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Southerners on border with Liberia complain of being treated as foreigners

By Mohamed T. Massaquoi

When you are a citizen of a country in which you reside and yet you do not feel part of it, the experience can be complicated. That’s the situation for the people of Sorogbeima and Makpele chiefdoms in the southern Pujehun District. And they are calling on the Sierra Leone government to take up its responsibilities by treating them as the citizens that they are.

The two chiefdoms are close to Liberia, to which theirpeoplesfeel more connected even if with mixed feelings.The biggest town in the area is Jendema, which is in Sorogbeima and is the border town linking Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Prince Manah Kemokai, town chief of Jendema, said “because the Sierra Leone government had abdicated its responsibilities of taking care of the people, they [the people] hadbecome closer to Liberia so much so that  they risk losing their Sierra Leonean identity”.

Jendema is situated at the edge of the Mano River Union border, about 93 miles to the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Chief Kemokai said they entirely depended on the neighbouring country for their survival which explained why they tended not to speak Sierra Leonean languages.

“There are people in the Sorogbeima chiefdom who have never been to Bo, or Kenema or even Freetown [the Sierra Leonean side] their whole life,” the chief said in an interview with Politico.

Jendema, because of its strategic location, is a major trading community, attracting people from as far as Liberia and Guinea. This way it serves as a major revenue source for the Pujehun District Council.
The Town Chiefsaid they had only five hand pumps in the township, none of which was functioning for the last one year. He said they had to fetch water from the Mano River and nearby streams for drinking and other domestic chores.

Amidst the Liberian influence the people of the two chiefdoms are worried about losing their Sierra Leonean identity. Chief Kemokai said their children were no longer observing their own culture. And he attributed that cause to the fact that their children had gone through the Liberian education system, from senior secondary to university. He said in some cases they even attained their primary and junior secondary school education in Liberia.

The people of Sorogbeima and Makpele even depend on Liberia for news and communications. Most of them are subscribed to the Liberian telecoms operator, Lone Star Cell.

Hajie Commander Sheriff, youth leader in the Sorogbeima chiefdom, lamented the state of the leone as a currency and how it’s virtually useless in their part of the country.

“Even our currency has novalue to our own people because they entirely get their commodities from Liberia and as such we trade in the Liberty [Liberian dollar],” Sheriff said.

“Our money [leones] can never be allowed in their own country,” he lamented, stressing that the terrible nature of the road network leading to any part of Liberia from Sierra Leone had also made life difficult for them.

Amoh D. Pabai, a civil society activist in Sorogbeima,summed up his frustration in many of the community’s people.

“We are really suffering in terms of our living condition,” he said, noting that their only source of livelihood hadbeen fishing, which mostly occurredin the Sulima community. Pabai said that was onlysuccessful in the dry season.

He said the rainy season and its characteristically bad weatherhad also made life even more difficult for them, partly because theyhad usually experienced low catches.

“Based on the fact that we are neglected by the government in terms of development, this has created marginalisation for us among our Liberian counterparts,” he said, adding that most of the time the Liberianswere wicked to them andthat most of the time they had even bannedthem from buying food items from Liberia.

“But we have no option,” he said, adding that while the commodities in Sierra Leone were priced reasonablycompared to the situation in Liberia, accessing them is the problem. He said from Jendema to Bo to Kenema,covering between 80 and 85 miles,it cost Le70,000 by motor transport and over Le100,000 by motor bike,whereasit cost L$200 [LiberianDollars] to Monrovia, which is equivalent to Le10,000 for a distance of 93 miles. He said the cost of traveling to Monrovia is cheaper because the road is well paved.

Pabai said one has to spend a whole day travelling to Bo or Kenema,while it takes just about four hours to reachMonrovia.

He fears that the fares will double in the raining season.

The cost for a bag of rice presently isat Le200,000, which is high for most of the residents of the two chiefdoms.

But Bockarie Buannie, Chief Administrator of the Pujehun District Council, disputed the fact that they get most of their revenue from Jendema. He also denied that they have neglected the two chiefdoms in terms of development. He told Politico in an interview of plans to implement a pipe-borne water project that includes Jendema. He said the five hand pumps that had gone out of service would also be rehabilitated.
“Very soon their problems will be addressed…We have even consulted their councilors for the identification of the water points," he said in a telephone interview.

(C) Politico 21/04/16