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Research indicates that there were so many differences among the ex-combatants in Sierra Leone, which serve as a stumbling block to both the DDR programs and the reintegration of ex-combatants in the country. There were strong differences across factions, such as Civil Defense Forces (CDF), Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Sierra Leone army in the ease with which individual reintegrated. Close to 75% CDF fighters returned to their communities of origin before the war started. Only 34% of RUF combatants returned home (Report, Ministry of defense Sierra Leone). Importantly, people who were abducted by these groups were on average less likely to go home to their own communities than individuals who claimed to join voluntarily. These decisions can be explained in part by wiliness of communities to accept returned fighters. 13% of all combatants reported difficulties in finding acceptance from their neighbors at the end of the war. In communities where they easily accepted the ex-combatants, most of them are engaged on socio-economic activities such as farming, petty trading, commercial motor bike riding in the bigger towns and cities, skilled workers such as carpenters and subsistence farmers. If the reintegration process is reverse in different direction, there will be prospect for sustainable peace and development.
Research indicates that non-state armed groups of different type dominate or play an active role during and after armed conflict on two folds: First, they are responsible for violence against unarmed civilians and for the establishment of criminal and informal shadow economies. Next to that, non-state armed groups are often the result of socio-economic and political hindrance in post conflict Sierra Leone. Non-state armed groups sometimes serve as a major challenge for peace building and reconciliation in post conflict countries including Sierra Leone, depending on their situation; they may even serve as both spoilers’ and governance actors. The reintegration of ex-combatants in to society is one of the main problems currently confronting Sierra Leone after the eleven years civil war. During the civil war, combatants in general committed serious crime and atrocities against unarmed civilians, including the very ones in their areas of operation and their home communities. The behavior of committing violence created suspicion and total fear about the prospect of ex-combatants trying to rebuild their lives in the various communities. The reintegration process has so many flaws, despite the intervention of external aid. The Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) were targeting ex-combatants with short-term reintegration programs, but due to the limited fund, long-term reintegration is being held back. There are so many concerns regarding the prospects of finding employment for ex-combatants vis-à-vis their current role in consolidating the hard won peace. DDR programs concentrated more on the ex-combatants than their various communities of origin or communities where they committed major atrocities. The above anomaly brought about some criticisms that the past reintegration efforts were not properly carried out for sustainable peace building and development. Ms Beatrice Pouligny, a senior researcher at the Centre d’ e’tudes et de recherches internationals (CERD) in France, argued that an ‘’approach which focuses on ‘individual’ incentives may miss the broader ‘collective’ dimension’’. Ex-combatants ‘’cannot be considered without taking their families and social ties in to account’’. The country is poor, unemployment is a major challenge among the youth population. The issue of unemployed ex-combatants, who have no means of earning their daily bread, are susceptible to recruitment by criminal gangs or future armed factions. DDR program in Sierra Leone excluded combatants who did not hand over weapon, especially women and children. By October 2002, 56,751 out a total of 75,000 ex-combatants including child soldiers registered for reintegration. Out of the above figure 14,220 completed skill training and 19,073 were in on-going training, leaving out a remaining load of 23,458, (DDR report).
For some of the ex-combatants who managed to go through various trainings, such as schooling or vocational training, their future is not assured due to the high level of unemployment in the country. The current attention that has been drawn to these groups, however, is due to the fact that for a successful post-conflict country like Sierra Leone, the engagement with non-state armed groups is an issue of crucial importance for sustainable peace and development.
In every armed struggle, ranging from mercenaries, bandits, pirates, warlords tribal chiefs or partisans, non-state armed groups always play a vital role, but for the active participants, wars often come to a sudden halt. One day they are on the battlefield, the next day they suddenly have to stop fighting with so many promises. For them to accept the peace process, they have to hand over their weapons and go back to civilian life. They normally encouraged them with incentives, which may take them out of the armed struggle and keep them away from seeking battle, but it does not turn them in to active participants in the peace process. Their sudden transformation from war heroes to civilian who often end up at the bottom rank of society, might even be a disillusion which might not only alienate them from the peace process, but worse, it might set them against the very society that is supposed to absorb them. Former fighters/rebel/soldiers often feel isolated and abandon from society, and hopeless in terms of possibilities to (re)build their lives and gaining the respect of their environment. They often end up in the margin of society, where they form groups and networks with people who find themselves in a comparable situation. This development creates a downward spiral that threatens the peace process. This is especially true for former child soldiers, who feel that they became involved in wars by forces beyond their control and who feel that they should be rewarded with opportunity instead of penalties and disrespect. Post-war societies including Sierra Leone have no or just limited space for these groups and is largely unable to absorb them successfully. Instead, these vulnerable groups are often pushed into the margins of society. Unrest brews among them. They are willing prey for organized crime groups and political actors who want to use them to create unrest in society.
On 24 March, 2011, the United Nations warned that Sierra Leone is still fragile, almost ten years after peace was established. The UN helped to end the eleven years civil war in Sierra Leone that lasted from 1991-2002 and was actively involved in stimulating and creating durable peace. Although the UN and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made efforts to map the risk factors, little attention was paid to the implementation of advice to absorb vulnerable groups into post-war Sierra Leone.The adhoc Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programs seemed successfully in the beginning of the peace process, but seem to have sewn an albeit, invisible yet undeniable present seed of discontent amongst both former active participants and civilians. Many former fighters reflect on their current (backward) socioeconomic position with nostalgia to the past: during the war they had everything. What has peace brought them? This is the outcome of research our team has conducted in Sierra Leone for the past four years. With the upcoming election in Sierra Leone in 2012, many of these vulnerable members and groups in society are forming informal associations and networks that can be easily exploited by intimidation politics, or worse, to create civil unrest or (armed) conflict. On their turn, wartime civilians express their discontent with the socioeconomic development of post-war Sierra Leone in violent or even war rhetoric. While former fighters feel that they were marginalized at the ending and after the war, wartime civilians feel that they were put in a favored position and received more incentives and stimulation from their government and international bodies than what civilians call ‘them, the actual victims’. Wartime civilians threaten to become even more violent and active participants in possible future conflict, since they feel that active participation and violence is more rewarding than victimhood.
We Are Slaves’! …Sierra Leoneans In Iraq Cry
WRITTEN BY SAHR DIXON & FODAY FOFANA
SATURDAY, 12 JUNE 2010
Yandi Paul Turay, 41, a Sierra Leonean who was working with the company Serba International Security runs by British nationals, died on April 14, 2010 after a very short illness. Eventually, he was reported to have collapsed in the security tower where he was serving as a PKM Gunner. Reports say he died at the pains of his 11-hour daily duty, malaria and daily exposure to desert winds. According to a co-worker Ahmed Turay, an ex-military officer like the deceased, the corpse was transferred to another camp – Green Camp- from where his death was announced.
The corpse was flown to Freetown after pressure from co-workers; all ex-military officers from the Sierra Leone army. One Bockari who travelled with the corpse was coaxed into telling the company’s side of the story – the reason why a cousin of the deceased, Alhassan, refused to accompany the corpse.
Ahmed disclosed that he threatened to resign if he was not allowed to accompany the corpse as he supposes to be responsible for accompanying the sick and knows how he died.
“My argument was that the company was treating us as slaves, with very poor medical facilities which led to the death of our colleague. The site leader, Anthony Courtney, a US national requested my passport after which he booked my air ticket but refused to give me my certificate for the course I had attended in Sierra Leone and Iraq and, of course, for the money they owed me. I insisted that I will not travel without these two things,” Ahmed explained, adding that “John Stewart, the recruiting Manager, met us at the Baghdad Airport and demanded my letter of authorization which I produced and asked whether I had a copy of it, I told him I do not have a copy. He then tore the original into pieces and threatened to hand me as an illegal alien to the Iraqi police.”
“Unbeknown to me Stewart hadn’t paid for my luggage”, Ahmed said, “I boarded the flight and on arrival at Dubai I was asked to pay for my luggage. Not having a dime on me, I left my luggage behind with Kenya Airways with no right to claim”.
“On arrival, I went to the Labour Ministry. While the Deputy Minister, Moijueh Kaikai, appeared to defend our tormentors; the Minister, Minkailu Mansaray summoned the local company representative, Dave, immediately to find out what went wrong but till now my problems remained unsolved,” he told The Exclusive.
Capt. Rtd. Milton Sam Bangura who led the bulk of men (344) from Sierra Leone on December 22, 2009, spoke of his bad experience.
“We were subcontracted to Torres solutions Enterprise by SABRE. After 2 weeks crash military training I was appointed Training Manager for the company. I was deployed to the Tactical Operational Center as Communications Officer,” the Rtd. Capt. narrated, stressing that “before our arrival, myself and Abubakarr Baryoh were tied up and tortured by America security men who injected us with something and till date we are not our normal selves. Since we were forcefully flown to Sierra Leone without my monthly salary, we do not have insurance or benefits according to the contract,” he explained.
Sgt – Rtd. Mohamed Sesay told The Exclusive that they were not deported because they who arrived recently in Sierra Leone unanimously agreed to demand from the company medical facilities, insurance policies, good food, salary increase,” having promised us that after 3 months they would raise our salaries.”
“But after the 3 months the US Army, concerned that our monthly pay of $250 is so small we could be bought over by the enemy, piled pressure on the company to pay the agreed increase, but the latter refused without any explanation. Our Uganda brothers who are getting $1000 like the Napalese or Indians make mockery of us; asking whether our government does not know international labour law.”
This provoked a drop in morale among the men to the point that a revolt was feared, after which a disciplinary committee headed by Rtd. Sgt. Mohamed Sesay was set up.
“Between January and February, back home in Freetown, our families were chased out and humiliated at the banks, where most times our salaries are not transferred. In an investigation, we were told that our monies had been transferred to a company in Freetown. A delegation from the Ministry – Mohamed Mansaray, younger brother of the minister and Abdul Sesay (Pessima) came to Iraq and ordered us to change our accounts from Standard Chartered to the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank. But we refused, suspecting a fraud,” he explained.
They were finally paid and their services terminated after the protest latter. “The SABRE International Ltd, the British Country Director met us and said they can’t honour our request because Sierra Leone government receives $1000 per guard… But government is not listening to us but rather tarnishing our image and character,” Mohamed Sesay (M.T.L) pointed out.
Salone To Tackle Child Labour
WRITTEN BY AYODELE DEEN-COLE
SATURDAY, 12 JUNE 2010
Over 215 millions children are currently engaged in child labour globally. This is seven thousand less than the last statistics in 2004. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) reports, 115 millions of these children are working under hazardous conditions. This new report points a downward trend in the number of engaged children which show the positive work done towards ending this dreadful activities.
On June 18th 2010 the Sierra Leone government in collaboration with ILO will join their counterparts globally to commemorate this year’s World Day Against Child Labour. The theme of this year commemoration is “go for the goal… end child labour”.
At a press briefing held at Ministry of Information and Communication, past Tuesday, the Project Coordinator of Tackling Child Labour through Education (TACKLE) Mrs. Sia Lakuja-Williams stated that child labour was a very serious abuse currently affecting the development of children in Sierra Leone. This, she said, is because Sierra Leone has not yet ratified the ILO conventions 182 and 138 which deal with child labour issues.
Child labour, she went on, refers to work that is an acceptable for children either because the child is too young or that the work affects him or her from attending school.
“This issue has a very negative impact on the economic, social and political development of Sierra Leone because it allows children to suffer under worst conditions, prostitution, gang robbery and other crimes in society,” she said. According to the Minister of Employment, Labour and Social Security, Hon. Minkailu Mansaray, poverty has been identified as one of the root causes of child labour. Also, some traditional concepts have also been identified as a problem leading to child labour. Minister Minkailu Mansaray further explained about some of the challenges faced in eliminating this abuse from our society. He cited the non ratification of ILO convention 182 and 138 by parliament which he said would facilitate the compliance of our national laws. According to him, there is also not enough sensitization and advocacy for this issue. The major challenge though, according to Mrs. Sia L Williams is the lack of statistical data in Sierra Leone to know how many children are engaged in these activities.
“Some children are bread winners of their homes,” states Mr. L.E Johnson Executive Secretary of the Sierra Leone Employers Federation.
To find a way out of this problem, government in collaboration with Statistics Sierra Leone is currently trying to undertake a statistical survey in Sierra Leone. The Ministry of Education Youth and Sports is also trying to minimize this ugly situation among children.
After the ratification process, Mrs. Sia Williams disclosed that a national action plan to tackle child labour and other strategies will be put in place.
3,000 Iraq Youths to Demo Against Ex-Soliders
Author: Richard B Bockarie – SEM
Sierra Express has reliably learnt that over 3,000 youths lined up for jobs in Iraq through contracts from Sabre International have vowed to get back at ex-military men whose contracts they say have been terminated in Iraq for reasons of misbehavior and insubordination they displayed whilst they served as security guards in various American installations in Iraq; and have thus been deported.
Abu Koroma; one of the potential Iraq-Sabre employees and youth leader told Sierra Express Media that “the 86 Sierra Leoneans who served in Iraq and had their contracts terminated are now over every available media telling tales of their failures, which we as civilian, police and security recruits see as outright sabotage and we intend to put and end to their errant ranting against recruits the programme that has come to rescue us from the perennial job drought facing us in the country”.
Many of the recruits this press talked to said they are going to ensure that the failed ex-soldiers do not come anywhere near the recruitment grounds at New England; asking them to live in the misery of their misadventure and not influence the chances of genuine undertakers of the Iraq jobs provided by Sabre international.
Ministry officials have confirmed that some of the workers were accused of theft and mounted protest demanding salary increase” was never part of the contract signed in Freetown long before their departure to Iraq six months ago.
It is revealed that the Sierra Leonean ex-soldiers who were first choice the recruitment programme demanded about 300% increase in salary; an action that has been branded as willful ploy to selfish have their way at the expense of other potential employees here in Sierra Leone. Of the over 300 recruits that made it to Iraq six months ago, only 86 were returned home, all of whom happen to be ex-soldiers akin to rebellion” a recruit observed.
Freetown City Council Making Mockery of the Plight of Children
By Festus Lahai
The Freetown City Council (FCC) has started an operation to chase the children off the streets of Freetown. All children below the ages of 15, who roam about the city with no serious reason are being intercepted by metropolitan officers and whisked to the FCC headquarters for questioning. As commendable as it may seem, there are a series of questions needing answers and clarification, with regards the actual intention of the FCC in the matter under review.
It is no secret that the streets of Freetown and other parts of the country are overcrowded with children below the age of ‘consent’. It is also true that these under aged children engage themselves in all sorts of immoral activities, ranging from petty thievery to prostitution. Some of them spend considerable amounts of time in the streets, whilst others actually spend their whole lives in the streets – eat, drink and sleep on the streets. Others help their parents with the ugly trade of begging for their daily survival.
Sadly, some parents sit at home and wait for their children to come home and feed the entire family. How and where they get the money is none of their concern; what is important to such parents is that the family is sustained. While the children are blaming their parents for being on the streets, the parents also have their own sets of reasons such as poverty. Some parents send their children to the streets because they cannot afford to take care of the family not to talk of paying school fees for these children. Whilst some parents prepare all sorts of wares for the children to sell at a time when their mates are in the classrooms, others are actually encouraging their children to go fend for themselves. That is the sad reality in present day Sierra Leone.
In the midst of this, there are a number of street children who actually abandon their homes for the streets, either because of the impoverished state of their family or simply because they want to live without any adult supervision. Some street children come from well-to-do families but prefer living on the streets either because of peer pressure, drug addiction or simply juvenile delinquency. Kids also leave their homes because of the habit of parents. Other children in the streets alleged that they abandoned their homes because they were unable to cope with the sights of their poor parents who cannot afford sending them to school.
If one decides to take a walk along the major streets of Freetown, he/she will be gripped with the shock and disbelief at the sight of little children sleeping at the doorsteps of shops and market stalls. Others are spotted at notorious prostitution and criminal areas. It is hard to comprehend why children as small as below the ages of 15 are engaged in prostitution – exchanging their bodies for monies. The result of all these activities that children engage in is disastrous and deadly.
Having no one to supervise their movements, children have become major victims of all sorts of diseases, ranging from typhoid to HIV/AIDS. There is absolutely no doubt that kids engage in prostitution, sleep in the open of doorsteps, eat and drink contaminated food and water, and are prone to several deadly diseases. Some receive the beatings of their lives whenever they run out of luck and are caught in vices, including pick pocketing, stealing of mobile phones and shoplifting.
With all of these realities, the news of ridding the streets of homeless kids by the FCC is welcome news by several citizens. But the numerous flaws in the said operation cannot be overemphasized. The intention of the FCC might be good, but the method being used has minimal impact on the menace the city council is purportedly fighting. Taking a critical look at the operation, it is more of a fund raiser for the FCC, rather than addressing the plights of the children.
How can the FCC arrest street children, request for their parents to make an appearance, only to charge them some amount of money for the release of these children? Yes, the FCC is arresting children below the ages of 15 only to release them to their parents, after the parents would have paid a fine of at least Le. 100,000. Is that the way to addressing the menace of street children? The answer is a big NO. The reality is that the FCC is only making a mockery of the plights of children. The council is using this very serious problem to raise more funds for itself. What a shame?
A good number of the citizenry are demanding a clear explanation from the FCC as to where the fines collected from these parents are going. Let the FCC make clear their intention on this issue and put better modalities in place to address the concerns of children.
The Problem of Youth Unemployment In Sierra Leone
Author: Adeyemi Paul – SEM
The state of youth unemployment in Sierra Leone is a growing concern. The youth unemployment level in the country is amongst the highest in the West African sub-region, standing at 45.8% of the total unemployment figure in 2008 (Ministry of Labour, 2008). This high unemployment figure on youth unemployment reveals only part of the challenge as youth in the sub-region face, high rates of inactivity, underemployment and poor working conditions with long working hours and low pay and the vast many left to roam without any possibility to land a secured job.
The root of the problem is set in numerous factors, including skills mismatch, a growing supply of labour unmet by collective demand, political instability and difficult economic environments. In light of this, the link between development and security is propelling a range of stakeholders to consider youth employment key to stability and long term and sustained economic development. Some of these conclusions have been drawn from lessons learnt the many impacts of problems of youth unemployment, especially that of youths in the country.
As a result, youth unemployment in Sierra Leone has been recognized as a potential trigger for social instability; the prolonged state of underdevelopment and economic stagnation. As has been indicated by the Truth and Reconciliation Report that came after the war, the problem of youth unemployment has been blamed as one leading factor in the prolongation of the ten year brutal war, a conflict that left the country in virtual disarray and gross underdevelopment.
Even though the country boasts of having a very youthful demography with 45% of its entire population been youths and 65% of the total youth population within the employment age; the problem of access to secure jobs continues to be problematic and as such is reflective on the socio-economic and security factors in the country. In addition, the problem of economic global melt-down and its attendant impacts on the country’s economy and labour market which has succeeded to worsen the situation in the country that has for over one decade now been labeled by the United Nation Development Index as one of the world’s poorest countries.
Beyond economic costs, high rates of youth unemployment and underemployment have social ramifications. Some youth with few job prospects and little hope of future advancement may see little alternative to criminal activities or joining armed conflicts as was evident in the early 90s when the country saw mass recruitment of unemployed youths into various fighting factions that were engaged in the rebel conflict. “Unemployed and underemployed [youth] are more exposed to conflicts and illegal activities—many of them fall prey to armed and rebel groups.
Youth unemployment in Sierra Leone exists in twofold, there are those known to have employable skills and those who virtually have very little or no skills; with the latter in the majority owing to the high rate of illiteracy and trades knowledge acquisition in the country.
Again, whilst the problem of youth unemployment could be blamed on the government’s inability to provide the requisite environment for the employment of its youths, it happens to be that most youths in the country also do not possess the necessary skills to be gainfully employed, skills that could help them be innovative and enterprising.
Youth unemployment is a neglected factor in the country’s growth and national development. As such, the problem of youth unemployment has and still continues to have gross negative impact on the economy, social coexistence and security of the country.
Continued neglect of this problem will keep on impacting negatively on the already poor economic state of the country, resulting in threats to our security, and apparently disturb the social co-existence of the people of the country.
The fact is that unemployed and underemployed youth making up the vast many of the population of the country; whilst having immensurable toll on the economic and growth implications, it at the same time expose them to conflicts and makes them susceptible to illegal activities.
The World Bank’s Youth and Unemployment in Africa: The Potential, The Problem, The Promise report, released in December 2008, investigates the nature of Africa’s youth demographics and recommends policies to give its youth access to stable employment. It argues that creating viable jobs for young people is a re-condition for Africa’s poverty eradication, sustainable development, and peace; and in countries emerging from conflict, access to employment for youth is integral to peace-building processes.
These findings fit very well into the present youth employment situation in the country as recent developments with between youths wanting to take jobs in the Ministry’s overseas employment programme; recruiting them to serve in Iraq spells out the volatile situation of the Sierra Leonean youth in terms of employment and job security.
Establishing the Problem of Youth Unemployment in Sierra as one needing urgent redress “For 30 years, 48 percent of the country’s population has been within the age of 12 and 38. So, a constantly rising number entering the labor force ages is one of Africa’s biggest challenges.” The combination of population growth associated with high fertility rates and the slow pace of job creation in the country presents untold challenges to its youth. Despite the fact that the war has ended about 8 years ago, there has not been a sufficient increase in stable employment opportunities for young people and as such continues to pose similar threat to state security, economic growth and development and a cohesive society.
Child abuse on the increase
Sierra Leone News
Reports on the local press in Sierra Leone indicate that the abuse of children is not uncommon place in this country.
The reports claim that children born in the country are much deprived of their basic human rights which include the right to liberty, right to their welfare, right to human dignity, right to education, right to home care and support and also the right to their decisions and choices.
It has been also discovered that children supposedly under the age of care and support were seen to be engaged in economic activities, domestic servitude and other vices that is very telling on their mental, physical psychological and emotional wellbeing.
In different parts of the country, it was discovered that children are in the common practice of petty trading and doing menial jobs, engaging in early sex, taking dangerous drugs and thieving.
Kadiatu Mansaray, twelve, said she was attending the Muslim Brotherhood Primary School in Makeni and that she was in Class II when she lost her father.
“My mother only does petty trading to eke out a living she told a local journalist.
My sister passed away after a short illness because my mother did not have money to take her to the hospital. Since my mother could not take proper care of me she gave me to my aunt who promised to send me back to school in Freetown but when we got to Freetown I was not sent to school but became the servant in the house while her children went to school. As you can see I am on my way to the stream to do the day’s laundry,’ she recounted.
Rugiatu Kamara, eight, and Husainatu Kargbo, seven, both vend sachet water in the streets of Freetown. They explained that they reside at Mount Aureol Hills in the East of the city but come all the way to the centre to conduct petty business to help feed the home.
“We normally come down the hill to sell cold water for one Mammy Jartu who gives us five thousand Leones per day which we take home to our aunt for cooking. Sometimes when we fall ill our only medical option is native herbs since we cannot afford a square meal per day not to talk of medicines.
Our dreams of going to school are now dead because there is no one to help us go to school,” Rugiatu recounted.
Morlai Bangura, thirteen and his colleague, Momoh Conteh, fourteen, pick out metals from the dump sites. “We normally sell these metals, tin cups and plastic rubbers for us to be able to make a living. Life is not easy in Freetown but we will not sit by and allow hunger to kill us,” Momoh Conteh who appeared to be the spokesman explained.
“We are Christians and by the grace of God we are going to get education and be big men in future,” he asserted.
“We attend the Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School at Kissy Dockyard. When school is over we remove our uniforms and go to the car wash places where we will patiently wait to wash vehicles. Sometimes we go home with five, ten or twenty thousand Leones which we mostly use to pay for pamphlets and lesson fees,” he concluded.
Memunatu Kanu, fifteen, has just dropped out of school because she has no one to take care of her and now she moves around the city trading her body to make a living.
Mr. Philip Kamara, a human rights activist, asserted that children’s welfare and their issues are of great concern to them given the fact that they are tomorrow’s leaders.
Marijuana And Our Youths: Smoking The Future Away
Posted by Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk) on May 22, 2010, 09:01
ABOUT 50 metres from the United Methodist Church at Koroma Street, Old Road, Calaba Town, a group of youth gather in a pote called Main Bowl to smoke the “Wise Thang.” Four of the youth are in their school a uniform…Brima’s (not his real name) behaviour has changed considerably. His eyes are constantly bloodshot. He keeps himself withdrawn from the rest of his class and now prefers sitting at the back row.
“What’s wrong with you Brima?” queries his teacher repeatedly. “Madam, don’t disturb me ok; you’re interrupting my meditation,” the boy retorts to the annoyance of his teacher, but to the amazement of his classmates.Marijuana! At home here it has a variety of names or nick-names, from Couchie, Sling, Jumbo, Weed to Wrap, Djamba, Tie, Grass, Ganja and the Wise Thang. The cost per wrap is Le 500.00 or Le1, 000 (far less than a dollar)- depending on the quality, and it is available next door. Apparently Marijuana is out of control in Sierra Leone and very little is arguably being done by any organisation to control the cultivation, sale and use of the Indian Hemp. It has become the most popular drug among our youth and is potentially the most dangerous drug in the West African country.
There are more than a thousand outlets called ghettos/potes/camps/cartels/yards scattered all over Sierra Leone. The peak period for abuse of marijuana in Sierra Leone is the so-called Bob Marley’s night on May 11, when youth all over the country celebrate the late reggae musician’s birthday by smoking the substance openly and freely. In the past (70s and early 80s) marijuana smoking was done in secrecy, says Mr Arnold Olayinka, a retired school teacher. “It was like any secret society. Most of the people who smoked it then- mostly young men- hated very much to be associated with it because society woefully scorned at it. Society associated users with all the criminal activities that were going on.”
However, today marijuana smoking is done in open air. It is as accessible as cigarettes. Almost every street you walk past in the capital city of Freetown, the smell of Djamba sweeps across your nostrils. Moreover, users of the substance are not afraid to be identified with it. Youth of school going age constitute an alarming proportion of users. Four out of every 10 school pupils in the Western area interviewed randomly for this article are either frequent smokers, have just being introduced to it or have gone through the experience one time or the other. Nowadays there are even potes near school compounds where some pupils hangout before going for lessons or to dodge school assembly.
Other users include the young unemployed, vagrants, prostitutes, immigrants, ex-combatants (most of who have not been properly rehabilitated and re-integrated into their communities of origin) and the down-and-out who don’t see any future in their lives. The ghetto is their office, and they spend hours every day smoking while discussing a range of topics from the economy and politics, to music and football. “If Reggae legends such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, and Joseph Hills Culture smoke it publicly during their performances… if they advocate for its legalization so passionately… What’s the harm in us smoking it? After all some medical practitioners recommend marijuana as a cure for asthma,” says one youth at Valley View, a popular pote in Central Freetown. “If you are to give a speech in front of a large gathering and you are kind of panicky, I recommend a sling. You will deliver well,” says another youth. “Marijuana gives you confidence. It gives you control over everything you’re doing. “Peer pressure is a major influence on young users. “If you want to be recognized by your peers, or you want to court a girl, then you must move with the crew,” says a youth who was introduced to marijuana recently. “If you don’t, the others will consider you a ‘Babylon’ or a ‘baldhead’. They will dissociate themselves from you.” This desire to be recognized encourages many youth to experiment with marijuana smoking. And when they do, they gradually become hooked.
Another cause is frustration and depression over life’s circumstances and poverty. Lack of opportunities for a better life, the youth turn to the ghetto to get company and kill the day; and to forget about the problems at home. However, the problems never go away, especially with marijuana. The effects of marijuana can be detrimental. According to official sources, the strong type of marijuana is now being imported from Nigeria into Sierra Leone. Some retailers even mix it with another substance called brown brown, which is derived from cocaine. This increases the risk of users developing a mental illness. The most common combination of drug abuse among Sierra Leonean youth is marijuana and alcohol (e.g. Pegapak), and, according to Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Edward A. Nahim, this is responsible for 80% of all mentally ill problems we have in Sierra Leone. Abusers of marijuana also risk having psychoses, a condition wherein they lose touch with reality or the world around them. 90% of the inmates at the City of Rest-the only rehabilitation centre for substance abusers in Sierra Leone- are drug related cases, especially with Marijuana.
In addition, marijuana can be very dangerous to the country as a whole, says Dr Nahim. It can lead to violence, aggression, armed robbery, and sometimes destabilising the functioning of the state. The ugly side of this trend falls on school children. Marijuana changes their attitude towards school, religion and authority. In early April this year, the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) apprehended 27 bags of Marijuana in Kambia district. Ironically five police men are being investigated on allegations of taking bribe and letting the culprits go free. According to ASP Shyllon, Asst Director of CDIID, the consignment of Marijuana was heading for Guinea when the Police arrested the vehicle after a tip off. Marijuana farming is a very lucrative business in Sierra Leone today. The SLP at one time discovered a large marijuana farm in the peninsula area, and apprehended seven miles of marijuana farm in the provinces. Recent raids have also yielded alarming discoveries.
However, the ones not apprehended are in the majority. Marijuana is now produced in all parts of Sierra Leone, as opposed to before, for domestic, commercial and export purposes. It’s even alleged that some police officers do own Marijuana farms up country. “The marijuana problem is a huge one,” says ASP Francis Munu. “I think during the war, many Sierra Leoneans took the liberty to grow Marijuana because it’s more rewarding financially than food crops. But we (the Police) are doing our best and I think we are up to the task. “Unfortunately, legal justice does little or no good. In 2008 the Government of Sierra Leone ratified the National Drugs Control Act, which makes the possession and use of drugs such as marijuana illegal. In other words anyone caught buying, selling or in possession of marijuana is liable on conviction for a term not less than five years. However, raiding potes and arresting and charging culprits to court exposes offenders to more substance abuse and criminal behaviour in prison.
But according to Dr. Nahim, it is the dealers that should be prosecuted while the users should be referred for treatment. “The solution to the problem is two-fold,” says Dr Nahim, who incidentally has been Sierra Leone’s only psychiatrist for a long time. “First, you reduce the supply of marijuana by destroying farms and effectively manning traffic routes. Second, you discourage the demand for marijuana through medical advice. Give public lectures and sensitise the public on the dangers of marijuana smoking. “Furthermore, Dr. Nahim suggests the creation of skills training and job opportunities for the youth to be able to live independent lives and become less dangerous.