Yesterday, January 6, we were with the Flying Stars Amputee Football Organization of Sierra Leone at the cotton tree. But before I pen what we did there yesterday, I want to reflect on what happened in Sierra Leone on the 6th of January 1999.
In the early hours of January 6, l999, rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launched an offensive against the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, capturing it from government troops and the soldiers of the Nigerian-led peacekeeping force known as ECOMOG, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Cease-fire Monitoring Group. Rebels invaded the city and began to torture, rape, amputate limbs, and massacre Sierra Leoneans.
As the rebels took control of street after street, they turned their weapons on the civilian population. By the end of January, both government and independent sources estimated that several thousands of civilians had been killed. The rebels dragged entire family units out of their homes and murdered them, hacked off the hands of children and adults, burned people alive in their houses, and rounded up hundreds of young women, took them to urban rebel bases, and sexually abused them. As the ECOMOG forces counterattacked and the RUF retreated through the capital, the rebels set fire to neighborhoods, leaving entire city blocks in ashes and over 51,000 people homeless.
WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY AT THE COTTON TREE WITH THE FLYING STARS AMPUTEE FOOTBALL ORGANIZATION: HOW WE WENT THERE, WHAT WE HEARD FROM THE VICTIMS OF JANUARY 6, OUR TAKE, AND OUR CONCLUSION:
My boss Sallu Kamuskay went to town yesterday and fortunately saw a group of amputees. I was at home when Sallu Kamuskay called me and said “Messenger, there’s an important story I’ve just seen and I think we should tell this story”. I asked him what was the story and he said “I saw a group of Sierra Leonean amputees in Up Gun roundabout commemorating January 6 and also advocating and sensitizing fellow Sierra Leoneans about the importance of peace, unity, and freedom. Please, put our gadgets together and meet there.” I hastily did and went there. But unfortunately, they were already heading to the famous cotton tree. My boss and I rushed to the cotton tree. We saw them, we heard their cries, we felt their pain, we saw their sadness in their faces, and we heard their voices, as they were all reflecting on what happened to them 22 years ago. All they were asking for yesterday is inclusion, support, peace, and for the government of Sierra Leone to commemorate January 6 as any other holidays they’ve been prioritizing (Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, Eid ul-Adha, Eid ul-Fitri, etc.)
We had an interview with some of them, I can tell you it was emotional. These people are not asking for wardrobe allowance, top-up the allowance, travel allowance, fuel allowance, rent allowance, etc. All they’re asking for is inclusion, stable financial support not just for them, but their kids also as many of them told us yesterday that they are finding it very difficult to raise their children and give them a better life, they’re asking for mental health support, and to observe or declare January 6 a national holiday as any other Western and Arab holidays that we’re observing, and lastly, they’re asking us all to maintain peace, love, and unity.
In conclusion, Salone Messenger believes that every Sierra Leonean deserves the right to live a better life irrespective of their political affiliations, tribes, religions, and regions. We’re pleading on behalf of the affected to please help these people; even though it’s your responsibility to do so, but we’re pleading.