Fleeing the Jurisdiction

Murder safari
February 2, 2007, 2:45 am
Filed under: Sierra Leone
Our difficult progress to Kailahun, along routes more riverbed than road, left the driver muttering mutinously in Mandingo and me with the distinct sensation of my internal organs being rearranged in alphabetical order. This remote province had been the stronghold of the RUF for near a decade, its border with Liberia allowing for easy transport of arms and ammunition from the caches of Charles Taylor. Cut off by this affiliation from even the modest development enjoyed by the rest of the country during the strife-filled 1990s, Kailahun was already at a disadvantage. Post-war, the many combatants born in these parts had generally not returned to the villages and communities that had witnessed their atrocities. The Sierra Leonean government, however, is perceived by many to see Kailahun as home to sympathisers and collaborators, and to act out its reprisals by withholding funds for hospitals, roads and schools.

This part of the country is littered with unmarked monuments to the terror of war. Touring the area in search of our few ex-RUF contacts, the journey became a grisly travelogue. Here to our left was the slaughterhouse in which fifteen captured Kamajor hunters were gutted. The road cutting through which we were passing was the very one on which was killed Rashid Mansaray, who had, early in the movement’s development, ceded control of the RUF to his elder, Foday Sankoh. Legend has it that Mansaray, set upon by the high-ranking cadre of RUF thugs known as ‘The Vultures’, had pleaded innocence to the spurious charge of betrayal, pouring water from his canteen on the dirt and invoking God to make it pour uphill as testament to his honesty. The water turned from its downward path, upsetting gravity and onlookers alike. The Vultures shot him anyway, for witchcraft.

Next stop was the bridge that saw the murder of the movement’s intellectuals, 53 of them, down to the man whose death warrant was effectively signed by his writing the RUF anthem. Man after man was shot with a single bullet to the head and pushed into the water. The movement, shortly after, forgot its initial principles and commenced a further spree of bloodletting. Further along the road was pointed out the house in which an army leader’s wife had been gangraped, prompting a miscarriage to deepen the tragedy. Her crime was that her husband had been accused of stealing diamonds intended to secure a shipment of weapons. At our destination, a sign at the village’s centre declared “Buedu is violence free”. As we noted the radio command where orders for the decimation of whole communities had been issued, this seemed to me a sick joke indeed.

Gallows humour was the order of the day, however. A suggestion that an RUF commander who had widowed a woman he desired by sending her husband to the front (mirroring the Biblical story of David and Bathsheba) was by dint of this act, a holy man, drew gales of laughter. Some biologists will tell you that the reflex of laughing is an evolutionary legacy; its staccato outbursts each echoing a threat curtailed. Humour thus speaks of an unburdening relief, joy at the realisation of survival. As my companions’ laughter rang in my ears, however, I felt the burn of bile rising in my throat, and tried to suppress it. Instead, this caused hiccups. It was hilarious.


1 Comment so far
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Very well written — and very interesting!

Comment by Jennifer Cascadia

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