Oumar Farouk Sesay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 November 2021:
This piece is a lyrical dirge, eulogising a historical synopsis of the political landscape of Sierra Leone. It presents in literary terms, an architecture of blood-stained road maps and routes of Sierra Leone’s journey through the gridlocks to democracy. (Photo above: Oumar Farouk Sesay).
The road to democracy is paved with the blood and sweat of fellow Sierra Leoneans, who from the nascent dawn of independence paid with their lives to embrace the newfound freedom. This was at a time when there was freedom of speech but none after speech. The right to rights was death sentence.
A chronology of uprisings from student to military, when real or imagined law breaking episodes littered the corridors of power and left a strong whiff of foul political odours permeating through the psyche of the traumatised public, which continues to linger on. The poem evokes the memory of the fallen, who remain obscure in distant memories, as if they never happened. It questions our collective tribute to them and the seeming mix-up mystification cluttering the memorial roadmaps.
Silently but insidiously, the poem cries out for the memory of these “heroes”, to be remembered and commemorated, not only in the amnesic disorder but as mementoes. In place of “the plague of dementia” should be hypermnesia, in towering heights that will give shade to children, wipe their tears, and drink in the eulogies as reminders never to succumb to the tyranny their forefathers endured, so that they could sleep well at night tonight.
In this poem, you get a chunk of history capsuled in time, but fading away because its how they want it; to disappear in the sands of time and evolve into a myth. The piece is a clarion call to honour those who deserve the honour, to remember those who deserve remembrance, so that the history would not be lost, but to remain as “… our landscape (is) steeled with markers of the dead” …… “to never again”. (Prefaced by Abdulai Mansaray).
Memory markers for the dead of yesterday. Author: Oumar Farouk Sesay
We gathered pieces of our past left on the fringes
To pillar the memory of a nation afflicted by amnesia
To stop the slide to a future traumatized like our past
So, we mined the iron ore from the hills of Marampa
To forge memory markers in the furnaces of our wrath
To mark the spots where our Pharaohs killed our first born.
Here we stood our grounds to preserve the memories
Of those fallen men and women killed at a time when
The death sentence in our laws was a loaded gun
in the hands of power drunkards thirsting for perpetuity
At Thornton hill near state house, we will plant a memory
marker with the citation; “For the unknown
civilians killed in 1967 for protesting the first military coup.”
At the gallows of Pademba prison we will plant
A marker to mark the spot where on a sombre July 19, 1975
Mohamed Sorie Fornah, Ibrahim Bash Taqi, P C Bai Makarie N’silk,
Brigadier David Lansana Kamara, Lt Habib Lansana Kamara
and Albert Tot Thomas were executed and their remains dumped
in acid graves at Rokupa crime scene.
At Lati Hyde hostel, Fourah Bay College, we will erect a tomb
with bleeding epitaphs for those the thugs molested and raped
when they invaded the college in the 1977 strike to cover
the shame of a dictator booed and humiliated for shattering
a nation’s dreams into shards.
The same marker will be planted at the Magburaka roundabout
next to the old Mobil station to mark the spot a class seven pupil
was shot dead to instil fear in the protesters
Then ubiquitous markers will be erected in many places
for those killed at night in the name of enforcing curfew orders.
At the gallows of the prison, we will plant memory markers
To mark the spot where, on October 7, 1989, Francis Mishak Minah,
Gabriel Mohamed Tennyson Kaikai and others were executed
After a treason trial that is still on trial in the court rooms of
We will then plant twenty-eight memory markers to mark
The various spots where in 1992, Bambay Kamara, Yaya Kanu,
Salami Coker and others were extrajudicially killed and buried
n unmarked graves.
At Goderich seventh battalion firing range we will plant
a Gola Forest of wrought iron markers to mark the spot
where in1999 Col Kula Samba, Salami Coker,
Hancile Bangura, Kawuta Dumbuya, Abdul Karim sesay,
Hassan Conteh, Max Kanga, Col FY Koroma, Capt. Jalloh,
Lt Col PF Foday, Victor King, and others
were hooded, tied to a stake, and shot to death.
Another forest of memory markers will be planted at Pademba
Prison to mark the spot where in 2019 thirty prisoners or more
Were shot dead in the name of stopping a riot.
Now our landscape is steeled with markers of the dead
Our ore depleted to cast memory markers for an Egypt
of Pharaohs without a Moses with a rod to split a Nile
but we will nurse trees in the vast swamps of the land
to mark the spots where our compatriots fell during the war.
Willow trees for each limb chopped off by the rebels and left to decay
Yew trees for the wombs entombed to win a wager of a cigarette
Baobab trees for the mass graves in the Gola forests and elsewhere
Everywhere they left them to die we will mark till the whole land
Is strewn with markers of memory to expel the plague of dementia
Spreading like Ebola in the land.
Beneath the navel of the land, a phallic tower shall sprout forth
To broadcast seeds in the womb of the earth so it can bring forth
Children who will sit beneath the willow trees to read the eulogies
On memory makers and strengthen their resolve to never again
Allow their souls to kneel to tyrants even if they spit fire like dragons
Oumar Farouk Sesay’s lyrical evocation of a particularly grim and grotesque slice of our country’s political history is simply phenomenal. The broad thematic sweep of sixty years of politically motivated killings combined with a keen eye for details of time and place, the judicious choice of references and images, the controlled, stately cadences of the lines and the latter’s syntactic finesse, simplicity, purity, clarity and economy, all of these point to a true and original poetic talent at work. Sesay should be publishing here more of what I suspect are well wrought, polished gems from the forge of a supremely gifted imagination.
Coming as it does in the wake of the recent abolition of the death penalty, which our leaders have tended to deploy over the years to silence their opponents (real or imagined), Sesay’s wonderful epitaph to the memory of the dead victims is indeed timely. It marks appropriately the welcome demise of an era of abominable political executions and the birth, hopefully of a more humane and tolerant society, where politics and its practice are and are seen to be respecters of individual and collective freedoms and more importantly of human life itself. In fact, Sesay’s belief in the supreme value and sanctity of life is paradoxically at the very heart of a poem recounting events and scenes of unspeakable cruelty and brutality. By focusing directly on the unfortunate dead and how they met their cruel end, Sesay points equally directly an accusing finger at those who masterminded their deaths. In this way, he spares no party no political leader (be he a civilian, a military officer or a warlord), no state security force or apparatus deemed accountable for the killings. His point being that whether carried out judicially, extra-judicially or in the context of that infamous fratricidal war of ours, the killings, motivated by crude political ambition and gain, have no place in our society.
A poet and a patriot, Sesay is a gift to our society. He writes for the social, demonstrating as it were the continued relevance of the great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s view of novelists (and by extension literary artists more generally) as teachers. To Achebe, in the specific context of developing African societies, writers are expected to play that most important of roles – spearheading through their art the re-education and regeneration these societies so badly need. Sesay is precisely an educator and emphasises the need for a new way of being and of living for our country and its people. I say to him: Well done. Keep up the brilliant work. And I say well done to Mr Mansaray too, for his very informative and persuasive statement, prefacing a riveting poetic piece on our most egregious of deeds as a nation and on why remembering the deeds in question is crucial to our building a present and a future devoid of murderous politics.
There can be no better preface than your piece here. Wished I’d asked for the pleasure of your nib to preface this masterpiece by Oumar. I’m sure that the editor will get me your email, to preface my collection that is under construction. Don’t say no when I ask. Great piece from you. Kudos.
True, Mr Sesay’s poem is a masterpiece; it is a piece of of work that is sui generis: its author’s imagination and craftsmanship are unique. I am sure he started writing long before now, and I will search to see what else is out there in order to form a more informed view of just how lucky we are to have him as a contemporary.
Please feel free to send me for comments or review any literary piece by you and by any Sierra Leonean brother or sister of ours you happen to know and may wish to recommend. So, feel free to ask Mr Thomas for my contact details whenever you wish to reach me.
And can I take this opportunity to add that since coming to this forum well over a year ago, I have read almost every article you have written? I consider you to be a well-informed, versatile, first-rate analyst, whose interests in social and political issues are so wide-ranging as to encompass all things national, continental and of course global. A gifted analyst you are, whose views matter I have no hesitation to say, to all those who have the honour and privilege to read what you write.