The commemoration of the end of the slave trade in the British Empire should bring to mind the fate of Sierra Leone.
In 1787 British abolitionists and philanthropists established a settlement in Freetown for repatriated and rescued slaves.
Today Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone, a country rich in resources, but whose people live in extreme poverty. It is situated on the west coast of Africa and has a population of 4.5 million.
We suffered a brutal civil war from 1992 to 2002. Our diamond wealth was fought over by rich neighbouring states and international companies.
Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 34 – the lowest in the world. Three quarters of the people live below the poverty line and some 65 percent of the adult population are illiterate.
Seven years ago there was a British military intervention in Sierra Leone to support president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. This was widely hailed as being about “restoring democracy”.
But Kabbah’s party has continued to act in a thoroughly undemocratic way. It fixes elections and overrides the views of opponents even when they have won support in local areas.
The hidden motive for the British intervention seems to have been support for British mining companies operating in the country, such as the Sierra Leone Diamond Company, the Basama Mining Company and the Koidu Holding Company.
The operations of these companies have destroyed the livelihoods of people living in those areas. Their lands are taken from them forcefully and there is indiscriminate encroachment on sacred lands, regardless of the wishes of indigenous people.
Every day people complain to Britain’s Department for International Development – but nothing happens.
The department won’t change the situation because of what it hopes to derive from these companies’ operations. There should be more pressure on them and the Sierra Leone government to improve the social situation.
Ibrahim Tamba Fanday is president of an association representing landowners affected by mining operatins in Koidu, Kono District, Sierra Leone