Government’s dispossession of Krio ancestral land risks fuelling further marginalisation

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 May 2019:

Last week the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph contacted Sierra Leone’s minister of lands – Dr Denis Sandy, about allegations of heavy-handed government grabbing of ancestral land belonging to Krio families in the country’s capital Freetown.

Minister Sandy was unapologetic, if not undiplomatic in response to a statement made by Ms Yvette Auber Shears – a Krio resident of Freetown, about the manner with which minister Sandy is said to be going about his work that has affected several Krio families across the capital.

Ms Yvette Auber Shears is not only accusing the minister of land grab but using heavily armed military style tactics to enter her family property to claim possession, without presenting her family with evidence of illegal ownership by her family.

This is what Ms Yvette Auber Shears said: “On the Western side of Freetown a hill that runs up from Congo Cross roundabout currently known as King Street sits the land/house of my Great grandfather Mr Thomas Josiah Thompson acquired in 1941 which was home to my grandmother and grandaunts.

“A place fondly remembered as a child where we rebelled against afternoon tea on Saturdays. It wasn’t funky enough but what we enjoyed was running around a well-kept garden and munching lots of fruits grown within the compound

“Today we have on it, a sign of repossession by the MINISTER of Lands. Note I did not say Ministry of Lands, who went with armed military personnel and police officers to repossess.

“We had no invite from the Minister or the Ministry but what appears to me like jungle Justice was administered with a vengeance. Apparently, Mr Desmond Luke and the Anglican Diocese were faced with the same ordeal.

“I am sure President Maada Bio had no such plans in his New Direction. This is the same minister that served under the APC and now SLPP.  Going on a new direction, one cannot afford to carry a bad onion. Mr Minister we live in a democratic country. There is a rule of law.

“I am told that the Minister believes it’s state land as the railway line use to run through the allocated land. Can someone please advise which Year this was? Before or after 1941.”

Receiving this statement written by Ms Yvette Auber Shears, the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph – Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas, asked Minister Sandy (Photo): “Good evening Denis – I hope this mail finds you well. Denis I saw a video today and read a story about a land issue involving Yvette Auber Shears in Freetown, whose property is alleged to have been grabbed by your ministry. Please can you shed some light on this?”

This is minister Sandy’s reply: “Abdul, I have seen this on Facebook and so many people have responded appropriately to put sense into her head. she knows what to do when she comes to her senses.

“It is not how long a man has stayed on a piece of land in Freetown that determines ownership through their so called Adverse Possession, it is the documents that speak. So let her continue her write up, I am focused on my job and undeterred. Nice evening.”

And in a follow-up email he also said this: “Applications for state lands have been closed for now because of the volume of applications received so far that we are now processing. Yvette will soon know that I served under the past govt with distinction and I have no skeleton in my cupboard. This is why President Bio has sent me back to the ministry to continue the good works. She will have to prove soon “how am I a bad onion”.”

A few days after this response from minister Sandy, the ministry of lands published this statement, informing those claiming ownership to land and property situated at certain areas across Freetown, to present their title documents at the ministry of lands by 21st May 2019:

This notice from the ministry of lands has not gone down well with those who feel that the minsitry is now trying to backtrack on its “bad heavy handed policy of using armed police to possess private property” before establishing the facts.  There are  angry reactions on social media to the minister’s actions.

“Krios and ownership of our lands should NOT be trivialized by idiots playing Politics. The Krios are firmly UNITED on this issue devoid of Politics. Anyone who brings NONSENSE POLITICS into this issue of trying to grab Krio lands is an idiot not worth the attention of those who are victims of suppressive policies that successive governments have applied, and which is now reaching alarming proportions under the current regime. Grabbing Krio lands is a Call to UNIFY and stand as one to resist it. A call that transcends party lines. Don’t push the Krio people any more for our lands,” one of the comments reads.

But the legaility of the actions of successive governments in dispossessing the Krio of their ancestral land has been a question that legal minds of Krio descent are yet to tackle.  Many believe that it is the responsibility of the Krio Descendants Union to tackle this problem head on with the government of the day, before it is too late.

In 2006, the late legal luminary – lawyer J.B. Jenkins Johnston published this about the Krio land dispossession issue and the way forward:

Of State Land, Demolition And The Law – Food For Thought

9 Comments

  1. Should this have been true, I deeply regret it. We all should work hard to make everything function well for every Sierra Leonean.

    I am sure the Krios have to divert their local area and become part of the true Sierra Leoneans. Nobody ought to be separated from the majority. We all must work hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder.

    Most government ministers see the Krio isolation as differentiation from others and this is not the case. Krios are part and strong people in the country. I would like all our brothers and sisters who term themselves Krios, to join the country and her development. I dislike separation of our greatest people. Do not forget join the other people and live your lives.

  2. Mr. Alfred Kamara, I noticed the word “may” but numbers do not equal wealth. Do you know where the concentration of wealth is? I don’t, and I do not believe in hypotheticals. Also, why is no other affected ethnic group standing up? Numbers equal strength! Don’t you think it will help the cause if all affected people of any ethnic group put up the resistance together?

    No one is stopping Madam Conteh from joining the protest to have her issues addressed. I have just listened to an audio by a non-Krio making a case against the Bio government. I stand with all ethnic groups! Her comment suggests favoritism, and that’s my take. A good observation on your part but it did not protect her from taking the flak.

  3. Binta, your premise is so simplistic, the only conclusion you could make was a rather naive one.

    • Very much so Mr. Smith. Living in Freetown does not make you a landowner. A lot of people are either renters or squatters.

    • Mr. Vidal Smith and Mr. Francis Deen, please read Ms. Binta Conteh’s statement again: “In fact Krios are only a small proportion of the population of the Western Area, which means that folks from the provinces may own more land in the Western Area than Krios.” Binta Conteh

      Ms. Conteh uses the word “may” in the above statement. “May” denotes possibility. So, what Ms. Conteh is saying is that it is POSSIBLE that folks from the provinces own more land in the Western Area than Krios. I don’t see anything wrong with that statement.

      Secondly, Ms. Conteh is correct in saying that president Bio should not intervene in any issue on behalf of any particular ethnic group. Once the president starts doing that then it becomes a slippery slope. As president of Sierra Leone, Bio should be a problem solver for all ethnic groups in Sierra Leone and not for any particular ethnic group. There are folks from the provinces whose lands have also been repossessed by the ministry of Lands.

  4. With all due respect to Krios, I don’t think the government’s repossession of lands is targeting only Krios. Why would the government target Krios? In fact Krios are only a small proportion of the population of the Western Area, which means that folks from the provinces may own more land in the Western Area than Krios.

    If president Bio is to intervene with the objective of investigating the root causes of the land problems in the Western Area, he should do so on behalf of all ethnic groups in the Western Area. The president cannot be seen as a problem solver for only one ethnic group. After all, he is the president of Sierra Leone. There are many folks from the provinces whose lands have also been repossessed by the ministry of lands.

    • What a well balanced commentary Binta. A well non-biased and calibrated comment. Are you teaching some of us how to be HONEST and NON DIVISIVE on the issues? You are a star. Keep it up. I hope that, other women will come out and give such responsible comments as yours on this platform. God Bless you and thumbs up to our LADIES.

    • It has been a while since I visited this site. In cases like these, people use pseudonyms, so there is no guarantee you are a female.

      You have a great point that “If president Bio is to intervene with the objective of investigating the root causes of the land problems in the Western Area, he should do so on behalf of all ethnic groups in the Western Area.”

      However, so far, only the Krios have raised a finger. Did you have to wait till now to say something? Your comment does not pass the smell test. Stop dividing our country. No one should stop you from protesting if you are aggrieved. You have the same rights. BTW, I always use my full name.

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