Freetown, Baby!

Mango pikin by jc2010sl
March 22, 2010, 10:21 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife, society, travels | Tags: , , ,

On my way down to the beach yesterday I came across a novel sight – a group of boys picking mangoes. One had placed a ladder against the tree and climbed out of sight into the canopy. Periodic shouts from the foliage were followed swiftly by little green bombs falling to earth. Two boys at the bottom held taught a large sack, to catch the fruit as it fell.

Coming back, I saw the boys sitting in a circle as an archetypal African matriarch roundly chastised them. “Mango thieves?” I asked our guide for the day. “No, no,” he said, “it’s more complicated than that.”

The boys, it seemed, or at any rate their families, had owned the land. They’d sold it to the woman now berating them. But they claimed that when they’d sold the land, they hadn’t sold the tree that grew on it. I guess their argument was that they’d sold the freehold to the land rather than the leasehold on the tree.

It made for an amusing scene, but the problem is a serious one across Sierra Leone, where land ownership is frequently disputed. Disagreements often occur after someone has invested in land – typically by constructing something. Scores of people emerge claiming title to the land, and frequently the initial investor will walk away rather than fight a protracted legal battle.

It means numerous unfinished buildings all round Freetown, but worse than that, it’s holding back the country’s growth.