By Abdulrahman Koroma
Academic Researcher, Human Rights, Peace and Security Advocate; Benjamin John Sesay is afraid for his safety if he returns to Sierra Leone. Benjamin who specifically focuses his advocacy on the effects of land grabbing on the lives of landowners in Sierra Leone is presently in Sweden contemplating his home coming.
Benjamin first visited Sierra Leone in September 2013 and returned to Sweden after his research in January 2014. He revisited in June 2014 to recollect missing data from his laptop. Both visits to his native Sierra Leone were to do a research for his Thesis titled the “EFFECTS OF THE ADDAX BIOENERGY INVESTMENT ON FEMALE
FARMERS’ RIGHTS TO LAND AND THEIR LIVELIHOODS IN BOMBALI DISTRICT, SIERRA LEONE.”
This was the time when he was a Master’s candidate in International Development and Management at Lund University, Sweden.
Benjamin got himself into trouble when officials of Addax Bioenergy and few loyal community elders learnt that he was doing his research while serving as an intern at the Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF), an organization that is wrongly perceived as Anti-Addax. See here to know more about SiLNoRF (http://silnorf.net/).
During his research, he was misconstrued by some local authorities and other cronies of Addax Bioenergy that he was one of the international researchers that have been informing the outside world about land grabbing in his country, Sierra Leone.
In some occasions, Benjamin was verbally attacked and prevented from entering certain communities that are in the good books of Addax. This made his research work very difficult though he did it successfully at the end.
Less than a year after he left Sierra Leone, Funders of the company withdrew their support from the project. This led to an abrupt decision by the company to scale down its operation because of lack of funds (https://www.agra-net.com/agra/world-ethanol-and-biofuels-report/analysis/company/sierra-leone—addax-bioenergy-scales-down-operations-484169.htm) Addax Bioenergy, since its establishment and operations, has had a strong political undertone and unprecedented support from government.
Anyone that tends to be critical of its existence, will face very stiff resistance from politicians and few local authorities.
Benjamin’s situation became worse when he granted an exclusive interview to the Sydsvenskan Newspaper in October 2014 in Skurup, Skåne, Sweden about his views and the way forward to tackling the Ebola crisis see here for full interview http://www.sydsvenskan.se/varlden/det-som-hander-i-sierra-leone-ar-utom-kontroll).
After this article was published globally, some Sierra Leoneans abroad misinformed Ebola fighters back home and government officials that he had granted interview to the foreign press. Without knowing fully the content of his interview, they hastily concluded that he had exposed the government inability and alleged corruption by those spearheading the Ebola fight.
His frank approach to dilating on the management of the Ebola crisis in his native Sierra Leone was grossly misunderstood by some misguided sycophants and political loyalists. This was at a time when the issue of corruption was key in managing funds donated by the international community to help in combating the Ebola scourge.
They ignored the fact that even the international media reported the seeming corruption during the Ebola fight (https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/ebola_corruption_and_aid).
After his graduation with a Masters in International Development and Management, Benjamin is presently in a state of fear that he could not guarantee his security and safety if he is to return to Sierra Leone.
This fear has prevented him from coming back to use his education acquired to contribute to national development. Family sources who begged for anonymity also say that they are in perpetual fear not just for Benjamin but also for their own safety.
It’s no longer a secret that land is a very contentious issue in Sierra Leone with anyone standing against land grabbing will get him or herself in deep trouble. Recently, the Director of Surveys and Lands in the Ministry of Lands and Country Planning; Philip Moore was stabbed to death when he tried to stop land grabbers from invading government land at Hill Station.
Also, on the 25th February 2016, High Court in Bo released the leader of land rights activists almost three weeks after he was convicted alongside five others for destroying 40 palm trees that belonged to an agribusiness called Socfin. ShakaSama, was a former Member of Parliament and the others, all natives of SahnMalen chiefdom in the Pujehun district, south of Sierra Leone, had accused Socfin, owned by French company Bollore, of land grabbing.
The court also sentenced them to six months in prison and ordered that they pay more than $10,000. (http://politicosl.com/articles/sierra-leone-land-rights-campaigner-out-jail)
Considering his trainings and previous work with the West African Youth Network, Benjamin is a plain truth-sayer that if he comes back to Sierra Leone, especially at a time when the country is approaching its general elections, he won’t be certain about his safety.