Salone News

Sierra Leone: UNAMSIL Wives and Babies

23 December 2005 at 04:00 | 600 views

By Abu B. Shaw, Vanguard London Bureau Chief

“Nothing lasts for ever,” anxious Sierra Leonean citizens commented as the long awaited pull out of the United Nations peace mission finally materialised. They left tod Thursday December 15, 2005 after five years of military service in devastated Sierra Leone.

Significantly, the UN mission in Sierra Leone, otherwise known as UNAMSIL, is hailed as a success story despite its apparent failure in Somalia during the bloody era of rebel leader Mohammed Farrah Aideed. The UN also failed in Rwanda, a country infamously associated with genocide and the former Yugoslavian city of Bosnia, where the Muslim minority were massacred.

Residents in Freetown are said to be equally sad and excited about the withdrawal of the UN peace keepers. Many people in the war torn country have expressed excitement for UNAMSIL’s tremendous efforts over the years to restore political peace in Sierra Leone. Some have however expressed sadness because of the uphill task that certain young families are expected to face towards raising thousands of illegitimate children fathered by UN troops. There are over 5,000 illegitimate children left behind by UN soldiers in Sierra Leone, according to an unofficial estimate.

Fatmata Turay(not her real name), is 16 this month and is a Kissy Road resident in Freetown. She explains her ordeal: “The father of my two-year baby girl is a UN soldier from Bangladesh. He has been very supportive from the outset. My whole family has been dependent on him. My father and mother are very appreciative of his kindness. Now we are heart broken because my UN boy friend has left us. We don’t know whether he would continue to assist us, though he promised to do so before leaving.”

Another mother of an illegitimate child, Zainab Jalloh, 19, said her problems started when she conceived for a UN soldier three years ago. “My dad disowned me and drove me out of his house claiming that I have disgraced the family. My mother has refused to talk to me since. My UN boy friend, who came from India, rented a room where I have been living since I parted company with my parents. Now that he has left, I don’t expect him to call, let alone support me because he told me very early in our relationship that he was already married.”

Any way one looks at it, UNAMSIL, comprising of troops from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana etc. has generally been marvellous and has shown gallantry in the execution of its duties since it landed in Sierra Leone at the height of the rebel war. The UN mission in Sierra Leone was the largest peace- keeping force in the world.

Their colourful departure on December 15 was in sharp contrast to their arrival in Freetown in 2000 when they met a very stiff resistance from the AFRC rebels. The AFRC was an amalgamation of late Foday Sankoh’s RUF rebels and disgruntled soldiers of the Sierra Leone army led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma. Many UN soldiers were then rounded up by poorly armed AFRC forces. This was a wake up call which humiliated the UN troops to the annoyance of the wider international community.

The military intervention of ECOMOG, the West African peace keeping force led by Nigeria and most significantly the British army, played a pivotal role to boost the morale of UNAMSIL troops. This naturally led to the UN troops successfully restoring peace and security and eventually ushering democracy to Sierra Leone.

Prior to their departure, a mammoth ceremony was held in the capital Freetown, where officials of the Sierra Leone government received some UNAMSIL military equipment which President Tejan Kabbah’s government promised to utilise in the best interest of the country.

Now that the UN has set the ground work on which to rebuild Sierra Leone, many Sierra Leoneans maintain that upgrading and sustaining our democratic institutions is the surest way to improve our impoverished lives. Political peace without economic peace is like pouring water into a container full of holes.

Photo: UNAMSIL troops.