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Malen Chiefdom holds peace dialogue amid growing tensions with Socfin Agricultural Company

Sierra Loaded | 30 November 2023

Malen Chiefdom holds peace dialogue amid growing tensions with Socfin Agricultural Company
 
The Malen Chiefdom, situated in the heart of Pujehun District, Sierra Leone, stood witness to a transformative Peace and Reconciliation Dialogue that brought together key stakeholders, notable officials, and representatives from various sectors.
 
This dialogue held at the Sahn Court Barray came in the wake of heightened tensions stemming from the presence of the Socfin Agricultural Company (SAC) within the Chiefdom, triggering significant discord among residents.
 
The gathering convened a notable array of figures, notably including Chief Honourable Mathew Sahr Nyuma, the Leader of Government Business in the Sierra Leone House of Parliament, Alex Ibrahim Sesay, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mohamed E.K. Alie, the Resident Minister of South, Civil Society Organizations, Malen Chiefdom Authorities, the Ward Councillors, and a multitude of concerned residents.
 
Amidst intensified conflicts stemming from the presence of the Socfin Agricultural Company (SAC) in the Chiefdom, the event aimed to address longstanding grievances and foster a path toward peace and development.
The Chiefdom has long grappled with severe conflicts arising from the operations of the Socfin Agricultural Company. Many landowners, unified under the Malen Affected Landowners and Users Association (MALOA), expressed vehement concerns regarding several clauses within the lease agreement with Socfin Agricultural Company (SAC) that is currently operating on almost all the Chiefdom’s land in palm oil production.
 
Honourable Member of Parliament representing Pujehun District, Hon Shiaka Musa Sama, who is also a strong member and notable figure of MALOA has been referred to as a freedom fighter throughout this course. He was in a dog and cat relationship with the late Paramount Chief, PC Brima Victor Sidi Kebbie III of Malen Chiefdom, claiming that he had been not advocating in the good interest of his subjects in the agreement and, hence was only interested in self-gain.
 
In the pursuit of peace, numerous peace talks involving high-ranking government officials, including Sierra Leone’s Vice President, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, were conducted, but they proved futile.
 
However, both Hon Sama and the Paramount Chief were elected to the Sierra Leone parliament in 2023 as Member of Parliament and Paramount Chief Member of Parliament for Pujehun District respectively. In parliament, both of them were engaged in arriving at a favorable destination to take action in restoring everlasting peace in the Chiefdom.
 
The Paramount Chief, PC Brima Victor Sidi Kebbie III, and Hon. Shiaka Musa Sama engaged in efforts to restore peace. Tragically, the Paramount Chief joined his ancestors before a resolution was reached.
 
Post the Paramount Chief’s funeral, Hon. Sama took the lead in initiating consultative engagements with aggrieved parties within the chiefdom. These discussions highlighted critical issues surrounding compensation, annual lease rent, alternative livelihood programs, community development plans, and employment welfare, among others.
 
During the Peace and Reconciliation Dialogue on November 19, 2023, Hon. Sama presented a comprehensive report summarizing the issues discussed during the consultations.
 
The following issues were raised in consultative meetings held with chiefdom authorities (Chiefdom Speaker and all sub-chiefs), members of the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA), and Socfin Agricultural Company (SAC):

PAYMENT OF COMPENSATION
The cases of land owners/land users whose lands/crops were not paid for should be investigated
 
Set up a committee to investigate and identify affected land owners/land users
 
Compensate affected land owners/land users
 
PAYMENT OF ANNUAL LEASE RENT
Public disclosure of the annual lease rent payments (20% for chiefdom and 50% for Landowners) for 2023
 
Public disclosure of an authentic list of land owners/land-owning families/heads of Land-owning families and the size of land leased by each family (to be done after the ongoing land survey)
 
The 50% annual lease rent paid to land owning-families/land owners should be deposited into family bank accounts (the amount should reflect the total acreage of land leased)
 
Open a special bank account and set up a Chiefdom Development Committee (CDC) to manage the 20% annual lease rent paid to the chiefdom. The Chiefdom Development Committee to include the Paramount Chief/ Regent Chief, Chiefdom Speaker, Member of Parliament, and representatives of local councilors, land owners, women and youth Leaders, etc.
 
Increase percentage (50%) of annual lease rent paid to land owners
 
ALTERNATIVE LIVELIHOOD/SELF EMPLOYMENT
Review the current administration of the boil and farming project to ensure inclusion and effective management (to make it sustainable and to maximize benefits for all and not for a few)
 
Support/improve inland valley swamp rice cultivation
 
Set up management and oversight committees for food security projects
 
Support livelihood skills training for youths
 
Assist deserving skilled land owners (masons, carpenters, well diggers, plumbers, hairdressers, etc.) with tools, microcredit facilities, etc.
 
REVENUE GENERATED FROM SALE OF PALM OIL SLUDGE FROM THE LAGOON AND PALM KERNEL FROM THE MILL
Set up a committee to manage sales and the percentage of proceeds from sales paid to the chiefdom by SAC should be deposited into a bank account and percentages allocated to honoraria for Paramount Chief and sub-chiefs, Health, Education, Community Development Projects, etc.)
 
EMPLOYMENT/WELFARE OF EMPLOYEES
Adopt a quota system for job recruitment/award of contracts to qualified land owners/indigenes and other Sierra Leoneans
 
Set up a committee for recruitment and award of contracts to enhance job opportunities for land owners/indigenes and other Sierra Leoneans
 
Provide reliable medical care for employees
 
Provide medical care and livelihood support for disabled former employees of SAC who had accidents while in active service
 
Reduce/adjust long and dangerous work hours and hazardous tasks, especially for women
 
Improve/increase salaries/allowances, transportation facilities, and the general conditions of service for company employees (including employed land owners)
 
HUMAN RIGHT ABUSES AND HARSH PUNISHMENTS FOR TRIVIAL MATTERS
Stop security raids on homes and looting of personal possessions of peaceful citizens while searching for stolen fruits
 
The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and private security companies in Malen should professionally perform their duties and should not commercialize their operations
 
Remove harsh punishments for alleged possession of small quantities of palm fruits
 
Remove/relax restrictions on the movement of palm oil belonging to peaceful citizens
 
Remove harsh punishments for alleged possession of small quantities of palm fruits
 
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PLAN AND CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Develop a Community Development Plan with specific projects, timeline and budget, after engaging stakeholders to identify community needs and priorities
 
Increase number of scholarships for deserving pupils/students, including tertiary institutions
 
Provide/improve on assistance to the sick, aged, physically challenged and other vulnerable groups, making it regular and more inclusive
 
Provide annual hajj tickets for deserving Muslims
 
Set up committee to oversee/implement/monitor all corporate social responsibility projects to promote transparency and accountability, and to maximize benefits for communities
 
Disclose/provide financial reports for all future Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects/donations
 
MONTHLY HONORARIA/ALLOWANCES FOR SUB CHIEFS
Increase monthly payments to sub chiefs. The current payment of one hundred leones (Le 100) to each Town Chief and one hundred and fifty leones (Le 150) to each Section Chief is generally considered low.
 
ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION
Ensure proper disposal of mill wastes and other wastes from SAC operations
 
Protect water sources from agrochemical pollution/contamination
 
Control dust and associated health hazards
 
Control flies and other pests
 
FRUIT THEFT
Reduce fruit theft through community engagement
 
Increase access to subsidized palm oil sold for household consumption
 
Support alternative livelihood projects
 
Increase access to microcredit facilities, especially for women
 
SUPPLY/SALE OF SUBSIDISED PALM OIL FOR HOUSEHOLD CONSUMPTION
Supply/sale of subsidized palm oil for household use to be extended to all sections and to last throughout the month instead of lasting for only a few days in the month
 
Set up a committee to manage supply/sale of subsidized palm oil for household consumption to enhance access, transparency and accountability
 
GRIEVANCES REDRESS MECHANISM/DISPUTE RESOLUTION
To review the composition of the Grievances Committee to include representatives of SAC, chiefdom authorities, land owners, elected officials, women and youth leaders etc.
 
Grievances Committee to look into cases brought before it without fear, favor or discrimination
 
Grievances Committee should be given the responsibility to look into some of the cases reported to the police in order to promote peaceful co-existence
 
CHIEFDOM GOVERNANCE
To reconcile chiefdom authorities and aggrieved subjects/land owners
 
SAC to support peace building efforts and avoid any interference that would raise tension or breed animosities in the chiefdom
 
Compensate sub chiefs who were unfairly removed
 
Any future election or removal of a sub chief should be done in accordance with the Chieftaincy Act 2009
 
The appointment of the Regent Chief and the election of the Paramount Chief should receive serious attention from government to promote peace and reconciliation
 
SAC to support the development efforts of local authorities and elected Representatives
 
CREDIBLE MEDIATION
Hon. Mathew Sahr Nyuma, Leader of Government Business in Parliament, and Mr. Alpha Ibrahim Sesay, the Minister of Trade and Industry, to lead dialogue/mediation Process.
 
Key figures such as Chief Hon. Mathew Sahr Nyuma, Minister Alex Ibrahim Sesay, Mohamed E.K. Alie and other attendees urged all parties to forgive past grievances, emphasizing unity for the greater good of the Chiefdom.
 
The Chiefdom Speaker, Robert Shegbeh Moiguah acting as Regent Paramount Chief echoed similar sentiments, as did representatives from SAC, notably Philip Tonks, the General Manager, who pledged the company’s dedication to restoring peace.
The event was a vibrant and successful gathering, drawing an influx of residents to the Court Barray in Sahn Town Malen Chiefdom, showcasing the community’s keen interest in reinstating peace.
 
A defining moment ensued as all aggrieved parties signed a Resolution, symbolizing a unified commitment to moving forward in peace. The event marked a significant step towards resolving long-standing disputes and fostering development in the Malen Chiefdom.
 
The collective efforts and commitments showcased during the Peace and Reconciliation Dialogue underscored a newfound optimism for a brighter future in the region.

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