Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 April 2016
Another year – another independence anniversary in four days time – 27th April, except that once again, there is not much to celebrate. Sierra Leone, after 55 years of independence is almost bankrupt, and is one of the poorest nations in the world.
Despite borrowing over $1 billion to invest in the country’s infrastructure, health and education, the Koroma government says that it has no money, and is looking to the World Bank, IMF and international donors to help pay for basic services.
Where is all that money gone? Accountability is a problem in Sierra Leone.
For several months now, there is water shortage in most parts of the capital Freetown, with less than 10% of the country’s households able to access electricity. (Listen to Emmerson’s latest song below).
People are dying needlessly of poverty and disease. Less than 40% of the population can afford more than one meal a day, with inflation running at over 30%, though official sources put this at about 9%.
Since Koroma came to power in 2007, the price of a bag of rice – the country’s staple food, has gone up by almost 200%. Average daily income is less than $1.50, with unemployment running at over 70%.
Yet, president Koroma and his supporters say that his government is making good progress in tackling poverty.
Almost all of the previous and present ministers and senior officials in the Koroma government, have become filthy rich, in less than ten years of the ruling party being in power.
None has ever properly declared their assets as required by Law, not even the president, says critics.
In 2007, Sierra Leone was classed as one of the poorest countries in the world. Nine years on, it still remains at the bottom of the global human development index.
Average mortality rate for adults in the country is less than 47 years. Most Sierra Leoneans are expected to die before they reach their 50th birthday. And thanks to a ever rising birth rate, the country’s population of young people – aged 15 – 45, are keeping the country ticking over.
Ebola may have taken a big toll on the economy, but corruption is the deadliest virus that is crippling the country today. It is sapping much needed funds from life saving services, such as provision of safe drinking water.
More than 50% of the annual revenue and international aid received by the government is either misappropriated, or wasted on capital projects for contract kick-backs.
Over $200 million in tax exemptions and concessions is granted to big foreign companies every year – money that should go towards paying for the education of the country’s vulnerable children, who rely on selling their bodies to pay school fees.
The two most vulnerable groups affected by poverty and corruption in Sierra Leone are the elderly and young people.
Listen to the latest song by Sierra Leone’s number one Musician – Emmerson Bockarie about the plight of the country’s poor:
This is what the UK Mail Online reporter FLORA DRURY said about life in the capital Freetown for young people:
The girls as young as FIVE earning less than £1 a DAY sifting through piles of rotting rubbish on Sierra Leone’s ‘Bomeh’ dumps.
On Sierra Leone’s rubbish dumps, children can be found picking plastic, which they can then sell on.
These children are providing vital income for their families, without which they would not be able to eat.
They have to spend all day on the dump, they can’t attend school – and are trapped in a cycle of poverty.
MailOnline travelled to Freetown in the week that UK charity Street Child launched their Girls Speak out campaign to meet some of the children and mothers forced to work on the capital’s rubbish tips just to survive.
The smell hits you long before you even see it: an acrid mix of poisonous smoke and rotting food, animal faeces and sweat.
Step through the gates, and the full extent of the horror is revealed. A vast, brown expanse littered with broken glass, rusted wire and scraps of material – some hellish wasteland, pockmarked with craters of fire spitting out their thick blanket of smoke, intensifying the already unbearable heat.
This is no place for children. And yet, here they are, picking their way through the things everyone else in Freetown has discarded, looking for the scraps which might – if they are lucky – make them less than a 70p for a full day’s work.
The dump – or ‘Bomeh’, as it is known locally – is where you can find some of Sierra Leone’s poorest residents, quite the claim in a country where 60 per cent of people live below the poverty line.
These are the people who have fallen between the cracks, those who have no choice but to send their children out onto the dump, wearing donated flip flops long past their best, because, if they don’t, there will be nothing to eat tonight.
Which is how Kadi ended up going into labour on the dump when she was still just a child herself.
Kadi had been sent to Freetown aged 11, to live with her aunt. But her world crumbled when her aunt and uncle divorced, and she was left with her uncle – and his new wife, a woman who demanded she earn her keep by selling items on the street.
‘This woman was pressuring me to sell water on the streets,’ she explained, telling her story to MailOnline as charity Street Child launches its ambitious new Girls Speak Out appeal. ‘One day I went to the street to sell water but I lost the money.
‘She was furious, she asked me to find the money at any cost.’
It was then Kadi met a boy who offered to give her some of the amount, which she offered to the aunt. But it wasn’t enough.
‘She chased me out, and I went back to the boy and slept the night,’ she said. Kadi returned home in the morning, but when her uncle discovered what she had done he drove her from the house forever.
At just 14, she found herself alone – and, as she was soon to discover, pregnant.
By the time she was full term, she was working alongside her sister, picking rubbish from the dump – a place many who live in the city have never seen up close, despite it being in the heart of Freetown’s east end. Hidden behind high walls, the thousands who pass it every day on the noisy, busy road which runs alongside could almost pretend it doesn’t exist – if not for the smell.
Kadi could do no such thing. The dump had become her lifeline, despite its dangers.
‘I was scared for my baby, I was scared for myself,’ she told MailOnline.
Her terror was compounded when, one day amid the rubbish, rats and strangers, she went into labour. ‘I was so afraid,’ she said. ‘I was scared to give birth in this place.’
Hidden danger: The smoke, which rises from pockets of burning rubbish spread out across the dump, are full of cancer-causing fumes. Here, plastic bottles burn alongside kitchen waste – causing yet another hazard for the children forced to make a living here
Trapped: The families who live here – some literally on the dump (shacks pictured back) – are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They have so little they need their children to work so everyone can eat, but then they don’t go to school and learn – so can’t ever get away
Babies and toddlers are not an uncommon sight on the dump. When there is so little to spare, mothers are forced to bring their children with – mothers like Isata.
For five years, she made her living on the dump. Her two youngest were tied to her back the first time she brought them along.
‘I could earn 20,000 leones on a good day, and 10,000 on a bad,’ she told MailOnline. ‘The children would always come with me.’
These people are poor, they have no education – no opportunity. They look for the easiest way to make money. You sell, you eat, and then the next day you do it again.
At best, that meant the mother-of-five had £2.50 a day to support her growing family on.
Isata had little choice, however. She had grown up during the years of the civil war, which raged across the country from 1991 until 2002, and at 35 was unable to read or write.
‘I was just doing it because I had no alternative. I didn’t want to bring the children, but what could I do?’ she asked MailOnline.
Sia Lajaku-Williams, operations director of Street Child of Sierra Leone, recongises her story. It is one she and her team see time and time again.
‘These people are poor, they have no education – no opportunity,’ she said. ‘They look for the easiest way to make money. You sell, you eat, and then the next day you do it again.
‘And the children are joining you – but if you do this, they are also missing out. They won’t have the opportunity to learn. It just goes on and on.’
Frances’ little girls were trapped just like this, in an endless cycle of poverty: Zainab, 10, and Mariama, eight, were just seven and six respectively when they first stepped foot here.
‘It was bad,’ Zainab said. ‘I was very, very sacred. It was more dangerous because of the different objects. They hurt my feet.
‘And the bad smell… so bad.’
The smell is, in part, thanks to the burning plastic, emitting poisonous chemicals which have been shown to cause respiratory diseases and cancer – dangerous for adults, but surely 10 times worse for growing children.
‘It is very smokey,’ said Sia. ‘It is not good for the child. Sometimes even as adults we can hardly bare to stay for an hour.
‘But there are also the sharp objects. The children often don’t have good shoes, and they step on broken bottles. Sometimes the plastic is burning on their feet.
I saw a film where a woman was very poor and dreamed of becoming an air hostess. And she did it. Now I want to be an air hostess. I want to fly to London and Australia – far away.
‘There are also issues around sexual abuse – boys are hanging around the dump. It just goes on and on.’
Zainab thinks she and her sister were sick at least once a month during the years they spent at the dump, years in which they weren’t regular attenders at school.
Isatu was also trapped working on the dump, but, at just 10, she was there alone.
It was the beginning of the Ebola outbreak, and her father had just died. Isatu’s mother knew she could not afford to keep her, and feed the younger children.
‘Her mother asked me to take her,’ explained Fatu, the young woman who took Isatu in.
‘I told her I had nothing, but she insisted. She thought things would be better in the city.’
Fatu was barely surviving as it was, living in a small, windowless two room shack, just a few moments from the dump.
So, when Isatu arrived, it made sense that she would make her living here, working from 8am until 5pm every day, collecting pieces of plastic which could then be shipped up the coast to Gambia, where they are recycled and made into household items.
‘We come here to collect plastic,’ Isatu told MailOnline, pointing to the ground.
‘Plastic like this piece here. Then we put it in a bag. And go to sell it in town. Then we eat.’
Isatu clung to a small group of friends, who stuck together for fear of the groups of older men who worked the dump, threatening them when they infringed too much on their own earnings from the dump.
‘It was not really too good at the dump site,’ Isatu she added, with the characteristic understatement of the Krio language.
And so it could have gone on, for all of these girls, if they hadn’t been noticed by social workers working with the charity Street Child.
Now, instead of spending their days on the dump, the younger girls are all in school – thanks to the help their parents and carers got setting up new businesses, taking them away from the dump.
It is a tried and tested method: more than 7,000 families were helped to set up a small business in 2015, with the vast majority now supporting their children through school.
‘When we send a child to school, that is an income lost,’ explained Sia. ‘The families need something to replace that.’
So Fatu and Isata were set up with a grant, allowing them to set up their own small businesses – as well as a little bit of training on things like ‘not to sell umbrellas in the dry season’, as well as how to save.
Women like Fatu set up movable businesses, selling whatever is in season – or what is popular that week – while Isata sells fried food around the neighbourhood.
Both are making far more than they ever did on the dump: both are fiercely proud of what they have built so far.
And for the next year – until their businesses are properly established – their children will be supported in school by Street Child. After that, it is hoped they will be able to support them themselves, like so many before them.
Isatu, she has her sights set on a future as far away from the dump in Sierra Leone as she could possibly get.
‘I saw a film where a woman was very poor and dreamed of becoming an air hostess,’ she told MailOnline. ‘And she did it.
‘Now I want to be an air hostess. I want to fly to London and Australia – far away.’
The sisters beam with pride as they show off their uniforms, listing their favourite subjects.
But then they are asked about the children they still know, working on the dump. A list of names follows: Aminata, Aisha, Ramatu. All girls with little or no access to education.
Kadi, whose family live in the shadows of this horrendous place, their home looking out at the burning pile, the small stream which runs along behind teeming with plastic, food and rats, is also being helped by Street Child – and is hoping to soon be back in education or training, one of 500 pregnant teens the charity hopes to help, thanks to the new appeal.
And Street Child is hoping to help many more families like this, with its new Girls Speak Out appeal, which aims to raise £1million.
‘The Bomehs in Freetown are a brutal place for anyone to try to exist,’ said Tom Dannatt, Street Child’s chief executive.
‘But, for many families, they are the only potential income source they know, however grim. As a result, girls who may otherwise be able to gain an education that will help lift their own family from poverty are left scavenging to help make ends meet.
‘If we can raise enough money through this Girls Speak Out appeal, we will be able to offer 5,000 families the chance to benefit from a grant and small business training that will help them gain a secure income and, vitally, ensure that their daughters can benefit from a sustainable education.
‘Every year a girl gets in school dramatically changes their life prospects – each year adds up to 25 per cent to expected lifetime earnings.
‘It is Street Child’s hope that MailOnline readers will really get behind this appeal and help us ensure that thousands of girls’ families are not forced to rely on child labour to survive. And with the government doubling every pound we raise through this appeal, together, we have the chance to achieve twice as much.’
Street Child launches its Girls Speak Out appeal this week to help ensure that girls’ voices are heard and their issues confronted.
The appeal aims to raise a minimum of £1million to help 20,000 children gain a quality education and the chance to stay in school. All donations between April 18 – July 17 will be doubled by the UK government. Visit Street Child to support the appeal.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3545678/The-girls-young-FIVE-earning-1-DAY-sifting-piles-rotting-rubbish-Sierra-Leone-s-Bomeh-dumps.html#ixzz46azCTma0
Our government and state authorities have become totally immune to criticisms. They seem to have lost their senses and perception of wrong doing. They have turned blind and deaf and can neither hear the wailing of the people nor perceive the suffering of the masses.
Criticism as such, is the call to attention pointing out the flaws and short falls in the dispensation of duties and responsibilities to those given mandate to manage the affairs of the people. But our governors are indifferent to this fact.
The suffering of the people in Sierra Leone have crossed all boundaries. The majority of the people living in appalling conditions are electorates of the APC who ushered them in to power in 2007 and 2012.
No matter how regional and tribally attached those electorates could be, most of them are now disappointed and disgruntled and would reconsider their support to such corrupt, clueless and heartless political hustlers, whose government cannot inspire an iota of hope to its citizens.
But what alternative have we got, the main opposition party the SLPP is no better than the APC; they had been there before, but Sierra Leone made no strides to progress either. Their expectation is a government in waiting without properly doing their homework. But the disorder and rancor that SLPP is embroiled in, would not make it any attractive to the electorate.
For the SLPP to win the hearts and minds of majority of the electorate today, they would have to shake up the party to its very foundations; replace old cronies with brand new renowned personalities with attractive track records, instill a democratic culture in the organization and re-examine the party’s polices.
Recurrent bad governments in the country have plunged the nation into a social disaster, and Sierra Leone dooms day may be in the offing, if we do not act to avoid a national catastrophe. We must work to counteract the bad influence of the old dialectic tactics of our politicians, which the people easily buy.
Broad minded Sierra Leoneans with awareness and understanding, both at home and abroad, should engage the masses silently to awaken their awareness, in order to dismantle completely such blindfolding ideas, speaking to the people convincingly, and get them to understand that their problems are the making of the government who are more bent on massive corruption, squandering taxpayers’ money and the resources of the land, than providing basic social services that are a basic human right of the people.
We must all resist the magical “SWEET TALK” of political hustlers. It is time to break the chain of deceit of cheap politics. Regional and tribal divide are the making of politicians.
This campaign can be carried out smoothly with perseverance and continuity. The failures of Sierra Leone governments over the years of our political history since independence, and its effect on the state of the nation has always been commented and analyzed by most of our brilliant journalists and commentators of the news. But nothing has changed till now; things are even getting worse with time.
The effort of each single individual can make great impact as a driving force to achieve the result we envisage.
Based on my experience with regards to living in Western Europe and the US for more than 25 years, I came to the conclusion that Sierra Leoneans are one of the smartest and hardest working people on the planet when they live where the system of government is functional.
Considering the population of all Sierra Leoneans in the world, we are below 10 million people but our presence is felt all around the world since slavery days from the US, Caribbean, Europe, Canada and beyond, because our fore fathers helped built most of those advanced countries.
Even now Sierra Leoneans are one of the strongest working force in these countries in the medical field (CNA’S, LPN’S, RN’S, BSN’S), hospitality (Hotels, Cab Drivers), Business People, and more in the diaspora.
In Africa we were well known as the Athens of West Africa in terms of Education, and I do believe the British saw something unique about us in order to build that learning institution in Freetown, even though they have other countries like Nigeria – the most populous nation in Africa or Ghana.
In conclusion, I do believe that, with a functional government Sierra Leone will rise again, because we have always been blessed with natural resources. All we need is hard work and commitment, which is the only formula for development and if we in the diaspora can do it, the home based population can also do it, because Smartness and Strength are in our DNA.
Sometimes when I think of the present situation in my home country, Sierra Leone, I just ‘bon mot’ for the better, in line with the 21st century for that matter.
Political parties can be challenged and changed. But, the PEOPLE as a whole will still stay the same and keep on practicing the same old stuff without any change whatsoever, including tribalism- instead of replacing it with brotherly LOVE. What a heavy and situational irony indeed.
Among many other observations, there are no public restrooms and public safe drinking water. The Bus Station in Freetown is still the same, as I left it over a decade ago, with no improvement.
President Ernest Koroma’s Government is Freetown’s new Bomeh, with fat rat cabinet ministers desperately looking for something to gnaw at – even the soles of the citizenry. God forbid! Amen.
“All Members of Parliament shall regard themselves as representatives of the people of Sierra Leone and desist from any conduct by which they seek improperly to enrich themselves or alienate themselves from the people.”
“The State shall take all steps to eradicate all corrupt practices and the abuse of power.”
“…, peace and welfare of the people of Sierra Leone shall be the primary purpose and responsibility of Government, …”
Ernest Bai Koroma and his functionless and unproductive government have ignored and breached all the above extracts from our constitution. A government so uncompassionate that thinks so poorly as to deny the very basic welfare of the citizens.
Corruption has compromised access to basic public services and institutions such as health and education. Therefore, we cannot afford to overlook the institutionalised corruption that has been installed by Ernest Bai Koroma and his ministers.
If we overlook this, we will be failing our country and become collaborators. Meanwhile, those iron-hearted, corrupt politicians will continue to amass more personal wealth, instead of coming up with ideas to build a Sierra Leone of prosperity.
To attain a prosperous Sierra Leone with sustainable, equitable development and a high quality of life for the people, we are to work together so as to promote and advocate for the poor and marginalised to participate in influencing poverty-focused policies; demand that their rights are upheld; and monitor service delivery to ensure prudent, accountable and transparent resource generation and utilization.
We need patriotic, intelligent and strategic leaders that can challenge the wrongs and create solution paths to a century of social injustice and economic stagnation. What we don’t need is reinstate satanic politicians that acquire power to loot our national treasury.
I suggest that all Sierra Leoneans around the world should view the trend of affairs in our country as a call to action, and to stay focused on responding to the crimes being committed by the leaders.
The best and only solution is to boot Ernest Bai Koroma and his gang out of office. It is pathetic to see that the administrators of law completely disregard the simple fundamentals of our constitution.
This is disturbing to any concerned African. The last SLPP bandwagon was indicted for diverting hundreds of millions of international donations for the welfare of former war victims, to line the pockets of big party gurus.
Now with the APC, there are rumors flying across Sierra Leone alleging the country is losing two hundred million dollars every year to organised mafia companies with shares going to individual private foreign accounts.
My problem here is that, tribal politics of the APC and SLPP is killing the nation with slow poison, yet no one bothers to challenge the system in which Sierra Leone is ruined.
Those supposed to stand for the people and fight against the system are themselves the enemies of the people. As it is, Sierra Leone can only move forward after the demise of the APC and SLPP tribal politics. We need new wine in new bottles and not the opposite
Brings tears to my eyes.
How any right-thinking leader in charge of a system responsible for inflicting and managing such grinding poverty and misery but still have the audacity to muster that jingoistic salute beggars belief. Fantastic juxtaposition of images. Pictures of abject poverty saluted with arrogant contempt. Do these guys sleep comfortably at night? “Dem one ya, dem nor get respect for we”, indeed!
I wonder who that shallow looking one in the other colourful Mandela style shirt is. A paid up member of the lay belleh committee, I suppose.
Superb article indeed.
The APC government knows exactly what it takes to constantly keep Sierra Leone at the bottom.
The only formula they use is DOING NOTHING.
Great article Abdul. I pray for change to happen. Thanks for revealing the desperate situation for many in Sierra Leone.
It’s a sad article to read. God help us. But our biggest problems in the country are the security forces.They are not only corrupt to the core, but will crush any public dissent with lethal force.
The people have no space or freedom to express their plight. You demonstrate at your own personal risk. So sad. I cry for our people. Are we a “DEMOCRACY”?