The bitter memories of the decade-long rebel war in Sierra Leone still lingers in the minds of some of the inhabitants of Kailahun district with the sight of several physical and structural destructions that always make those war withered people reflect and recollect their ordeals in tears.
In Kailahun, basic amenities like pipe borne water, toilets and health facilities, are extremely lacking while deplorable roads, poor market structures, inadequate institutions of higher learning and internal political conflict among chiefs has been largely blamed for the underdevelopment of the district.
Legacies of the war are still visible in all major towns and villages within Kailahun District. Past and present Governments and their development partners in the area have failed to improve the living standard of the people, despite the many corrugated sign boards of projects scattered along the way.
Widow Mariama Tengbeh (37) of Bobenge Town, now a subsistence farmer with 6 children almost broke down in tears while explaining about the appalling human conditions they are living in Kailahun.
She said, “In our village we don’t have toilet and water well we use the stream for defecation, laundry, cooking and drinking – most of our children are sick and sometimes some will just see their necks broken.”
Water is a precious commodity at Bobenge Town. “My children spend hours to fetch water alone coupled with domestic work. Among the six children, only one is going to school – the reason is that there is no school in our village and I cannot afford to send them to Moa or Kailahun,” she said.
“Is education in Kailahun a right or a privilege? I would like to ask the Government and NGO’s if we are not Sierra Leonens who deserve the same treatment as others because we have been neglected and marginalized for far too long” she queried.
She also lamented that poverty is painful; “we don’t even have a school and clinic – bulgur wheat and cassava is the only food we eat from time to time – I am just living with my family by the mercy of God, but Kailahun life is like living in hell.”
She said Kailahun District and its fourteen chiefdoms are in desperate need of assistance in the areas of social facilities in predominantly remote areas where water wells and toilet facilities are scarce thereby causing undue suffering for the people.
Major Towns and villages like Segbwema, Daru and Pendembu are completely underdeveloped, the roads are terrible and the people are living in abject poverty.
“Residents do not see Freetown as their capital because normal business transactions are either done in Guinea or Liberia” a trader in Kailahun explained.
Tree crop farming in Cacao and Coffee is the only source of livelihood for the people and it has not yielded much to improve the living standards of the people leaving them poorer. On a daily basis the gap between the rich and poor is even wider.
Neighbouring towns and villages have been reduced to hamlets due to migration and lack of basic facilities such as schools, clinics and employment opportunities. Life is very difficult for Mohamed Nyuma who said “Kailahun people are suffering and the area is backward we are yet to see the development.”
The war had however led to the social and economic disintegration. Social community structures had fallen apart and community cohesion is still lacking in Kailahun people.
The years of violence have introduced a culture of disrespectful and aggressive interaction between people resulting in serious confrontations and a growing political divide among local authorities.
Hon, Paramount Chief of Luawa Chiefdom Mohamed Banya said Kailahun is still divided along SLPP, PMDC and APC lines causing serious setback for the chiefdom administration. “Since I was elected as Paramount Chief some people in Kailahun do not want to respect and cooperate with my administration.”
Rebuilding a peaceful community in which members support each other and engage in collective activities, proved a challenge in post-war Sierra Leone particularly Kailahun District. Under these circumstances he said the rights and needs of children and youth were not considered as a priority and received little attention.
He also said that the relocation of the Bunumbu Teachers College to Kenema has had negative impact on Kailahun because most of the graduates are not willing to come back to Kailahun to contribute their own quota towards the development of the area.
PC Banya said “Plan Sierra Leone distant learning programmes have since closed in the district because most of the youths cannot afford to pay over (Le 500,000.00) five hundred thousand Leones for correspondence courses.”
Sources in Kailahun also disclosed that unprogressive internal conflict between opposing ruling families has had negative impact on the ordinary people citing the shunned NaCSA constructed multipurpose market structure for utilization by marketers and residents to boost economic growth.
According to investigations the market worth millions of Leones were provided by both government and development partners during the past SLPP Government. The failure of direct beneficiary participation in the project has resulted in exceptional views that have derailed the entire project objectives.
Children and youths also witnessed their homes being looted and burned down and they fled to safer areas where they waited for the war to end – some of them are yet to return home, Alieu Sellu a social worker in Kailahun explained.
He also said that Sierra Leone’s recent history puts Kailahun children and youths in a very precarious situation due to the past war and endemic poverty as some of them are being used as Labourers in cocoa and coffee farms while others are engaged in the commercialization of motor bikes as a source of livelihood.
Save the Children UK is also working in Kailahun to protect the welfare of children by ensuring that kids are sent to school and also provided with access to health care delivery in collaboration with development partners and Community Based Organizations within the District.
Save the children Education Program Coordinator April Coetzee said there are still prospects for Kailahun kids because they are determined and committed to transform themselves to become useful citizens that can contribute to national development.
OXFAM a British non governmental organization operating in Kailahun has promised to construct over three hundred water wells for a period of five years, however, it is sad to note that only twenty wells have been constructed in the district as disclosed by the deputy chairman of the council.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) on the other hand is helping to reconstruct feeder roads by supporting farming communities with food for work whilst the Agriculture Ministry is supplying farming inputs to farmers, pests and other animals are also destroying farms at an alarming rate.
The demand for basic social facilities in Kailahun has increased and most of the NGO’s and the Council Authorities do not seem to have the capability to address them, due to inadequate donor fund and Government grants to the council.
The slow pace at which MDA’s are devolving their functions to the council has also compounded the situation because local revenues are forthcoming to the council, the deputy Chairman of the Kailahun District explained.
The deputy chairman said “we need schools, clinics and food to eat; there are over five chiefdoms within Kailahun that are completely underdeveloped they do not have basic social facilities and sadly enough NGO’s do not seem to have interest in them.”
The private sector is also moving in a snail pace in Kailahun as the First International Bank has just established a branch while the Billion Leone council building is almost under completion and ready for handing over.
Tamba James, (25) who lives in the eastern town of Kailahun, the main heartland of cocoa and coffee, in the country says, he and his three siblings lost both their mother and father during the war. They have no one to turn to for their livelihood.
“I have to go to the farms and work for people because that is the only place I can raise money to feed myself and two brothers,” James says.
“The job is difficult, from transporting to digging the soil, weeding to plucking and washing the piles of cocoa and coffee to totting them to Kailahun Town. I do this from Monday to Saturday, week in, week out. It is not my choice but I have no alternative.”
He sets off at 6 am and works till 6 pm, with intermittent breaks. He admits food is meager and poor and that they have no access to medical facilities, there are no toilet and water well facilities in the village he said.
According to Tamba most farmers are sponsored by Lebanese in Kenema typically give them just enough to buy sneakers and clothes and have some little amount left over to take home for food as very few farmers can afford to send kids to school or live a decent life.
“Look at the scars on my hands and the pale face of my siblings, they are malnourished,” he burst in to tears emotionally bending down his face and wiping his tears “this is an awful life in Kailahun district” James lamented.
The life of James is similar to many Kailahun Residents our reporters interviewed; however stakeholders on the other hand are making frantic efforts to improve the living standards of the people.
Kailahun residents only hope that both Government and NGO’s will address the circumstances that have befallen the once productive district in Sierra Leone to become a hub for economic growth as it borders both Guinea and Liberia. By Saidu Bah & Solomon Rogers