Fleeing the Jurisdiction

Fire, fire
January 31, 2007, 1:53 am
Filed under: Development, Law, Sierra Leone

Packed into the NGO standard-issue white four-wheel drive along with the full complement of interpreters and investigators, we made a late exit from Freetown, speeding along roads fit to make a civil engineer weep. At regular intervals, we would pass the sagging shapes of other vehicles mournfully stopped kerbside like defeated triathletes. Palms punctuated the landscape. The RUF’s symbolic use of these ubiquitous but top-heavy, shallow-rooted trees, easily toppled by strong winds, now seems absurdly prophetic. I was to find, though, in the following days spent upcountry with ex-combatants, that some still see – or wish to see – life in the fallen movement.

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Making a killing
January 11, 2007, 3:27 am
Filed under: Development, Law, Sierra Leone

Most Sierra Leoneans seem to support the general thrust of the Special Court’s work, recognising the need to provide a deterrent to despotism and root out impunity. The need for this to occur in an environment that upholds human rights – even the rights of the accused – largely receives grudging acceptance. What rankles, however, is the the expense. There’s no denying that the trials, both in terms of duration and associated infrastructure, are a massively costly exercise. Donor countries, including Australia, justify this, reasonably enough, as an investment in the future stability of the country. The enduring benefits are, however, often confined to this abstract and unquantifiable category. The practical, tangible dividends are few. The Court building itself, for example, is fitted with full-length bullet-proof glass partitions that make natural ventilation impossible. In order to make it habitable, enormous generators are required. It is widely hypothesised that when the Court is handed over to the Sierra Leonean government in a flag-waving ceremony of partnership and magnanimity, it will immediately become a white elephant utterly unused by a community that, without the UN to ship in tankers of fuel, simply does not have the electricity to run such a facility.

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Meeting the devil in Monrovia
January 3, 2007, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Development, Government

A housemate here in Freetown had worked with the UN in Liberia, and travelled regularly back to visit her partner there. She seemed pretty well connected and had passed along some details, promising to make arrangements on my behalf when she visited for Christmas. Unfortunately, it appears illness intervened – she never made it. So it was with some trepidation, but nevertheless more determination, that I set off – to a country rarely described without the prefix ‘war-torn’ thanks to the ravages of Charles Taylor’s regime – and with no more than a phone number by way of planning. Having endured the short flight run by Slok Air, whose cabin crew helpfully suggested using the seat cushions as flotation devices in lieu of lifejackets, I managed to bluff and smile my way past the customs officials wanting their holiday season ‘dash’, or graft. I sat myself down next to the dried cow hoof vendors, hoping that my hasty and half-heard calls, trading on faint associations, had turned up a contact to meet me at the airport. I needn’t have worried.  I was greeted with broad smiles and was swiftly adopted by a circle of new Liberian, Nigerian and Guinean friends who quizzed me on Australia – how far was it? how easy to get a job? – on the long ride through blue-helmet checkpoints into Monrovia. A local convent offered cheap, clean rooms and simple food, so I dumped my bag and joined the gang at a roadside cafe for a political discussion, fueled by strong ‘atayeh’ tea, that ran late into the night and spanned English, French and (testing my ear) various creoles.

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