May 9, 2005
In the air over Africa -- headed for Freetown, Thinking about the goals of this trip…I need to ground myself, and you, in what we are doing here.
Top priority is to get the President of Sierra Leone to commit to a definitive time frame for issuing the promised White Paper on proposed legislative changes to incorporate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) recommendations, and to commit to involving NGOs in the process of developing it.
Another key priority is to get a sense of how our NGO partners are doing with the TRC video outreach projects on a local level, and to offer whatever encouragement and support we can. (I lived in Freetown with my then-18 month old daughter Tess and my partner Louis in Nov/Dec of 2003 while we were producing a video version of the TRC's key findings and recommendations…you can see excerpts of the film we produced on our home page at www.witness.org
Anyway, it seems things have foundered a bit on the TRC front since there was no funding or plan for follow up or outreach -- and too much time, money, and hard work has been spent to see it go to waste now. So WITNESS stepped outside its ordinary mandate (as we did in producing the film in the first place since we usually equip and train local groups to do their own production) and provided small grants to 4 local organizations to enable them to screen the film around the country and encourage advocacy around the implementation of the TRC's recommendations.
I don't think Sierra Leone can afford to ignore the TRC's findings and recommendations. The stakes are too high. The primary causes of the bloody decade long civil war were greed and corruption and the marginalization of youth – all factors very much in play today. As Gavin Simpson, one of the TRC researchers and now a WITNESS consultant based in Freetown, wrote recently “To recount the recent past of Sierra Leone is to face up to one of the greatest human tragedies of our time. It is a story of an inept and corrupt government over several decades. It represents the suppression of fundamental human rights and the marginalization of the young and the poor. It speaks of the eventual, inevitable outbreak of hostilities in 1991, followed by a complex, eleven-year conflict that unleashed unprecedented brutality against the civilian population. It is a somber and shameful tale of a nation that essentially self-destructed.”
Another priority of course is to ensure that we maximize the exposure that Angelina Jolie can bring to all these issues. That may have been what brought you to this blog! We're confirmed to be meeting the President on Wednesday morning together with our local allies – Paul James-Allen from the National Forum for Human Rights, Gibril Massie Bah from the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, and Charlie Hughes from FORDI. I doubt we'd have an audience without her along…..(Thank you Angie)
This blog thing has me nervous though. How can I do it in a way that engages but doesn't upset the apple cart in terms of discussions with key players? There is good reason that we have hesitated as a staff to blog about our trainings and trips….but with all this buzz around the “blogosphere” I think it's worth a try. And I hope it will inspire some new people to care about the issues we are working on. I guess I have to trust that when we land, things will clarify themselves, and I will know instinctively what needs to be said and when to say it.
OK…here is a (crappy) picture of Angelina Jolie, myself and Gavin getting into the UN helicopter headed for sweltering Freetown….more soon….