sierra leone

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Rights abuses curtail Sierra Leone’s mining boom, say human rights activists | 

Children play in one of the new villages created for relocated families to make room for the African Minerals Limited iron ore mine near the town of Bumbuna, Sierra Leone.
Children play in one of the new villages created for relocated families to make room for the African Minerals Limited iron ore mine near the town of Bumbuna, Sierra Leone.
Rona Peligal/HRW

The mining boom in Sierra Leone that is supposed to help the poor West African nation is harming its citizens.

African Minerals Limited has been working in the iron ore-rich central Sierra Leone for nearly eighteen years. The company’s resulting work has led to the forced displacement of hundreds of families and excessively violent crackdowns against protests, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Workers at the African Minerals Limited mine located in Bumbuna went on strike, on April 16, 2012. Unhappy with the working conditions and the inability to unionize, the workers gathered together to prevent vehicles from entering the mining site. The following day, 200 police officers showed up to control the protests.

One of the contractors, a woman named Musu Conteh, was shot and killed while she was singing in protest with her fellow workers, said HRW. Eight more people were injured in the incident. The police defended their actions by saying that the protesters were attempting to burn down a fuel depot.

“[She] was right in front of me,” said a witness to HRW.

“The police led an ambush close to the police station using teargas on us. We all fell, and the woman in front of me bent down to gather leaves to cover her eyes and nose. As she was bending to pick up the leaves, she was shot.

“As she got up, she was shot again in her heart and back.”

Investigations following the incident by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone determined that was not the case. Further, the people were not carrying weapons, beyond sticks and stones, as the police also alleged.

A new report by HRW, Whose Development? Human Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone’s Mining Boom, says the economic drive of the nation’s government is hampered by current policies. It investigates the events that happened during the protest and the conditions that led to it taking place. The report recommends total transparency of operations to increase the accountability of mining companies and ensure that communities are well informed.

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Book Review: The Ringtone and the Drum | 

Have you heard about the story of  the aid worker who traveled in Africa? Why yes, that is pretty much every book about aid.

So you can excuse me for being a bit jaded when approaching Mark Weston’s book  that recounts his travels with his wife to the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso. Weston’s The Ringtone and the Drum opens in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are about to read a self-indulged account of his travels through some of the worst countries in the world. That initial impression was dead wrong.

The exposition section acted less as a set up and more like a series of information that Weston wanted to shed as quickly possible. Make no mistake about it, the book is about him. However his role is that of the storyteller who happens to be in the story, rather than the main character. Weston is the connective tissue of the stories of the people that he interacts with across the three countries. Continue reading

The Problems with Western Journalists in Africa | 

Western journalists were rightly criticized for the overall level of coverage surrounding the Kenyan elections. However, it is a case that is a part of what seems to be the rule rather than the exception when it comes to how Western reporters will tell stories from the African continent.

The image of a western journalist interviewing a traditional African may seem like a trope of the past, but look no further than the below image from a PBS MediaShift report.

Cornell University English professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi makes the case in Africa Is a Country that Western journalists continue to fail to “tell the whole story of humanity at work.” He says that American reporting on tragedies that took place in the US show dignity of the victims and tell stories of heroism and triumph during tragedy.

A three paragraph article in Reuters offered the choice terms “tribal blood-letting” to reference the 2007 post-electoral violence, and “loyalists from rival tribes” to talk about the hard-earned right to cast a vote. Virtually all the longer pieces from Reuters on the elections used the concept of tribal blood-letting. CNN also ran a story in February of this year that showed five or so men somewhere in a Kenyan jungle playing war games with homemade guns, a handful of bullets and rusty machetes – war paint and all.

Such stories do not make it into the coverage of tragedy from Africa. However, he neglects to recognize the constraints on foreign correspondents or journalists who report on Africa. Page space for stories about Africa is few and far between these days.

Not to excuse poor reporting, rather I point it out to say that it is far more challenging than domestic news. Major tragedies in the United States feel like they are over covered as the press corps descends upon the location of the event and tries to pump out every story possible. Continue reading

Cholera Concerns Mounting in Sierra Leone | 

A cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone that made its way to the capital city of Freetown is spreading at an alarming rate. MSF reported an estimated 1,500 cases and 17 deaths in a July 31 press release. The WHO released new numbers yesterday that cholera has infected 5,706 people since the start of August. They single out Western Aread and Tonkolili as areas with the greatest burden.

Right now, the response is being led by major players such as the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health, MSF, UNICEF and the WHO.  At the same time, neighboring Guinea is dealing with its own cholera outbreak.  According to MSF, the shared resivor  near the coast is a ‘breeding ground for the disease.’

“This ‘coastal cholera’ has already killed some 250 people,” says MSF epidemiologist Michel Van Herp. “The water reservoir allows the Vibrio cholerae bacteria to survive and go on to infect the population.” To respond, organizations are turning their focus onto improving hygiene.

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