The choppy waters of democracy

Thursday 2 August 2012, 17:09

Hassan Arouni Hassan Arouni Senior Producer, Tok Bot Salone, Sierra Leone

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Hassan Arouni interviews the fishermen of Lumley beach in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Hassan Arouni interviews the fishermen of Lumley beach in Freetown, Sierra Leone. We are in the closing stages of preparing our new radio debate programme Tok Bot Salone (Krio for Talk About Sierra Leone). The pilot programme was broadcast in July and the new series will air across the nation in August.

It comes at a terribly important time for the country as 2012 is the 10th anniversary of the end of the civil war and there are national elections in November. Structures are still fragile, the media is still young and it has been underdeveloped. Many areas of the media have been compromised financially, and people suspect – often with good reason – that powerful people and businesses control them.

The aim of Tok Bot Salone is to facilitate dialogue, to help give people a voice, to support and enable them to express their concerns to those in power - and to those who want power - in Sierra Leone.

The format is a question and answer debate programme. We bring together people in power, civil society activists and ordinary people in communities. We go to those communities and we discuss issues of national importance and local significance.

We will be talking to individuals such as those in a fishing community I met on Lumley beach in the capital Freetown. It’s a stunning beach and Sierra Leone’s fledgling tourism industry is starting to develop the country’s beautiful shoreline. But it is also a crucial centre for the fishermen and fish sellers whose working lives are based there.

But without warning and without sufficient explanation, the fishing people of Lumley beach have been driven from the places they have set up their boats. Why after years of storing their nets on the beaches and selling fish straight from the sea are they no longer welcome there? They have had their equipment destroyed, their fishing nets taken from them but they feel no-one has adequately told them why.

Tok Bot Salone will be giving voices to people like this to ask the government and business people: "Why is this happening and what do you think is the impact when you play with livelihoods reliant on the sea?"

I spoke with Alpha Turay, one of the fishermen on Lumley beach. He has a boat called 'Democracy' and I asked him what the name of the boat meant to him.

"I bought and named this boat in 1996 when there was a return to democracy after four years of military rule," he said. "Democracy for me means freedom of speech, upholding the rights of the people. It is about listening to the will of the people."

So what, then, I wondered did he think of the treatment he was getting on the beach and if he participated in Tok Bot Salone, what would he want to ask?

"I’d be grateful to be able to take part," he said. "As no one is listening to us now. I want to know why they take our nets."

And it's a fair question. If the authorities’ actions are about trying to boost tourism because they think the fishermen’s huts are an eyesore, they need to weigh up that decision against the impact it has on a community – which is wider than just those on the beach – who depend upon the fish. Will there be compensation? Will the community be allowed to work from a different part of the beach?

Some of the women who sell fish there told me that they are supporting families of up to 15 people. We would like these fish sellers to come on the programme to ask the government what happens if they can’t sell fish? What will be the provision to help their loss of livelihoods?

This is what Tok Bot Salone is about: empowering Sierra Leoneans, ordinary people, to have that voice, to speak out, to talk about what’s burning inside their chests.

Tok Bot Salone launches on 4 August 2012. 


Related links

Elsewhere on BBC Media Action: Where we work – Sierra Leone

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