Stakeholders in Kailahun district including Paramount Chiefs, Speakers, Women and youths from all 14 chiefdoms over the week end,March 7 gathered at the chiefdom headquarter town of Pendembu in the East of Sierra Leone to make plans for the commemoration of March 23, the day the first shot was fired to declare war in the country.
The meeting was organized by the National Commission for Social Action and was facilitated by Forum of Conscience, a human rights organization implementing Fambul Tok, a community reconciliation project in Kailahun, Kono and Moyamba.
In his opening remarks, Chief Administrator, Kailahun District Council who chaired the meeting took time off his speech to extend appreciation to Forum of Conscience for bringing people together through the Fambul Tok project. He said Fambul Tok continues to champion community reconciliation in the country. He went on to state that after the war the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed but not everybody has the opportunity to go to the Commission adding that Fambul Tok has made it possible for people to reconcile.
Bockarie Buannie said the purpose of the meeting was for stakeholders in all chiefdoms to make plans for the commemoration of March 23 scheduled to take place in Bomaru town and also for NaCSA to kick start symbolic reparation in the district
In his welcome address, host Paramount Chief, Cyril Foray Gondor of Upper Bambara chiefdom said the meeting was very important for the people of Sierra Leone. He said Upper Bambara was the first district that was attacked by rebels adding that thousands of lives were destroyed including property.
Chief Gondor told his audience that if January 6, 1999 is commemorated March 23 is also significant and perhaps more important t as it was the day rebels entered Sierra Leone. He stressed that March 23 should be a day for national reflection. He said diamonds were only used as catalyst to fuel the country’s war adding that they were not the cause for rebellion.
He said they are happy for Fambul Tok initiative to bring people and communities together. On behalf of his colleagues, Chief Gondor once again extended invitation to H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and other dignitaries to visit Kailahun on March 23.
Giving an overview of the reparation programme, Programme Manager, Reparations, NaCSA, Amadu Bangura said everyone has rights to education, shelter, food etc adding that during the war those rights were taken away from majority of Sierra Leoneans. He said because of the violation of these rights and based on recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commendations, government has deemed it fit to support victims.
Bangura disclosed that five categories of those that suffered from the conflict such as Amputees, war wounded, children (orphans) raped victims and widows would be considered.
The Programme Manager told the people that government supported perpetrators stating that it was the first step to take the guns away from fighters and engaged them in productive activities. He said government has now focused on those that suffered from the war by providing education for children from primary to Senior Secondary level. In addition to that Bangura said government will provide certain facilities such as Fistula centres, skills training, grants and support to micro projects. Bangura was full of praise for Forum of Conscience for facilitation the meeting.
Executive Director, Forum of Conscience and Programme Director of Fambul Tok, John Caulker said reconciliation does not come from outside. “We believe Sierra Leoneans have answers to their problems” Caulker said adding, “Fambul Tok walks alongside communities and believes in meeting people in their communities and that is why we are here to plan together for March 23. He went on to state that women and youth should have a say in whatever decision any community wants to take and therefore called on all to work as one family. He mentioned that reparation is the beginning of a long-term process. The Director also said FOC is partnering with Catalyst for Peace, a U.S based foundation that supports community reconciliation in post conflict countries.
District Chairman for Fambul Tok, Chief Maada Alpha Ndolleh highlighted some of the activities undertaken by the project for the past one year. He disclosed that series of activities such as traditional ceremonies have been held in nine chiefdoms adding that very soon all chiefdoms would be covered.
Former Member of Parliament, Lydia Kutubu also acknowledge the work of Fambul Tok in Kailahun district. She said if everybody works as one family the district will develop. She mentioned that Bomaru should be transformed to a tourist centre.
Another speaker included Paramount Chief Musa Ngombugla Kallon of Jawei chiefdom.
However during the meeting, the 14 chiefdoms were divided into three groups to draw up activities for March 23. At the end of it all they agreed on the following: sensitization (discussions, jingles in all local languages) through the use of radios, printing of T-shirts by NaCSA, fasting, feasting, fambul reconciliation match on March 22nd, bonfire, cleansing of the bush-March 22,symbolic reburial, pouring of libation, disco, traditional and cultural performance, planting of peace trees on March 23.