Black Man’s Grave Book Presentation to CCBC 4/13/10Presentation Transcript
General Introduction to Sierra Leone
Equatorial West Africa
Poorer than Haiti prior to the earthquake
Long history of pre-war corruption and mismanagement
Origins of Black Man’s Grave
Gary Stewart: Lived/worked in the village of Fadugu in northern Sierra Leone from 1969 to 1970. He worked in the village Primary School.
John Amman: Lived/worked in the same village from 1979 to 1983. He worked as a Primary Agricultural Coordinator.
Both men met in Fadugu Christmas time of 1979 when Gary visited the town.
Both from Michigan.
Both became friends and made friends with many of the same people.
Story Behind the Story
In the Summer of 1999 Gary asked me to help one of those friends and his family make their way from the International to Domestic terminals at JFK.
They had won US Visa lottery and were on their way to Washington, DC. They had never been to US, were exhausted and overwhelmed. I helped them get to the bus to their DC flight. During that bus ride I went through the names of friends I had not heard from in months to learn if they were alive or dead and to understand what had been going on in the war, etc.
Some months after that meeting and after re-reading my own letters from friends in Sierra Leone, I contacted Gary, who is an author (“Breakout” and “Rumba on the River”) about a book that would use our letters to tell a story of the war’s affect on Fadugu. He said he’d do it if I co-authored the book with him.
Why Books By African Authors Are Important…
Why Ishmael Beah’s book is so compelling, outside the fact that it describes the accounts of a child soldier: It is also a first hand account of the war and of the region from an African.
In 500 years much of the literature about Sub-Saharan Africa has come from Europeans and North Americans.
Writers from this part of the world tell us much more about the complexities of their lives, their cultures and their societies.
Quick Sierra Leone Review
Ranked last, 179th on the UN’s Human Development Index, below Haiti, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Less than 25% of population has access to clean drinking water.
There is no reliable state source of electricity anywhere in Sierra Leone.
Literacy rate estimated between 34-24%.
Sierra Leone has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, 16.5%.
A child that lives through birth only has a 71.8% chance of living to age 5.
85% die from preventable causes.
Lowest life expectancy rate in the world for men, 39 years old, for women it’s only 42.
45% of all deaths are from easily preventable causes.
Ratio of doctors to citizens is 3 to 100,000.
‘Black Man’s Grave’ is sort of a play on words. Sierra Leone used to be called the ‘White Man’s Grave’ or Graveyard because of malaria, yellow fever, lasa fever, leprosy, parasites etc. During the 11 year civil war 1000s of Sierra Leoneans died.
To write a book that uses, as much as possible, letters from people living in Fadugu to tell the story of the war. The book is an attempt to allow Sierra Leoneans living through the conflict to describe its origins, its devastation and its affects on their lives.
Gary and I still feel strongly that the letters provided better insight and information than mainstream media coverage: NY Times, CNN, BBC, etc.
Village in northern Sierra Leone. Outside of the diamond district.
Relatively well run. Relatively uncorrupt. Good, hardworking, community leaders interested in improving the lives of their children.
3 major ethnic groups living and working very well together.
Some of the correspondents for our book, although not village or ethnic chiefs, were in their way community leaders contributing to the betterment of Fadugu.
The Correspondents We had a number of correspondents whose letters found their way into our book, however there are three main letter writers who letters shape the book’s narrative:
Had a long career as an educator in Fadugu’s primary school first as a teacher, then Head Master and finally as a Supervising Teacher.
Had seen and been affected by government corruption for years.
Had seen the SL education system steadily deteriorate since its independence.
When I was a volunteer in early 1980s teachers had to ration chalk. We took collections to purchase chalk and notebooks that the Ministry of Ed was supposed to supply.
Early on Bangura was an outspoken social critic even leading a teachers’ strike due to late salaries in 1980.
A.K. Bangura - Quotes
Dec 1987: The Ministry of Finance had promised to pay late teacher salaries, ‘but up to this hour I am writing you October and November salaries are still not paid. Teachers are the most wonderful magicians in Sierra Leone.’
Bangura, like other teachers in his country were always looking for ways to supplement their salaries, since government salaries were so unreliable.
Nov 29, 1989: In a letter describing both escalating inflation and government corruption: ‘This is the worst government our country has ever had. Everybody does what he likes. Smuggling, hoarding and profiteering are just too rampant and corruption is the order of the day. As you may have heard from radio and newspapers our Minister of Finance has been dismissed. He alleged to have stolen bags and drums of our money. The system is just too rotten and corrupt.’
Prewar corruption and instability were major contributors to the civil war. While it did not stop people from trying to start businesses or improve their lots, it hampered those efforts.
Initially interested in agriculture as a career, he studied at Sierra Leone’s Njala Agricultural University.
Later he and his brother Ali got a truck and began a shipping business that operated out of Fadugu.
In spite of having to bribe government officials and rising prices they managed things well and for a while were making a decent living.
However the country’s corrupt infrastructure did not make any of this easy.
Umaru Mansaray - Quotes
August 9, 1989: ‘The bank is not reliable. After you have deposited your money…they will not allow you to remove it whenever you want it… The bank will not allow their customers to withdraw more than Le 1000 [$16] each week. I have therefore advised my brother to buy goods instead of taking money to the bank.’
Even after buying a second truck things over all in the country had not improved.
August 18, 1991: ‘Things are going from bad to worse. With all our diamonds, gold and agricultural products things are still not good. In fact the rebel incursion from Liberia into this country has added salt to our injury. As for corruption, that is the order of the day. It will take a very long time before things in the country will improve. When the country’s economy is bad it is bad for everyone even those yet unborn.
December 12, 1992: ‘1/5th of the country is now in rebel hands. We are exposed to attacks… Don’t be surprised to hear that we are refugees in neighboring Guinea. The future of Sierra Leone is bleak. Rebels have destroyed cacao, coffee and now they have captured diamond rich Kono. Do you think this land will see peace again.
Also an educator. Had been a teacher, Senior Teacher and Head Teacher in Fadugu.
Grandson of the towns founder, Mamadou Mansaray.
Very strong ties to the community. Respected and considered a town and chiefdom elder.
Y.S. Mansaray - Quotes Y.S. would see his village attacked by rebels on numerous occasions: Oct. 19, 1998: [The] attack was launched on May 22 leaving 27 dead, burning 82 houses and abducting several boys and girls. Our two houses …were completely burnt down… The teacher’s residences and one of the [medical] treatment centre buildings were burnt. My uncle and one of my colleague teachers Mr. Alpha Kalokah and his younger brothers were brutally murdered.’ In the same letter YS described a second attack on Fadugu on September 11. 1998: ’ 61 houses were burnt, 6 persons killed including our Paramount Chief who was burnt alive in his residence. There is yet no schooling going on … These attacks have made life very difficult for the entire inhabitants of the region. Everything economically, socially and culturally has been disrupted…’ A third attack came on March 9, 1999: ‘The junta/rebels attacked Fadugu … leaving several people dead, destroying and burning houses and abducting men, women and children. I narrowly escaped when my house was attacked…Two men were cruelly murdered on the spot. The one had his intestines/guts removed while the other had his head cut off and were left lying on the highway. It was a very horrible scene. Some had their hands cut off and their bodies mutilated. In view of this dreadful event I felt I was no longer safe to stay and moreover there was no house for me to reside [in].