Freetown, Baby!

The Big Society by jc2010sl
March 17, 2011, 11:17 am
Filed under: public life | Tags: , ,

I got a rather bizarre message in the email circular to the Freetown expat community last Friday. “The government has declared that there is street cleaning tomorrow. This means that no one is supposed to be on the roads between dawn and noon unless you are helping to clean.” April fool come early I wondered? It turns out not. Some brave soul risked the prospect of arrest (or more likely public lynching) for being out without a dust pan and brush and confirmed that everyone else was indeed cleaning.

It’s an initiative spurred by the impending 50th Anniversary of Independence no doubt. The same motivation to tidy the place up is doubtless what has prompted the good women of Hill Station to make huge pyres of “doti” (the generic term in Krio for any kind of dirt or rubbish) and burn them by the roadside creating a lethal smog.

There is an interesting political precedent here too. The “National Provisional Ruling Council” set up as a result of the 1992 coup introduced weekly cleaning days as a nod to civic unity and renewal. Many people look back on the days of the NPRC as a relatively benign period during the brutal civil war, and I’ve heard the cleaning days cited as an example of the good times. Not quite “at least the trains ran on time”, but that sort of thing.

Maybe here is an example of the “Big Society” our Government is trying to build in the UK…


The Game by mabrajeux
November 30, 2010, 11:44 am
Filed under: entertainment, photos, public life, society, travels | Tags: , ,

The first time I visited Moyamba, I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to stay in the recommended guesthouse, which also doubled up as … a stadium! It’s hard to explain the feat of architecture that allowed this amazing combination, but basically the rooms are underneath the steps which overlook the gamefield…

As I’m sure you’ll understand, I was therefore incredibly excited when, on my second visit to Moyamba, I managed to bag myself a room at ‘The Stadium’! Although the TV wasn’t working, the place still provided a predictable entertainment for my evenings in town: the national Sierra Leonean football tournament involving such talented teams as Bo, Bonthe, Moyamba, etc…

All three nights I stayed in Moyamba, I was greeted, as I came home from a day-long workshop, by hundreds of locals, cheering, shouting, sucking cough drops and oranges – you don’t eat oranges in Salone, you suck the juice out of them, this being the end result:

The atmosphere is hard to describe so I’ll let the shots do the talking…

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair by jc2010sl
September 3, 2010, 4:53 pm
Filed under: public life, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

On my office door there is a sign that reads “Office of Tony Blair, Consultant”. It’s not strictly accurate, as the organisation I work for is no longer the Office of Tony Blair, but a separate charity that has spun out from our patron’s office. I’m not really a consultant either, more of an advisor (although quite how my role should be defined is a matter of lively discussion with some of my Government counterparts). Anyway, the point is, it says “Tony Blair” on my door.

As I was entering my office just now a man I’d not met came and said hello. “My son is 9 years old,” he said. “I have named him after your boss: he is called Anthony Charles Lynton Blair Kamara, but we just call him ‘Tony Blair’.” He then very proudly told me how he was doing in school and asked if he could bring me to meet him. “Er I guess so” was my response. “You’ve met him have you?” I told him I had, and he seemed even more excited that his son come and meet me.

Never far from the news, Tony Blair has been particularly prominent this week. The usual suspects have said all the things that the usual suspects say. When his book is no longer front page news, I suspect they will continue to say much the same. What I took from my brief exchange this afternoon was some of the profound feeling that the people of Sierra Leone still have towards him. I can’t think of a time when someone I’ve never met before has wanted me to meet their family on such a flimsy personal association with my organisation’s patron. I doubt it will happen again.


Blood Diamond by jc2010sl
August 12, 2010, 4:44 pm
Filed under: public life | Tags: ,

For a fleeting moment, the world media turned its gaze on Sierra Leone. Or rather, it turned to Naomi Campbell, and Sierra Leone’s civil war and the diamonds which fuelled it provided the backdrop. In the UK the story made front page news “I was given blood diamonds”, the Evening Standard reported her testimony. According to the talking heads, the story was even bigger news in Sierra Leone where people have been following the Charles Taylor trial avidly.

I can’t say I’ve noticed the interest over here. Flicking through a smattering of the papers yesterday revealed a single comment piece on the inner pages of one paper. Far more juicy were headlines about the President telling witch doctors to stop using witch guns (nevermind that the story contained nothing to suggest he’d actually done this) and the latest in a corruption scandal involving local Lebanese businessmen. For the outside world Sierra Leone is thought of, if at all, as the country that suffered a brutal 10-year civil war. Inside the country, this isn’t something people choose to dwell on.

Charles Taylor, the character actually at the centre of the trial (though you could be forgiven for thinking it was Campbell) is on trial at the Hague for war crimes. His alleged possession of blood diamonds from Sierra Leone is cited as evidence of his involvement in the conflict.

The main perpetrators of the violence in Sierra Leone – the leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – have already been tried here. A “Special Court” was set up in Freetown under the auspices of the UN to charge the most senior commanders. According to a recent documentary about the trial, War Don Don, (The War is Over) the reactions of the population were mixed. Many were opposed to the court and trial, run largely by expats and at great cost. Some felt the process stopped the country from moving forward by dwelling on the atrocities of the past. For others, justice that only applied to a handful of perpetrators wasn’t really justice at all. When the first accused, Issa Sesay, was sentenced to multiple life sentences, there wasn’t much rejoicing in the streets. People went about their business. For those living without power or water the work of reconstruction is more pressing than punishing the accused.

In a couple of days the media circus will move on from the Taylor trial and the barbarism he helped perpetrate. The people of Salone are already moving forward. I doubt they mind that the business of re-building doesn’t make front page news.

Road to nowhere? by jc2010sl
July 21, 2010, 5:16 pm
Filed under: public life, travels | Tags: , ,
Traffic is pretty horrendous in Freetown, largely because there are only 2 routes to the city. The northern side of Freetown gives out onto the sea and to the south are the steep Peninsula Hills. Heading east the only way out is the Kissy Road, and to the west is the Lumley Road. Pretty much all traffic coming into or out of the city takes one of these roads, with the result that they are always jammed, and sometimes totally grid-locked.

Maybe it’s because the Western end of town is less crowded, maybe because it’s where the political class lives, but on this side, the roads are being widened into dual carriageways. There was a lot of activity clearing a path for the new Lumley Road on Saturday. Groups of people set about the dwellings and shops next to the road with sledgehammers and crowbars gleefully pillaging anything remotely re-usable. Corrugated iron, tyres (to hold roofs down) and long planks were all dragged away. One man was even smashing the concrete off some steel cables that had been used to reinforce it. No less a person than the President himself came to visit the site and review the “work”.

Of course in the long run, improved infrastructure is precisely what the country needs – enabling people to access jobs in town and bring their goods to market. But I doubt there is any form of compulsory purchase equivalent in Salone. And it is the poorest, living in shacks next to the main arteries, who feel the brunt of the development.

Justice within reason by mabrajeux
July 16, 2010, 12:24 pm
Filed under: public life, society | Tags: , ,

As I try to keep up with UK news here in Salone, I read with interest of recent plans for court closures in the UK. The Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, announced on the 23rd of June that 157 out of 530 courts in England and Wales would be closed. So far, so normal in the political and economic context… But it also caught my attention because of the parallel it draws with some of the issues I have encountered here in Sierra Leone.

In my job as a legal consultant I have been going up country to learn about how victims of sexual and gender based violence can access justice, finding out from police staff, prosecutors, judges and local NGO workers how things can be improved for the victims of such violence. One of the most prominent issues that was highlighted is literal, physical access to justice, or rather, to the places where justice can be granted.

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The tough streets of Kenema… by mabrajeux
June 8, 2010, 5:24 pm
Filed under: photos, public life, travels, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Here’s a few pics I took to document the street gangs of Kenema, the third largest city of Sierra Leone…

Kenema's feared street gang...

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