Accidents and Unrest: The Sadder Side of Sierra Leone

Fair warning. This post is related to the sadder and more difficult side to Sierra Leone. It isn’t necessarily what you want to hear if you would like to visit. But you would not necessarily see what I am describing if you have travelled or in the future travel here. So don’t let it put you off. But it is a side that I have experienced.

20170320_172906Driving Under Heavy Machinery…

I have now seen 11 accidents occur or seen immediate outcome of them in my time here and have now also been involved in 1 myself now. At least 4 of the accidents I have seen had either fatalities or very bad injuries involved. The accident I was involved in was harmless for all involved. We were driving quite slowly and a motorbike rider who had just pulled out from the opposite side of the road and who was on his mobile phone drove straight into the car I was in. It was so strange as I watched the whole thing happen and can recall it vividly. No one was hurt thankfully, and our car wasn’t badly damaged although I think the motorbike was probably a little worse for wear though. I have also now had an exceptionally close call where the taxi I was in came centimetres away from killing a motorbike rider. I was with some friends coming back from the beach (Cockle Point again!) on one of the new well-built roads and so travelling around 80 kilometres an hour.  The motorbike rider came to a complete stop on the highway in the middle of the road, in an attempt to do a u-turn to go the other way. He completely failed to look for cars behind him. We had to swerve at 80km and thankfully just missed hitting him. If we had, I am pretty sure he would have been killed or at the very least grievously injured, as we may have been in the taxi. But it made me reflect after having seen so many bad accidents already and having been in a small accident myself, how lucky we are in Australia for having had continuous governments uphold a very strict approach to road safety.

20170220_171918One of the Fairly Benign Accidents

Onto a completely different topic now. News and Newspapers. The reporting standards and newspapers in Sierra Leone are terrible and at times a little shocking. Article A – headlined HAS EBOLA RETURNED TO SIERRA LEONE? The answering (thankfully, because if it did I suspect my mum would come and try and collect me to take me home… you laugh but it has been threatened before….) being a definitive NO, rather this article relates to a simulation exercise to ensure preparedness should a further outbreak occur. But such a lack of journalistic integrity just to sell newspapers is terrible. Especially as the deep scars that Ebola left on this country.

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I was shocked that the next headline was allowed to be printed. Just like the first. Ebola or Witches Kill over 1 Dozen in Remote Liberia. Unfortunately, this was also printed after it was determined that it was not Ebola. So the UN, WHO, CDC, Global Fund must have been rushing to test whether it was Witches as it certainly wasn’t Ebola.

Ebola or Witches

Seven things every man needs to know before marriage, to be fair to this article, a number of its points are probably spot on… in particular, 1. You [the man] are more difficult to live with than you realize. Also pretty accurate if slightly disturbing, 3. The role your mother played in your life is very different than the one your wife will play – I should hope so…! Yet, this was a major part of a very small paper.

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My next favourite a duel article by Madam Know All and Mr. Experience titled respectively Learn to Trust your Partner, and It is not easy for lovers to trust themselves. One of my favourite lines being Madam Know All was walking along Love Lan one faithful evening and lady friend walked up to me

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Thankfully, there is some good reporting – for instance: Condom Use Still Lax, and Campaign will help eradicate polio. The first article also contains by far my favourite quote to date where they are directly quoting a man who doesn’t want to use condoms as he does not derive the pleasure he wants from the exercise. I’m not entirley sure that I would class sex first and foremost as exercise. Sure it burns a few callories and  gets the blood flowing… But if your principal reason for having sex is the exercise component it is a little concerning.

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Finally, apparently 223 Honest Policemen [were] Found. That is a remarkable low number, and a fairly sad demonstration as to the lack of confidence that seems that people in Sierra Leone have in the authorities. It may explain why there has been civil unrest recently.

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There have unfortunately been a number of other series events that have occurred recently in Sierra Leone. The most serious was an unrest in Bo (a provincial capital) where large protests/riots (terminology changes depending on who you ask) happened a few weeks ago. The unrest was due to university professors not being paid (the students were protesting on the professors’ behalf) for an extended period of time and then the ruling party – APC – organised its Youth Conference and paid for this conference… this apparently enraged the protestors as it was viewed as the Government putting its own political interests ahead of the professors (who still hadn’t been paid) and the students.  One of my friends who was there said it was very tense, with a lot of tires being burnt by protestors to create smoke, as either a sign of protest or to create smokescreens to fight the security forces. Hard to get good information over here as little is reported by the media (see the quality of reporting above…). It was reported though that Bo was “under siege” and students were “rampaging”.  The result being that the town looked like it was burning, and being covered in black smoke. This was not the end of it though. The security forces at one point opened fire with live ammunition at the protesters. Hitting four protestors, one of whom was killed. This unsurprisingly led to protests in Freetown around State House (the President’s residence), which in turn were dispersed through the use of tear gas… Thankfully, everything quietened down the following day, although they were mass arrests of students. One of the really disturbing things I found about these incidents though was how little it was reported in the media. Whilst, a day or two after it occurred there was some reporting, but certainly, none when it occurred, except by Amnesty International. Made me really question the independence of the ‘fourth estate’ (what the media is continually referred to over here…), and also how they much prefer to publish what I would consider fluff articles rather than news of substance that affect Sierra Leoneans. It also raises serious questions of the security forces here, in particular, their training (or maybe lack thereof) and the persons giving orders to fire live ammunition to deal with confrontational events.

20170325_175051Freetown Under a Blazing Sun

More recently, a local council in Freetown attempted to forcibly remove people from their homes. Inevitably, this led to violent confrontations with the police, leading to parts of the community looking like a battlefield – streets were littered with burning tires and small skirmishes being fought between the police and those in the community. Another sad sign, and hopefully not an indicator of things to come.

These events are all the more concerning now that Sierra Leone is in an election year. Whilst, I expect that the next few months will be relatively quite, as who wants to demonstrate in the middle of torrential rain during the wet season. Yet, it is not a good omen that these events have occured, and I hope it is not a sign of what to expect when it rains stop and election campainging properly begins. Sierra Leone has experienced more than its fair share of tragedy. That being said there are many reasons – all of which are well known – that have the potential to lead to further unrest and conflict

Moving on from civil unrest though, but still, on the struggles of Sierra Leone. Fires when they affect slum areas here are devastating. There have now been two really significant fires here since I arrived. Hard to describe the effect but I think the photo speaks volumes below. Reporting as always is terrible so it is really difficult to know if people died or how many were affected but still tragic that such events occur here. It is also so easy to see how they happen, in the dry season all the rubbish is burned and frequently left completely unattended. Whether this was the cause of the fires I don’t know, it could have been many other things, but this has always struck me when I walk or drive past these fires.

IMG-20170403-WA0004Recent Fire in  Poor Neighbourhood

But since I would be remise to leave my blog on such sad notes, on a far more positive note and one that has been extremely good for my mental health, we have a new Italian gelato store! It is very exciting as it makes its own gelato. My favourite flavour so far has been the pistachio. I also went to another music festival recently! And thankfully, this one did not involve any tasers! So in short, this time my experience of a local music festival was definitely a lot less stressful and more fun than my previous experience of going to music festivals in Sierra Leone. I did cope some minor abuse for not taking my empty beer bottles back to the lady I bought beer from. Fair enough I suppose as I did forget twice… The festival had dancing crews. Including 155 dancers from the Netherlands. Unfortunately, they were introduced as the Dutch from the Dutchland – which sounds very similar to Deutschland… zee Germans, zeeeee Germans are coming! Small funny faux pas. Also the banner for the main stage misspelt Sierra Leone… ek!

IMG-20170326-WA0009Friends at the Concert

Until next time dear readers! I’ll make the next post slightly more lighthearted, promise!

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