Sahn Malen: Land of God and the DevilMay 6, 2019
By John Adune
An international correspondent, John Adune, recently returned to the country from a short trip abroad. As usual his first assignmenmt was Pujehun district. Below areare his findings on the voices of women and young girls in Malen during the recent turbulent times:
“You found us here living our lives; you took our land without involving us to have a say. Today, we are strangers in our own land surrounded by tasteless oil palm trees (masanki) which we did not want. We are deprived of land to grow our traditional crops and make a living and to provide food for our families. Do you know that we have lost taste of our own indigenous foods, space and animals to hunt for daily living?
Sahn Malen was once a haven of wildlife, a life of contrasts, of fish, bees, cassava, cocoa, nuts and fresh water fish and native palm oil for domestic consumption and trade, to derive income to meet our basic needs and to provide not only food for our families but income to take care of our basic needs. We were once proud to be food self sufficient.
Today, we have no access to farms, forests, wildlife, community get together, local business and to enjoy dignity in labour. Why do you ignore our voices? Are we not Sierra Leoneans? Did we not vote? Are you treating us this way because we never went to school? Yes, we are illiterate but we need food, clean water, clothing, a clean environment and education, at least the ability to read and write. Why do you ignore us, our views and involvement in issues that affect us as a people? Where is your democracy that denies us the right to participation in democracy?
Your Company, SOCFIN has only brought us tears instead of the good life promised for our children and husbands. Today, our youths are running away from Malen to attractive places where they can eke out a living.
One frustrated old woman carrying a hoe on her back, age 80 years, complained that her only son, who cared for her abandoned her and grand children leaving an unfinished house he could not complete, owing to unavailability of financial resources and inability to buy boards and kandi sticks to complete their family mud house structure. Why did God put me in Malen? Who is responsible for my present state of continued poverty? Is there any chance of improving myself by generating some farm income to feed my grandchildren and myself? Am I going to meet my husband poor and destitute in the world beyond? What hopes are there for residents of Malen? In a location where there was abundance of food, fish and bush meat and of course abundance of “kandi species” for house construction, there is nothing left.
Worsening the situation is our young girls. Once a thriving community with girls on whose faces you can see a future, those girls today live in despair. Community and family values are lost. Parents have become powerless to control their young girls because the young boys working for SOCFIN use and abandon these girls because of economic power.
We are a people who are used and misused. Do we have a future in Sahn Malen?
We are in the vague of how our land ended up in the hands of a foreign company without participation and consent of the people? We are foreigners dispossessed of our inheritance.
All our land is gone to SOCFIN, and this land where I have this small hut is my only possession in this world. What am I going to bequeath to my children and grandchildren? We have only been treated unfairly. So who is protecting our interests? Who cares about the oppressed and suffering people of Sahn Malen?
God, God, where are you? What is happening to your people in Malen, once a thriving, united and strong community in Pujehun District.
But a spear has been thrown in our hearts, says the 80 year old woman.
‘Hon. Sharka Sama, Hannah Deen and 16 others are today in court in Freetown ostensibly for alleged incitement of citizens to strike.Sahn Malen, is a popular issue going beyond the borders of Sierra Leone. It’s a world wide issue.’ But who is defending the rights of Sahn Malden citizens? Our expectation in Malen was that the new Government should respect the land rights of citizens against a foreign company that is here to suck the blood, tears and sweat of its citizens.
These are tips- of the iceberg of some of the stories told by women and young girls in Sahn Malen.
President Bio too is not given the totality of what obtains in Malen. How can he deal with issues in Malen when the intricacies are hidden from him by his trusted allies? How many individuals in his government did SOCFIN extend oil palm plantation benefits to? It’s a matter of calculative involvement; who benefits typology? The President should not rely on ONS and other state organs for objevity to give him objective information on what obtains on the ground. Some of the elites in Pujehun District owe allegiance to SOCFIN and their Paramount Chief who is only custodian but not owner of the land is no exception. Certainly, the custodian of Malen chiefdom is not interested in the welfare of his people but the continued stay of SOCFIN and the benefits so derived. Again who benefits?
In an article by Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk) cited in Standard Times of 27 Februray 2019, Hon Tondoneh, Deputy Local Government and Rural Debelopment Minister, encouraged “Solidaridad” to replicate its Makpele success story of ‘Responsible Land Based Investment’ to other areas in the country to avoid land conflicts arising out of bad land governance practices.
The Minister, in his contribution underscored the view that “most of our rural communities are conflict trapped in relation to land use and development. The people are most times, if not always excluded from the entire process of planning and decision maing even though its their land.”
Citing the recent land conflict involving SOCFIN agriculatural company and the community people of Sahn Malen in Pujehun District as one bad example of land use agreement for agricultural investment, the minister said that most times the relevant line ministries or authorities are usually left out in many of the palnning and designing for land acquisition for investment purposes.
Hon. Tondoneh made it very clear, in his statement that Paramount Chiefs are not the owners of the land, they are just the holders or custodians. The people are the owners. They must be involved in every step of the way and potential investors must follow the laid down procedures through the relevant ministries of Government.
For once let us all, as Sierra Leoneans be seen to handle situations objectively, and SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. Speak TRUTH to President Maada Bio of what obtains in Pujehun, including briefs by state agencies such as ONS, the local councils and chiefdom authoriies, and the police to name a few. Live up to expectation. And do we have statesmen who can approach His Excdellency with the truth, facts with objectivity.
Because those in charge do not give accurate information to H.E. President Maada Bio,they qualify in misinformation and misdirecting the new direction. And I make bold to say that ONS and the Police are no exceptions. Some of the local authorities and highly placed individuals in Malen are also ‘sting’ in the conflict and must be removed.
The recent spate of destruction, arrest and killings crowns it all.
What are the facts? There is no gainsaying that approximately a total number of 36,000 in Malen Chiefdom are deprived of basic food and survival needs because of the operations by SOCFIN. Our leaders must have vision and goodwill, having the people at the heart of decisions and the matter. SOCFIN is business and business only determined to always gain, very calculative involvement. The citizens are hungry, desperate for land to do traditional farming, enjoy their human rights including their culture, and to hunt wild game.
One European visitor in Malen said “the political will is absolutely absord in both the past and present political administration. SLPP is playing into the hands of a pro past government body, to ensure SOCFIN accelerates its profits at the expense of the people. Money and other wealth aside, whose interest should be protected?
At the professional level, I do not believe in technical committees to make recommendations to government. They are easily influenced to tow the line. But in the absence of credible pillars to end the Sahn Malen conflict, I recommend that a regional consultative conference, organized by non state actors, should be convened to find lasting solution with peace being upper most as a prescription for the Sahn Malen situation. Now, do we have objective and respectable individuals in this country to resolve the Malen imbrioglio. Yes, we have some of them who cannot be influenced or conflict resolution bodies operating in this country? There are many who can speak truth to power without hesitation and can be dedicated to peaceful resolution of the malen conflict.
Take the example of late Siaka Stevens who commissioned a committee to investigate the causes for the continued student strike action in FBC in the 1980s. Juma Sei, a no nonsense man, although poor was a member of that committee. No one can bend him.
Truly, the acquisition of 18,600 acres of land by a foreign company that by extension is quietly extending its operations to Mattru Jong leaves much to be desired. Depriving the owners of theirnative land and inheritance clearly indicates that “Sahn Malen presents a story of God and the devils.”