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.