Friday, June 22, 2007



War time recollections have become topical here with the unusual trial of Charles Taylor and the war crimes tribunal that is now starting to find rebels guilty. Taylor was the President of Liberia a US “controlled” state adjoining Sierra Leone and he stands accused of fuelling the war with arms for diamonds. Obvious here is that people are still very much affected by the aftermath and perhaps only now are able to talk about it. Clearly most Makeni people have family members who were physically affected and everyone has their story of how they tried to avoid the rebel soldiers. It is really quite moving. I have befriended a nice fellow Ibrahim who lives down the street and now trains the women’s football team. Ibrahim suffered the misfortune of being ambushed by the rebel army and a leg was amputated. He is a most gentle fellow despite the horrific experience and the difficult life that has been forced on him. Contrary to my own emotional reaction Ibrahim is very strangely resigned. He talks very fatefully about his experience and accepts the daily reminder of former rebels riding the streets on bikes given in exchange for their arms. He is only saddened that the youth still have a difficult future with poor opportunities for an education and an even more difficult search for employment. Is this the tinderbox of future unrest? Ibrahim blames Government corruption and tribal politics and this view seems to be echoed by many. Nonetheless the upcoming election of a new government is being treated with much enthusiasm and there is hope at least that a new clean slate will bring about change. The rather sad poster I have copied here is a stark reminder though of difficult times.

Meanwhile, I am preparing to leave Makeni in a couple of days. Emotions are very mixed. There is a presentation that I have to make to the many people who have supported me here and the City Council is hosting the event. Ceremony is an important cultural cornerstone and there are many speeches on the agenda. The Paramount Chief will opening the proceedings and I have a new set of African clothes for the event – made by Ibrahim.

Friday, June 15, 2007



Well it is certainly rainy season in Sierra Leone and the celebration is immense. School children are jubilant and there was a dance in the Town Hall. The rain comes in huge downpours the likes of which I have never seen.

Living under a corrugated tin roof the noise is unbelievable and apparently July and August get worse. In Freetown it is dreadful getting around in the muddy streets and even the old rusty cabs are not much shelter. Most of the cabs are so run down that the windows are permanently open.

In Makeni the rain means a huge profusion of farming vegetables. The pcture shows the leaf of a gourd called a “Mattan” which is great with Jollof Rice.

Mosquitoes enjoy all the puddles and breed and I suffered a bout of Malaria – not a pretty picture. Altogether I am not unhappy about leaving in a couple of weeks. The last picture is a local "cotton tree" a very large and striking figure on the landscape.

Thursday, June 07, 2007



Some might know that Tony Blair came to visit Sierra Leone last week. I was going to tell a story about his visit to Makeni and how I introduced him to cassava leaves but he didn’t in fact leave the airport tarmac. At least he could have told me he wasn’t coming. Actually many thought that Blairs airport only visit was a bit rude and disrespectful to Saloneans but he is credited with his initiative to send in the British troops in 2000. Blair did however manage to meet the President Mr. Kabba and tell him that the Brits were going to build a new library. I know all this because by chance I happened to be in the central library, an awful run-down place where I was pleading (unsuccessfully) for some more books for Makeni when I was invited to a meeting. The meeting was more of an announcement by one of Tony’s MPs Claire Curtis-Thomas an extraordinarily plumy lady who came accompanied with her private secretary, architects and engineers. The proclamation was that a huge library would be built to include 100,000 books and 300 computers whereupon the architects showed off their plastic model, told us something about human scale and the engineers gloated about the complex functions of the building. It is all wonderful and how thankful the people of Sierra Leone are going to be, says she who must be obeyed.

I and the other 5 or 6 Saloneans attending the “meeting” were astonished at the condescending rudeness of this rather imperious lady Brittania and her no negotiation delivery. “Any questions” at the end was treated as a mere perfunctory but I did manage to pipe up as politely as I could that a library that big required a Freetown population rather than the selected location in a town called Waterloo some 30 very long and congested kms from Freetown. I was immediately shot down and I cant now recall the answer but I felt the sting. Another brave soul from the library gingerly commented that he didn’t have the trained librarians to run such a large library. The answer was “ well you’ll just have to train them, after all you have got a couple of years.”. The unsaid but clear statement was “how ungrateful you seem to be”

The “meeting” ended and in the small talk afterwards “she” complained to me about the lack of water for a shower that morning and I tried to explain that this was normal. Moreover I tried tacking upwind by emphasising that this was an example of the very low level of standards in the country to service a huge building. Clearly not amused Ms Clair –Thomas moved to an easier ear to bend. I was so shocked that I forgot to take a picture. Oh well.

Unfortunately I believe that this way of providing “aid” to poor countries is all too common. There is a severe need, much poverty and hunger with the attendant poor education, healthcare, sanitation and nutrition etc etc. However the delivery seems to be insensitive to the needs of people here and seems more about an easy way of salving the consciences of those in the west. This very broad statement might not be true but over the past 8 months I havnt seen much to counter it. In fact it is a common refrain, even from those belonging to respected NGOs. Much of the aid may in fact be detrimental and just serves to diminish the Saloneans self image and self confidence that they can do it themselves. Teach how to fish seems to be a simple rule …..?

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