Friday, October 11, 2013
Sierra Leone Political Updates: Zainab's Dilemma
Mrs. Bangura, a graduate of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, was appointed to the position after years of campaigning for women's rights, especially in conflict situations, having been very active during the rebel conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia and having gained valuable experience and international recognition for her role in an area of the world where the concerns of women are usually relegated to the background, it came as pleasant surprise for most Sierra Leoneans when on June 22nd 2012, UN Secretary general Ban Ki Moon nabbed Ms. Bangura for this position, a very lucky break, as her ministry soon became embroiled in a scandal over diversion of GAVI funds meant for the immunization of children in Sierra Leone. Money disbursed by the Gates Foundation for immunization purposes was quickly diverted by top officials of the corruption infested ministry for personal use, while creating fictitious documents to cover their trail, in a country that has once again joined the ranks of the most corrupt places on the face of the earth, even as the public officials embark on bogus rebranding schemes.
The appointment of Zainab Bangura as a UN point person for the prevention of rape in conflict was universally praised in Sierra Leone as a major achievement for a woman coming from a country and society in which women are still to be accepted as equal partners in development, even though some eyebrows were raised over an instance in which she had largely kept quiet, when some rogue security personnel supporting her ruling All Peoples Congress Party party, broke into the Headquarters of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party and raped women in broad daylight. Her silence on this issue to placate her political masters was seen as a negative on her otherwise impressive resume, but on the whole, Sierra leoneans of all political stripes congratulated her on an achievement milestone.
Zainab Bangura has been busy over the past year, flying around the world, advocating against the use of violence against women in conflict, especially the heinous practice of rape, which is a very common phenomenon in African conflict situations, as boys and men with guns routinely use rape as a tool for the humiliation of adversaries, for domination, subjugation and the feeling of superiority over members of the female gender. Unfortunately , while Under-secretary Zainab Bangura has been traversing the globe talking about the dangers of violence against women and the heinous nature of rape, the open secret is that in her country Sierra Leone, violence against women and acts of rape are so common place that it seems as if the society is still frozen in medieval times.
In Sierra Leone, rape is not only a tool of violence against women, some men see it as a testament of their manlihood and brag about it openly. Sierra Leone as a society has a traditional worldview when it comes to sexual exploitation. Some Sierra Leone cultures still treat women as if they were commodities for trade. In the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone where we were bred, it is a common practice for families to make all the arrangements for the marriage of their daughters without even asking the girls for either their opinion or their preference. Among people of the Madingo Sheriff heritage from which we are descended, it was common for brides to only meet their husbands on their wedding day. The husband could look like a genetic cross between King Kong and Satan, but the girls will be stuck with him, with no way out. The situation in the north of the country is not any better.
When we were in Secondary school, some of our very intelligent female contemporaries who would have been potential medical doctors, lawyers or engineers were never given the chance, as their families were only too happy to drag them out of school and hand them over to men old enough to be their grandparents. The wasted potential of some of the girls I used to know in my hometown who were married off just to became farm hands and baby making machines, still troubles me to this day.
Unfortunately, the view of women as sexual objects does not just stop at the village or rural level, but is even more prominent among the educated elites and political class in Sierra Leone. Men use political appointments and appointments to top level positions as a vehicle for extra-marital exploits. Unfortunately, years of conditioning and acceptance of the status quo, has given rise to a class of women who see this as the only way to survive. You see them everyday in the streets of Freetown, elaborately dressed and moving from office to office, looking for favors, just to put food on the table or brag that they are also dating an important person.
Just recently Sierra Leone's Deputy Minister of Education Mahmoud Tarawally was involved in a situation in which he detained a female student who had gone to his office on the promise of help to obtain an overseas scholarship. The minister later took her to an isolated location and according to the student, raped her brutally, even though she repeatedly asked him to stop. Like a goat in heat, the Minister only stopped when he was well and truly satisfied. In a mark of true heroism, the student did not just go home crying as is usually the case in the country, but went straight to the police who in uncharacteristic fashion promptly affected the minister. The government had little option but to suspend the minister, as the news of the incident soon spread like wildfire in harmattan. The disgraced minster of course did not deny carnal knowledge of the student, but said it was consensual, even though he was the country's Minister of Education and she was an ordinary student.
Unfortunately, as is always the case of female violence in Sierra Leone, nothing much will come of it. The now suspended Education Minister is a close crony of President Koroma and the case will likely not amount to anything. Already some in the political class are taking the side of the minister and a popular radio presenter David Tam-Baryoh already took to his popular monologue show and dehumanized the victim, portraying her as nothing but a gold digger and a woman with loose morals. This negative portrayal will make many women in the society think twice before coming out when sexually violated and Tam-Baryoh's callous action is a real betrayal of the rights of women in the country and shows how some African intellectuals can be taken out of the village, but society can never succeed in taking the village out of them.
Many human rights activists are now closely watching Zainab Bangura to see if she will say anything about this case, or just keep quiet about the fire in her own backyard, while traveling to Congo and Central Africa talking about violence against women. As the Christan Scripture rightly says, it is always good to take the log out of your own eye before taking the speck of dust out of others' eyes. Mrs Bangura it is about time you start addressing the female violence in your own tenement yard.
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