Sierra Leone, a small country of about 7 million people in West Africa, known for its mineral wealth in diamonds, gold, bauxite, iron ore and rutile, is also naturally endowed with fertile land for agriculture, which over the years has attracted multi-national companies who come in with fabulous promises of development to the people but leave them further impoverished and cheated out of their God-given resources.
Successive governments have gone into agreements with these companies looking at the benefits or development they think the country will gain, and not considering the many challenges attached to such agreements. Most of these companies disregard their promises and end up exploiting rather than bringing the much needed development opportunies.
Women and children in the rural areas where these multi-national companies work in agriculture or mining are the most affected.
Our women in areas like Pujehun in the South, where Socfin Agricultural Company operates, Kono, where Koidu Holdings operate, Port Loko, where we have the Sierra Agricultural company, which has folded up because the people stood against them, are suffering and are deprived because these companies have not kept to their promises of development. Most of these women have been marginalized and they can’t speak out because of traditional limitations designed to keep women silent. They are deprived of using their lands to fend for their children, while mothers and daughters in most of these communities are being exploited sexually, physically, and emotionally.
Why are governments neglecting our concerns? Are we going to die in silence? Why are these companies superior over us in our own land? Is this not another form of modern day slavery? Do we have to be second class citizens both home and abroad? What will we tell our children tomorrow?
These and so many other questions are asked on a daily basis by citizens who live in the so-called development operational areas of these companies.
“We want to go back to our land, that’s our own office.” One woman told me recently in Pujehun, where huge tracts of arable land have been illegally acquired by SOCFIN Agricultural Company, and the poor populations deprived of its most basic of rights.
Most of these companies sign contracts with the government for more than 30-50 years. This leaves the people helpless and at the mercy of the mulit-nationals because it is difficult to reverse these agreements especially when there is no political will.
The previous government signed an agreement with Socfin Agricultural Company, which most of the people thought was not in their interest and needed it to be reversed, but the current government, which was in opposition by then and who had promised the people of SahnMalen a reversal of this bad deal if they were voted in has not done anything, almost two years down the line.
The women of Malen are calling on the government to intervene as soon as possible so that they can have access to their lands since that is all that they know.
Their lives depend on it, their dignity needs to be restored, their daughters need to respect them again and their husbands need to come home looking confident like men who can take care of their families.
As we celebrate the International Women's Day 2020, Remember the Malen Women especially Madam Hannah Deen who is still in court for different allegations.
Exploitation cannot be development, something needs to be done.