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.
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
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
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
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
• 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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?
the difference we make – wells, latrines, schools,
scholarships, zinc on the roofs everywhere, small
Nobody goes to bed hungry in the
evening any more."
Haringsma accused NGOs of making it difficult for firms
"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
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
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.
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
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.
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
But local communities are rejecting the
handing over of large tracts of land to foreign
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
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
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.
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
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
“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.”