By Ornette Turay, March 2019
It all started on November 30 2014. It was during the peak of the West Africa Ebola outbreak that affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Gbassay Kamara’s husband, Abdulai Kamara had left her, and their five children at their Grafton Displaced Camp home in the outskirts of Freetown for work. Then a few hours later, ‘’I received a call from one of his workmates that my husband had fallen ill and had been taken to one of the government hospitals,’’Gbassay vividly recalled. She had not noticed any visible signs of ill-health from her husband when he left home that day for work.
Later that same day, Abdulai was pronounced dead. They say it was from the deadly hemorrhagic fever. As is standard procedure during Ebola outbreaks, Gbassay and her five children were quarantined for 21 days. She said they were left without sufficient food. The camp where they reside was short of safe drinking water, and the sanitary condition posed a danger to the health of her children in addition to being restricted from moving out and about, and playing with other kids. “My family and I depended on handouts from people who sympathised with our situation,” Gbassay recounts.
She and her kids did not have the benefit of giving a befitting funeral to their lost loved one. “I would never know where my husband’s grave is until I die,’’ Gbassay sobbed.
Left with no breadwinner for the family and care for the kids, Gbassay’s biggest worry in addition to grieving for her deceased husband was where to call home for her and the children. The Grafton Displaced Camp was about to be shut down, and the house her late husband was constructing was still far from completion.
Thanks to Jamie, a Good Samaritan neighbour close to her late husband’s unfinished house, Gbassay and her kids were given some place to lay their heads. It was a reprieve – a cramped room with a bare floor. While this was what they needed, it did not go a long way to solving their situation permanently. She needed more. And out of nowhere, the Jamil and Nyanga Jaward Foundation stepped in and changed their lives probably forever.
They evaluated proposals of a group of widows sent to them and selected Gbassay as the recipient of a small business grant. They, however, realised that accommodation for Gbassay and her kids was a problem, “ and we agreed to complete the house,” Jamil disclosed. With resources from their pockets, they got a contractor to complete the house, make it habitable and fully stocked the shop with wares for her to start a business that would support Gbassay, and the children.
And on Tuesday, November 6, last year, her tears of sorrow were turned to tears of joy when she received the keys and cut the ribbon to her newly finished house at Grafton, in the outskirts of the capital, Freetown. Guests who were in attendance were also emotionally touched. She had never thought that she would be a proud owner of a beautiful home. “Sleeping in a modern home completed for my kids and I by the Jamil & Nyanga Jaward Foundation is a big blessing from God,” she said.
At the ceremony was Deputy Minister of Mines, Madam Evelyn Blackie. She expressed gratitude to the Jamil and Nyanga Jaward Foundation for their humanitarian efforts in restoring the dignity and
hope of Gbassay and her children. For her, “Jamil and Nyanga Jaward Foundation is determined to change the narrative of those who are less privileged in our society.”
Chairman for the occasion, Ambassador Rupert Davies described Jamil & Nyanga as passionate individuals in helping the needy wherever they serve in the world. “They have for the past ten years rendered financial and other assistance to the needy in various communities, and there has always been a desire to formalise a more structured programme that will have a lasting legacy and reach more recipients,’’ the Chairman revealed. Mr Lamin Mansaray, the Headman of Grafton Community,
described the event as a historical one in his community. ‘He appealed to the Foundation to extend its assistance to other
vulnerable people in his community. “We have many widows who lost their husbands to Ebola. We also have children who are
orphans as a result of the Ebola epidemic we had in the country,’’ the Headman appealed.
Speaking on behalf of the Foundation, the Country Coordinator, Reverend Josephine Bankole said, “ The Foundation found it
more beneficial to implement a lasting project by completing the unfinished building Gbassay’s late husband left.”
For over four decades, Africa ’s industrial development has little to write home about. According to some studies, the continent’s share of global manufacturing has fallen from about three percent in 1970 to less than two percent in 2013. With civil wars, famine, droughts, epidemics, and poverty, there is enough blame to share around. Sierra Leone, at the lower rung of the development ladder, has a population of about seven million people of which 60 percent is below the age of 25. However, the decade-long civil war in the 90’s; the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the mudslide in 2017 and other challenges have affected the country’s growth at an accelerated rate not least her potential for manufacturing or industrial gains.
Thanks to the Fomel Industry and National Industrialization Centre (FINIC), established by its Managing Director, Foday Melvin Kamara some years ago, manufacturing processing machines and conducting skills training for interested persons in industrial mechanics, this narrative is about to change. With its current staff of sixteen persons, FINIC has designed and manufactured a wide range of equipment in almost all of the value chain of rice, palm-oil, mangoes, pineapple, and groundnuts. Prominent among their designs are rice dryers, rice de-stoners, fruit juice extraction machines and palm-oil mills for various communities in the country, according to Kamara.
Added to this growing list of ‘Made in Sierra Leone’ machines that FOMEL has manufactured is the motorcycle ambulance, which hopes to bring added value to the healthcare delivery system across the continent. “The ambulance is a six-wheeled unit comprising a motorcycle otherwise referred to as a tractor unit and a canopy on four wheels reffered to as the trailer unit. Both are linked by a simple snap fit that can separate the two in seconds to allow the motorcycle to do other errands,” Kamara describes it. He also said that the canopy forms part of a door that opens sideways for boarding and disembarking of the occupant. “
A bed, inclined at 45 degrees at the front end of the trailer unit, provides a comfortable resting spot for the occupant- a pregnant woman or the sick while in motion. The bed forms part of a stretcher. The trailer unit has a suspension system that helps to reduce the effect of road bumps on the occupant. There is also a siren and flasher unit attached to it as a way of alerting other road users to the ambulance,” he adds.
The idea for the design and construction of a motorcycle ambulance was conceived during the Ebola epidemic. Due to the lack of adequate conventional vehicle ambulances, the former Minister of Energy, Mr Henry Macauley contacted FINIC and requested them to come up with something. Four months later, the Freetown-based entity with a branch in Port Loko produced the ambulance.
The Managing Director says “ the enormity of the opportunities available in the country is huge, and it is but smart to explore them. Enshrined therein, is a national gain by way of reduction on import dependency and capital flight.” He is however not lost on the fact that the requisite materials required for quality goods manufacturing are always an issue and may remain that way for a long time.
The technology used in the construction of the ambulance served as an opener. “ It cleared the path for the design and construction of a motor-cycle trailer used for the transportation of agricultural produce from the farm gate to the market centres,” Mr Kamara emphasised. Interestingly, spare parts of motorcycle brands available in Sierra Leone were used in the construction of the motorcycle trailer and ambulance.
Kamara, an engineer, heartened by the like of his passion for the manufacturing of machines sees himself as someone, “ who is always highly motivated and resourceful in making use of available resources in the country.”
His long-term plan is to seek a partnership with the private sector to operate this sort of ambulance service across Africa. “Running parallel to that is to license the design for fabrication and application elsewhere,” Kamara also revealed. For him, “ there is a growing awareness of ambulance service across Rural Africa.”
Regrettably, he noticed that budgetary allocation for healthcare, “ is always deficient to meet the spread of the service in remote areas where the motorcycle ambulance serves well.”
The Director believes what they do at FINIC is rare in Africa. However, he regrets that his work has not yet caught the attention of the government. His resolve though to remain committed to the contribution of the development of technology to help turn the farmer into a much more industrialised person remains unshaken. His demand from the government is for security, stability, energy and good roads.
Foday Melvin Kamara was born in Kamakwie, northern Sierra Leone. He attended the Government Technical Institute, Kissy.
Upon his graduation with a certificate in Motor Mechanics, he was offered a Technical teaching position in the same institution. He later proceeded to Germany for further advanced training in Automotive Engineering. On his return, he taught at the Sierra Leone Road Transportation Corporation Technical Training School until 2007 when he established FINIC. On his mind was to set up a business entity taking advantage of the enormous gap existing between manufacturing and consumerism in Sierra Leone.
“We have also committed our nation to the protection of the Girl Child, from rape, early marriage, exploitation, gender-based discrimination and other forms of gender-based violence. To that end, we will review and implement the Sexual Offences Act, strengthen legislation for women empowerment, women and persons with disability and strengthen child protection services. Let me reiterate that men who rape girls deserved to be jailed for life.” These were the words of President Julius Maada Bio in his maiden address to the nation this year.
If the last line of that statement sounds drastic or dramatic to anyone, they are obviously not following the issue of rape in Sierra Leone; it has reach proportions nothing short of epidemic. Yes, it is plenty bad! When talking about the incidence of rape as epidemic, there is the tendency to think of it as a scourge that has just been unleashed on girls and women in the country. No. It is a culture that has dug itself deep into our society over the years because of the impunity enjoyed by
perpetrators. Just like corruption.
We can safely suggest that even in the Western advanced nations, rape has been a thorny issue to curb, especially because traditional power differentials favor likely perpetrators, mostly men, taking advantage of the weaknesses society heaves on the female gender. If many cases of rape and sexual abuse go unreported in the advanced nations, one can only imagine how many sexual offenses are not reported in a country like Sierra Leone. That notwithstanding, the numbers are still astronomical! Police statistics reported a doubling of recorded sexual offences for 2018 to 8,505, up from 4,750 for 2017. Pissed of yet? Wait until you know that about a third of those, 2579, are minors.
The leading group dealing with rape victims, Rainbo Initiatives, claim upwards of 70 percent of their clients are minors, some of them literally babies. As if for good measure, just about the time the First Lady Fatima Bio was launching her flagship initiative “Hands Off Our Girls” with the avowed mission of ending, among other things, sex abuse, teenage pregnancy and child marriage, there was talk of one of those jaw-dropping rape cases making the rounds. At the auspicious occasion at Bintumani, where the First Ladies of Liberia, Ghana, Niger, Chad and The Gambia made statements, an obviously exasperated President Bio asked: “What kind of man rapes a five year old child?” That’s is because just round the corner from that venue, at the Aberdeen Women’s Center, a five-year-old was struggling for her life after sustaining spinal and other injuries from anal rape by a 28-year-old man. There was so much outpouring of sympathy for the child. I witnessed a Facebook fundraising effort donate 5 million leones to help with her medical bills. 98.1 FM Station Manager, Asmaa Kamara James, has been at the vanguard of awareness raising about these rape cases. She organized a protest of more than 500 women, clad in black, impressing on Freetown and the world the direness of the situation. Among them was the country’s first female Attorney General, Priscilla Swartz, who promises to reinforce the laws.
So far, there is boatloads of awareness and political will being summoned to combat the rape culture. But if we agree to call it a “culture,” more is needed for the fight. Fittingly, the word “triangulate” is perfect for capturing what needs to be done. Public awareness/Political will is just the first part. Also, we can never have a plenitude of the other two: good laws and a justice system that works, swiftly and efficiently. If the situation is such that of the thousands of cases mentioned above, only 248 were charged to court, and only 26 were successfully prosecuted, it is not for want of good laws. The Sexual Offenses Act passed in November, 2012 is almost exhaustive, contemporaneous and modern. The first 6 sections dealing with rape, put consent at the center of determining the crime, categorically stipulating that consent cannot be given by persons under the age of 18. That supersedes hitherto customary law that may condone childhood marriages. In fact, it makes the burden of proof of consent squarely on the defendant, even in the event of marriage as defense. For the purposes therein, the Act defines consent: “means agreement by choice and with the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” It covers
wide areas, including child trafficking/slavery, pornography, pimping and the mentally disabled. The penalty is pretty standard, 5-15 years jail sentence. One is yet to see anyone get the stipulated jail terms in spite of the gravity of most cases. In one high profile case last year, a 56-year-old man raped a 6-year-girl and got only a year of jail term.
The Justice System part of the triangle is the most ineffectual. The Human Rights Commission is among the chorus of people and institutions that have fingered the justice system for systemic failure. The odds stacked against rape victims most of the time, leading to a paltry 26 convictions, range from a lack of lab facilities for DNA samples, to inability to afford legal costs.
The Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police admits that many cases get settled out of court for above or related reasons. The President cannot talk any tougher on sex crimes or, specifically, rape. The First Lady’s “Hands Off Our Girls” has especial traction and women across the country are drawing attention to the scourge. The Sexual Offenses Act is pretty decent as is. What one needs to see is rapid improvement in a Justice sector which we sometimes erroneously limit to mean the courts and trials. There is urgent need for speedy and commensurable sentences to be handed down. We have to make rape kits ubiquitous in every nook and cranny of Sierra Leone, train our Police on evidence gathering and the forensics of
rape investigation. Any case that lacks solid evidence, lacks the potential for conviction. It is not rocket science! The ABCs of putting together air-tight cases against the perpetrators of rape must be provided for, urgently. The rest of the ducks will, hopefully, fall in row.
The time to end this abhorrent culture is now. We owe it to the tens of thousand girls, women, systematically raped during our war years and the hundreds, if not thousands, that are at the frontlines of victimhood or survivorship, every day!