Health Crises: Sierra Leone

Posted: May 13, 2013 in Sierra Leone

Another tremendous obstacle that Sierra Leone has placed in front of them is that of the health of the citizenry. With all my previous posts, I have been building to what is perhaps their most dire of circumstances regarding the Leonian community. Two diseases are currently affecting a significant portion of the population – Cholera and HIV/AIDS.

While the plight of HIV/AIDS victims in Africa has been well-documented and discussed among health professionals and governments, not enough is being done at the moment to help the victims of cholera.

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“Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It has a short incubation period, from less than one day to five days, and produces an enterotoxin that causes a copious, painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients.” (WHO)

0604FreetownPovertyThe spread of cholera is so rampant in Sierra Leone because of the existence of cramped, under-developed housing in the urban centers. These shantytowns exist without any kind of oversight or administration that can positively affect the lives of the people who live there. The even bigger issue is that these places lack any kind o plumbing or waste disposal system. So human waste is widespread and is can seep in the drinking water as well as infect open wounds that may occur.

Sadly, what kills many of these people is not the disease itself, but what it results in – which is dehydration. So little clean drinking water exists because of the infrastructural problems that resulted from the Civil War. Thus, people are unable to replace the fluids lost from their bodies through diarrhea and vomiting.

NGOs (UNICEF, MSF, WHO, etc.), in cooperation with the Leonan health administration have made strides in combating the epidemic but more is still needed as new cases appear everyday. (WHO)

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In the modern world, the impact of nearly every fabric of a society as it affects the environment has been intensely scrutinized. Sierra Leone is no exception.

With the Civil War over and an economy still in turmoil, Leonians have begun to re-establish their agricultural sector. Over 40% of the country’s current GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is made up of agricultural ventures. People that were previously living in shantytowns next to the capital of Freetown, have now moved back into the rural country side.

(Mongabay)

An unfortunate by-product of this semi-exodus is the establishment of farm land. These large tracts of land have been cleared of their forests – resulting in a significant amount of deforestation, which has increased by 7.3% since 2002. Deforestation has an immeasurable damaging affect to nearly every environmental aspect. Such as:

  • With the destruction of habitat, wild life numbers diminish significantly – contributing to the growing number of endangered species.
  • With fewer trees, the soil can become arid and can lack nutrients, which cannot be easily restored.
  • The arid soil is then susceptible to soil erosion which may then, in the future, cause flash flooding and land slides which kill an estimated 25,000 people per year world-wide. (Deforestation)

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In addition to deforestation, Sierra Leone also faces a lack of clean drinking water. It is estimated that Leone only has 160 cubic kilometers of sustainable water sources. While 3/4 of people living in urban areas have access to safe water, only a little under half have access in rural areas. This has been a hindrance to the well-being of nearly all members of Sierra Leone’s society. (Encyclopedia of Nations)

Among the greatest teams ever to play in the World Cup, the 2002 Senegal squad should be recognized for its skill and the prominent win over France.

Coming in to the group stages, France was poised to make a run through the other three teams in Group A: Senegal, Denmark, and Uruguay. France, having won the 1998 World Cup, was seen as the dominant team and many were placing bets that they would vie for a second championship.

The 2002 World Cup was Senegal’s first time even qualifying. Their team was considered the underdog and few thought that they would make any sort of a challenge. These doubters were proven wrong by¬† a squad of players that were virtually unknown.

Senegal vs France was the opening game of the 2002 World Cup. France saw it as an opportunity to start their run with a big win. Senegal saw it as the chance to slay a giant. And slay it, they did.

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Through a brilliant strategy combining intense mid-field pressure, Diouf’s athleticism, and smart positioning – Senegal managed to shut out the highly touted French offense in a stunning and unexpected rout of the former champs.

Senegal then advanced past the group stage through two consecutive ties versus Uruguay and Denmark. They then made it to the quarter-finals and where they were unfortunately defeated by Turkey by a score of 1-0. But none will forget their historic “Cinderella” status in the annals of World Cup history.

(Senegal World Cup)

 

In a hallmark example of how corruption is still a pervasive influence in the Leonan government, 29 top health officials have been indicted by the ACC (Anti-Corruption Commission). They have been charged with “misappropriating over a half-million dollars in grant money”.

acclogo_001The organization that the money was donated through, GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunisation), performed an audit of the funds donated to Sierra Leone in 2012. The audit showed that there irregularities regarding spending from 2008 to 2012. (New York Times)

Much of the money that was stolen was donated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a result of these findings, GAVI has halted more than 4 million dollars in appropriations. (New York Times)

As of today, there has been no date set for a trial.

There is no sufficient way to summarize a woman’s rights in Sierra Leone in a brief post on this blog. Women face a staggering duality in regards to how the government views them. While steps have been taken to improve their rights in the laws (New Laws 2007), more is needed.

To begin, pregnant women face difficulty in acquiring the medical care necessary to ensure a healthy pregnancy. There is virtually no access to pre-natal vitamins. Drugs that should have been made available to them for free, have been paid for out-of-pocket. This inflicts an even greater risk due to inflated poverty.

9_Sierra Leone_photo queue of women

Women also face strong opposition to obtaining economic status due to the highly patriarchal attitude within the society. These women are seen primarily as mothers and “house keepers”, not typically as contributing members of the culture. They are thus, denied the right to any kind of basic education including efforts towards literacy. This stigma, while damaging, is not the truly gruesome, pervasive matter which affects their lives.

It is unfortunate, but there has been many reports of widespread rape and domestic violence. While the 2007 laws’ definition of abuse includes these actions, the police force is horrifically ineffective at solving this issue. Women living in the rural areas are even more susceptible to this type of grotesque abuse because the infrastructure is even less developed than in places like the capital, Freetown. (Women’s Rights Overview)

It has also been estimated by Amnesty International (Amnesty International), that between 65 and 90 percent of all women of age have undergone FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). This is the practice of forcibly removing external parts of female genitalia. In some areas of the world, this process is even seen as a passage into adult woman-hood. As much as 60% of Sierra Leone’s population is considered Muslim and this practice could be seen as a way to diminish a woman’s sexual desire.

While the politicians of Sierra Leone seem to be working towards solutions to these problems, it is obvious to any reasonable observer that they are not doing enough. As of today, there have been no new initiatives to improve the circumstances that most women in Sierra Leone currently find themselves. Which is, a society dominated by men that, in some cases, feel they have the right to treat them however they wish.

Siaka Probyn Stevens

One of the indirect causes of the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone was the governments overt corruption and ineptitude. But, how did the regime come to be like this? For that, we must examine the year 1968, when Siaka Probyn Stevens entered the political hierarchy of Sierra Leone. (A History of War – Sierra Leone)

siakastevens4-243x300Stevens served as Prime Minister from 1967 to1971, then as President from 71 to 1985. His reign came to be known as “the 17-year plague of locusts”. Just before he took office, election violence broke out to intimidate people.

Throughout his rule, government became increasingly corrupt. The rule of law was near non-existent as a result of this man’s influence. Official funds within the treasury were used for anything he wanted. Executions were often performed by the regime to silence political opposition.

When is reign came to an end, Sierra Leone was of one ruling party, with little chance to alter the political landscape. These blatant violations of the responsible rule of government were what set the stage for rebellion.

 

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a Liberian national who, in 1989, led a successful military coup against Samuel Doe (the President of Liberia whom he assisted in seizing power from the previous president). A man trained and supported by Muammar Gaddafi, he was severely corrupted and violent.

1990-Rebel-leader-Charles-014As the President of Liberia, he assisted the RUF commit atrocities against defenseless citizens, he orchestrated a large amount of weapons sales to the RUF in exchange for diamonds, and he was implicated in the recruitment and tactics surrounding child soldiers in the Leonan civil war.

After being deposed of power in 2003 and forced to resign, Taylor was indicted by the courts in Sierra Leone for numerous war crimes. This process took nearly 9 years to achieve a guilty verdict in 2012.

 

 

VIDEO:

Taylor’s War Crimes

 

SOURCES:

Farah, Douglas, and Stephen Braun. Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. Print.

Abdullah, Ibrahim. Between Democracy and Terror: The Sierra Leone Civil War. Dakar, Senegal: Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2004. Print.

 

 

 

 

The Civil War

Posted: May 13, 2013 in Sierra Leone

In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by former SLA Corporal Foday Sankoh, began a campaign against the government of Sierra Leone, who was led by President Joseph Momoh. Thus, a conflict would start that lasted for just over a decade and would result in the deaths of over 50,000 people, while displacing over 2.5 million more. A brutal fight that pitted neighbors and children against each other in mortal combat until its conclusion in 2002. In this post, I will enumerate upon the two key aspects to this war: the causes and the fighting. (Sierra Leone Civil War)

THE CAUSES

In the 1980’s, Sierra Leone was in dire economic straits contributing to their high level of poverty. They, the Leonan people, were largely unable to improve their living conditions despite an abundance of natural resources. But what contributed to this lack of monetary momentum? Put simply, political corruption and treason on a massive scale.

After the death of Sierra Leone’s first Prime Minister in 1964, Sir Milton Margai, the government was inept, mismanaged, and corrupt. This is largely due to the rule of Siaka Probyn Stevens, who came to power from 1967 to 1985. I will examine this man’s impact on Sierra Leone in a later post.

DiamondsBut perhaps the most famous example of this criminal activity involves the fraud surrounding alluvial diamond mining. Leonan government officials profited enormously while the workers were barely given any compensation. Such nonequivalent gains led to a significant displeasure among the working class of Sierra Leone.

When the RUF began their campaign, many workers gravitated to their message, as well as forced labor from cash crops (coffee, cocoa) and gold mining. All of which served to further arm the RUF through smuggling just before and during the war. (Blood Diamonds)

THE WAR

Instead of focusing on the gruesome brutality, I will simply give a timeline of the events.

  • 1991: Civil War begins as RUF capture border towns.
  • 1992: President Momoh replaced in military coup by a Captain Valentine Strasser.
  • 1996: Strasser is then ousted by Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio, his Minister of Defence.
  • 1996: Newly elected Ahmad Kabbah signs a peace agreement with RUF.
  • 1997: Peace agreement is nullified after yet another military coup, orchestrated by a Major Johnny Paul Koroma.
  • 1997: UN Sanctions are imposed, but are ignored though the black market and private security firms.
  • 1998: African Intervention Forces drive rebels out as Kabbah returns to Freetown from Guinea.
  • 1999: RUF forces establish a foothold in Freetown which leads to gruesome fighting and yet another withdrawal by the rebels.
  • 1999: A UN-negotiated peace accord is reached – parties are hopeful of resolution.
  • 2000: UN directed forces are dispatched to suppress rebel fighting.
  • 2001: Disarmament begins.
  • 2002: War declared over. Rebels are said to be completely disarmed.

(Civil War Timeline)