The trajectory of Freetown’s urban development is at the centre of current political contestations in Sierra Leone. Freetown, a city of over 1 million inhabitants and whose population is expected to double in size in the next 20 years, is responsible for 30% of the nation’s GDP. The city’s development has been marked by colonial legacies, as well as 11 years of civil war, the Ebola epidemic, the 2017 mudslide, annual flooding and now the Covid-19 pandemic. While Freetown is conditioned by deep social and environmental disparities, it is also a vibrant, dynamic and contested site of narratives and politics. For the national government, Freetown is key for the advancement of the national economy.
The city mayor’s vision is promoted through the ‘Transform Freetown’ agenda, which has become the means through which the Freetown City Council can gain leverage to influence the future trajectory of the city. However, in the middle of the power struggles between national and local governments, local and international civil society actors are forging horizontal networks and experimenting with participatory planning instruments to bring about change on the ground while gaining legitimacy and recognition to influence urban development. As mega projects are being considered for Freetown by local and national governments, it is crucial for research to continue to examine how policy and planning can promote more inclusive and sustainable urban development.