Aminata Fabba of MALOA talks about the struggles of the women in Malen to get their lands back from the SOCFIN agribusiness company to a gathering of villagers in Mamanka, Bureh Chiefdom, Port Loko, Sierra Leone, as Aminata Massaquoi of Culture Radio records her testimony, 20 February 2019 (Photo: GRAIN)
Malen women cry for help
by Aminata Finda Massaquoi
SOCFIN, a multinational agribusiness company, arrived in Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun district, Southern Sierra Leone in 2011 to embark on a large-scale investment in palm oil production for the European market.
SOCFIN is controlled by Hubert Fabri, a Belgian businessman and the French multinational business group called Bolloré. Both have developed business empires in many parts of Africa.
On March 2011, SOCFIN signed a lease agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone to acquire 6,500 hectares of land without free, prior and informed consent of the largely affected community people. Earlier than that, the paramount chief and 26 landowners had signed an agreement to cede their land to government through the Ministry of Agriculture, which was the first step for large scale seizure.
Prior to the arrival of SOCFIN, local women used to depend on agricultural activities as a key means of their economic survival. Changes as a result of the signed agreement denied them access and control over their land. With fewer alternatives and choices, women in various communities, especially the elderly lost their source of income and have been impoverished. They can no longer grow their own food and therefore don’t have enough food to eat and feed their families all year round.
A month ago, violent incidents were reported in the SOCFIN plantations ,especially in the Sahn Malen chiefdom, in an apparent brutal conflict between security forces and community people, which led to the death of two and the arrest of 15 people, including the Honorable member of parliament Shiaka Sama.
In another development, the Women’s leader of the Malen Land Owners and Land Users Association (MALOA) and two others were arrested and detained for several days. Explaining her ordeal, Madam Hannah Deen narrated how she was dragged out of bed around 1am on that fateful day.
She explained how she was molested and beaten by security personnel. She said they made her sleep on the bare floor and was denied the right to use the rest room the whole of the night, an experience she said is worse than what she experienced during the rebel war. She said everything happened suddenly and took them by surprise.
Talking to this medium, women of Malen expressed their disappointment in everything that has happened in their communities, stating how their families have been torn apart. Women suffer the most in crisis because there is a lot attached to them.
’’A lot of people fled to the bushes for fear of arrest or being beaten because there was a list of people purported to be members of MALOA and supporters of Hon Shiaka Sama who has been advocating on our behalf concerning our lands,’’ Amie Fabba explained.
"Our rights have been tampered with, our children are out of school, our husbands have fled to other villages and the border areas, all we had was looted from us and we were left with nothing. We now depend on family members and friends in other towns for survival,’’ she concluded.
Sexual violence, teenage pregnancy and early marriage were three things that stood out when talking to the women. They explained that SOCFIN only brought them tears instead the good life they promised. There are reports of young girls being violated against their will and parents could not say anything because they are powerless and financially broke. Children are no longer obedient to their parents because they cannot provide for them. Marriages are being torn apart largely due to activities of staff working in the company.
The women of Sahn Malen are calling on the government of Sierra Leon to restore peace in the chiefdom by firstly withdrawing all armed security personnel so that they will have the confidence to return to their various communities. They are also demanding that their lands returned to them so they can go back to their farms for their own agricultural activities and be able to take care of their families.
’’We want to see our dignity as women being restored. Our young girls should remain as girls and not mothers. Our right to assembly, movement food is all we ask for,’’ Fattia, one of the victims, stated.
All that is needed by these women now is how to fix their broken pieces of their lives again especially this time when the very little that was left is all gone.