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10 Aug 2007 00:00
Mohammed Jalloh leaps in celebration after scoring a goal on a makeshift pitch along Lumley Beach in Freetown. He’s 23 and loves football.
Like his hero, Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas, he is a midfielder.
Taking up his position again, Jalloh prepares for the restart.
Jalloh had his lower leg blown off by a landmine during the 11-year civil war that devastated Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002. “At 15, when I lost my leg, I lost my education and that is a big problem,” he says.
After the game, perspiring from the exertion, Jalloh explains why he will not be voting in Saturday’s elections. “I don’t support any of the political parties because I don’t have confidence in them. In 2002 I voted, but I don’t see any change; they are all the same people and they do nothing for me.”
Instead Jalloh will spend election day on Saturday like any other, hanging out with his friends down at Aberdeen Road Market. One of his friends is 25-year-old Junior Kamara, another keen footballer who also lost his leg to a landmine and who is equally sceptical of Sierra Leone’s politicians. “Up to now the government does nothing for us just because of the selfishness and wickedness of these bad people,” says Kamara, referring to the rampant corruption that helps keep the country the second-poorest in the world.
Like Jalloh and Kamara, more than half the 2,8-million people registered to vote in Saturday’s presidential and parliamentary polls are under the age of 32 and most make up part of the country’s 80% unemployed. They are frustrated and eager for change, but see little chance of getting it.
History is against them. Sierra Leone’s patriarchy is entrenched, with traditional power held by chiefs, who control the regions and have tended to pay scant regard to the concerns of the younger generation. In the Seventies and Eighties the corrupt rule of Siaka Stevens transformed Sierra Leone into a tribal, one-party state, which left many without jobs, healthcare, education or political power. When the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters began their rebellion in 1991, they took advantage of the frustration and anger among the youth to build support.
The RUF leadership harnessed resentments, but their own motives were less than noble as they rushed to secure the rich diamond mines of eastern Sierra Leone, enriching themselves and fuelling the war by purchasing arms with “blood diamonds”.
The 11-year conflict was one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars, characterised by the use of child soldiers and the appalling abuses and torture committed by all sides. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor is facing prosecution in The Hague for his alleged support of the RUF.
When the war ended in 2002, there were more than 70Â 000 former combatants, many of them youngsters. They gained nothing from the war and—five years on—many feel they have gained little from the peace.
Saturday’s elections are unlikely to change that. The ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) candidate is 69-year-old Solomon Berewa, whose elderly appearance belies his youthful-sounding nickname, “Solo B”.
His main opponents, Ernest Koroma of the All People’s Congress and Charles Margai of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, are in their 50s and 60s respectively.
Both Berewa and Margai are seasoned political operators, while Koroma is a relative newcomer who emerged to stand (and lose) in the last elections in 2002.
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