Normally I am hesitant when it comes to giving credit for humanitarian work because I am sometimes of the opinion that there is a very thin line between what we in development refer to as state and non state actors. For fear of not sounding tongue in cheek, I almost always tend to be of the view that as long as your work as an organization or your job as an individual is to make humanity better within states, you would not say you are not a state actor but for the purpose of consistency I would leave that for another day.
For now I would consider the operations of this organization called Fambul Tok International as a non state player helping to make state better.
The phrase or is one that comes up occasionally, and tends to denote positive progress. In this example, it is saying that Fambul Tok International is starting things with the people of Masabendu in the Kono District that have not been done before, implying positive growth in the relations between families and ethnic groups that have been either torn apart or thrust into a protracted political feud, and presumably other events which may not be mentioned in this particular article.
In the first place and first of all you may want to ask yourself how come I was present in the now notorious Masabendu on the fateful day that brought all these recollections to mind?. You may want to ask what I was doing there. Well my curiosity was aroused when upon bumping into Mr. John Caulker, the somewhat enigmatic Director of Fambul Tok International, I was offered an opportunity to go and see what this organization of firsts has hatched in this place. A hot spot of political turmoil that has defied the hardest peace making overtures from the highest levels was in their sight, he said.
Obviously my curiosity got the best of me. Immediately after Mr. Caulker told me he was going to facilitate solution to the problem there once and for all, the questions that were actually my impetus flooded into my thoughts. Was this possible? How is he going to do this when others higher placed and stronger than him have tried and failed? Is it safe when the wounds are still fresh? Who is he going to talk to when whole sections of the town have abandoned their homes and are still in hiding? And when no one wants to go there even the occasional intrepid okada or kekeh rider? But along I went, my curiosity getting the better of me.
Fast Forward. I travelled a day ahead from Freetown, spent the night in Koidu town, the headquarter town of the diamond rich Kino district in Eastern Sierra Leone and was woken up as early as 6am by the seemingly indefatigable Fambul Tok staff. On our drive to Masabendu, a few miles out of the diamond rich Koidu City, was uneventful until we came across a convoy of vehicles going the same way. Out of curiosity again I asked who they were and where they were going. I was calmly told by a Fambul Tok staff that they were United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) staff and a group of staff from the Vice President’s Office. I listened quietly but what caught my attention was the statement…this is the first time they are coming here….
At that moment, I knew that this was going to be an event of firsts. An event that had been skillfully crafted by Fambul Tok International, which I knew may not have been a new idea but was going to turn out to be ground breaking. First of any meaningful engagement on a protracted conflict within tribes and families in Masabendu that had festered and remained seemingly unsolvable long before the March 2018 Elections till date. Fortunately, I was kept in suspense on what the real problem was by Fambul Tok staff until we arrived in the Masbendu community.
A small, largely mining community located within a lush, green and forested part of the diamond rich Kono District, Eastern Sierra Leone. A predominantly Kono tribal area, the Masabendu community had also become home to Limbas, Madingos, and Temnes from the neighboring districts of Tonkolili, Bombali and Port Loko for many years, all living together in peaceful coexistence. Business was free for all, there were even intermarriages.
So you may want to ask yourself the one million dollar question. What happened here? This is what I was made to find out in the most unlikely manner. To my Fambul Tok friends, it was taboo to mention Politics as a cause, for them it was just a small cham mot, which in the local lingua franca translates into a little fracas between families. It was uniquely portrayed to me as such even though I noticed several houses still locked and unoccupied, broken windows and virtually abandoned stretches around the small community. I knew then that Fambul Tok wanted to make my experience unique and that is where my inspiration for writing this story came from. I knew I was going to experience something for the first time in my life and I could not wait.
I did not have to wait long. Suddenly our convoy of vehicles arrived at an already jam-packed court barry (a community public gathering place). Hundreds of people from all over Masabendu and its surroundings had descended on the small town to respond to a call made by Fambul Tok International. The first ever meeting of such magnitude since political violence erupted and divided families and tribes over six months ago. I felt the tension for the first time as we got seated. Section Chiefs, Tribal Heads, aggrieved families eager to mend fences had flocked to the court barry, clearly showing willingness to benefit from the Fambul Tok magic. Without any ceremony, the meeting was called to order and deliberations commenced. With the most skilful facilitation skills I have witnessed in a long time, the head of Fambul Tok International, Mr. John Caulker got the aggrieved persons talking to each other. There were claims of beatings, police brutality, death threats and intimidation made by especially the Konos against the Temnes.
The atmosphere was electric; exchanges though angry at times were measured. In less than two hours, the ice was broken and a way forward was designed for all parties present. Magic!
Now let me go back to the aspect of firsts, which for me was what made the event unique and special, and to a large extent why it worked. I would list as follows:
· This was the first time the Senior District Officer of Kono District had set foot on Masabendu soil
· The elected Councilor who had never set his foot in his ward for fear of being lynched because he belonged to the opposition APC party whose members were said to be mostly responsible for the violence had come and was confidently seated among his people
· This was the first time the aggrieved parties have stood in the same space and spoken to each other
· This was the first time government officials from the Vice President’s office have been to Masabendu
· This was the first time any organization has entered Masabendu and succeeded in bringing the aggrieved parties together.
At the end of it all, very strong commitments and recommendations were made by the aggrieved parties, to which Fambul Tok agreed and will now follow up on in due course. My experience was complete in itself. What I saw and what I learned will remain to be a first but I know Fambul Tok International will be setting more precedents as this unique programme of engaging with post elections violence and its effects continues to unfold.