People of Kono District Must Unite to End Structural Injustice

The chronic polarization of Kono peoples must stop. While they are asleep by their focus on superficial divisions, the criminal political elite of Sierra Leone is robbing them blind of their land and their human and peoples’ rights.

When a leader wants absolute power but still needs the outside world and donors to see him as a “democratic” leader, he crafts laws that give legitimacy to his nefarious plans; in this way, outsiders can ignore what he does in the name of sovereignty. This is how the Mines & Minerals Act of 2009 came into being in Sierra Leone, at the behest of the current President Ernest Bai Koroma, the “Supreme Leader” with absolute power in “democratic” Republic of Sierra Leone.

This Act instituted a structure in which a place such as Kono District, which is the most diamondiferous district in Sierra Leone, belongs to the political elite and their network. A quick glance at the act tells you that in a place like Kono, the people have lost all rights to their land; the land and what it contains not only belong to the president and his cronies, they have absolute power over the people. This law has taken the people of Kono into a deep hole from which they must find a way to crawl out.

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Mines and Minerals Act of 2009- Section 2 – Ownership of minerals

(1) All rights of ownership in and control of minerals in, under or upon any land in Sierra Leone and its continental shelf are invested in the Republic not withstanding any right of ownership or otherwise that any person may possess in and to the soil on, in or under which minerals are found or situated.

(2) The Minister shall ensure in the public interest that the mineral resources of Sierra Leone are investigated and exploited in the most efficient effective and timely manner.

We have all decried the constant police brutality against the people of Kono, especially the youth, whenever they try to protest the injustices they are facing. We have wondered about the arrogance and over-confidence of cabinet ministers who operate in Kono. These ministers are well known for threatening, intimidating and ordering police to arrest, imprison and even kill Kono people who raise their voices against the injustices they face. The absolute power and impunity of Kono ministers are based in the laws.

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Ancestral homes are bulldozed daily and people of Kono are relocated by foreign owned mining companies to shabby new locations far away from schools, markets and hospitals. Schools that have existed for decades are bulldozed and relocated to areas that are inaccessible to the children who attend them. The list goes on and chronically corrupt politicians, their network and local leaders continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the people’s lives and livelihood.

The daily or weekly kimberlite blasting by a powerful mining company, Koidu Holdings aka OCTEA, has been causing so much physical, psychological and emotional havoc on the people of Kono;  the tremor caused by the dynamite blasts leads to many miscarriages among pregnant women in the vicinity, it also leads to psychological trauma, especially for older survivors of the decade long war. But it is all legitimate because the Mines & Minerals Act of 2009 says it is,

Section 36: Compulsory acquisition of private land.

(1) The Minister may, by order published in the Gazette, compulsorily acquire private land or rights over or under private land for use by the holder of a large- scale mining licence.

As a result, the people of Kono are internally displaced and are facing serious oppressive treatment by the police and the government officials they take orders from. Protecting the source of their diamond wealth has led the politicians and their vulture western investment partner companies to commit serious abuse of human rights in Kono District, yet, these atrocities may seem legally justified based on the mining laws.koidu-holdings-company-2

In one rare video report of atrocities in Kono, (which may well be a government commissioned propaganda report), a government minister is asked to explain the situation regarding the recent Congo Bridge destruction and mishandling of the youth and other citizens who tried to protest in Koidu City. Part of the minister’s explanation is that the bulldozing, digging, dredging, etc., were being done to “remove unsuitable materials…to protect the people and their interests.” It is very obvious from his responses that the overconfident minister is fully aware of the injustice of this mining activity, which is leading to the loss of a vital bridge and the lives and livelihood of the people. The Mining Act of 2009 provides legitimacy for this minister to claim that he has commissioned a mining company to “remove unsuitable material…,” a language borrowed from the law,  which gives him the power to order the wrath of police brutality on the people, which in the last incident, resulted in serious injuries and at least one fatality that we know of in Koidu City.

Diamonds have been mined in Kono District for over 80 years; but the previous regime of the late President Tejan Kabba and the current regime of President Ernest Bai Koroma are probably the worst in history for Kono and its people. Things are only going to get better for Kono District and its people when,

  • the people use their collective political powers to demand changes in the structure that the current regime has put in place in the guise of a mining law.
  • Kono people unite in holding their legislators accountable for partaking in the drafting and passing of such laws.
  • People of Kono realize that politicians are false prophets, their promises are fake and only meant to deceive them into giving them the very powers they end up using against them.
  • the people of Kono use their voting power to push for changes in the laws that have built the structure in which they have lost their birth rights to their land.

The people of Kono must unite and find legitimate means of using their collective voices to uplift themselves out of this hole dug by crafty laws drafted by crafty politicians.

References
Watch a video showing a light sample of OCTEA Dynamite Blasting in Kono

Mines & Minerals Act, 2009

A Call for Kono People to Instrospect & Unite

 

 

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Lives In Sierra Leone Endangered by Government Officials: Trash Gate

On January 9, 2016, a newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon, The Daily Star, reported, “Sierra Leone agrees to take in Lebanon trash.” The report goes on to say that this comes after a nearly six months trash crisis in Lebanon. The country had apparently entered into contract with a company in the Netherlands, Howa BV to search for a dumping ground for its non recyclable waste. In other words, it useless trash.

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Photo Credit: The Daily Star. Lebanon Trash

It took this newspaper report in Lebanon for people of Sierra Leone to know that their government was about to enter into a secret agreement to bring roughly 200,000 tons of trash into the country from Lebanon. Otherwise, people in Sierra Leone would have never found out. If ever, they may have found out after the deal was done, every participant was enriched from the proceeds.  Perhaps the poverty ridden masses would have found out after some mysterious illness overtook them.

In a letter from a Sierra Leone government official, dated January 7, 2016, Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, the Special Adviser to the President of Sierra Leone, advises the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, with whom the agreement is to be signed,

If the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Chief of Staff agree on the legality of the transaction, then there will be no difficulty to sign an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and your Chamber…It should be noted that the President, Dr. Ernest Koroma, has the final say on this matter.

Civil Society has no say

According to Alhaji Kargbo’s advise above, civil society, as stakeholders who pay the ultimate price should this turn out to be disastrous for health and lives, they are clearly being overlooked and dismissed as irrelevant in the matter.

Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, at the date of signing his letter of acceptance for the Lebanese trash, was holding the title of “Special Adviser to the President” as well as a newly “Elected Member of Parliament.” This shows that in Sierra Leone, it does not take a high level government official to enter into contracts that may potentially  harm the people. Also as an Elected Member of Parliament, he is supposed to represent and serve the people, as such, overlooking the people’s relevance in his dealings of this sort is injurious and a disservice to them.

As a preemptive defense, Alhaji Kargbo states in his letter, that the trash “…should not be of any toxic nature…be part of development of fertilization for agricultural purpose.”

He also stated in a BBC radio interview that the purpose of the trash was for his Dutch business contact to set up a fertilizer plant in Sierra Leone.

If this were true, it makes one wonder:

  • What should come first: the fertilizer plant or the trash?
  • Why isn’t there any record of exchanges regarding a fertilizer plant but there is an exchange for trash transfer?
  • Is it in the terms of reference of the “special adviser” to the President to broker such deals?

Apparently, this is how all “investment” contracts are entered into in Sierra Leone. It does not have to be in the job description of the contracting official. The evidence of this danger is in numerous parts of the country, where mining and non-food agricultural land grabs are taking place. People in those regions are enduring a plethora of injustices from effects of contracts that they were never part of making.

A boy walks through the river in Kroo Bay slum looking for scrap metal to sell. The river is effectively a giant sewage and everyday new garbage arrives in the water from the hills around. Kroo Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

A boy walks through the river in Kroo Bay slum looking for scrap metal to sell. The river is effectively a giant sewage and everyday new garbage arrives in the water from the hills around. Kroo Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

This is a country that has never figured out what to do with its own trash

But our government officials want us to believe that we have room to accept thousands of tons of trash from other countries, in the name of “developing agricultural fertilizer;” when in fact the Lebanese news paper report indicates that specialists have declared the Lebanese waste “infectious and compacted.”

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Slum in Freetown Sierra Leone Living on heaps of trash

The worst danger is the fact that this deal, and others like it, are motivated by financial incentives. The Lebanese are ready to pay millions of dollars to get rid of their trash, and a few individuals in Sierra Leone stand to gain a great deal. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo may become a scapegoat and released from his post to shut us up and defuse any tension at this particular moment.

However, this deal might go through at a later date, after a more discrete transaction can be brokered. There are many more officials in Sierra Leone government who are, at any point in time, striking deals just like this. We often find out when out of no where, our people start dying like flies from a mysterious foreign disease they cannot pronounce.

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Susan’s Bay Slum. Sierra Leone Photo Credit: Zander’s Blog

There must be an uproar of civil society. Why do we only rise up when the issue is “politics?”

The people of Sierra Leone must demand transparency and detail information about all such contract deals for which the people are the ultimate victims.

Reference

The Daily Star – Lebanon

A CALL ON SIERRA LEONE MINISTER: EDUCATE OUR GIRLS AND PROSECUTE THEIR RAPERS

OPEN LETTER

 

Dr. Minkailu Bah, Minister
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology
New England Freetown

Sierra Leone, West Africa

 

Dear Honorable Minister Bah:

With all due respect Sir, your April 2015 education policy, which excludes pregnant girls from continuing their education is like putting plaster on a jigger toe. Your policy puts the blame of girls’ pregnancy solely on the girls and shields the men who impregnate them.

But we all know that the root cause of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone is the appetite of older men for young girls. So by punishing only the girls, you are leaving the jigger in our national toe. Your policy is a first aid band-aid covering a jigger, which needs to be removed.

Many of the worldwide reactions decry your policy, pointing to its  adverse effects on girls’ education and the further depletion of women’s socioeconomic status in Sierra Leone. As women who grew up in Sierra Leone, we have always known that pregnancy ended a girl’s schooling in our country, due to stigma and shaming of the girl. No pregnant girl wants to sit beside her peers with her projected stomach. We have always hoped for a solution.

We are surprised that a government that is legally and morally obligated to protect their rights as children, has formally implemented a policy that further erodes girls’ basic and human rights, which are protected by national and international laws.

We posit here that pregnant adolescent girls, in majority of the cases in Sierra Leone, are victims of rape, in violation of the laws of Sierra Leone. A policy that makes them the only “culprits,” while shielding the adult men who impregnate them, will not only fail, it will make girls even more vulnerable.

OLDER men WHO IMPREGNATE GIRLS must be prosecuted as a fundamental remedY FOR a national crisis.

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WHY ARE WOMEN SO VULNERABLE TO VIOLENCE IN SIERRA LEONE?

IT IS BECAUSE OUR SOCIETY TREATS GIRLS AS INFERIOR. One morning recently, Sierra Leoneans around the world woke up to social media photos of the body of a young woman lying face up on a sandy beach in Freetown (Lumley). Her … Continue reading

Women’s History Month: Ending A History of Violence Against Women

“Make It Happen” is the 2015 theme for International Women’s Day. How do we end a history of violence against women? Women must “Make it Happen.”

Women must do some reflections.

It all starts with thoughts, words then action. The physical violence we see in the clip below (which could well be in Africa) is the culmination of how society perceives women – the inferior sex; which manifests in government policies that do not promote or protect women’s rights, society’s comfort in verbally insulting women and the culminating physical violence on women around the globe.

But this does not happen without women’s contribution. Woman on woman violence is rampant. One good example recently in Sierra Leone when the Vice President was expelled from his political party. Many people expressed their reactions by audio clips, which were making rounds on social media. Sadly though, two of them were the voices of women cussing the mother of the President and other officials as well as cussing themselves in the process. In a country where women are the silent majority who are voiceless in every relevant socio-political arena, it is truly sad that those who decide to be vocal are using their voices to promote violence against their own lot.

When a woman is not seen for her worth, as an intelligent human being who is in fact contributing to society in meaningful ways as much as any man, it is easy for her to be treated in the manner that we see in this clip.

This is Women’s History Month, how are we going to end violence in all forms against women?

Our take: Women can “Make It Happen.”

Salone Women’s Empowerment: How Do We Make It Happen?

The Practical, Mystical and Public Aspects of Sande

The artistic and educational elements of Sande constitute its practical aspect in our society. The officers of Sande society, Soweisia, take the lead in imparting knowledge on the younger generation of women; in addition to teaching them about the mysteries of fertility and reproduction, the young initiates are also taught songs and dances with deep meanings.

In the Kpangwima, girls hone their skills in singing by learning and engaging in regular singing and dance sessions; songs that are learned teach young women about feminine beauty, grace as well as morals and social skills. A serious performer could emerge from the kpangwima as a professional singer or dancer.

Dancing-Girls

Sande women often sing and dance at events marking significant social and political processes, including visits of an endorsed politician, the inauguration of a new chief, or the funeral of a dignitary. During these celebrations, Sande women display their dancing skills by which they communicate the ideals and role of Sande society in public life.

As much as Sande society has been researched, theorized and analyzed by western scholars, the full essence of the society is not understood by these outsiders, partly due to the privacy emphasized by the practice of the society members and partly due to western bias reporting on the practices of other cultures. Against the backdrop of this privacy or “secrecy,” as perceived by western explorers, there is a “public” side of Sande society and this side is presented through the Sande Sowo Wui (Sowei Mask). Part of the essence of the Sowei Mask is its role in the Sande music and dance training.

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One of the officers of Sande is the dancing Sowei known as Ndoli Jowei or Sampa (Bondo), she is the master dance teacher in the society who has also earned the privilege of wearing the sacred Sande mask called the Sowo wui (sowei mask) when she dances in public for very special occasions. The dancing Sowei is the embodiment of the ideals of female beauty and strength; Sande is the only  women’s society in Africa in which female dancers wear a mask. Although known as the public face of Sande, the dancing Sowei embodies the mystical spirit of Sande, its principle of privacy; the true identity of the woman wearing the mask can never be revealed in public.

Sande also molds women into storytellers. Even though the Mende people are one of very few in West Africa to have their own ideographic and syllabic writing system, they do not keep written records. Like most ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, the Mende rely on their oral tradition to pass down their history, culture and tradition to the next generation. Sande is one of the primary mediums of this tradition. Storytelling is a skill that is highly respected in Sierra Leonean culture; it is cultivated and nurtured in talented Sande women, who can formulate stories that stress not only Sande principles but also the culture and traditions of our society.

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Socio-Political element of Sande

In addition to its wide scope in Sierra Leone and beyond, Sande also has political relevance. Sierra Leone is generally a patriarchal society; male favored and male controlled social structure. However, Sande officers are highly respected elders in their respective communities, they deliberate along with their male counterparts in political, economic and judicial matters. Sande society plays a significant political role, as part of the hale institutions, it shares the responsibility of enacting and enforcing the code of conduct in the society, all individuals must adhere to such code and its tenets, whether or not they are members of the society, so long as they are dealing with Sande women.

Women’s membership in Sande gives them a powerful political platform in both local and national politics; Sande leaders are capable of marshaling large numbers of their members in support of candidates of their choice during elections. When a campaigning politician visits a particular village or town, if the Sande women of that locale do not support him or her, the dancing Sowei and her officers will not put on the elaborate celebration that indicates endorsement for the candidate. Without their support, a candidate usually does not stand a chance of winning in that constituency.

Sande Women’s Capacity for Empowerment

Probably long before Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and before the Women’s Movement in the United States and Europe, there was Sande society in Sierra Leone through which women were already asserting their gender rights and privileges. It is a vital part of Sierra Leone women’s social cycle. Sande is proof that African women have the capacity for collective agency, as exemplified by the various aspects of Sande Society of in Sierra Leone and beyond. Sande/Bondo has a tremendous potential in empowering women in Sierra Leone to once again, be able to resolve our own issues in a culturally sustainable manner.

Over the years, western led campaigns against female circumcision has trivialized our social institutions such as Sande/Bondo by stigmatizing female circumcision, which is part and parcel of Sande/Bondo society. But the fact is that Sande/Bondo is an African institution that has been empowering women for centuries and it holds the promise of providing agency through which women in Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone, can gain advancement not only in collectively resolving their own social problems but also in achieving advancement in the political sphere.

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Mammy Yoko – Mende Chief & Sande Woman

Our history tells us that the groundwork for women to play leadership roles in society is well laid in Sande/Bondo; the institution holds best practice lessons that could be transmitted to our modern governing structure in Sierra Leone. Leveraging these lessons would greatly help ease the way for women’s participation in political leadership to move us beyond the current pathetic state of affairs.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2015 is “Women’s Empowering: Make it Happen.” This is very instructive for African women but we must take a step back and ponder “HOW” do we “make it happen?” Do we continue with an agenda that has not necessarily empowered us? Or do we look into our own backyard to see what our grandmothers left us as a foundation on which we could build in our modern context?

Salone Women’s Empowerment:
How Do We Make It Happen?

 

 

 

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Women’s Empowerment in Sierra Leone: Sande Society in scope

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Among the Mende people of Sierra Leone, newly initiated girls in Sande are referred to as Mbogboni, girls and women who are not members of Sande are known as Kpowa. The general membership of Sande are Sande Nyaha (Sande women), … Continue reading