S Leone honours Africa slave campaigners
By Yvonne Ndege-Burke and Mohammed Fajah-Barrie
BBC Africa, Freetown
Tuesday, 20 March 2007, 09:41 GMT
As the UK marks 200 years since it abolished the slave trade, Sierra Leone has decided to purge its capital, Freetown, of streets named after the British and replace them with the names of Africans who fought in the abolition movement.
Freetown, as its name implies, was founded in 1787 as a home for freed slaves and many residents have welcomed the move to recognise African heroes on its streets.
“Since the British came and went, they have done nothing for us after slavery. All their names are on the streets. You come into Freetown you see them, the only street with an African name is Siaka Stevens street,” says resident Sammy Conteh.
Mohamed Bobson-Kamara, chairman of the city’s planning committee for the bicentenary, says the role of black abolitionists has been greatly underplayed.
Thomas Peters – ex-slave, who helped Wilberforce found Sierra Leone as colony for freed slaves
Sengeh Pieh – led revolt on slave ship, Amistad
Olaudah Equiano – ex-slave, some believe helped abolition movement
John Ezzidio – ex-slave who became Freetown mayor
He hopes this will be partly rectified by changing the street names.
Percival Street will become Thomas Peters Street in remembrance of the slave who was taken to America from somewhere along the West African coast.
It is believed Thomas Peters fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution and ended up in the UK, where he went on to work with the white abolitionists, William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp to establish a colony in Africa for freed slaves – which is now Sierra Leone.
Mr Peters was honoured by the government of Sierra Leone in 1998.
Charlotte Street will be renamed Sengeh Pieh in memory of the African slave who led a revolt on the Amistad, a slave ship, in 1839 as it sailed to America.
Likewise, Waterloo Street will take Olaudah Equiano’s name.
Nigerian by birth, Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped into slavery in 1756. Some historians credit him with being one of architects of the UK’s abolitionist movement.
Howe will be called John Ezzidio after the slave who become mayor.
The city’s mayor Winstanley Bankole Johnson explains: “These names are the names of Africans that were directly connected with the history of slavery.
“It is for us to know where we are coming from. It is people like us who have to bring the names of black abolitionists to the fore. I think their whole effort has been obscured in the process of writing history. We want to take this opportunity to give credit where credit was due.”
The Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery Act, which banned slavery in the British Empire, is 25 March 2007.
The UK intends to spend Â£20m to mark the occasion.
But Freetown mayor Winstanley Bankole Johnson is critical of the amount of money being spent and wants the UK to re-think its plans.
“I would rather they did not spend those millions of pounds, where the impact would be far less felt.
“I would rather they focus their attention in countries in Africa that suffered and experienced the worst effects of slavery, particularly in the west coast of Africa. The economy of this region was comprehensively devastated.
“What better way to celebrate than to make people see that the suffering of their ancestors was not in vain?”