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Restoring the dignity of Sierra Leone Army, President Koroma commissions new Gondama Barracks

Restoring the dignity of Sierra Leone Army, President Koroma commissions new Gondama Barracks

“Operation Pebu” was the code name of a project by the then government of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) to provide accommodation for members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). The word Pebu’, in the Mende language, means a house but what the gallant men and women of our armed forces ended up with lack even the very basics of a village house. Rather, it was a collection of thatched huts flung around a dusty piece of land. Sticks, polythene bags and stones make up the roof.  (Photo:  The newly commissioned Gondama Barracks)

“Operation Pebu” was implemented in Kambia in the north and Gondama in the south. At Gondama, there was only one hand-pump to serve 120 military personnel with their families. The structures have no bathrooms or toilets; except for two public latrines and each hut had to make do with a caricature of an outdoor “wash yard” made up of four sticks and tarpaulins. The settlements have no drainages and in the rainy season, sanitation becomes even worse for the poor soldiers and their families; the whole place becomes inundated and children roam in the mud. On top of these indignities, the polythene covered thatched roofs leak like a sieve, with the mud walls peeling from the plaited sticks, and the bare floors becoming little ponds within the so-called houses.

Operation Pebu

The old Gondama Barracks under ‘Operation Pebu’

The old Gondama Barracks under ‘Operation Pebu’

Observers say, those are not houses and that it was dehumanizing to put the soldiers in huts that could only pass for pigsties. Many believe that our soldiers deserve decent accommodation and that those who provided those “pebus” for the personnel of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces should bow their heads in shame.

In his the Armed Forces Day address, President Koroma made a passionate statement about the welfare of the soldiers and expressed determination to improving their wellbeing.

“We owe it to ourselves to be thankful to our Armed Forces and to demonstrate that there is great honour in sacrificing for one’s country”, President Koroma said.

The President went on to assure that “My Government will address the accommodation problem which our service personnel are faced with”.

Few days later, on 27th of February 2016, President Koroma put an end to the appalling housing conditions of the soldiers at Gondama by commissioning the newly constructed 15×3 apartment blocks. These facilities have all the trappings of a modern home.  Every “Block” is divided into three apartments. And each apartment is a two-bedroom affair complete with a kitchenette and a dining area which could be accessed through a louvered-burglary-guard-fitted parlour. Each of these “Blocks” has flush toilets fitted with 5,000 litre Milla water tanks”.  And unlike the old, the new barracks has its own transmitter which supplies electricity to the barracks and the village as well.

…and the newly commissioned Gondama Barracks

…and the newly commissioned Gondama Barracks

And these are just for the junior officers—Private soldiers and Lance Corporals. Sources from the military headquarters say that the drawings for the second phase of this barracks, which will cater for senior officers are currently being blue-printed for implementation to commence as soon as the necessary procurement procedures are complete.

Gondama is not the only beneficiary of President Koroma’s transformation, like roads, energy and water infrastructure, this transformation in the army cuts across the country. Already, the construction of 8×6 accommodation blocks at the Wilberforce Barracks is ongoing, four of which are now complete whilst work on the remaining four is far advanced. At the same time, the construction of an ultra-modern barracks with all its complements will soon commence in Kambia and the rehabilitation work is currently ongoing at the Daru Barracks for the hospital and accommodation of medical staff. The hospital would provide medical services not only for military personnel and their families but also for members of the surrounding communities.

Private Mamie Conteh, who lives in one of the ‘Pebus’ in Gondama provides a very emotional account of how her new block would transform her life and restore the dignity of her family:

“My children and I would no longer have to wait in queue every morning to use one of the two latrines in the barracks or the nearby bush; I will now be comfortably sitting on a modern-convenient toilet. In the rainy season, my children and I will no longer be spending the night or day putting and removing buckets and bowls on our beds to save our belongings and bed from being drenched”.

Lance Corporal Mohamed Kamara was even more forthright:

“Just by living in one of these blocks, I will regain my human dignity and the fact that I will start enjoying electricity and running water in my ‘quarter’ will be a refreshing experience.”

Indeed,  our patriotic men and officers who have chosen to bear arms and put their own lives in harm’s way in defence of our motherland deserves such a refreshing experience thanks to transformative leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma.

By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)

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