urbanization during and after the Sierra Leone Civil War.

In Pre-War Sierra Leone, you could see women carrying bundles of small logs and kindling on their heads that they’d chopped down to sell at the market. Even precious mahogany trees were felled, cut up and sold as firewood.

At the time, my mother was hard at work on the garden, planting a carpet grass lawn and constructing laterite stone terraces facing Mount Sugar Loaf.

This was my home.

It’s where I used to walk out in the morning and pick fresh guavas and mangoes from our trees for breakfast.

Its where I spotted the first Red Cross helicopter flying in from Liberia just a few months before Sierra Leone erupted into war.

In 2017, when the news reports about the landslide appeared, my mother’s words of warning from those long ago childhood days echoed in my mind, “this unchecked deforestation could bring the whole thing down,”

How I wish, she’d been wrong.

Freetown Landslide graves
Mass graves for the victims of the 2017 Freetown Landslide.

Here are two reports by journalist Seyi Rhodes about the 2017 Freetown Landslides.

I’m posting them because even though it’s 2019 and it’s no longer news, thousands of people are still impacted by the devastating loss of loved ones and homes.

One of them is a young father called Malikie Kamara, a son of Sierra Leone, who has had to face the unthinkable. His resilience is an inspiration.

Should you wish to help, you can reach out to Malikie at malikiekamara2005 [at] gmail.com and if you feel inclined, please send donations to him using his email address via PayPal.

The second video documents Seyi Rhodes return to Sierra Leone to check in with Malikie and other survivors of the 2017 Freetown Landslide.

If you would like to donate to programs that assist some of Sierra Leone’s most vulnerable, please visit Street Child of Sierra Leone.

Seyi Rhodes on Sierra Leone’s landslide

Watch Seyi Rhodes report on the mudslides in Sierra Leone.

Cite this page

Seisay, Manya, “The Freetown Landslide revisted”. Published online on 17 March 2019 (https://www.manyaseisay.com/freetown-landslide/)

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