''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol XII No 1

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Thursday February 18, 2016 - Six Sierra Leoneans crucified by the courts. Their crime - daring to protest against perceived terrible living and working conditions that have destroyed their way of life...thanks to an anti-people thing passing for a government in Sierra Leone.The heroes of the struggle against neo-colonialism in Sierra LeoneThe children for whom a new heaven on earth is being created by a rogue government.

Two weeks ago today, State House controlled judiciary in Sierra Leone caused six activists protesting against the government-assisted land grab vultures to be slammed with heavy fines and from all accounts prison sentences because they dared to protest in a country where Sierra Leoneans are not allowed to raise their voices in anger should they perceive they had been robbed of their lands and natural resources.

What makes this court decision even more anti people is that, according to reports, the protesters dared destroy forty palm plants/trees belonging to a perceived land grab French company, Socfin.

Forty palm trees in a country where the palm tree grows in many areas and from which Sierra Leoneans, even before the arrival of Socfin had devised ways and means of getting dividends from - brooms to sweep and clean their homes and surroundings, palm oil that is used in cooking many a delicious dish and as animal scientists would tell you, the leftovers can be a component of animal feeds.

Who in Sierra Leone would not know about, if not tasted the refreshing taste of the palm wine dubbed by many who ply the villages and hamlets as "from God to man"? Who would not know about the oil that is derived from the roasted "nuts" derived from within the hard kernel of the "banga" that is roasted and forced to yield the oil therein known as "natai"?

One can go on and on to such derivatives like soda soap and natai soap. So why should the state join perceived land grabbers in punishing Sierra Leoneans in their own God-given land and on their own farmlands to keep quiet when their way of life was being turned into an industrial enterprise that would only benefit Socfin and some elements in the anti-people set-up passing for a government - a government that should put the interests of its citizens first?

This is not the first time we'd seen and heard reports of how the uncaring cabal will use each and all illegal means including the security forces and the judiciary to side with so-called investors when the people decide that they should raise their voices against what they see as the stealing of their lands and livelihood. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone has published a report after the Bumbuna protests that saw one Sierra Leonean woman Musu Conteh deliberately targeted and murdered by police who were sent to the area on the direct orders of the rat at State House.

Their mission - to protect the interests of the so-called investors against the wishes of the people who own the land.

A visit to the website of the company at the centre of all this, Socfin, gave us this as a part of its commitments. It was signed by one Luc Boedt as CEO.

"The SOCFIN Group strives to be a leading responsible tropical agro-industry company. Our approach to business is guided by the principles of Sustainability, Continuity, Inclusivity and Transparency. ...We strive to fully implement best practices in all areas of our operations and in all dimensions of sustainability, such as protection of the environment, community development, working conditions and in our supply chain. We engage our stakeholders proactively and our activities must create and share value while maximizing the positive environmental and social outcomes.

To that end the Socfin Group is committed to:

• Ensure that its business and operation practices are aligned with globally recognised social and environmental standards, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards.

• Respect, support and uphold fundamental human rights according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

• Respecting Land Tenure Rights;

• Respecting the Rights of Indigenous and Local Communities and Respecting their rights to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent (“FPIC”) to operations on lands to which they hold legal, communal or customary rights

• Respecting and recognising the rights of all workers and ensuring that the rights of all workers, including contract, temporary and migrant workers, are respected according to local, national and ratified international laws and that international best practices are adopted where legal frameworks are not yet in place. Socfin does not accept any forms of Forced Labour, Bonded Labour or Child Labour

• Actively and constructively engage with all stakeholders, including communities, governments, suppliers, civil society and others.

• Improving our processes for the responsible handling of all complaints and grievances and to resolve them in consultation with relevant stakeholder in an Open, Transparent and Consultative Process.

Most international newspapers and news outlet reported this outrage against the people with all of them basically saying -

"A court in Sierra Leone has convicted six people of destroying 40 palm trees that belonged to a French company accused of land grabbing in the West African nation. The defendants also were sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay more than $10,000 — an enormous sum in the deeply impoverished country.

Among the defendants was the leader of a land owners association that has accused European agribusiness company SOCFIN of land grabbing. Protesters say SOCFIN's agreement to farm the land lacked adequate compensation and transparency.

SOCFIN, which is owned by the French company Bollore, has over the years denied any wrongdoing, saying it has complied with all government laws and regulations."

A number of local news outlets, more so those benefitting from the handouts from corruption as well as those feeding fat from the droppings of the rat at State House in Freetown somehow did not consider this outrage against the people worth reporting for fear that they would anger their masters at State House.

This is not the first time that tension between the rat's "investors" and the people has come to the fore resulting in violence.

Kindly recall that the BBC had a special Africa Debate programme on Friday February 24, 2012 in which the land grabbing issue was discussed and in which representatives of the government and civil society groups participated. This was the report we carried after that successful and very interesting debate.

One organisation among the many that has been advocating for justice for landowners, more especially the people who live on the land and the surrounding flora and fauna is the Oakland Institute which has within its sights the goings-on in Sierra Leone.

A Sierra Leone-based organisation that has been at the forefront in the fight against the exploitation of land and other resources belonging to ordinary folks is Sierra Leone Green Scenery whose top gun Joseph Rahall has been a target of both the invading exploiters and the anti-people setup passing for a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

Socfin would have us believe that it is committed to the human rights of the people affected when it decides to "invest" insisting that it goes ahead with projects after consultation with all those involved. We would advise them to take a look again at their Commitment pages and to tell the European Union and other agencies just how much consultation was done with the real people who own and live on the land on which they have been sustained for decades.The affected people - they are not allowed to criticise deals made by the government on their behalf.

This is Sierra Leone in the 21st century ceding land to what is clearly a neo-colonialist enterprise and the whole process oiled by a corrupt cabal that includes the rat at State House, his functionaries including MPs and the Judiciary as well as the armed wing of the APC, the OSD thrown in for good measure.

That the people could have been agitating against the activities of Socfin is a clear indication that something was not quite right. That the people could have seen flaws in the whole agreement and were therefore calling for a review of wha

We are talking about fifty years of industrial agricultural production - and after all those years what would happen to those once-fertile areas that were a part of the life styles of the many communities affected?

And the judiciary, keen to rub in the salt into the wounds of the aggrieved deemed it necessary to please the Executive and Parliament, both compromised entities levied fines that the poor people of Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun cannot afford.

This is not the first time the Judiciary has been used by the government to suppress the rights of the people.

In November 2013, an on-line campaign was initiated by people who know that something was not quite right with the land deals of the government. The protest campaign was over the arrest and detention of six members of the Malen Land Owners Association, MALOA.

This was a part of the online letter -

"according to the environmental and human rights organization Green Scenery in Sierra Leone, five members of the Malen Land Owners Association (MALOA) were arrested and jailed in early October, 2013...They are alleged to have uprooted oil palms on a plantation of the Socfin Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of Socfin.

Green Scenery itself as well as several journalists and media outlets in France have already been sued by the Socfin and Bolloré groups for libel and damages because of critical reports on the companies’ activities in Africa.

We cannot see a legal basis for the charges and the arrests. Instead, it seems to be the goal of Socfin and its main stockholder, the French Bolloré group, to threaten and criminalize the local population and the organizations insisting that their land rights and their human rights be respected, and to force them to surrender.

The jailed members of MALOA should be released immediately, and all charges and proceedings against the local population, organizations, journalists, and media outlets should be abandoned. We call upon you to give the local people their land back, to respect human rights and the freedom of the press, and to protect nature."

The 2013 protest letter gave the names of the arrested six at the time -

"Honorable Shaka Musa Sama, Former MP in the area and spokesperson for Maloa; Sima Mattia, Secretary General of MALOA from Kassey, arrested on Oct. 11; Kennie Blango, Financial Secretary, from Bamba; Lahai Sellu from Massao, Foday Musa from Wallah, all arrested on Oct. 7; and Musa Sellu from Massao, arrested on Oct. 8."

The UK-based Guardian newspaper has an article which delves into the real beneficiaries when it comes to stealing of land from the people by uncaring governments - one of which sits comfortably in Freetown.

Part of the article observes -

"Kato Lambrechts, senior policy officer for Africa at Christian Aid, said a key problem was the government's claim that only 11-15% of the country's arable land was being "used", and there was plenty of room for foreign investors.

"This shows a lack of understanding of the way the country's smallholder farmers, who account for nearly half of working age Sierra Leoneans, use the land," she said.

"They rely on an extremely diverse and complex mosaic of land types – upland farms, land depressions prone to flooding, swamps, tree-crop plantations, fallow bush and river-line grass areas to grow a wide variety of crops.

Much of this land is deemed 'unused' – but that is far from the case."

The report criticises the tax breaks offered to foreign companies to encourage them to invest. It calculates that over a 10-year period an estimated $188.8m in tax revenue will be lost by the government as a result of special tax deals with Addax Bioenergy and Socfin.

The report says that before the investments, people tended to eat two or three meals a day after harvest. This might drop to two, or only one meal a day, during the hungry season. After the investments, people began to eat up to two meals a day, even at harvest, formerly considered a time of abundant food. Some said they had lost year-round access to fruit from trees on their land, which had complemented their diets, before the trees were felled for the plantations.

We are of the considered opinion that had the rights of the people not been mortgaged and sold down the river by an uncaring government, entities like Socfin would not be having a field day trampling on the rights of the people to protest. Socfin and others can only look down with scorn on protesting land owners because of a corrupt system that sees no wrong in colonising vast tracts of peoples lands for so-called development ventures.

Why the government did not use the oil palm groves outside the Waterloo area is quite puzzling for we believe that developing that area would have saved Socfin all the present hassle, but then the company was offered the Malen area by a government that only thinks about what goes into the pockets of individuals rather than the common good.

We found this bit particularly interesting -

Haringsma said: "It [the report] is so one-sided it makes me want to cry. I'm so sick and tired of defending myself as if I'm doing something wrong. What we do is not ideal, everything we do could be done better, but today we pay salaries to almost 3,000 people, who have no land and had no job until we came.

"How would the situation be if we are not there?

I know the difference we make – wells, latrines, schools, scholarships, zinc on the roofs everywhere, small businesses thriving.

Nobody goes to bed hungry in the evening any more."

Haringsma accused NGOs of making it difficult for firms to invest:

"As major investors, we do not need Sierra Leone, but Sierra Leone needs us to come out of the miserable situation after the war. To block big-scale rice production projects is in my eyes almost criminal."

This sounds like the plaintive cry of the colonialist who has come with a civilising mission that is not been accepted by the "natives" who had nothing until they came.

At least they had their lives to live and it is not because of a war-devastated economy should Sierra Leone be prepared to accept any and all so-called investments.

We say no and would call on these "investors" to do a re-think of what things might have been if the situation was reversed and Sierra Leoneans dared to invest in the vines that produce the many wines of France.

And talking about bringing in the money for a cash-strapped economy, we would advise the government to take a good hard look at this article which questions the level of tax rebates dished out to "investors". It states in part -

"Tax breaks for international mining and agribusiness companies in Sierra Leone have cost the west African country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues, according to a group of NGOs.

In a report published on Tuesday (pdf), international and local organisations working in Sierra Leone warned of a perilous "race to the bottom" as governments in the region scramble to lure foreign investment. They said tax breaks for investors have done little to help the country's poorest people, draining resources needed for critical public services.

In 2012, tax incentives primarily for just six firms amounted to 59% of the entire government budget – more than eight times greater than spending on health and seven times higher than the amount spent on education.

"The scale of revenue losses is alarmingly high," says the report, which stresses it has found no evidence of illegitimate activity by companies named.

"The government is being far too generous to foreign investors at the expense of developing the nation. Mining companies, in particular, have been granted excessively large tax incentives."

Using figures obtained from the National Revenue Authority, NGOs estimate that the government lost $224m (£134m) to tax breaks in 2012, equal to 8.3% of GDP. In future, the public purse could lose much more: if existing trends continue, said the report, tax write-offs in the country, where roughly 53% of the population lives below the national poverty line, could soon exceed $240m a year.

Alvin Mosioma, director of Tax Justice Network Africa, one of the NGOs that worked on the report, said: "Hosting foreign investors requires government investment in infrastructure, while local people often face pollution, land grabs and forced resettlement … Society can benefit from the employment investors bring, but mining and agribusiness provide few jobs. So instead, we should benefit from the taxes the investors should pay."

Another report has this reminder and perhaps a cure for the complaints of the people -

"Pujehun District, in southeastern Sierra Leone, was badly affected by the civil war which ended in 2002. Green Scenery activist Joseph Rahall - has been an adovocate for the proper management of the environment in Sierra Leone

Today, the district is one of several parts of the country where the government is seeking to attract foreign investment to set up industrial oil palm plantations.

But local communities are rejecting the handing over of large tracts of land to foreign companies. Two companies – Socfin, the local subsidiary of a Luxembourg-headquartered corporation controlled by the Bolloré group, and India-based Siva Group/Biopalm Star Oil – have between them acquired rights to an area of nearly 90,000 hectares across five chiefdoms in the district.

The affected villagers say no proper consultations were held to enable community members to understand the deal before they were required to sign documents, and many are refusing to give up their lands.

The incident in December is only the latest in a series of hostile and increasingly violent reactions by the authorities to communities' resistance to the loss of their land.

In December 2012, 101 members of land-holding families in the Pujehun district wrote to Sierra Leone's Human Rights Commission complaining about the lack of consultation, the destruction of crops and land, and persistent harassment by the district's Paramount Chief, the police and Socfin personnel. Local NGO Green Scenery also carried out a fact-finding mission into the land deals in the District and published a report.

Socfin's local subsidiary responded by filing a suit for defamation against the NGO. And then in October 2013, says Williams, the company accused several community members of destroying palm trees belonging to it.

“Six people were arrested,” says Williams.

“The charges against them – one is incitement, two is conspiracy and three is destruction of company properties. Those are the complaints made against those six arrested by the Socfin company.”

They were held for several weeks before being granted bail at the end of November. One of the six was among those arrested outside the police station in Sahn on December 9th. Williams says that the community members are committed to stopping the company, despite the violence and intimidation they face. He shares the story of Safiya Vandi, who refused to allow her land – sold without her consent – to be destroyed to make way for a vast oil palm plantation.

“With strong heart and strong mind, the woman stood in front of the bulldozer so that they could not clear her land,” Williams said. “And her interruption stopped the work for that day. And cases like this may likely come up frequently, because community members' complaints are not being listened to.”


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