February 2, 2016 By Oswald Hanciles
Would I be right if I accuse a tiny number of Freetown’s money-elite and power-elite of being like the most notorious and feared terrorist group in today’s world, “ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)? Oh no!! I am not being outlandish in posing such a question. Are there similarities between ISIL and some of the Freetown elite?
A living “nightmare” awaiting Freetown. If…
Too many of the Freetown elite are chopping down centuries-old trees, destroying rare plant and animal life, as they frenetically compete with each other in the construction of personal mansions on the mountains of Freetown. Or, they are turning a blind eye as poor citizens eking out a living chop invaluable trees on these Freetown mountains to make ‘diamba’ (marijuana) farms; or, to burn trees for charcoal for cooking for the majority poor in the capital city of Sierra Leone. Like ISIL’ destruction of ancient artifacts thousands of years old, so are the trees and biological life being destroyed by the action (or, inaction; or, typically, the SILENCE) of some of the cream de la crème of the Freetown elite – irreversible and irreparable damage is being done. When last week I interviewed Maada Kpenge, the Deputy Managing Director of the Guma Valley Water Company (commonly known as “Guma”), at the Guma Building in the heart of Freetown, he said that the destruction of these forests could lead to a “nightmare” for Freetown if not “immediately stopped” (Kpenge even suggested that the military should be brought to check the accelerated destruction of these forests!); for these forests are the water catchment areas that fill the dams, and from the dams come water for Freetown people. Imagine a city of over 2million people with inadequate water? It will surely lead to more of water-borne diseases in a city already facing severe infliction from water borne diseases – diarrhea, typhoid, cholera. In a densely populated city like Freetown, if water gets scarcer, people are likely to go into fights to get the precious liquid. In our still fragile post-war country, no one could predict where such ‘war battles’ could lead. Not all is bleak though.
Guma: Silent life savers
The Guma deputy MD, Maada Kpenge, gave me rousing information on the achievements of Guma over the past fifty years, against great odds: Guma steadily provided water for Freetown – even at the height of the ‘rebel war’ between 1991 and 2002, even when the murderous RUF/AFRC rebels took over and sacked Freetown in 1997 and 1999; Guma ensured there was adequate water in all the hospitals and clinics during the ‘Ebola War’ in 2014/2015; and Guma supplies pipe borne water to about 50% of the about 2,000,000 million people in Freetown. More good news!!
About a hundred million dollars for Guma
Guma will this year receive significant financing – $16million through the United States’ MCC programme; $70 million through the British DfID as post-Ebola recovery financing – to overhaul its human resources management; put in dramatically more infrastructure and machinery into its operations that will guarantee pipe borne water for the 2million people in Freetown; and the African Development Bank is ready to finance a Study for 30 years water management plan for Freetown. The bad news….All of these emerging hope for significant improvement of the water situation in Freetown could come to nothing if the few ISIL-like elite perpetuate, and/or, allow the continued rapid destruction of the forests on the mountains of Freetown. The financing of Guma for new waterworks without conservation and preservation of the forests on Freetown’s mountains could be like a husband buying a baby cot, baby nappies, etc. for his pregnant wife – but, not taking great care of the pregnant wife, who ends up dead. No woman. No baby. The forests would not perform their life-saving functions if the ISIL-like Freetown elite continue to be like the real ISIS which has destroyed invaluable historic artifacts – while they are destroying the forests.
Iraq-based ISIL and ‘Freetown-ISIL’
Since 2004, ISIL has plundered and destroyed at least 28 historical religious buildings in Iraq. ISIL uses a unit called the Kata’ib Taswiyya (settlement battalions); they’re tasked with selecting targets for demolition. UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, has described these ISIL activities “a form of cultural cleansing” – like the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Kosovo, and Rwanda, about twenty years ago. ISIL has bombed one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world, the “Nineveh Wall”. In the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah, ISIL ordered the bulldozing of the colossal ancient Assyrian gateway lion sculpture –sculptured around the 8th century BC.On 26 February, 2015, ISIL released a video showing the destruction of various ancient artifacts in the Mosul Museum. On 5 March 2015, ISIL reportedly started the demolition of Nimrud, an Assyrian city from the 13th century BC. This supposedly Islamic-inspired destruction has shocked the world.
Our Freetown elite are not destroying the forests of Freetown out of ISIL-like religious fanaticism. ISIL is using hammer and explosives to destroy temples and images that are thousands of years old – irreversible and irreplaceable damage to a heritage of all humanity. In their destruction of the tropical rainforests in the mountains of Freetown, the ISIL-like elite of Freetown could be said to be replicating ISIL destruction of historic artifacts. Or, even worse…..
The Western Area Peninsula Forest Non-Hunting Reserve (known was WAPFoR) has been upgraded to a national park status in June 2013, as the Government of Sierra Leone declared in the Statutory Instrument No. 6 of 2013, Supplement to the Sierra Leone Gazette Vol. CXLIV, No. 22, dated 16th of May, 2013.
The forests of Freetown have been declared one of the world’s biological hotspots. G.D. Field, a scientist, carried out work in the Freetown forests in the 1960s and early 1970s and recorded 316 species of birds. In 1990, two other scientists, Ausden and Wood, recorded 186 species over a period of three months. A total of 374 species, including occasional migrants from as far as Europe, have so far been recorded. Over 50 species of mammals have been recorded in Freetown’s mountain forests – of which seven species are primates: Western chimpanzee (En), Red Colobus monkey (Vu), Black-and-White Colobus Monkey, Sooty Mangabey (NT) and Diana monkey (Vu). From tropical rainforests such as are in Freetown are found one out of four ingredients used by modern pharmaceutical companies to manufacture medicines. Import of this: the biological raw material for a medicine that could lead to billions of dollars in the global pharmaceutical industry could be lurking in these forests. The mountainous terrain had protected the destruction of these forests for centuries, while the rest of Sierra Leone has lost over 85% of its virgin tropical rainforests; but, now, with ‘development’ brought in by roads, these forests are threatened. Severely! Urgently!! This piece is not primarily on the invaluable nature of the tropical rainforests in Freetown, it is about these forests as a source of drinking water for a city population of mainly youth, who could be politically volatile.
We need ‘three Guma dams for Freetown’
Maada Kpenge told me that Guma dam will not be adequate to supply Freetown with water even in decades ahead. “We need three Guma-type dams to supply Freetown with water sustainably, with exponential growth of the population of Freetown”. The Guma MD got more specific: “Beyond Sussex, there is problem with water… There is not adequate supply of water in the IMMAT area of Regent”. The water catchment area of Freetown which is a Forest Reserve “is seriously under threat…” Forests being chopped down to clear land for construction of houses; forests cleaned for establishing marijuana farms, are the “threats”.
The new road constructed from Hill Station through Regent to Grafton and Jui is splendid to behold, singing triumphantly, “development”. But, Maada Kpenge told me that “The Orugu Bridge area from Regent to Grafton is a major catchment area – especially to supply water to the Eastend of Freetown”; the road has opened the area to more construction of houses. Also, as hundreds of vehicles use the road daily, their fumes pollute the air, and the dam. This could be killing the Orogu Dam which Guma had hoped would be used to provide water for people in the densely populated Eastend of Freetown.
President Koroma’s government has reached an understanding with Chinese investors to get water from the Rokel River to the East End of Freetown. This will cost about $300 million. How soon this will be is left to everybody’s guess. It will not mitigate the monumental damage being done to the forests in the mountains of Freetown, however.
Untapped greater economic wealth from Freetown’s forests
Genetic resource in these forests being lost; water catchment areas being diminished…are just two of their great values being lost: another value is that the areas where these forests are located are the ‘traditional lands’ of the Krios of Freetown. A large number of Africans were captured from the “Grain Coast” area (what is today Liberia and Sierra Leone) and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold as slaves in the Americas during the over three hundred years of the Protracted Holocaust of the Atlantic Slave Trade. At the end of that heinous trade in human beings in the 18th Century, the largest numbers of freed slaves were returned to Africa, to Freetown, and became known as “Krios” (“Creole” in the Carribean) – with land given to them by the British colonialists in these mountain forests now under threat. Land squatters, and rich people seeking land for their mansions, are bullying these people, Krios, from their ‘traditional lands’. Now, the descendants of those who sold them into slavery are forcefully taking lands from them – land given to them by the British. This can be said to be a perpetuation of the Evil Forces that made possible the Atlantic Slave Trade.
On the other side of the Atlantic, those freed slaves who remained in the United States yearn to ‘return home’ – psychologically, if not physically. A lot of African-Americans in the US are now doing genetic tests that trace their roots to Africa, to Sierra Leone. This is still virgin touristic potential for Sierra Leone. Hundreds of millions of dollars can be earned by Sierra Leone when what is now known as ‘Root Tourism’ is tapped. Sierra Leone will certainly lose its sheen as a ‘Land of Freetown’, with the evocative name of its capital city, “Freetown”, if the returned Africans, the former slaves, are wantonly shoved off their traditional lands in the mountains of Freetown, and these lands are ecologically devastated. It is tragic that the ISIL-like Freetown elite are destroying these forests which have such enormously multiple economic potentials. Now, you would agree that in my labeling the few of these short-sighted and selfish Freetown elite as “ISIL-like” I have not exaggerated.
I am optimistic that the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma and his APC majority in Parliament that has made into law the Western Area Peninsula Forest Non-Hunting Reserve ( WAPFoR) in 2013 to protect these forests would lead the way for a ‘Grand Coalition’ against those destroying these forests – like the Grand Coalition against ISIL. For forests. For water. For life. For human dignity.
(TO BE CONTINUED)