By Samuel Asamoah
“We suffered all these atrocities during the war. Afterwards, we embraced a peace deal and said yes to peace because we believe peace is better than violence. But for these shelters provided to us by the Norwegians, it would have been more difficult for us. None of the promises made to us as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been fulfilled.”
Baindu Morie is one of over eight hundred Sierra Leoneans who was amputated during the war in Sierra Leon, which lasted for ten years, from 1992 to 2002. But over two decades after the war, they say they continue to bare the pain of the war due to neglect by successive governments who have failed to recognise their physical challenges as a result of the war, including their contributions to the existing peace the nation is currently enjoying.
From afar, one is tempted to believe that these amputees of the war are living a comfortable life due to the accommodations provided for them by some international donors and a few by the post-war government of Sierra Leon.
“If not for these accommodations we have to lay our heads, our conditions would have been worse than you have met us,” one amputee said. “However, apart from the fact that we are living in somehow decent homes, we have been left in these conditions to fend for ourselves. All the promises made by governments after the war have not been met,” another amputee told foreign journalists who were on a field trip to minority and conflict-related communities on issues of inclusive journalism and peace-building. The trip was organised by the Minority Rights Group Africa (MRGA) and Media Reform Coordinating Group-Sierra Leone (MRCG-SL) with funding from the European Union (EU), under the ‘Engaging Media and Minorities to Act for Peacebuilding’.
A decade of war in Sierra Leon, West Africa, took a toll on the nation’s economy including its people who have vowed never to return to a war situation. A visit to the Residual Special Court with an attached Peace Museum and a Memorial Garden is indicative of the Sierra Leoneans’ resolve to embrace peace and foster development. However, some victims of the war are finding it difficult to leave the ugly faces of the war behind them as they continue to bear the brunt of its negative impact on their physical bodies. But it is not just their physical challenges born by the atrocities of the war that always reminds the amputees of the war; it is the neglect they suffer from the governments which had earlier promised them hope.
The Amputees and War Wounded Camp at Grafton in the Western Rural District of Sierra Leon and the Amputees camp in Kenema have one thing in common—a humble shelter filled with physically challenged persons of war, with expectations that the state, led by political heads of government, would consider their plight and offer them the needed support but to no avail.
“Some of our colleagues resort to begging on the streets to survive,” Alpha Jalor told journalists who visited the amputees’ camp. According to him, sometimes, they are asked by young ones on the streets to recount to them the events of the war that had maimed them. “This always brings back memories of the war to us,” he said as he took a deep breath.
Seibatu Kallol, one of the many amputees who spoke to journalists on a field trip to minority and conflict-related communities at the camp in Kenema, said the hardship they are facing makes her always remember how she was attacked at age 13 by rebels during the war. Some journalists could not control their tears as she narrated her sorrowful story of the attack as if it happened just a few days ago.
‘We are not able to forget the past because the present is not treating us well,” said one of the amputees.
Among the many promises they say they were given years back, after the war, by the government includes being put on a pension scheme so that they can receive some monthly allowances as support but none of the promises made by the government has been fulfilled. Help, they said, does come occasionally from mostly benevolent organisations and individuals. Nevertheless, that, they said, is not enough to cater for their everyday needs.
With children, wives and families to provide for, some of these amputees have to surmount their physical challenges and, sometimes, defy the shame that comes with begging just to survive. For them, they were victims of war but the peace regimes have not dealt so well with them.
It is not just these amputees whose needs of necessities of life have not been met by successive governments after the war. In Kumrabai Ferry, a community in the Tonkolili District of the Northern Province of Sierra Leon, was where leaders of the military, rebels and Peace Keep troops met to sign a peace accord to end the war. The community was significant to the peace the country currently enjoys such that a monument of peace was erected in the middle of the community by the first post-war-government. Yet, expectations by the community folks to have basic social amenities as promised by the government have not been met. The people are faced with the lack of proper healthcare, educational infrastructure and potable drinking water and bad road network among others. “But for one Dr Sowa who came to renovate the decaying monument of peace here, even this important monument representing the peace of the country will have been forgotten,” 64-year-old Abdul Kamara told journalists.
It is the constant expectation of such minority groups such as amputees of war and village communities that development and social intervention programmes would be spread evenly and meaningfully by the government for every citizen to have a fair share of the national cake.