Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Taylor verdict absorbed by a region that can forget, but not forgive

Twenty-odd miles from Sierra Leone's seaside capital of Freetown, the tiny hamlet of Grafton lies off a rutted dirt track. In a clearing surrounded by a cluster of low, sand-coloured buildings, three old men idle their time away under the shade of a mango tree, watching goats and chickens wandering past. It's a sleepy rural scene – marred only by the fact all three are missing an arm or leg.

The men are a lingering reminder of the war that gripped this tiny nation of 5 million for over a decade, ending only in 2002. Sorie Sawanah, a former taxi driver, rarely speaks about the day he became one of the statistics of the brutal "Operation No Living Thing", when drug-crazed child soldiers rampaged through Freetown in 1999.

On the eve of Charles Taylor's conviction for "aiding and abetting" such attacks as he and his allies sought control of lucrative diamond fields, Sorie maintained his silence. "I don't want to recall them days," Sorie said, covering his face with a shaking hand.

Sorie's son Ibrahim had nightmares for years about the scene he witnessed cowering behind a bush. "A child soldier give my father 'short sleeves'. A boy 10 years of age carrying a long military knife. He say, I dey chop your arm, your arm go fly! Then he mark," Ibrahim mimes a machete tapping at his elbow, "one, two, three – cut arm final! But the arm no cut right, so he cut again."

"Today it is like we are free. I will sleep well, well today. All these years Taylor lived well, but I can never go to school because my father cannot earn money. Today we can forget, even if we never forgive," Ibrahim said.

Like many in the country ravaged by 10 years of war, money was too scarce to make the short trip to the Freetown-based Sierra Leone special court where several hundred had quietly cheered the downfall of Taylor. Instead, Ibrahim received the news from a friend in the capital, and in turn set about passing the news by text message.

To read the full article, please go to the Guardian website.

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