Freetown, Baby!

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.