Tag Archives: land

A good walk spoiled

Freetown Golf Club (FTG). Saturday, May 18th, 2:03 p.m. – I was finishing some interviews for a feature article about Sierra Leone’s only golf club, when I saw something remarkable for a golf course; people running.

Golfers play on one of Freetwon Golf Club's "browns" - a surface made from sand and oi.l

Golfers play on one of Freetwon Golf Club’s “browns” – a surface made from sand and oil.

I had played the course a week before and enjoyed speaking with the friendly caddies and professionals. One young professional is about to head off the Senegal Open; his first competition outside of Sierra Leone, his first time abroad, his first opportunity to play a course other than FTG, and his first opportunity to putt on greens (FTG has “browns” rather than greens. They are flat surfaces made from sand and oil). A caddy also told me about how his father was shot in the back of the head during the war. He said it made him thankful for every day he could walk around a golf course, and be paid for it.

Golfers, caddies and police flee the course

Golfers, caddies and police flee the course

But my second visit to the club was proving to be less heart-warming, or inspirational. Players and caddies were running from the course, towards the clubhouse. A few hundred metres behind them, a group of young men followed with sticks and fire bombs. Caddies later told me that everyone ran after hearing gunshots, and they said the men had threatened to burn down the clubhouse.

Men throw rocks and fire bombs toward the clubhouse

Men throw rocks and fire bombs towards the clubhouse

A stand-off followed for a few minutes, with the the men and caddies at either side of a ditch. Some caddies told me they were glad that a friend was there to take pictures and make audio recordings. Armed with golf clubs, the caddies organised themselves and charged back, shouting “attack!” As I followed them down the fairway towards the other end of the course, all I could think of was the movie Braveheart. I thought it best not to be the William Wallace.

Caddies charge back  against the men who invaded the golf course

Caddies charge back against the men who invaded the golf course

One caddy told me he could see a man with a gun, but my eyesight wasn’t sharp enough. He told me where I could safely stand to take photos. Moments later there were two sharp pops. We all fled back towards the clubhouse. The caddies ran in zigzag lines, low to the ground. They encouraged me to do as they did.

Back beside the clubhouse another caddy came up to me and said “A-K.” He had served in the army and said that the AK-47 has a distinct sound. He said he knew who was firing it too. Allegedly a member of the OSD – the paramilitary unit of the police force – who lives in the New Life City community, beside the course.

Riot police arrive at Freetown Golf Club

Riot police at Freetown Golf Club

Around 50 police officers soon arrived and headed down to New Life City. We heard a series of gunshots from the community. When it calmed down, I went to New Life City, and saw that police made at least four arrests, including one man dressed in an army uniform. But by some accounts, the OSD officer had escaped.

One of the New Life City houses, after Saturday's violence.

One of the New Life City houses, after Saturday’s violence.

Some newer houses were being torn down by men who appeared to be caddies. All in full view of the police. One of the arrested men was screaming and in tears. Residents showed me their ransacked houses and said police were to blame. Groups of young men took items from half-destroyed homes and brought them towards the golf course.

This man in army clothes was one of at least four people arrested.

This man in army clothes was one of at least four people arrested.

The club manager told me the situation arose because New Life City is built on golf club land. The houses had been ordered destroyed by a judge in March. Some were soon rebuilt. A surveyor had visited the site on Friday and had his equipment stolen. A subsequent visit by some police officers on Saturday seemed to have sparked the violence.

A man in New Life City cries before he is taken away in handcuffs.

A man in New Life City cries before he is taken away in handcuffs.

With the help of a colleague at Radio Democracy, I produced and co-wrote a radio report that he voiced in Krio. It aired that evening and again on Monday morning. On Monday night a caddy called me and complained about what the report had said about the alleged actions of some caddies. He said he thought we were friends.

A man with a golf club begins tearing down a house in New Life City.

A man with a golf club begins tearing down a house in New Life City.

One of the biggest problems for journalism in Sierra Leone is media ownership. Many media houses are funded by one of the two main political parties. Friends are not always criticized. I now understood how it felt to have to do so. I didn’t enjoy it. But here’s to more of that in Sierra Leone’s future.

Note: Despite Sierra Leone’s bloody past, gun violence like this is relatively rare in Freetown.

Photo by Ohemeng Tawiah of Luv FM.

This land is your land, this land is my land


Some men wore fitted suits. Others were dressed in traditional kente clothing. The event started an hour and a half after its scheduled time.

The press conference I attended embodied the relationship between traditional customs and modern, democratic values – as well as the potential conflict between these structures. Many Ghanaians defend chief authorities, though their power has diminished over time. What happens when they meet with formal government structures? Ideally, they merge to incorporate tribal leadership and a mandate of democratic justice.

Or sometimes, they form an impetuous decision-making process that leaves a nomadic group with nowhere to go.

The Fulani are an ethnic group – a small minority in Ghana – dispersed throughout Western Africa. They are mainly nomadic pastoralists, though some lead sedentary lives and have integral roles in cattle management.

The Paramount Chief, Nana Akuoko Sarpong, had granted a fifty year lease to some Fulani herdsmen in 2006. The government can override these leases. The current system of land titling combines chiefdom authority and the British colonial practice of registering deeds.

Cattle population grew unmanageable for herdsmen and animals began escaping the allotted property. Local farmers sprayed their crops with pesticides, angering the Fulani.

“Land has traditionally been controlled according to the unique conditions pertaining to pastoral communities, which have given rise to their concept of communal property rights,” explains a report on pastoralist rights by the UNHCR. “In contrast, the Western concept of personal rights over property, which has been adopted by all states in the region, is an individual right.”

Tensions grew between these two forces, resulting in violence. There were burnt farmlands, destroyed crops, 15 cases of murder last year and one report of rape. Some crimes were committed by Agogo community members, but the Fulani are considered to be the instigators.

Demonstrations within the community effectively called for government action, a promising display of civilian power.

The regional court issued an order to “flush out all the cattle” and effectively, the Fulani people. To execute this, a committee – REGSEC – was established. They were supposed to complete an evacuation plan by February 7.

Photo by Ohemeng Tawiah of Luv FM.

“…The Committee accomplished its task; except that it took thirteen, instead of the two weeks originally assigned to submit its Report,” Alex Dary, a member of the committee read aloud.

In February, the herdsmen were given an ultimatum: they had until April 30th to vacate the area. They didn’t.

“The failure to voluntarily vacate within the stipulated timeframe will invite forceful eviction by the security,” he continued. The press conference was wrapping up. Chiefs and regional government officials were getting prepared to sign paperwork when a question from the press was taken: when will this forceful eviction take place?

They hadn’t thought about it.

They took a five minute break to decide the time frame of an evacuation plan. Ashanti Regional Minister Dr Kwaku Agyeman Mensah returned; security personnel will be on standby to flush out the cattle and herdsmen if they do not evacuate by July 21.

Perhaps Ghana can successfully maintain its cultural roots and still operate by fair, democratic principles. However, the fact that justice has been administered by holding an entire group accountable for crimes – rather than individuals – indicates there may be room for progress.

The report mentions ‘the inability of the cattle owners and herdsmen to indicate where else they will relocate since no community is prepared to tolerate them.”

Where do they go from here? The committee hasn’t decided.