By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya
A group of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has joined hands in organizing a Press Conference on the current situation of the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA) and their continuous struggle for their right to land and livelihood in view of the large-scale land investment by Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd. in Pujehun District. At a gathering on the 16th June 2016, the CSOs present the freed MALOA 6 to the national and international public after tremendous efforts to free these land owners from prison.
It could be recalled that Landowners in Sierra Leone were found guilty by a high court in Southern Sierra Leone after they allegedly damaged the plantation of Socfin who had occupied large portions of land belonging to the local communities. Among the six community people that were found guilty by Justice Babatunde Edwards in Bo is the former Sierra Leone Peoples Party Member of Parliament for Pujehun District, Hon. Shaka Musa Sama who is also serving as the Spokesperson for the Malen Land Owners Association (MALOA).
The campaign for freeing of the MALOA 6 was a reaction to the imprisonment of six members of MALOA on 4th of February 2016; CSOs in Sierra Leone and around the world had published petitions on the international websites of ActionAid France, Rainforest Rescue and Avaaz asking His Excellency, President Ernest Bai Koroma, for the immediate release of the MALOA-6. The CSOs launched a concurrent fundraising campaign that proved useful as Le210, 000,000 Leones was collected and used for the payment of all fines for the six jailed land owners in Malen Chiedom.
Since the beginning of May, all of the MALOA-6 people were out of prison. Joseph Rahall, Executive Director of Green Scenery, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai of Society for Democratic Initiative, and Mustapha Wai of Mamba TV (USA) and Pujehun District Descendant Association were among the driving forces in the process. In a statement, the Civil Society groups reechoed that “we are grateful for the generous support of our numerous partners. Many people national and international contributed to our fundraising campaign and over 120,000 signed the petitions in support of MALOA. The signatures we will hand over to the President through the appropriate representative.”
According to their statement that was read during a press conference in Freetown, they said as Civil Society Organizations ‘we wish to let the public understand that we need a solution to the persistent conflict in Malen Chiefdom. Therefore we are encouraged by the President’s declaration during the inauguration of the new Socfin palm oil mill, that his Government was open for round table talks if the need arises. We believe that the need has always been there and it is now imperative to approach the table together for serious dialogue for the common good of all.”
The MALOA’s spokesperson, Honorable Shiaka Musa Sama pointed out that MALOA wants to reanimate the dialogue with Socfin, the Chiefdom Authorities and the Government. According to their statement, “the problems remain and solutions are desperately needed”. It added that ”Socfin started with 6,500 hectares in 2011, today its palm oil plantation already covers over 12,000 hectares of Malen Chiefdom and its concession area spans 18,400ha more than half the area of the chiefdom. The livelihood of many people depends on this land and it is important that we sit down together again to create a win-win situation for everybody”.
In the past, many protests against Socfin had erupted and been repressed. The statement reads that ”MALOA and its supporters are still not even allowed to hold consultation meetings in their home lands”. Land owners and users complained not only about the lack of information, consultation and transparency with regard the acquisition of land by Socfin but also about the inadequacy of the compensation including crop compensation and the rent they received.
During the press conference, the Executive Director of the Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI), Emmanuel Abdulai, shed light on the legal procedures around Malen Land Owners and Users Association and the Socfin Agricultural Company. He informed journalists on appeals procedure that has been launched around the case of the MALOA-6.
Among the organizations that are campaigning for clean and fair land deals in the country as well as brains behind the release of the Malen 6 are as follows; Society for Democratic Initiative, Green Scenery, Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association, Center for Accountability and Rule of Law and the Women’s Network on Environmental Sustainability.