Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Land Conference Communique


The Kingtom Communique

Adopted at the National Conference on Land Governance for Agricultural Development and Community Benefit held at the Senior Police Officer’s Mess, Kingtom, Freetown on 11th – 13th July 2016

 We the participants,

having discussed issues pertaining to land governance for food security, agricultural development and community benefit and considering the critical nature of land tenure in Sierra Leone and the connections between land ownership, livelihood especially for the poor and marginalized and failure to protect and promote human rights;

acknowledging the respective roles of the multiple stakeholders (state, private sector, Development partners, civil society, media, traditional leaders); and being desirous of supporting nation building, protecting and promoting tenure rights, peaceful co-existence, national development and for government to be accountable; demanding that

relevant laws, policies and strategies promoting economic growth, peace,  prosperity, food security  and poverty alleviation; ensuring that

the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), the implementation of the National Land Policy and ensuring that issues on land natural resources and the environment are fully provided for in any future new  Constitution.

 Do identify the under-mentioned issues:

1.      That the vast majority of the people depend on land for livelihood, mainly through smallholder agriculture and mining.

2.      That land ownership in Sierra Leone is fraught with a lot of difficulties and confusions; existing challenges ranging from inequitable land access and large-scale land acquisition to lack of geo-spatial and cadastral information system, conflicting interest of land use for public and private purposes, and corruption.
3.      That evidences of injustice in the land sector arising violations of women’s tenure rights, marginalisation of other vulnerable groups, criminalisation of land rights defenders, informal and unplanned settlement of land disputes, non-transparent processes and agreements that do not reflect the value of land for land-owning families and land users, environmental degradation and deforestation could be a recipe for violent conflicts if left unaddressed.

4.      That the act of determining land lease prices by government for community and family land, and the 50% tax levied on lease fees is considered unfair and irrational.
5.      Evidence of power imbalances and weak capacities to claim rights as most communities do not benefit from investments in land while at the same time losing the basis of their livelihood.
6.      The Cabinet approval of the current National Land Policy (2015) is commendable but concerted action and engagement by the civil society, administration and local authorities is required for the realisation of justice and equity in land tenure.
7.      The effective implementation of the new land policy shall require new institutions and mechanisms for effective and meaningful participation of man and women in Sierra Leone.

To this end, we demand the following:

1.      That there is a need for harmonization of efforts among relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) and other stakeholders in developing and implementing land related policies with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
2.      Strengthening the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of land, Fisheries and Forest [VGGT] in the context of national food security.
3.      That non-citizens ownership of land in Sierra Leone be limited to leases not exceeding 25 years and renewal every 10 years, subject to approval of  community members land owning families.
4.      That a National Land Commission and decentralized land committees be established that ensure representation of civil society, land owners, land users, women and youth.
5.      That certain outdated land laws be repealed by Parliament in order to engender fairness and equity in the ownership and use of land in the country.
6.      That Land management and use should be within the context of promoting poverty alleviation, food security, livelihood and engendering national economic development.
7.      That special emphasis be placed by the government and other relevant stakeholders on addressing issues affecting women and other vulnerable groups in land acquisition, ownership and access.
8.      The role of civil society is acknowledged as facilitating agent for meaningful and peaceful participation of communities affected by large scale land investments.
9.      That Government demonstrates strong political will in the implementation of the National Land Policy and effective natural resource governance.
10.  The state shall facilitate and not hamper or criminalise civil society efforts to monitor the implementation of the VGGT, but strive to maintain cordial community-investor-state relations through dialogue and non-violent engagements.
11.  That awareness raising, sensitisation and monitoring of land documents/instruments be supported by the state and development partners for effective and efficient land governance.
12.  That Government commits to invest more funds to support the speedy implementation of the National Land Policy as well as to facilitate the enactment of a new land law for Sierra Leone.

In conclusion

We the participants of this National Land Conference commit ourselves to increase collaboration and coordination in order to give a voice and power to our people-for the benefit of Sierra Leone.

We encourage everyone with this line of our National Anthem:


When a Catholic Father Honours His Vows

Special Feature

When a Catholic Father Honours His Vows

By Abdul Kandeh Turay

Growing up as a kid in Italy, little Maurice could hardly imagine that his life would one day make a meaningful impact on the lives of many in a small African country called Sierra Leone.

He had to abandon his comfortable life in Europe to come to a war torn country in Africa at a crucial time when many were packing their bags to leave, citing security concerns.

Till today, the Catholic Priest, Maurice Boa, has no regret choosing to come down to Sierra Leone to serve humanity and God Almighty.
I really wanted to tap from the reservoir of experiences Father Maurice Boa has gained over the last two decades, especially the most touching ones bordering on humility and human relations.

He has spent 21 years working to impart knowledge in the lives of Sierra Leoneans, young and old. I lured him into an exclusive interview without formal protocols of a prior notification about my visit. It was the first time for me to meet with the catholic priest in his modest office at the Murialdo Institute compound, Kissy, in the east end of Freetown.

“At the beginning when I came to Sierra Leone the problem was the war”, he began to recall the genesis of his life in Sierra Leone.
Maurice started helping amputee victims since 1997 in Murray Town and Waterloo in 1999.   

The high level of cruelty displayed by the rebels during the war touched him personally, for which he set himself on a mission to help out.

He met the first set of amputees in Makeni and later in Waterloo where he said he had his first baptism of a very terrible and bad experience.

He told horrible tales of a child whose hand was cut off with machete when rebels entered the church where they were taking refuge.

Worst of it and to his greatest surprise, the rebels burnt a plastic bag and dropped the melting fire into the eyes of the little girl at the time.
“She is a woman now of 25 years attending the Freetown Teachers College (FTC)”, he said quietly.

Another one, the catholic father said, was when he sat down one day with a little girl whose arm was completely amputated. Father Maurice’s emotion was charged with sorrow as the girl narrated her ordeal that she can’t forget what happened to her. Every day she looked at herself, her body reminds her of that cruelty. 

“I have forgiven them”, the catholic father repeated exactly what the girl told him. That of course he remembered to be a touching experience in his life for a girl to forgive those who chopped off her hand.

It became incredibly difficult for Father Maurice to come to terms with the girl’s courage to forgive her perpetrators irrespective of the cruelty she suffered in their hands. The girl, he explained was 13 years at the time. But thanks to God, he told me, 

“She is now doing fine, and is in school”.
Till today, after 20 years of working in Sierra Leone, amputees still continue to benefit from accommodation, education and medical facilities in most of the homes the Father built for them. 

He is currently constructing a pediatric hospital at Waterloo for the children whom he considered to be the most vulnerable and easy to die. The Murialdo Home which till now since the war provides social services including education for amputees is among the numerous projects Father Maurice can be seriously proud of.

According to Father Maurice, the Murialdo Home at Low Cost, Kissy, “Is the first home for amputees in the country”.

On the achievements recorded by the home so far, Father Maurice informed that the home has groomed hundreds of amputees, some of whom are in universities and two presently in Italy pursuing further studies.

Apart from the amputees, he is also helping the deaf, dumb, blind, leaper and orphans. For the orphans, the catholic priest is presently assisting 134 Ebola orphans in Waterloo in addition to giving micro finance credit to youths.

The Roman Catholic priest noted that his overriding goal is to make amputees become self reliant or less dependent on others for their survival.

The priest has spent his entire adult life in Sierra Leone working as a philanthropist and educator, alongside his mission’s agenda.

Maurice’s love for humanity is a passion that builds up in him, and one that has made him become a noble and notable servant of God, serving the needy and socially marginalized in society.

He is a blessing to thousands of kids who lost either arms or limbs to heartless individuals.

“Presently I’m helping Ebola orphans with the help of my friends in Italy”, he concluded.

Shekpendeh Newspaper Is Born

Editorial Comment

Who We Are!!!

The word 'Shekpendeh' refers to the eagle in the Kono, Sherbro and Mende local parlance. The eagle is on record as having perhaps the best sight amongst birds worldwide, with a capacity to spot objects from a thousand kilometers or even more.
Shekpendeh Newspaper is designed therefore to give premium to investigative -exploratory journalism and human rights reporting, as well as promoting the tenets of media for peace.

The main aim of Shekpendeh Newspaper is to serve as the official mouthpiece of the wider civil society body in the country and to join other media houses in the advocacy for good governance, adherence to the principles of the rule of Law, respect for human rights and a violent free society where love for each other abounds.

Countless number of human right interest stories are lying dead waiting to be woken up. Justice for the aggrieved however delayed is crucial if only to consolidate the negative peace the country currently enjoys after an eleven years civil war that left thousands killed, thousands including innocent women and children  heartlessly amputated or indecently assaulted, and thousands more left either physically or psychologically displaced.

Against the backdrop that there can be no peace without justice, it suits us as journalists to do what we can to restore the happiness of aggrieved persons in society, using the media as an effective tool for achieving that.
It is our belief that Sierra Leone is at crossroads. It is also our belief that all is not lost if only we can all resolve to put things right and make the country the paradise it was destined to be.

The media has a great role to play in this drive. It goes without saying that nothing succeeds in practical terms in Sierra Leone presently without the use of the media.
Neither the government nor stakeholders in politics, civil service, diplomatic circles and civil society get through to the general masses without the media. The effective use of the media is therefore very crucial for the peaceful cohesion and development of the nation.

The media is thriving in Sierra Leone, thanks to the relative press freedom enjoyed by journalists, despite the maintenance of the seditious and libel laws in our law books, deemed to be repressive.

Shekpendeh Newspaper is coming at a time when the country is experiencing an impressive media revolution. This is evident by the number of newspapers, radio stations and television stations currently in operation. Standard Times Newspaper and the African Young Voices for instance can now boast of running media empires consisting of a newspaper, radio, television and a printing press, while most newspapers like AWOKO, Premier Media, Global Times, Salone Times and Concord Times to name a few, have gone coloured and some equipped with their own private printing facilities. 

Coming from the civil society and human rights angle, Shekpendeh Newspaper's editorial standpoint will differ significantly from a number of other media houses. 
We shall be biased in the best interest of the general masses and the country as a whole, while at the same time maintain a high level of objectivity and development journalism.

We shall cover events carried out by all sectors of society including government, political parties, civil society organizations, workers, students, teachers and lecturers and so on, and shall create as many partnerships as possible. This is so because we believe in achieving common objectives collectively.

Shekpendeh Newspaper will operate as a registered non-governmental and non-partisan media organization and shall dedicate lot of time and space to human interest stories as well as conducting training sessions for journalists and community people on various thematic issues.

We are here to serve and to stay. Please join us to make our objectives met. 

Land Conference Report courtest of Shekpendeh Newspaper

Culture Radio/Green Scenery End National Land Conference 

By Theophilus Sahr Gbenda and Ilyasa Baa 

With support from Bread for the World and Welt Hunger Hilfe, Culture Radio FM 104.5 and Green Scenery, have ended a three-day national land governance conference, held Monday 11th – Wednesday 13th July 2016 at the Sierra Leone Police officers Mess in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Under the theme ‘Our Land – Our Right – Our Responsibility’, the conference which brought together civil society organizations working on land rights, print and electronic journalists, landowners as well as land users from across the country, aimed at highlighting the gaps in land deals with multinational companies investing in agriculture and how a win-win situation can be achieved so as to avoid imminent conflicts.

At the opening ceremony witnessed by distinguished personalities from government line ministries such as the Ministry of Land Country Planning and the Environment, security forces including the police and army, international non-governmental organizations, donor agencies and the German Embassy in Freetown, statements aimed at dilating on the complexities and realities surrounding large scale and long term land acquisition by multinational companies, were made.

Research based power point presentations on key thematic issues such as the current land situation in the country as it relates to international investments in land, the possibilities and challenges of the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of national food security (VGGT) and the current status of the legal reform process around land – the new National Land Policy, the chapter on land in the abridged version of the constitutional review process and road ahead of implementation, were also made.

In his statement, Dr. Alphajoh Cham representing the Ministry of Land Country Planning and the Environment, spoke about the land tenure system and governance in Sierra Leone, pointing out that existing challenges range from inequitable land access and large-scale land acquisition to lack of geo-spatial and cadastral information system, conflicting interests on land use for public and private purposes, and corruption.

Dr. Cham said the relevance of the new National Land Policy is anchored on the fact it is a national priority under Pillar 2 of the Agenda for Prosperity 2013-2018, strategy 7.3 under the Post-Ebola Recovery Plan, and it also in tandem with goals 15, 11, 5, 2 and 1 under the Sustainable Development Goals (zero hunger, gender equality, sustainable cities, poverty eradication etc.).

The specific objectives of the policy, among other things, he said, is to promote land law reforms, ensure tenure security and protect land rights, promote equitable access, promote sound land use planning and development, decentralize land administration and reduce/eradicate land disputes and/or conflicts.

In his statement representing civil society organizations working around land rights issues, Executive Director of Sustainable Environment and Development Association (SEDA) Bun Wai, said, the country’s land tenure system is burdened with major challenges of poor governance and inequitable distribution.

He noted that the assumption by government and local authorities that investors are indispensable in achieving national economic development has greatly undermined the rights of ordinary people to own land, stressing that government is constantly transferring ownership of land from poor families to so-called investors through unfair deals that are not predicated on free, prior and informed consent.

Injustice in the land sector, Mr. Bun Wai who happens to be the Acting Coordinator of the Action for Large Scale Land Acquisition Transparency (ALLAT) said, could be a recipe for conflict and political unrest, unless the right steps are taken to right the situation.

Muniru Koroma representing the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) on the special chapter on land in the upcoming new constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone explained that the abridged version of the new constitution recommends the maintenance of the two tier land tenure system and the removal of all forms of discrimination on land ownership in the country.

He said to protect citizens’ land rights, the CRC recommends that non-citizenship ownership should be limited to lease land for a period not exceeding 25 years and subject to approval by the community and/or land owning families.

According to him, well over 30 old land laws are to be repealed by parliament in order to engender more fairness and equity in the ownership and use of land in the country, adding that there is a recommendation which sprouts from the National Land Policy for the establishment of a National Land Commission.

Delivering the keynote address, the German Ambassador to Sierra Leone Ambassador Wolfgang Wiethoff echoed that the people and Government of Sierra Leone own the land reform process and therefore bear the responsibility of determining which trajectory it should take.

Ambassador Wolfgang Wiethoff reiterated the fact that vast majority of the people depend on land for livelihood, mainly through agriculture. This he pointed out is as a result of the fact that other sectors have not been able to provide adequate employment opportunities.

As the reform process progresses, he said all stakeholders should ask the following question along the way: Are there adequate laws? Are the laws too old? Do the laws treat everybody equally? Are policies and laws fully implemented? Is there the political will?

He went further to say that land management and use should be within the context of poverty alleviation, food security, creating job opportunities and engendering national economic development, adding that Sierra Leone has the potential to produce enough food for the open market and for export.

The role of civil society organizations and the media, Ambassador Wolfgang Wiethoff maintained, is as important as the success of the reforms hoped for.
He congratulated Culture Radio and Green Scenery for organizing the conference, concluding that the role of the German diplomatic team is to observe and provide support for the land reform process.

Presenting an overview on international land deals in the country, the Programs Manager of the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF), Abass J. Kamara, said since 2007, there has been rapid large-scale land takeover from poor and vulnerable people mostly farmers by big mining companies and multinational companies operating in the agricultural sector.

He said the widely accepted view that Sierra Leone has abundant arable land has been contradicted by empirical research which states that there is already pressure for arable land in the country.

Mr. Kamara added that land deals such as those struck by Sierra Leone China Agricultural Development Company, Socfin Agriculture, African Land Limited and the defunct ADDAX Bioenergy, are appalling and unrepresentative of the people’s interest.

The consequences of bad land deals he went on, include destruction of livelihoods, increased potential for conflict and other social problems.
On the current status of legal reform process, Lawyer Sonkita Conteh, head of the legal aid group NAMATI emphasized the need for mass awareness raising around land related issues.

He said most people do not have access to information, do not know what they have, what their rights are and how they can defend these rights. NAMATI, he said, provides assistance in this regard. He disclosed that the act whereby government sets prices for community and family land is illegal and also withholding 50% from land sale proceeds by government is blatant thievery.

Lawyer Sonkita Conteh referred to the new National Land Policy as a good policy and that its full implementation is the next important step for stakeholders. He emphasized the need to transform the policy into law for it to have full legal effect. The question as to whether the laws would be codified into one law or several still lingers, he stressed.

On experiences from Sahn Malen, an affected community in Pujehun, former Member of Parliament Shiaka Musa Sama who happens to be the spokesman of the Malen Affected Land Owners Association (MALOA) said there is constant harassment and intimidation of MALOA members, a civil society organization formed to articulate and defend the rights of land owning families.

On the way forward, he said government must set up among other things, an independent body to investigate the issue and pay commensurate compensation to people who have lost their lands.

Madam Maria Teresa Perez Rocha from the World Rainforest Movement (WRM) in Uruguay, delivering a presentation, said her organization provides support to communities that grapple with the challenge of defending their territories and forests against multinational companies.

She said WRM, since its establishment, has provided support to communities affected by large-scale industrial tree plantations in Latin America, Asia and Africa, adding that large scale industrial tree plantations often create severe problems and conflicts for local communities.

Awareness raising and media engagement, she noted, have exposed bad companies and this has had serious repercussion on their finances.

Also making presentations at the conference where Joseph Rahall of Green Scenery, Christian Schultz of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) who spoke about the importance of the VGGT in protecting land rights and Peter Pijpers representing Natural Habitat, one of the multinational companies operating in the country. 

Despite being critical of him, conference participants praised the Natural Habitat manager for honouring the invitation to deliver a statement regarding the operation of the company and its impact on communities affected by its work. This is so because multinational companies hardly attend such events. 

The conference ended with the formulation of a National Advocacy Strategy and a National Media Strategy, as well as a communiqué demanding for positive changes in the country’s land governance system.

Special guests at the conference were Marion Aberle, Head International Advocacy Team of Welt Hunger Hilfe in Germany, Caroline Kruckow and Andrea Mueller from Bread for the World in Germany and Maria Teresa Perez Rocha from the World Rainforest Movement in Uruguay.