Letter to the Editor
Dear Mr. President,
CONCERN OVER RECENT OVERTURES IN SAHN MALEN AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE SOCFIN OIL MEAL
We write first and foremost as citizens of the Republic of Sierra Leone and heads of local civil society organizations in Sierra Leone. The undersigned organizations work on human rights and governance for many years and implore you to take some time to hear your citizens.
Mr. President, you are aware that as organizations working to emancipate vulnerable Sierra Leoneans, we have been campaigning for the freedom of the six executive members of the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA), who were found guilty by the High Court in Bo on 4th February 2016 on charges of Conspiracy to Commit a Crime, Destroying of Growing Plants and Incitement. The MALOA-6 (Sima Mattia, Kennie James Blango, Lahai Sellu, Musa Sellu, Foday Musa and Shiaka Musa Sama), as they are popularly called , were sentenced to a maximum jail term of six months or to pay fines equivalent to SOCFIN’s claim of the damage of 40 palm trees. The fines which the court slammed is a whopping total of Le 210,000,000. Believing devoutly in the innocence of the six land rights activists and having the conflictual situation that their imprisonment would have caused in mind, we were left with no option but to help release them from prison by raising funds to pay their fines. We also asked you through petitions to set them free.
Mr. President, it is important to look beyond the reasons why we had to galvanize efforts to get the six land rights activists out. It is no secret that judicial procedures are most often antagonistic and their outcomes if not accepted by the parties concerned will become proximate causes of conflict. We strongly believe that keeping the MALOA-6 in prison could have been a risk to security. By helping to pay the fines of the MALOA-6, the undersigned CSOs may have significantly removed the steam from a growing anger among communities with membership in MALOA. You should know that the communities in Malen and other well-meaning Sierra Leoneans did contribute significantly to the fines.
Mr. President, Malen Chiefdom has a chiefdom size of 34,370.9 ha; SOCFIN now lays claim to over 50% of the chiefdom with 18,481ha in their concession and a planted area of some 12,500ha. Less than 10 villages are not affected by SOCFIN’S land takeover. Findings in one CSO research report warned the Government about the concentration of land in the hands of one investor. Should this happen, Sierra Leoneans will be at risk of becoming the tenants and the investors the land lords in Sierra Leone. We pray that your government will seriously consider this matter and think of declaring a temporary moratorium on large scale land transaction and acquisition until all necessary safe guards through appropriate laws, regulations and policies are in place to ensure benefits for all.
In Malen we continue to draw your attention to the fact that four land lease agreements have been acquired by Socfin, through the Country Director. We have seen only two of the four agreements. The second sub-lease agreement was acquired in 2013 and we have not been able to locate the head lease, which we are made to understand was acquired by Government from the land owners. We wish to maintain that in a Green Scenery fact finding mission in 2011, it was revealed that the land deals lacked transparency and inclusive participation. We continue to maintain that the same mistakes were made again in the later acquisition process
Mr. President, our reports on land deals are based on empirical evidence, well researched information and tested methodologies. You should know that as CSOs hawse have been working very hard in Sierra Leone for many years. We have worked with children, vulnerable men and women across the country and have served many MDAs in your present administration and in past administrations. Many CSOs risked the lives of their staff to report on human rights violations during the war for the benefit of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans. In recent years, many have laid strong focus on land and tenure rights as it pertains to their core mandates of natural resources and the environment.
Civil Society Organizations represented by Green Scenery and ALLAT are also active members of the Technical Working Group and the Steering Committee respectively on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT). We highly appreciate that Sierra Leone is a pilot country in implementing the VGGT and we will do our best to contribute to its successful implementation. Especially, we take article 12.15 of the VGGT very seriously, stating that “States and affected parties should contribute to the effective monitoring of the implementation and impacts of agreements involving large-scale transactions in tenure rights, including acquisitions and partnership agreements.” We believe that Sierra Leone’s commitment to the VGGT will lead to transparency in large-scale land acquisition processes and to a win-win situation for both the investors and the people.
As President of Sierra Leone, meaning the President for all Sierra Leoneans; we expect that you should be protecting the interests of all by safeguarding the rights, safety, and the work of civil society to foster good governance and democracy. Civil Society has tirelessly contributed to national development in many forms. Mr. President, if we were doing this for our own parochial interest our organizations would have obliterated.
In your statement at the inauguration of the new Socfin mill, you stated that your Government was open to dialogue on the land issues. We urge that dialogue be pursued urgently in settling the hanging issues concerning the huge SOCFIN investment. We believe that the need has always been there and various approaches have been taken, which have yielded little dividend. Your present call is a great opportunity to explore yet another possibility of resolving this problem. We would only appeal to you that you put some attention to that festering problem by marshalling experts to deal with it. We caution that land matters can be deep seated and the roots will linger on for generations causing undue instability and security threats.
We thank you on behalf of our organizations for taking your time to consider reading this letter.
Society for Democratic Initiative, Center Democracy and Human Rights, Center for Accountability and Rule of Law Partners in Conflict Transformation, Women’s Network on Environmental Sustainability, Green Scenery, Sierra Leone Adult Education Association, Search for Common Grounds, Campaign for Good Governance, Institute for Governance Reform, Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food, Action Aid, Network Movement for Justice and Development, Native Consortium and Research Center, United for the Protection of Human Rights, Center for Coalition of Human Right Activists, Community Empowerment for Poverty Alleviation, Affected Families Land Owners Association, Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association, Rural Agency for community Action Programme, Sustainable Environment and Development Action, Bureh Kasseh Makonte Land Owners Association, Campaign for Just Mining.