Njala University, Southern Sierra Leone, Friday 29 November 2019 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has said that his government is indeed proud to launch the first national drone corridor in West Africa and putting innovative technology to the service of Sierra Leone’s development aspirations.
“As I have reiterated, we may be a small nation, but we are doing big things. We believe, as a nation, that we can leapfrog the constraints of history, of infrastructure, and of geography to champion the small things that have a huge impact for our development agenda and to reach the last mile.
The President reiterated that Sierra Leone was an inspired and innovative nation and would continue to embrace technology because of the boundless opportunities it offered to a growing nation. He added that his government was particularly energised about the possibilities of a drone technology that could service primarily the human capital development priorities in free quality education, food security, and quality healthcare and other ancillary development benefits.
“Here is a profile of possibilities: For Agriculture and food security, drone technology can provide a bird’s eye view of a farmer’s crop, help in damming and irrigation pathways, spray fertilisers and insecticides more efficiently, and help in general crop monitoring and management; drone technology can help monitor green cover loss and adequately anticipate general problems related to climate resilience and biodiversity loss as a result of human activity.
“In education, drones offer dynamic experiential learning for students especially in STEAM disciplines and expand the possibilities for teaching new curricula and new disciplines that are critical to national development from waste management, urban planning, to infrastructure management to eco-tourism.
“For healthcare, drones can facilitate the rapid delivery of medical supplies for pregnant women undergoing Postpartum haemorrhage and help stem maternal mortality, vaccines, and life-saving medicines such as snake-bite serum, or deal with medical emergencies in otherwise inaccessible areas where there may be an outbreak of communicable diseases.
“For disaster management, drones can help with aerial surveying, mapping, and closely examining disaster areas in order to predict and act on possible developments.
“Let me first thank UNICEF, DSTI, Njala University, the Civil Aviation Authority, and citizens of the great Kori Chiefdom for collaborating to establish this seminal national drone corridor,” he said.
Vice Chancellor and Principal of Njala University, Professor Abdallah Mansaray, said that the event was a commemoration of the manifestation of the vision of President Bio and the tremendous strides that had been taken within a short time of the government in harnessing technology for development. He said that his institution was determined to face the challenges and transform itself into an institution that would surmount challenges of the twenty-first century.
UNICEF Representative to Sierra Leone, Sulaiman Brimah, commended the government for the successful launch of the corridor, saying that that was an example of a broad bold partnership framework. He said that he was excited to witness the launch of West Africa’s first Drone Corridor that would support social good and improve the situation of children of Sierra Leone.
Minister of Basic and Senior Education and Chief Innovation Officer, Dr David Moinina Sengeh, said that he was pleased that they were using technology to address the challenges of government. He said that the most important thing for them was about the future of learning, research and industry in the country.
Dr Sengeh urged the administration of Njala University to consider making the University a center of excellence for the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, where students would be able to access research and innovation.
Keynote Address by His Excellency, Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, at the Launch of the Sierra Leone Integrated Resilient Urban Mobility Project. Miatta Conference Centre, Freetown, 28 November 2019
Ministers of Government,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Her Worship, The Mayor of the Municipality of Freetown
Our friends and partners especially our World Bank representatives
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me from the outset thank the World Bank through their representatives, (World Bank Executive Director-Africa Group 1 – Madam Anne Kabagambe; and our World Bank Country Manager, Gayle Martin). They have been reliable partners in development who understand this government’s commitment and vision. They and the World Bank are actively engaged in making the lives of Sierra Leoneans better. Thank you.
Prior to our accession to office, we recognised, as a party, that our Freetown was not the Freetown that we wanted. It was not the Freetown that was safe, clean, resilient, and liveable. It was not the Freetown we imagined would be conducive for visitors, friends, and citizens to travel, access services, explore economic opportunity, immerse themselves in the helpless gorgeousness of chaos and beauty, and do good business that creates jobs and enhances national development.
Commuting in Freetown has remained unsafe and chaotic especially at peak hours. Traffic congestion along key arterial roads and within the central business district is grindingly slow.
Here is what one would see on a typical congested street of Freetown: used second hand cars used as taxis and trucks that are not road-worthy; kekeh riders and taxi drivers who use the roads without much regard to traffic ordinances; Okadas that bob and weave dangerously through with two or more passengers balanced precariously on a single seat; risky road-user behaviour from commuters who walk among cars without regard to their own safety; and, poor to deadly driving skills on display with drivers who refuse to yield the right of way or who just park or stop anywhere they wish to drop and pick up passengers or just to argue endlessly among themselves while holding up traffic.
That is our Freetown.
I need not say that a congested city is not good for citizens, not good for tourism, not good for business, and not safe for our women and children.
I need not emphasize that traffic congestion diminishes productivity, increases the cost of commuting through increased fuel and operating costs, and has environmental and health implications. There is a heavy direct and indirect cost to congestion. Alongside our interventions being announced today, it may be invaluable for our government and our development partners to calculate the real monetary value of the cost of Freetown’s congestion. That may help us come to terms with its multiple realities and guide strategy and policy.
In our city, Freetown, new road space is almost impossible to come by especially along heavy commuting corridors because of our city’s topography and dense population settlements. Besides, there is intense competition for limited government funds between financing our core human capital development programmes and money to invest in new road infrastructure.
Hitherto, there had been no coherence of policy or thinking about urban congestion and commuting and the potential of multimodal transportation had yet to be unlocked.
So in our party’s manifesto, we determined that we could address the current traffic congestion in Freetown “ not only by the construction of new roads” and the widening of others (supplemented with pedestrian flyovers at the busiest urban intersections), “but also by employing proven and practical traffic engineering mitigation measures such as the use of actuated traffic light signals, directional traffic flows, channelization, the use of pedestrian only roadways, commercial vehicles only-roadway, peak and off-peak traffic directional flows, and effective traffic enforcement” among others.
Our party also determined that by reviewing the legal and regulatory mandates of multiple agencies in the sector, enforcing traffic regulations, employing multiple modes of transportation within Freetown, providing mass-transit facilities including markets, and increasing public bus services, we would tackle the urban blight of traffic congestion.
To our mind, one of the pathways (among others) to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 – “Making cities sustainable” is to invest in public transportation in a bid to build sustainable and resilient cities.
To grapple with the complexity of the task at hand, we have determined that we should work with development partners and the private sector in designing an integrated, scaled, measurable, accountable, and sustainable pilot mobility plan
As a government committed to inclusive development and to protecting women and girls from gender-based and sexual violence, a safe commute matters through the entire span of the daily movement of women and girls. A safe commute means that women and girls can safely participate in the full span of economic and social activities and take advantage of educational and other opportunities. A predictable commuter schedule, identifiable, safe, and well-lit bus and other transportation stops and transit centres (market and transit transport terminals with dedicated safe spaces for women) are therefore important.
So to my mind, if we cannot immediately build new roads but we must facilitate the movement of the same estimated 1 million plus people at peak times in various parts of Freetown, we must find innovative ways of moving those same numbers on our existing roads. Naturally, moving more people along the same small amount of road space is the objective. We must also make that movement safe, affordable, and it should reduce congestion. 2 Okadas and 2 kekehs occupy about the same road space but pose more road safety hazard for commuters and carry far fewer passengers than a 50 seater bus.
We also think that we can strengthen the resilience of our commuter thoroughfares and major roads during adverse climate conditions by improving drainage capacity and slope stability.
We must also smoothen out policy and legal creases and overlaps among the mandates of existing agencies within the sector that have often caused uncertainty and inaction. We must be able to facilitate multi-agency and multi-sectoral coordination in dealing with the problem of urban congestion.
Additionally, we must improve overall governance of the sector by not only enhancing personnel capacity through staff training, the provision of equipment, but by thoughtfully laying out clear Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Those SOPs will guide predictability around the scheduling, movement, and timeliness of the bus services and how the buses are operated and maintained.
We also intend to harness the power of technology to inform commuters in real time on traffic flow and bus schedules so they can plan and manage their commute. They can also use technology to purchase cashless passes (and hence improve accountability and eliminate the pilfering of bus fares). As I have said before, when one eliminates contact between humans and cash, one dramatically reduces the likelihood off thieving.
I also anticipate that in these days of big data analytics, real-time data will be collected and interpreted along the entirety of the Pilot Bus Improvement Corridor. That data, I would imagine, could be used to manage scheduling, route planning, ridership, safety, information, and for periodically reviewing SOPs.
It is also not impossible for us in Sierra Leone to build our own home-grown intelligent transportation system that will help us manage traffic, improve road safety, mitigate congestion, and provide more access to climate-friendly modes of commuting in our cities.
We must also ensure that our transportation strategy and policies keep step with best practices and cutting-edge research in the areas of urban transportation management. I anticipate that the proposed twinning between the Ministry and its agencies with Fourah Bay College and the Transport Centre of Excellence in Kumasi, as mentioned earlier on, will enhance the transfer of expertise and the augment institutional capacity.
I also anticipate that with this pilot phase, a refined and well-honed policy on urban congestion and commuting will be replicated along other identified congested corridors in Freetown.
With regard to funding, the public-private partnership for funding and operating this pilot gives the private sector a vested interest in operating and managing the assets (the buses). They (the private sector) will ensure the delivery of consistent and first class customer service and they will be assured of a predictable revenue stream. Government will provide maintenance and overall governance and thus ease congestion and thus reap the economic and social gains for inclusive national development. This win-win relationship, I want to assume, should open up new possibilities and new ideas for procuring and financing kindred partnerships that will ease the pain of urban commuting.
As I mentioned in opening, this scaled, measurable, accountable, and sustainable pilot mobility plan will open up new possibilities for managing the perennial scourge of urban congestion in Freetown. I am therefore pleased to associate with and register my unconditional commitment and support for this World Bank funded pilot.
I thank you.
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