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HomeFeaturedThe fracas over that filthy building at the former Grafton Displaced Persons Camp – my own side of the story

The fracas over that filthy building at the former Grafton Displaced Persons Camp – my own side of the story

The fracas over that filthy building at the former Grafton Displaced Persons Camp – my own side of the story

During my last visit in Sierra Leone, I learnt that Messers Francis Foray and Joseph Sundima Lahai are currently at each other’s throat in a real court of law in Freetown about the above building.  Though I can’t refer to either party as a close friend I’m well familiar with both of them.  As they saw me going around the old camp visiting former beneficiaries, knowing that I’m one of the few individuals who know about the building more than themselves, they interrupted me with circumlocutory stories each trying to solidify his claim on the building by asking me indirectly to comment on the sensitive and topical issue.  In order to bring my readers the facts and circumstances around this building, the first episode of this piece will focus mainly on the historical background of the said building and the former Grafton Displaced Persons Camp in general.  As an objective writer, I promise to try my best to remain neutral.

As the rebel war intensified in the interior parts of the country in the years 1994/95, the number of internally displaced persons who were able to make it to Freetown kept on increasing on daily basis.  They settled in overcrowded temporal camps at the old FBC building in Cline town, Clay Factory and Kissy Dockyard in the east end of the city. Some of them began dying later in their numbers of diarrhea and cholera due to over-congestion and lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities.  In order to avert the situation, the country’s interagency forum in collaboration with the central government decided to relocate the inmates of those camps to Waterloo and Grafton at the outskirt of the city, with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the leading agencies respectively.

IIRO, with logistical support mainly from the World Food Program (WFP) and Africare was able to construct a large displace settlement at Grafton where a great proportion of the dying inmates were transferred. Mr. Ibrahim Wusu Conteh and I were the first two employees assigned by IIRO to supervise the construction exercise.

In accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the government of Sierra Leone on one hand and the Interagency Forum and IIRO on the other, the government provided the land and security while IIRO provided funds for the construction exercise. WFP and Africare provided trucks and drivers to enhance transportation of construction materials and food items for the workforce.  After completion of the construction exercise and relocation of the intended beneficiaries, water and sanitation were jointly provided by the Action Contra la Faim (ACF) and CARE International. While education for the youths and children was provided by UNICEF, rations were delivered by WFP and distributed by IIRO on monthly basis.  The camp itself was managed by Mr. Chernor A.M. Sesay who is now resident in the UK.  While deputizing Mr. Ibrahim Wusu Conteh as Food and Stores Supervisor, I also served as Interpreter/Translator to the Egyptian born Coordinator, Ashraf Al- Roubi. Ashraf left the country in wake of the AFRC/RUF takeover leaving IIRO in the hands of we the local staff with Mr. Chernor Sesay as the Acting Coordinator.

Situated very close to the demarcation line between the camp and the Grafton Police Barracks were an eight-room unfinished structure, few toilets and kitchens.  The unfinished structure which was later completed jointly by IIRO and MSF Belgium to be used as an office, storage, staff residence, and displaced persons emergency clinic, was said to had been initially erected by the late first lady of the Republic, Mrs. Hannah Victoria Momoh, to accommodate war widows.  As an official representative of IIRO – the lead agency of the camp, I was given the third block of this building next to the MSF’s emergency clinic, where I dwelled for more than a year.

Following the Johny Paul Koroma’s led Military takeover on 25th May 1997 and the consequent radio announcement by Dr. John Karefa Smart on Sunday 1st June 1997, about a suspected pending military intervention by the Nigerian led ECOMONG troops, the overcrowded Grafton Displaced Persons camp became a mere ghost town. Dr. Karefa Smart’s radio broadcast increased tensions between the AFRC/RUF forces and the few Nigerian led ECOMONG troops based at Kosso Town just a stone-throw from the Grafton camp.  The AFRC/RUF forces prepositioned themselves at strategic locations around Kosso Town including Jui SSD Barracks, Maboreh Checkpoint (SSD Camp) at Allen Town, Orugu (Strasser’s village), the old Scout Camp near Grafton Police Barracks, and the thickly forested hill over-towering the Grafton Displaced Persons Camp and Kosso Town village.  Late in the evening the two forces began shelling each other’s positions. The shelling was mainly focused around Hastings Helipad, and Orugu bridge.

By 6:00 on Monday morning the AFRC/RUF forces stormed the Grafton camp.  The ECOMONG troops who had earlier deployed between dwelling booths in the camp forcing the inhabitants to remain indoors without any fear, quickly withdrew back to their trenches at Kosso Town from where they focused their weapons towards the camp in bid to repel the AFRC/RUF invading forces.  Knowing that the camp was full of armless civilians, they aligned their shellings on kitchens, toilets, mosques and the multipurpose building where I had remained alone.  One of the shells landed in front of this building damaging the front wall and roof, and the vibration effect left me with a great internal pain as I spited blood for several weeks.  A false death message about me met several friends and relatives right across the country. Thanks to God that I’m still alive.  On that very day, all inmates of Grafton Camp transferred to Kosso Town where they occupied The College of Medicines and Allied Health Sciences’ campus.  I later transferred too to Kosso Town.

The next episode of this piece shall bring you a retrospective narration of how Messers Joseph Sundima Lahai and Francis Foray became occupants of the above building and their subsequent proclamation of its ownership.

Othman Sheriff, Berlin, Germany

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