Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Lansana Fadika Trying Too Hard?

Lansana Fadika
Lansana Fadika is the most glorified of the recent political party turncoats in Sierra Leone these days. Fadika, who until recently was the Western Area Chairman of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) is now a poster boy of the ruling All People's Congress (APC). Lansana Fadika who was APC, before he became SLPP and is now APC, left the SLPP because the candidate of his choice, the much respected Usu Boie Kamara, failed in his aspiration to lead the party into the forthcoming elections. In a sign of things to come, Lansana Fadika recently gave his support to the candidacy of the incumbent president Ernest B. Koroma, while he was still an opposition strong man, in a stage managed event that was graced by the presence of the country's first lady.

SLPP Fadika
Just a few weeks after the pappy show, Fadika publicly switched his party allegiance to the APC, stating that he regretted joining the SLPP who were in his words "full of selfish people who cared only for themselves and their families". He said that all he encountered during his days as an SLPP strongman was frustration, worries and disappointment.

APC Fadika
Since he rejoined the APC, Lansana Fadika, has been trying very hard to allay the fears of some APC members who were suspicious of his intentions that he was now a true turncoat and that all his past vocal attack on the APC was now a thing of the past.

APC and Fadika have a mutually suspicious recent history that is making him try too hard in my opinion to convince members of his new party that he is not just another Judas Iscariot looking for his own 30 pieces of Silver. On Friday March 13th, 2009, while he was then an SLPP strongman, Lansana Fadika had his head bursted by APC supporters during an attack on the opposition SLPP party headquarters in Freetown, an incident that provoked international outcry as several women working in the party offices that day were brutally raped by thugs of the ruling APC. APC supporters at that time accused Fadika stage managing and inciting entire the incident. The Secretary General of the North American branch of the APC Abdul Bero Kamara at that time wrote the following:

"Contrary to the negative reports which are being circulated by the SLPP mouthpiece that the APC supporters were responsible for the melee that occurred on Friday 13th, 2009 at Wallace Johnson Street outside the SLPP headquarters, according to an independent eye witness report, the melee was provoked by the SLPP chairman for the Western Area, Mr. Lansana Fadika.On the day of the incident, Mr. Fadika mobilized SLPP supporters to put a barricade in front of his party headquarters in order to prevent jubilant APC supporters who where accompanying the Mayor Herbert G. Williams to his office after commissioning the clock tower in front of the Eastern Police Station, a project which they (SLPP) failed to implement despite of all the resources they had as a government."

Lansana Fadika has millions of miles to travel before he can really convince members of the APC that he is truly with them, because of some of his past statements, especially to the Freetown media houses. In a famous interview with Sierra leone's leading sensational tabloid Journalist Sylvia Blyden, in which she was surprised that Fadika who came from strong APC lineage would declare 100% support for SLPP, the exchange went thus:

Syvia Blyden: 100% SLPP? Are you sure? Is there no small room for doubt? No niggling doubt?
Lansana Fadika:  If it was mathematically possible to get 1 million percent, I would reply that I am 1 million percent sure. I am SLPP. I am green. I am staying green because it is freshness and fresh is healthy. Yes, I am SLPP to the backbone.

Some of these past statements are now coming to haunt Fadika in his desperation to be accepted into the inner core of the APC. To show his desperation, he publicly announced that he had all SLPP secrets and that he was going to make all this known to APC in order for the party to win the upcoming September presidential elections. Some APC people remain weary of a politician who would so easily be willing to divulge ex-party secrets, worrying that he could do the same to them in the future.

Another APC strongman Abdul Aziz Nabe, who once famously and foolishly threatened to lift the skirts of the American Ambassador to Sierra, June Carter Perry in a widely castigated article, once accused Lansana
Fadika of trading in illegal diamonds with the ambassador, in a calculated move to destroy the reputation of the ambassador.
Head bursted for SLPP
Thigh stabbed for APC

A couple of weeks ago Fadika, after promising to deliver Freetwn for the APC, a promise he also recently made for SLPP, went with a group of his henchmen to the Fourah Bay area of Freetown where local ward elections were being conducted. In a confrontation that followed, Lansana Fadika was stabbed in the leg, gaining the reputation as the only politician in Sierra leone who had had his head bursted by the APC and legs stabbed by the SLPP.
Fadika yelling as doctor pokes wound.








Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Greener in Bo School

Bo School Badge and motto
Ask any Bo School student and he will tell you that there are certain things about the school that are so hammered into you that even on your death bed you are bound to remember them. The first is your admission number. There were a lot of boys in our day  who used to claim to have gone to Bo school, a rare privilege in the provinces in those days. Just ask them what their admission number was and if they in anyway hesitated, for even a fraction of a second, then they were either suffering from some inexplicable mental disorder, or just simply never darkened the doors of that noble institution. Bo School was opened in 1906 for the sons and nominees of Paramount Chiefs in Sierra Leone.

Bo Town
I went to Bo School not by any wish of mine, but by the desire of my guardian and brother-in.law Mr. Mohamed S. Kanneh  who felt that I needed some manly discipline to take life seriously and that the renowned discipline of the boarding home life of Bo School  was sure to do just that. I had grown up in Freetown and  had wanted to attend either the Prince of Wales Secondary School or Sierra Leone Grammar School as did most of my classmates, but as I had no control over my destiny in those days, I grudgingly put Bo School as the first choice on my Selective Entrance papers. The decision was however a major blessing for me as my guardian was transferred to Bo that same year to head the Ministry of Social welfare.

By the time school got around to reopening that year, I had forgotten all about POW and Grammar School and was looking forward to Bo School with optimism and longing.I looked forward to a life that I imagined would be free of any form of parental control at least for  three terms in year.  In spite of all the stories I had heard about Bo School, I was sure that my cousin by marriage the late Sheku Kallon would protect me, as he was in upper sixth at that time and I was told that sixth formers practically ran student life in Bo School in those days. Boy, was I ever wrong to think that Sheku Kallon would protect me!

I was taken to Bo School one Sunday evening to get accommodations and prepare myself for the beginning of school the next day. I was driven to school by Mr. Sankoh my guardian's driver, no relation to the notorous Foday Sankoh. Going to Bo School, driven in a brand new Toyota Stout was one of the first in a series of mistakes that I unwittingly made that would make that first term almost a living hell for me.

Main Administrative Building
When I got to Bo School I was dropped at Liverpool where Sheku Kallon had residence. Bo School has four residential blocks named after European cities; Liverpool, London, Manchester and Paris. On arrival I put down my iron trunk, my chop box and my small bag and asked a group of students sitting in front of the block to help me. The students came around, waited until the vehicle had left, put the chop box and bag on my head and ordered me to frog jump to the block. Thus was I welcomed to Liverpool block D, with my box on my head, jumping like a young frog. In Block D I was assigned a very narrow twin bed, which I was to share with Mohamed Kawusu Conteh, another new student, the son of a famous national politician.

That evening we all went to the dining hall for dinner and was introduced to the meal famously known as "Kondor". We had Kondor  twice everyday, at the end of the school day and late in the evening before night studies. Kondor never changed and the taste was always the same. It was either cassava leaves, beans, peanut soup, or potato leaves. In the rainy season potato leaves were replaced by the swamp variety, "gogodii". The Head of Dining and Kitchen in those days was a fascinating man known as Pa Sam King. Pa Sam King that evening told us, in faltering English, about the times and rules of the dining hall. After Pa Sam King had finished his address the school senior prefect, Steven K. Bio, brother of former head of state and current SLPP flagbearer Julius Maada Bio, divided us the new students from the old ones.

Steven Bio told us that we the new students would henceforth be termed as "greeners". He informed us that in the hierarchy of Bo School, greeners were nonentities or nobodies, with very little or no rights and privileges . "The names of greeners", he said, "were written in chalk, and could easily be wiped of the roster of the school". From thenceforth, we would not be addressed by our names, but by our admission numbers. We were expected to be the main source of manual labour for the school; we would clean the campus and make sure that no weeds were allowed to grow while we were in residence. We would fetch food for seniors too lazy or busy to come to the dining room, and if some seniors found it difficult to sleep, we were to go under their beds and "comfort" them to sleep, a euphemistic term for lying under a bed and pushing it up and down, while the occupant generally felt like a medieval king until he drifted to sleep. In essence Steven Bio introduced us to Bo School's  tradition of serfdom for greeners or rustics, the lowest of the low.

Ngolo Tamba,  A Founding Student
After Steven Bio had delivered his piece, he gave authority to every other school prefect, his cabinet, to come and introduce and say something about themselves . Each prefect generally tried to describe himself as being more terrible than the last one and when they had all finished their individual presentations, most of us greeners were quaking with fear, wondering what in God's name we had gotten ourselves into. After the prefects, the school officers were introduced, who were responsible for the day supervising routine affairs like cleaning and the dining hall. They also came out and did their show and by the time they were all finished, our Kondor plates were very cold.

As if this was not enough, almost every week we had the dreaded practice known as "drilling" The only rationale I can give for drilling was that coming to Bo School for new students was a crime and as all criminals faced some form of punishment, drilling was the series of painful exercises designed to punish us for our crime. Frog jumping, rolling on the hot tarmac in front of the dining hall, lying on the hot tarmac and pretending to be dead, were just a few of the exercises collectively described as drilling. Some of the senior students in those days used drilling to manifest  their evil or sadistic tendencies. One notoriously wicked prefect in those days, who every greener feared to even run into, was Albert Kangbai, popularly known as "The Gbai"

If Adolph Hitler had had Idi Amin for his wife and they had had a child, the product would have been "The Gbai". Albert Kangbai had the tenacity of a rebel combined with the mentality of a terrorist. He had very piercing bloodshot eyes and throughout that year, I never saw him smile. Those who were surprised at the depravity of RUF rebels in Sierra Leone during the war never met "The Gbai". During the war I was lucky to run across Albert Kangbai in Freetown, he was a policeman. Boy was I ever glad that man never joined the RUF rebels, he would have made Sam Maskita Bockarie look like a primary school boy pretending to be bad. "The Gbai" was simply evil in its purest form and to this day I can still vividly remember that sadistic grin he had, when we were being drilled. If Kangbai designed a punishment for you, not even Jesus Christ would convince him to modify it. The more you suffered the better he felt. In second term I had the bad luck of being transferred to Liverpool block A, where "The Gbai" had residence. In block A greeners were punished every morning before cleaning and school. One day I was lucky to come across a list of block assignments and saw that my name under London. I talked to a friendly London prefect who told me that I had right to go to London, because  it was my legal hall of residence. That night I packed my books and few belongings and as soon as everybody was asleep, I crept out like a thief in the night and went to London block B, where I stayed until I left the school. Unfortunately that night there was broom inspection for greeners and having no broom, I was punished until we were rescued by the Hall Master Mr. Bangura, but escaping the clutches of "The Gbai" was more than blessing enough for that night's punishment.

Old Bo School Boy in UK
Bo school in those day was however a great school, in spite of the above. The teachers were excellent and the curriculum was tough and vast. In those days, Bo School was the premier school in the provinces, competing only with Christ the King's College, CKC for academic excellence. Study times were organized, rigid and supervised and we had time to do our assignments and prepare for exams. The seniors interfered with everything, but did not interfere with our study time. Most of my classmates in those days now have advanced degrees in various disciplines and are renowned academics all over the world.

Segbwema blogger 4382 Sheriff
I will always remember my days of being a greener in Bo school.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Addressing the Educational Decline in Sierra Leone

School Children Sierra Leone
To say that education has declined in Sierra Leone is basically an understatement. Just last week I received an email message from a nephew of mine that I will not reproduce here to respect his privacy. But reading such a terrible letter from a secondary school graduate made me sad the whole day and had me worried about Sierra Leone's future competitiveness in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized.

You could say that my nephew was just a poor student, but interactions with other recent Sierra Leone graduates, even some  recent university graduates, has occasionally left a bitter taste in my mouth. If the deterioration in educational standards was just in isolated pockets of the country, that could be understandable and maybe attributable to certain factors that could be easily explained . But the fact that this deterioration seems to be systemic, affecting every area of the country is not only alarming, but could well be catastrophic for the future of the country.

War Education
The ten year civil war did of course play a major role in accelerating this decline, but that does not fully explain the reason why the decline persists and even seem to be increasing exponentially. We know that schools were burnt down and students and teachers were displaced for considerable periods during the war. The Nixon Memorial Nursing School and my own school Wesley Secondary school, both prominent institutions in my home town Segbwema, had cause to be relocated to Kenema during the peak of the war and for the students that could not afford the relocation that effectively meant the end of their education.

The war however officially ended in 2002 and even though it is now 2012, news emanating from Sierra Leone on the educational front is bleak and disheartening to those of us who know the positive role that good education can play in assuring the future well being of both the individual and society.

The importance of education in any society need not be overemphasized. To emphasize the major role that education plays in a country's economic development, most economists refer to education as an investment in human capital. For developing countries like Sierra Leone, education is crucial, as no government, no matter how great its ambition may be, will succeed without an enlightened and technically trained citizenry in this age of technical progress. For a government to implement its development plans effectively, it has to draw from the expertise of the citizens and if they are not up to the task, the result will always be failure no matter how well thought out the development plans are.

Tokyo Japan
Freetown Sierra Leone
It may surprise a lot of people to know that Sierra Leone has more natural resources than Japan. While Japan continues to rank among the greatest economies in the world, Sierra Leonean are proud when the country is not ranked among the five least developed countries in the world. The only logical explanation for this paradoxical disparity is investment in human capital through education. Japan invests heavily in educating its citizenry and competition for its top universities are fierce. This investment in human development has fundamentally transformed the Japanese economy to one that now heavily relies on the export of highly technical vehicles and electronic items. Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Sony, Toshiba, and other technological giants did not just fall out of the sky, they represent year of painstaking scientific and technological research that could only be achieved by a society with a highly trained labor force.

Hell's Corridor-Kailahun Road
When we were young, we were told that learning was better than silver and gold. Some people at that time thought the statement was a ploy for Europeans to take our gold and diamonds whilst they built us schools and colleges. Today we can see that even though the colonialists did unfairly rape our natural resources, the essence of the statement remains true. While Sierra Leone has gold, diamond, bauxite, iron ore, and now we are hearing petroleum, the lack of technical expertise has meant years of basically exporting these materials in their raw forms to those countries where the citizens are trained to process them and multiply the value sometimes hundredfold. Today, while the Japanese are looking for the most effective way to get to the moon, we are still looking for the most effective way to get to Kailahun.

Sierra Leone as a country needs to invest in the education of its people. No single political party can be blamed for years of systematic disregard of the once great educational sector in the country. The increase in a lot of negatives in the society; violent crime, thuggery, "raray boys", burglary, corruption, hooliganism, can all be attributed to a society that has not put the necessary focus on developing the youth and teaching them to regard themselves as individuals of substance and worth. In most developed nations, the government relies on the individuals for development and basic progress. In Sierra Leone however, the reverse is true as individuals rely on and blame the government for everything, the simple reason being that most people lack the expertise to be sufficiently independent.

Though Sierra Leone is far behind on the global development train, it is never too late to catch up. I know the country has excellent educational policies in place and most times in our country our problem is implementation. I will however endeavor to add my own voice to what I believe should be the way forward. The following points are purely my opinion, but I do hope those who are leaders in the educational sector will give my points a read and even if they disagree with me, at least they would have heard another point of view, which is what education is all about.

GREATER INVESTMENT IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
  • In most developed countries early childhood education is viewed as the foundation of human development. In Sierra Leone, there is now this tendency for teachers without strong intellectual foundation to migrate to primary schools as those represent an easier and less challenging population to teach. This is a disastrous situation as it is within this period that the foundation for future intellect is developed. Primary schools in my opinion should have the best and highest paid teachers. A lot of Sierra Leoneans reading this may disagree, but I can safely say that my primary school teachers, ranging from Mr. Jajua in class 1 of Methodist Primary School, Segbwema, to Mr. Thorpe in class 7 of Samaria Primary school, Wellington Street, Freetown played a much greater role in my education than all my secondary school teachers combined. In those days, a primary school teacher taught you every subject;  from Maths, Social Studies, History, Civic,....... to English. If your primary school teachers were not very clever, or were not academically strong, you were not going to be strong in any of the foundation subjects and by the time you got to secondary school, you had become the type of student who aimed at 50% and was glad to just pass to another class, a foundation that prepared you more for being a future political thug than a future civil servant or private entrepreneur.
TECHNICAL AND SKILLS TRAINING
Technical Training
  • Every school in Sierra Leone should place the same emphasis on technical subjects as they do on the more traditional subjects. The advantage with an emphasis on skills training is that the trainee graduates with readily marketable skills that will promote their own independence. There are hundreds of technical colleges in America where people go to learn essential skills that they can use the day they graduate. Sierra Leone's technical schools should collaborate with manufacturing and mining industries to produce labor that is ready for use in these industries. Skills like carpentry, automotive technicians, welding, and so on are necessary for the technical progress in a country. 
CHANGING UNIVERSITY CURRICULUM
Fourah Bay College
  • I hope the academic offering or subject offered by a college like FBC has changed or is changing. In the 90s, there were very few students in the essential faculties like engineering and science. There was a surplus of students reading mundane subjects like Greek and Roman History, and though I have enormous respect for ancient Greek and Romans, I would have preferred to see more of my colleagues engaged in the study of subjects that involved researching how the country was going to get out of the terrible economic mess we were in during those days. I hope and pray things have changed, as Sierra Leone needs a flexible and adaptable workforce that can meet the demands of 21st century technological changes
                                         TO BE CONTINUED

Facebook Revitalizes Segbwema Development Association SEDA

Segbwema market in the 80s
Some years ago, a group of us who were either descendants of Segbwema or had a bond to the town through school, work, marriage, or other affiliation decided to form a Segbwema Development Association. The expressed aim of the association was to facilitate the recovery of the town from the ravages of the RUF civil war by either engaging in or sponsoring small scale projects in the areas of health care, education and agriculture. Those of us who were active at the time of SEDA's formation felt that even though the town was severely damaged during the war and all sectors needed help, the three aforementioned sectors were of prime importance as they were fundamental to the well being, living standard and future prosperity of the people of our believed. Most of the founding SEDA members were in the Diaspora, particularly USA, UK and Canada. We also had much enthusiasm from our siblings and kindred in Sierra Leone.
Robin Fallay  Segbwema MP


Upon the formation of SEDA the initial enthusiasm of the founding members was remarkable. We focused initially on growing the membership and developing the association as a non-governmental organization (NGO) or nonprofit. We set financial and other goals and selected an interim executive. After the initial enthusiasm, interest in the association declined.This was  mostly due to the barriers of communication between people residing in different areas of the world and different time zones. The interim executive also did not follow up on the initial work we started and as time went on SEDA sort of fizzled out, even though a lot of us still had the ideas and  zeal to help our beloved hometown Segbwema, the place where we were born, bred and nurtured.

Last week after a discussion with Owen Kaicombay who is studying for a Masters degree in international relations in Japan, we decided that one way we could get around the barrier to communication that had so negatively impacted the work of SEDA was to employ the use of existing social networks, particularly Facebook. A lot of people from Segbwema living in different areas of the world were already on Facebook, so a Segbwema Development Association group was to be created and people recognized as descending from or having any affiliation to Segbwema were to be made members of the group. Just about four days ago we set up the SEDA facebook group, and what a miracle! In just four days we have gotten a membership of 118 people from every conceivable part of the globe, Asia, the Americas, Africa, Europe and even the middle east. We have yet to hear from Antartica, but I wont be surprised. 

20th Anniversary Captain Ben-Hirsch, P
Late Ben-Hirsch
I am urging each and every person from Segbwema on Facebook to search for the group and join. It is an open group. Yesterday some members of this group attended the 20th Anniversary of the death of our beloved brother, defender and friend Captain Prince Ben Hirsch, and Jusu Murlin Gogra posted some of the pictures on the SEDA group wall on Facebook.We all felt close to the ceremony, though some of us are so far away in strange lands. Please join this group and let us help put our town on the international map and maybe revive the glory days of Nixon, Wesley and Holy Ghost.

At the Graveside

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The struggle for power and peace in Sierra Leone



David Lord (September 2000)
In early 1991, on the eve of the outbreak of its civil war, Sierra Leone was economically and politically on the verge of collapse. Twenty-four years of manipulation and misrule under Siaka Stevens and his chosen successor, Joseph Saidu Momoh, had left the country heavily dependent on foreign aid and loans. Mismanagement and corruption was rife, and the state was deeply divided between the clients of the All People's Party (APC) regime and a growing number of embittered political and business rivals.
A house of cards
Beyond the increasingly feeble but sometimes brutal grasp of the government in the capital Freetown, rural Sierra Leone's potentially rich productive activities – agriculture, artisanal diamond and gold mining, and fisheries – were operated mainly for the benefit of 'Big Men' and their networks. The merging of politics, violence and personal business interests secured access to resources for redistribution only to supporters and so undermined any attempts to satisfy broader national needs. The use of gangs of youths and older thugs to settle political scores and intimidate opponents was a common practice of the APC, as was the purging of the military and police of members with suspect loyalties.
Under the APC, the state was unable or unwilling to gather taxes and effectively redistribute resources beyond its own networks. It became increasingly dependent on international financial institutions but this did not lead to any improvement in the provision of basic services such as affordable education, health care, and road or rail links. It also failed to control the rampant smuggling of Sierra Leone's highly valued gem diamonds and other commodities. Eighty per cent of Sierra Leone's population was illiterate and only twenty per cent participated in the wage economy. With more than half of the population under fifteen years old, the country also contained a vast pool of young people with few opportunities for education or employment. They tended to be acutely aware of an ostentatious ruling elite bleeding the country of its natural wealth and potential for development.
During the 1980s, the 'clientelist' system of governance in Sierra Leone came under even greater pressure, due to demographic and socio-economic changes in the country as well as global economic liberalization. The 'Big Men' found controlling the country's affairs and keeping their networks together increasingly difficult. Competition for resources grew more relentless and the house of cards began to crumble.
The Revolutionary United Front
On 23 March 1991, a handful of Sierra Leoneans, supported by some Liberians and Burkinabes, struck Bomaru in Sierra Leone's eastern-most Kailahun District. A few days later another small force of the previously unknown Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF) crossed the Mano River from Liberia into southern Pujehun District to strike border villages there. Led by a little-known former corporal in the Sierra Leone army, Foday Saybana Sankoh, the RUF's stated intention was to overthrow the corrupt APC government, revive multi-party democracy and end exploitation. Initial attacks, however, seemed to have a number of other short-term goals: to persuade or force young people into the RUF; to loot food, drugs and other goods to sustain the fighting force; to kill figures of local authority such as government officials, extension workers, and traditional leaders; and to execute Fula and Mandingo traders. New recruits and captives were led off to forest camps where they were coerced or indoctrinated into the movement.
Borrowing a tactic used by rebel fighters in Liberia, RUF commanders forced captives to murder or mutilate officials, community elders or family members to prevent their being accepted back into their communities or families. Some had the letters 'RUF' carved into their chests.
While tens of thousands of villagers fled or hid from the RUF insurgents, others saw opportunities to seek personal or political vengeance or economic gain. In the words of political scientist Earl Conteh-Morgan and historian Mac Dixon-Fyle:
"The rebel factions in Sierra Leone's civil strife may have attracted more young men not because of any love of violence and war but because warfare offered more hope and opportunities (through looting, control and the impression of being powerful), than during the days of stability, when graduation from high school seemed the end of life in a crisis-ridden economy."
According to Freetown youth worker Dennis Bright:
"The long years of neglect of youths in the development programmes of successive governments in Sierra Leone has been widely acknowledged as a major cause of the war. Indeed, during the dictatorial rule of the APC, youths were groomed in violence and used as hired thugs in election campaigns but abandoned afterwards and left to sink into drugs, crime and other vices on the margin of society. By the time of the outbreak of the war, the conditions were favourable for manipulation and mass mobilization of such marginalized members of society into organized crime and violence. The massive looting, rape, use of drugs and arson is partly due to the background of the young recruits."
In southern Pujehun, the APC had used the army to crush supporters of the rival Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) during the 1982 election campaign in events known locally as the Ndogboyosoi (bush devil) war. The still-prevailing resentment provided the RUF with some ready recruits when it swept through the region in 1991. Young people who had suffered abuses from chiefdom authorities (such as forced labour, exorbitant fines for misdemeanours, exile from their communities) or who had no real opportunities to gain an education or employment also turned to the RUF. The insurgents attracted hundreds of itinerant diamond diggers in the remote, lawless mining camps of eastern and southern Sierra Leone.
Throughout the course of the war, the RUF mutated from a handful of poorly armed dissidents to a much larger, highly mobile and destructive guerrilla force. It also slowly evolved into a recognized interlocutor in negotiations and, with the signing of the Lomé Peace Agreement in July 1999, a component of an otherwise elected government. While the RUF began with a more broadly based leadership, Sankoh has been the most visible leader of the movement from the outset. Eventually it was able to establish a semblance of a civilian administration in some areas under its control, while remaining primarily a coercive military organization. At its core was Sankoh as the 'director of ideology', as well as a War (and later Peace) Council made up of senior members of the movement. Often riven by internal dissent and rivalries, the RUF managed to retain a fairly high degree of cohesiveness through more than nine years of war.
It is now estimated that as many as 20,000 may have joined or been forced into the RUF during the course of the conflict. The vast majority of these served to supply fighting units with food and in a variety of other non-combat roles, such as diamond miners, porters, or 'wives' of fighters. Actual numbers of fighters have been notoriously unreliable, although demobilization and disarmament plans have used a figure of 15,000 RUF combatants.
Diamonds and the war economy
Looking for diamonds
Looking for diamonds in Makeni River, Bo District, March 2000
Both the RUF insurgents and subsequent governments have sold diamonds to help finance their war efforts. The proceeds served to buy weapons, pay fighters and hire mercenaries. Some of the war's most intensive fighting has been for control of mining areas. Yet such control has never been complete and much of the diamond mining has remained in private hands.
Many of Sierra Leone's diamonds are found in gravel deposits from rivers and streams and can easily be dug or dredged. Others are embedded in hard-rock volcanic formations known as kimberlite pipes and require costly, mechanized digging. Until the 1950s the government shared in revenues from a monopoly on exploitation reserved for the Sierra Leone Selection Trust, a De Beers subsidiary. But the illicit mining and trading of diamonds was a constantly growing problem. In reaction to this huge illegal trade and political pressure to open mining to Sierra Leonean diggers, the pre-independence Margai government transformed the industry in 1956 by cutting back SLST's concessions and allowing African diggers to acquire licences under the Alluvial Diamond Mining Scheme. Miners sold gems to dealers who, in turn, sold to the government buying office. While some observers claim that the major alluvial deposits may now be largely depleted, it is estimated that substantial deposits of diamonds remain in the east, south and north of the country, valued in the billions of US dollars.
In the early stages of the war, the control of diamond mining areas often changed hands between the RUF and army units loyal to the National Provisional Revolutionary Council (NPRC) military regime. In 1995, the NPRC turned to mercenaries to help them regain control of rutile, bauxite and diamond mining operations that had been overrun by the RUF. In the south and east of the country, militias were formed around traditional hunters – Kamajors and other traditional guilds – to protect rural communities and battle with the RUF. As well as Sierra Leoneans, Liberian mercenaries and regional peacekeepers also have an interest in the rivalry for political supremacy and control of diamonds. All have relied on shifting networks of backers, suppliers and diamond traders to mine and transport their diamonds to markets. Most Sierra Leonean diamonds reach the world market via Liberia because of its proximity to the main Sierra Leonean diamond fields and the absence of border controls. The trade is traditionally in the hands of some thirty licensed Lebanese families who settled in the country in the 1930s, as well as by a smaller number of unlicensed Guinean businessmen.
In the recent stages of the war, RUF staying power has been largely attributed to its control over major diamond fields in the east of the country and the ability to traffic gems through Liberia in exchange for weapons and supplies.
The costs of the war
With few conventional battles, except those for control of diamond mines or strategic bridges or highways, much of the military action was directed at civilian targets. Looted goods from homes, businesses and farms were openly traded in Freetown and provincial markets. Repeated ambushes of unprotected road traffic and even convoys under military escort created siege conditions in provincial towns and drove up the price of fuel, food and other necessities. Relief supplies (mainly food and medicine but also construction materials, office equipment, cash, vehicles and communications equipment) have also been prime targets for armed raiders. Peasant families fled for towns and cities, adding to food scarcities.
By 1993 relief organizations estimated that about 1 million Sierra Leoneans of a total population of 4.5 million had been displaced within the country or forced to take refuge in Guinea and Liberia. This tremendous uprooting of people produced shattered families, brought agriculture to a halt in many parts of the country, eliminated opportunities for education and put extreme pressure on existing infrastructure in urban areas where hundreds of thousands sought refuge.
Civilian casualties continuously mounted. Current estimates range from 30,000 to 75,000 war-related deaths, although these figures are impossible to confirm. Reliable, comprehensive figures on the numbers of people wounded or psychologically traumatized by the war do not exist. Atrocities such as the amputation of limbs, ears and lips with machetes, decapitation, branding and the gang rape of women and children have been common. In March 2000, the UN's Humanitarian Co-ordination Unit reported that the number of survivors of amputation was approximately 600, rather than previous estimates ranging from 3,000 to 5,000. It is assumed that the survivors represent only about a quarter of all amputees.
An estimated 5,000 under-age combatants, some as young as eight years old, were forced or volunteered into the various armed factions. Many were provided with drugs such as marijuana and cocaine and forced or encouraged to take part in atrocities.
The psychological and social effects of the war on combatants and civilians are only beginning to be systematically assessed. A May 1999 sampling of civilians in Freetown carried out by Médecins sans Fronti'res indicated that almost all of those surveyed had suffered from starvation, had witnessed people being wounded or killed, and half had lost someone close to them.
The psychosocial and mental health consequences of war on civilians are all too often neglected. Even after hostilities cease, the war may continue in people's minds for years, decades, or possibly generations. To address only the material restoration and physical needs of the population denies the shattered emotional worlds, ignores the destruction of basic human trust and benevolence, and leaves the moral and spiritual consequences of war unaddressed.
Another legacy of the war has been an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, prostitution and the social ostracism of rape victims and other women and girls associated with various fighting factions.
In material terms the war has kept Sierra Leone on the bottom rung of the UN Development Programme's Human Development Index. The UN's Food and Agriculture organization states that the country's Gross National Product, the value of all goods and services produced within the country, declined by an average of 4.9 per cent each year from 1992 to 1998, while the population was increasing by about 2.3 per cent annually. At the time of writing, 90 per cent of the population were said to be living in poverty.
An all-out attack on Freetown by the insurgents in January 1999 left about 150,000 people homeless in the capital. More than eight years of war in the county's provinces had already destroyed many thousands of homes and businesses, as well as schools, health clinics and administrative buildings. The country's road and ferry network, dilapidated before the war, suffered more damage and neglect through the war years.
Responses to the war
Hotel outside Freetown
Hotel outside Freetown, March 2000
This issue of Accord provides a necessarily incomplete account of the attempts at peacemaking in Sierra Leone, starting with the NPRC's half-hearted effort to enter into dialogue with the RUF in the early 1990s, through the failed Abidjan Accord negotiated in 1996 between the RUF and the newly elected civilian government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, to another failed attempt by ECOWAS to broker the restoration of Kabbah in 1998 and, most recently, the severely compromised 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement.
Under Lomé, Foday Sankoh had been pardoned of treason, granted the status of vice president in the cabinet and made chairman of a commission with ostensible powers to regulate the country's diamonds. Yet in early May 2000, the RUF took hostage hundreds of UN peacekeepers who were in the process of being deployed throughout the country to implement and monitor the peace agreement. This, and the overall lack of progress in disarming the RUF, triggered a popular demonstration in Freetown that chased Sankoh from his residence and forced him into hiding. Dozens of RUF officials were put in protective custody at the same time. Sankoh was captured ten days later and taken into detention, while fighters loyal to the government, with a rapidly deployed British task force at their backs in the capital, began to take the war to the RUF outside Freetown.
The successive peace initiatives and agreements in Sierra Leone raise many fundamental questions: Is peacemaking a definable, controllable and rational process that can be accelerated, deepened and made more effective? How can understanding of the dynamics of violence and peace be improved for those attempting to create peace from war? And how can greater understanding be translated into political agreements and social relationships that counteract the recurrence of widespread violence? What can and should be the roles of ordinary people in shaping the peace they will have to live? Does deepening peace processes necessarily imply more meaningful participation by ordinary people through civil society organizations? In the pursuit of peace, is it morally or politically defensible to forgo applying retributive justice and to instead offer protection and economic status to perpetrators of atrocities?
British anthropologist Paul Richard has noted that for a durable peace to take hold in Sierra Leone, one thing that will be needed is concerted sensitization of civilians:
"Such sensitization needs to be based on a realistic appreciation of the suffering and desire for revenge of civilian victims of the war, while at the same time clearly recognizing that many of the under-age human rights abusers of the RUF are themselves products of human rights abuses."
The RUF's horrific human rights abuses are often (perhaps even mainly) committed by abducted children. Those who command the movement (and perhaps order the atrocities) are themselves the product of earlier cycles of abduction. Now in their late teens or early twenties, these leading fighters are the human rights abusing products of human rights abuses. The original leadership is mainly dead or disappeared. The movement continues to protect itself by waging war and abducting vulnerable children.
While many observers attribute the collapse of the Lomé Peace Agreement to the duplicity of Sankoh and his ambition to rule either through violence or guile, it can also be seen as a failure of traditional peacemaking and diplomacy, leading to an agreement that was doomed from the start. At the time of writing, the struggle for power in Sierra Leone has entered another phase of violent confrontations: between government forces and the RUF; between factions within the forces backing the Kabbah government; between the RUF and peacekeepers. The outcome of these struggles is uncertain. Amidst the renewed fighting, the struggle for peace also continues, both in state politics and in civil society. Drawing lessons from the successes and failures of previous stages is part of the challenges that lie ahead.

David Lord is a former co-director of Conciliation Resources and was manager of CR's West Africa programme from 1995 to 1999. He is currently living and working as an independent consultant in Ottawa, Canada.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sierra Leone: ten years on from end of civil war, youth unemployment could threaten new unrest, warns VSO


Unemployed Freetown youth

Ten years on from the end of civil war in Sierra Leone (18 January), mass youth unemployment poses a threat to the existing peace and stability in the country, international development charity VSO is warning.
Despite policies having been put in place to address youth issues, the current situation remains dire for young people in the country. Seventy per cent of the country’s youth population is unemployed or underemployed and 50 per cent illiterate or unskilled, according to UN figures (1). Tensions erupted in September last year in Bo, Sierra Leone’s second largest city in the south of the country, where a political rally turned into a riot and young people reportedly ransacked some parts of the town.
The UN has recognised that ‘large numbers of unemployed youths are a potential source of insecurity given their vulnerability to recruitment into criminal and violent activities’ (2).
Tough survival
VSO is working with local partners in Sierra Leone to help provide young people with the skills they need to secure a decent livelihood for themselves. But without a development focus on creating decent jobs and ensuring people have the skills to do them, there are concerns that the conditions for instability could be being created all over again.
William Dauda, Livelihoods Programme manager for VSO in Sierra Leone, said:
“Huge numbers of young people in Sierra Leone lack job opportunities, skills for employment or capital to start a business.
“Young people are a potential resource for growth and social development if productively employed. But they could also be a source of devastating social tension, conflict and instability if they are left jobless and without hope.
“In the north where we work, hundreds of job-seeking young people have moved to the area from other parts of the country, most lacking the skills and education to secure gainful employment. Many have stayed for months with no work. They are frustrated and with elections scheduled for November 2012, there are some concerns that this frustration could spill over into unrest.”
Every man deserves a chance
A UNDP District Based Youth study in May 2011 highlighted youth employment challenges in five districts in Sierra Leone. The study revealed that most young people in Sierra Leone do not have a basic livelihood or employable skills and further lack the knowledge, training and capital to start up or sustainably manage a business.
The situation is not unique to Sierra Leone. Over 75 million young people were unemployed worldwide at the end of 2010, according to figures from the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Many more in developing countries are underemployed “working poor”, forced to take whatever poorly-paid work they can get and subsisting below the poverty line of $2 per day. VSO is calling on world leaders to take urgent action on jobs in developing countries, placing decent work at the heart of efforts to spur global economic recovery and eradicate poverty.
Lisa Horner, Policy Manager at VSO, added:
“We need to get the world working. Poor people want to work their way out of poverty and the global economy needs the boost that their labour could provide.
"But leaders in developing and advanced economies need to work together to ensure that trade, investment and development policies focus on generating productive employment for the world's poorest people.  This simply isn't happening at the moment."
VSO is working in Sierra Leone with local NGO partners like Binkolo Growth Centre, MADAM and Future In Our Hands, who operate in Sierra Leone’s least developed northern regions. The area has a heavy concentration of unemployed and under employed young people who are desperately seeking jobs with two mining companies, UK-based London Mining and Africa Minerals, which have been operating in the area in the last 2 years.
Abdulai, 28, now works in cassava production after receiving training at Binkolo Growth Centre. But until then he had almost lost hope. He said:
“I spent four years in Freetown where I lived on the streets. The only way I found money to survive was to do odd jobs carrying things, doing work for anyone who would pay… We would sometimes steal bags, money, or things that were worth money that we could sell, just to survive. I didn’t feel good about it, but I had nobody else there. We did not feel good about ourselves; a man without a job does not feel good. We were trying so hard to find work. 
 
“ I went back to Binkolo because my mother sent for me; I returned to find out my father had died during the war… Since 2007, I have not really been doing anything. It is very rough for young people here – so many are unemployed. Every day they come here to Binkolo searching for work… but most of my friends don’t have a job.  Many get in trouble with the police for stealing.”
Today's youth
Later this year VSO will launch a new public campaign focusing on jobs in the developing world, with specific attention paid to the situation for young people and women.


Culled from VSO Publication. Pictures added.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

APC Directly Responsible for the Makeni Brouhaha

Father Henry Aruna-The Outsider
Over the past four years, the APC government of Ernest Koroma has ensured that appointments to top positions in Sierra Leone, be it political or adminstrative appointments, were made primarily  on the basis of tribal or regional affiliations. Probably the people of Makeni, the main town in the north, have come to expect that almost any important appointment in the country, should be along the lines of EBK's ethnocentric ideology and were thus taken aback when the catholic church decided to make an appointment that was based purely on the virtues of merit and character.

All the excuses given by the rogue priests who are leading the rejection of the appointment of Father Henry Aruna who was the Secretary General of the Inter-Territorial Catholic Church Conference of the Gambia and Sierra Leone as the Bishop of Makeni do not hold water.

The secretary general of of the Makeni Laity, Gerald Alex Sesay said they would reject Father Aruna as they considered it an insult to have an outsider, who happens to be Sierra Leonean, lead the church hierarchy. The irony that Father Aruna was replacing Monsignor Giorgio Biguzzi who was not even Sierra Leonean, seems to have been lost on the rogue priests and Church elders.

Pope Benedict rejects Tribalism
Monsignor John Tarawalli and other leaders of this rebellion should have realized that the appointment of bishops are not done not on the basis of tribal or political considerations, but purely on the basis of established church criteria. The day the catholic church bows to the whims of tribalists in making  these decisions in Sierra Leone will be a sad day in the country's history.

Priests are men who have decided to dedicate their lives to spreading the word of God around the world and the only qualification they should possess should be humility, purity of heart and a dedication to preaching the tenets of their religion. They are missionaries who are expected to travel all over the world, converting people to the teachings of Christ, on the basis of catholic faith. The fact that they are Chinese or Loko or Mende does not matter at all, as God has no hand in tribal discrimination.

Tribalism and regionalism, especially within a country are vices that create divisions and illogical hatred in society as amply demonstrated by this Makeni brouhaha. Though they would claim otherwise, it is deep tribal divisions that are now so rampant in Sierra leone that is the primary reason for this crisis. If father Aruna is an outsider, were Bishop Biguzzi or Azzolini, past bishops of Makeni insiders? These priests were not even Africans.

The priest who are leading this church rebellion should read the word of Jesus more carefully, as he said, "love your neighbor as you love yourself." If Jesus wants you to love a neighbor as yourself, and you as a priest stand in your robes in all piety and preach his words, why would you claim that you won't accept your  brother from the same country, only because he comes from a different region or tribe?
ABC Secretariat, APC Stalwarts

The leaders of Sierra Leone preach attitudinal change and have even established a secretariat for this headed by APC party stalwarts. I believe the first attitude they should change is stopping the spread of tribalism and party divisions. The Attitude and Behavioral Change Secretariat should be staffed by APC, SLPP and PMDC  or any other party supporters who should research ways of bringing the people of the country together. We should first develop the attitude of seeing each other as one, before we change any other attitude. If you consider your neighbor your brother, all other attitudes will fall in place.

As Lucky Dube rightly stated, "we are different colors, but one people"
Diffent Colours, One People