Diamonds are Not Forever, But the Land Is

By Tommy TrenchardReprint |       , IPS
Mabinti displays a papaya in the village of Makonkonde. Like many farmers in rural Sierra Leone, she struggles to get her fruit to the market. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPSMabinti displays a papaya in the village of Makonkonde. Like many farmers in rural Sierra Leone, she struggles to get her fruit to the market. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

FREETOWN , Jan 31 2013 (IPS) – In the village of Makonkonde in western Sierra Leone, Mabinti, who no longer knows her age, sits on a low wooden stool in the dappled shade of several palm trees. She clutches a solitary papaya fruit in hands toughened by a lifetime of hard manual work.

Small-scale farming is not an easy way to make a living in rural Sierra Leone. Mabinti’s only real chance of selling her papaya is by waiting for customers travelling along the sandy track running through town, which sees just one or two motorbikes per hour.

The alternative – transporting the fruit by bike to the nearby town of Waterloo – would cost more than Mabinti would receive from the sale.

Like many others in this West African nation’s underdeveloped fruit industry, she has suffered from the lack of an accessible and profitable market for her papayas. The domestic market for Sierra Leone’s fruits has its limits. It offers very low prices for some products, such as mangoes, and can be effectively inaccessible to growers based far from the larger urban centres.


In these conditions, much of the country’s fruit harvest has traditionally gone to waste, particularly in rural areas, and the sector continues to bear the hallmarks of subsistence, rather than commercial production, with most fruit consumed locally.

“Over the past years a lot of our fruits have perished,” Samuel Serry, a spokesman at the Ministry of Agriculture, tells IPS. “Most of them have just got rotten in the rainy season.”

The ministry, in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has been undertaking efforts to commercialise farming in Sierra Leone by improving access to markets, promoting the addition of value to the country’s raw products and providing support to socially responsible investors.

The FAO is also encouraging the formation of farming collectives, each consisting of around 35 farmers, and is establishing a series of Agri-Business Centres (ABCs) across the country, each of which will be used by three or four collectives.

This system, according to the organisation’s representative of programmes Joseph Brima, is hoped to improve output, provide access to processing equipment and storage facilities, and facilitate the passage of goods to market.

But the FAO, like its partners at the ministry, is also trying to attract investors capable of processing and adding value to Sierra Leone’s crops, and in doing so providing a lucrative new market for local farmers.

One such company is Africa Felix Juice, a manufacturer of Fairtrade tropical fruit juice and concentrate for export to Europe. Africa Felix Juice represents a new business model that offers Sierra Leonean farmers a guaranteed market and a fair price for their fruit.

What makes Africa Felix Juice unique, says its Italian founder and CEO Claudio Scotto, is that it is the first company in Sierra Leone exporting a manufactured product to Europe since the country’s 10-year civil war ended in 2002.

Like many African nations, Sierra Leone has traditionally exported raw materials including rutile, iron ore, and most famously, rough diamonds.

By turning fruit into concentrate at a small factory in the village of Newton, near the capital Freetown, Africa Felix Juice adds value to its product, employs 45 permanent staff and can afford to offer higher prices to the 2,000 mango farmers whose fruit they buy.

“It was very easy to persuade the farmers to sell me mangoes, as they were going rotten all the time,” says Scotto, who traces the origin of the business to meeting his Sierra Leonean wife.

Even in places where a market already existed, because Africa Felix Juice is Fairtrade certified they pay well over the normal price for produce – up to three times as much in the case of rural mango producers. In turn they encourage increased production.

In the village of Garahun, local chief Momodou Kamara is thinking of planting more mango trees after the village started selling the fruit to Africa Felix Juice. He explains that the villagers used to have to transport their mangoes to Waterloo, where they would sell them for 500 Leones (10 cents) per dozen. Now they receive more than three times that. “There is profit in it now,” he says.

Scotto blames the legacy of the civil war for the slow growth of agribusiness in the last decade. “The absence of peace can just destroy the whole platform for business,” he says, citing a lingering lack of trust as an obstacle to successful business enterprise.

But Sierra Leone has come a long way since 2002. After a peaceful presidential election last November in which the incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma won a second term in office, there is a powerful sense that the country is now fully open for business.

Abdullah F. Koroma, who stopped growing pineapples after rebels vandalised his irrigation system during the war, this year restarted production on his farm in the village of Mobangba. “The country has not been stable (until now),” he tells IPS.

The story of Sierra Leone’s fruit industry is one of vast – but still largely unrealised – potential. Back at the ministry, Serry sees the agricultural sector as a key component of Sierra Leone’s future economic development.

While much attention is paid to recent large-scale mining operations in the country, agriculture, says Serry, contributes 45 percent of the country’s GDP and employs over 3.5 million people, out of a total population of less than six million.

“There is a very great potential in the agricultural sector. Because diamonds are not forever, but the land will always stay.”



SIERRA LEONE: Shifting tide on abortion law

 IRIN NEWS Africa English reports


FREETOWN, 27 November 2012 (IRIN) – The new government is responding positively to health workers and youth groups who have long called for a change in the 1861 law banning abortion except in exceptional circumstances.

A draft law which would make abortion legal under certain conditions, is currently waiting to be passed by parliament following the 17 November elections, according to Sas Kargbo, director of Reproductive Health at the Health Ministry.

“The present laws are outdated and violate the rights of the women of Sierra Leone,” said Al Saccoh, coordinator of a youth network called the National Youth Coalition of Sierra Leone, adding that the current law contradicts international covenants on human rights that Sierra Leone has signed since 1861.

Campaigners say the unavailability of cheap and safe abortions is leading to severe health risks for women and girls and pushing up the maternal mortality rate.

Brima Kamara, advocacy manager at the Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone, told IRIN: “Because there is no legal framework that gives women the right to choice governing abortion, the present law is killing women.”

Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates: 890 women die for every 100,000 live births.

It is not clear how many women seek abortions in Sierra Leone each year as so many of them do so clandestinely, but reproductive rights NGO Marie Stopes International estimates at least 40,000 women and girls in Sierra Leone had abortions in 2011.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), some 250,000 children across the globe lose their mothers to abortion-related deaths.

The problem is most women seeking an abortion will turn to uncertified doctors or quacks who perform cheap abortions, as few can afford the SL 200,000 (US$46) fee that a certified doctor would charge.

Methods used by quacks include giving women detergent to swallow, administering high doses of aspirin or antibiotics, or using native roots and herbs, according to Williamson Taylor, a gynaecologist at the Princess Christian maternity hospital in the capital, Freetown.

Taylor said he often tends to patients who have undergone botched abortions. Most of them arrive in a state of severe pain, or have heavy bleeding, or may have infections linked to perforations of the uterus, intestines or abdominal cavity.

“I have performed many surgical operations due to abortion complications in young girls,” he told IRIN. “Cassava sticks and other objects that they use to abort a pregnancy are a very crude method and usually perforate the womb or the intestines.”

Betty Ranney, a gynaecologist at the Medecins Sans Frontieres-run Emergency Unit Hospital in Bo, in south-central Sierra Leone, told IRIN: “In the most severe cases the womb has to be removed altogether, to save the young girls’ lives.”

Some 4-10 percent of women who have a medical abortion will need to have a surgical procedure following it, to remove the remaining tissue, said Sarah Koroma, delivery manager at the Planned Parenthood Association clinic at West Street in Freetown. Uncertified doctors lack the training or equipment to do this.

But it is hard to find certified doctors who are willing to perform the procedure – many fear legal redress. “The present law does not favour us as qualified doctors. As such, there is constant fear. I perform abortion for humanitarian purposes where the life of the girl or woman is at dire risk. It’s important that the present law is reformed to create accessibility to abortion services as a right, without fear,” Taylor told IRIN.

Most cases require consent from the partner of the woman, or in the case of a minor, her parents, which puts off many would-be patients.

Reproductive health agencies will also perform abortions if the pregnancy is seen to put the life of the patient at risk. A nurse at one practice told IRIN: “It’s not yet legal, so we do it within the parameters of the present law.”

Pressure mounting
But pressure among many sections of society is mounting for a change in the law. Many doctors who have experienced first-hand the implications of unsafe abortions support a new law. “We have to give people choice. Sex is an unavoidable thing so we must make it safe for people who want to have an abortion in a country like Sierra Leone,” said Taylor.

Ex-Minister of Health and Sanitation Zainab Hawa Bangura would not be pinned down, but told IRIN: “Improvements in laws and policies, and a more responsive approach to the reproductive health needs of women is needed in Sierra Leone.”

In a recent county-wide Ministry of Health-led survey of health workers and legal professionals on attitudes to abortion, most respondents favoured a review of the law, calling for the government to liberalize abortion as part of its commitment to reduce maternal mortality rates.

However, many religious leaders are not in favour, and see imminent change as destroying the moral fabric of Sierra Leonean society. A group of Islamic clerics recently came forward to announce they would accept abortion if it took place within the first four months of pregnancy and if the mother’s life was in danger.

Family planning
Legalizing abortion, however, is just one step in a much more complicated puzzle, say campaigners and health workers.

Access to family planning services remains very poor for youths, especially girls and women.

Sierra Leone has high teenage pregnancy rates due to poor education standards for girls; initiation rites into secret societies which make even young girls eligible for marriage; high levels of sexual violence; low access to contraception; and low awareness of family planning methods, according to reproductive rights agencies.

A number of agencies (including UNFPA, Marie Stopes, Planned Parenthood, and the UK Department for International Development) are trying to boost access to quality family planning services for Sierra Leoneans of all ages, across the country. UNFPA launched a family planning campaign in July 2012.

But while attitudes towards family planning are shifting, particularly among urban women, say health workers, they will not change their behaviour unless access to services becomes much more readily available. Too often health clinics remain under-stocked, particularly in rural areas.

“The use of contraceptives must be pushed aggressively in Sierra Leone to help reduce the huge number of young girls seeking abortions in secret,” concluded Taylor.


World Court Struggles to Finish Mass Rape Cases #Vaw

By Amy Lieberman

WeNews correspondent

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Leaders of the international tribunal for Sierra Leone–known for its focus on gender-based crimes–are struggling to keep it open through the appeals trial of Liberia’s Charles Taylor.


U.N. Women's Michelle Bachelet (right) during a press conference on the work of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Oct. 9, 2012.
U.N. Women’s Michelle Bachelet (right) during a press conference on the work of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Oct. 9, 2012.


Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

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UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)– The international war tribunal set up to prosecute those responsible for the atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war is known for its first-time indictments of rape as a war crime.

It’s the first international court run by women, both local and international.

It could also be the first international tribunal forced to shutter its doors before its mandate expires in September 2013.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone only has enough money to last through the end of October 2012 and then will rely on outstanding funding pledges to carry on its work until the first week of December, the court’s registrar, Binta Mansaray, said in a recent phone interview from Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Inadequate funding could weaken the court’s capacity to protect witnesses and monitor enforcement of sentences when it moves into a wind-down or “residual” phase next October.

“In the past couple of months there has been an increase in the number of witnesses approaching us and expressing fear about their safety and security,” Mansaray said. “Mostly it is women who get more worried about their safety, but men have contacted us as well.”

It costs about $1.3 million a month to run the court, which has indicted 13 war criminals and sentenced eight. Three of those who were indicted died and one remains a fugitive.

The court has never had a fixed annual budget and relies on contributions from countries such as the United States, Switzerland and Ireland.

Charles Taylor Case Impacted

Lack of money–a recurrent problem for this court–could affect appeals cases being prepared by both the prosecution and defense in the case of former Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor.

In May Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes and is being tried in The Hague, instead of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, because of security concerns.

The court is expected to hear the appeals next summer in its last piece of official business. If Taylor’s sentence isn’t overturned, it would count as the court’s ninth and final sentencing of war criminals.

“It [the appeals] will be affected, definitely, if the money doesn’t come through,” Mansaray said.

A lack of sufficient funding could critically impact the prosecutor’s and lead defense counsel’s ability to prepare their teams working on the Taylor appeals case, said Mariana Goetz, deputy director of programs at the London-based human rights and torture survivors advocacy organization REDRESS. But, she added, the appeals briefs have already been filed by both parties and responses and replies are due by the end of this month. The appeals judgment will then follow next fall.

The Taylor case is unprecedented, said Goetz, who has been following the trial.

“It is the first time a head of state is convicted for 11 counts of international crimes, including rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence,” Goetz said in an e-mail interview. “This case, as well as others . . .  are slowly ensuring that violence against women in the conflict contexts are not laughed off in patriarchal societies as private acts.”

If the court manages to finish out its business, it will enter a wind-down administrative phase as the Residual Court for Sierra Leone, which doesn’t have a set mandate with time limits. In this scaled-back condition the court would have an annual budget of no more than $2 million and would provide protection for victims through a witness protection program. It would also collect data and track enforcement of sentences for those convicted and jailed.

Possible Collaborations

The court is now talking with U.N. Women about possibilities for collaboration, most likely to support documentation and ongoing outreach to Sierra Leonean communities, said Nahla Valji, a New York-based expert on rule of law and transitional justice for U.N. Women.

“The support would be to the court itself, to allow them to document their lessons learned and archive their work,” Valji said.

U.N. Women is currently collaborating with the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which have also struggled with funding, to support similar initiatives. It has worked with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to finalize their manual on gender-based crimes and witness protection.

Mansaray and the court’s president, Justice Shireen Avis Fisher, voiced their concerns for the court’s future at United Nations headquarters Oct. 9, in a briefing to the Security Council and a press conference with U.N. Women.

“My fear is that when we go into residual status we will be forgotten,” Fisher told the media. “And if we don’t get that funding we can’t fulfill the promises that we make to the people of Sierra Leone.”

Fisher’s appeal at the U.N. marked a full circle for the Special Court, which the United Nations set up with the Sierra Leone government in 2002 following its president’s request for international assistance.

At the time, a fragile ceasefire and peace agreement in the small West African country was giving way to renewed fighting between government forces and a rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front, which had torn the country from 1991 to 1999.

The Most Reported Abuse

Sexual and gender-based violence was the most reported form of human rights abuse in Sierra Leone’s conflict. Physicians for Human Rights, a Cambridge, Mass.-based organization, found that more than half the women who encountered rebels suffered some form of sexual violence.

A significant portion of the court’s indictments against rebel-force leaders and supporters, such as Liberia’s Taylor, centered on gender-based crimes, said Alpha Sesay, a legal officer for Open Society Foundations, based in The Hague.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone prosecuted forced marriage for the first time as a crime against humanity. It also prosecuted rape in a public setting, another first, as a war crime.

Sesay, who is from Sierra Leone and monitors the Special Court, says he thinks the necessary money will ultimately come through. “It just means there will be some effort,” he said.

The Special Court has helped ground an understanding in Sierra Leone about the strength of law, said Ibrahim Tommy, executive director of the Freetown-based Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law. But the legal and human rights activist doubts the court has been able to spawn a strong foundation for prosecutions of gender-based violence or crimes on a national level.

There is one registered lawyer in the country’s northern province, two in the southern province and two more in the western province, he said.

“A lot has happened in this country since the war ended, but there remain serious challenges in terms of prosecuting sex and gender-based violence crimes,” he said in a phone interview. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the sophistication that is required.”

Amy Lieberman has served as a correspondent out of the United Nations headquarters for the past several years. Originally from New York City, she most recently was living in and reporting from Colombia.



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