15 years after January 6: Economy of the Streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone


“We live off the fools of the street” ~ ICE T – Jew Man Business

Every year we try to look back on the events of January 6 1999, to remember so we don’t forget what we lost. This year we should try to look at the present. For the people living on the fringe of post war Freetown, 15 years after J6 life is but a daily struggle for survival.  Economy of the Street is a new archive of daily life, and struggle for Sierra Leone’s youth. This is life on the streets of Freetown 15 years after J6.

EconomyofthestreetSierraleone1 EconomyoftheStreetSierraLeone Economyofthestreetsierraleone2 Economyofthestreetsierraleone3

Every day we struggle for survival, we labour to find food, we aim for a safe home, and we build protective social structures involving friends, family and communities. This website is a platform to highlight the realities of survival for a group of young adults in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Take a moment and imagine your life as one of them: you are poor and you are living on the streets and off the streets. How will you survive? What are your concerns about life and your views? In short, what does your life look like?

Through film and photos, Mats Utas aims at portraying the reality of life among the urban poor based at two different locations in Freetown. The photo exhibition entitled Pentagon: Street life and Survival in Freetown, Sierra Leone includes both text and images that seek to display moments in everyday life and struggles. The documentary, Jew Man Business, portrays another area through the eyes of three young men. In both settings, the earlier civil war is a clear backdrop, as many of those photographed participated in it as militia and rebel soldiers.

This is not a single story, as it has no beginning and no end. These are rather individual moments connected by streetscapes.

Both the documentary and the photo exhibition are the property of the Nordic Africa Institute and are produced and published by Mats Utas.

All images are copyright: Nordic Africa Institute

Check out the full exhibit of photos and videos here: Economy of the Street


  • john

    These pictures speak volumes and it seems many of the basics are still absent.
    It seems to me that the TRC report was a woeful waste of time and resources because the findings have fallen on deaf ears.

  • Henry Coker

    How do we solve the problem of youth unemployment without education and skill sets. We must create the atmosphere that evokes dreams of excellence and future fulfillment for the individuals. We hear disaffection and disgruntlement in the film, there is a sinister dynamics forming in this outcast society. This is a group that is coalescing into an informal force that can be tribal in its objective but still one cannot sense any hatred for the establishment. We must use this positive attitude that now exists and, quickly in order not to allow in, radical elements to affect their political attitudes. What comes out in the film is the desire to make a break from the humdrum of the society. These are young men who crave for survival – simply Food for the starving, land to the people for good housin, skills to the youth, dispersal from the urban into rural. Social intervention is necessary in a big way, where programs are established to effect change. Truly these programs should not depend on Government intervention. Individual organisations, philanthropists,and dedicated volunteers can make a difference.
    Let us start by identifying what skills each of these boys possess then work with them to harness those skills or direct them into areas of greatest needs in the economy. Our society needs people who work and act independent of Government programs, ii should be a more involving interaction – hand on hand. Not the remoteness of government programs. The Churches and Mosques can play a part but because or society is so politicised one can see where the politicians will want to sabotage programs to feed their own selfish objectives. Because at some point the output from these programs would have to be fed into the mainstream of society that is where politics would want to intervene. It is sad to note that we have allowed everything to descend into partisan politics leaving no room for independent actions by concerned individuals. Through your newspaper can you start a movement to bring together professionals from around the world to address this issue of putting the youths to work within five years.