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Africa

Postcard from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Every month a different colleague sends us quick impressions from on the road. This time Kate Hairsine tells us how the sound of bulldozers, trucks and heavy machinery accompanied just about every waking hour.

Kate Hairsire, Trainerin der DW Akademie in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Copyright: DW/C. Springate

Kate Hairsire

Sierra Leone's capital is undergoing a construction boom. Next to my hotel room, the side of a hill is being flattened and the bulldozers roar into action ridiculously early in the morning making sleep impossible. Fleeing the noise is difficult though. The main road through Freetown is being widened to four lanes, and the throbbing roar of the truck and bulldozer engines add to the cacophony of crowing roosters, blaring radios, motorbikes, generators and street hawkers.

Stuck in my taxi, I notice a new office going up on the corner, the building's shell  supported by an ingenious structure of bamboo scaffolding. Houses, offices, highways ... you name it, it's being built here. A decade after the end of Sierra Leone's devastating civil war, the country's economy is surging. The IMF forecasts it will grow by 34 percent this year. Iron ore started shipping for the first time in nearly thirty years in late 2011, and oil was recently discovered offshore. Add these to Sierra Leone's increasing exports of of diamond, rutile, bauxite and gold and things are looking up for the West African country.

Despite the boom though, Sierra Leone is still one of the poorest countries in the world - rating 180 out of 187 countries on the United Nation's Human Development Index. And this poverty means that children as young as four crush granite rocks with small hammers in the quarries outside of Freetown. The small pans of gravel they sell cheaply will form the ballast for the roads and cement for the houses being built just a few kilometers away.


Kate Hairsine is an Australian journalist and media trainer who first started working for DW Akademie in 2010. Prior to becoming a journalist, Kate worked as an anthropologist and researcher for Aboriginal organisations where a large part of her job was negotiating with mining companies about Aboriginal land claims. Earlier this year, Kate was part of a team of trainers (including Marcus Lindermann and Florian Kroker) who travelled to Freetown for a two-week workshop on reporting on extractive industries. The workshop was attended by print, radio and TV journalists from both Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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