Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is the first elected woman mayor of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown and has plenty of unique plans and points of view when it comes to the city’s challenges.
“During the campaign, people often said to me, ‘Oh so what do you think about this as a woman?’” she explained. “And I would say, I’m first and foremost a professional. I happen to be a woman.”
But now, over a year into her term, she believes that women do see problems through a special lens.
Aki-Sawyerr was elected in March 2018 to a four-year mayoral term. She also works with the Mayors Migration Council, a global network of mayors, to build inclusive welcoming cities.
“When we talk about migration in the Mayors Migration Council, we are focused on 360 visions of migration—diaspora going back, migrants moving out—but in every single piece of that, there has to be humanity and compassion,” she explained. “And there has to be choice provided, so no one is acting from a position of desperation.”
Freetown is among the most crowded cities in the world, with a population density of more than 1,200 people per square kilometer. Migration to the capital ramped up after the country’s decade-long civil war ended in 2002. The population growth and urbanization that followed had far-reaching effects on the environment because of deforestation, and intensified major environmental disasters like the Sierra Leone mudslides in the summer of 2017.
“That spoke to the urgency of the need for there to be care, consideration, and control in the deforestation that goes on around the world, but particularly in our context, where you are talking about steep mountain slopes, Aki-Sawyerr explained. “You can influence what happens. So let’s all be conscious because what seems to be innocuous activity in your day-to-day life can actually have really devastating impacts in other parts of the world.”