Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Trip to Sierra Leone: Two Weeks that Changed the World

By Penny Hess, African People’s Solidarity Committee

Flying into Sierra Leone on November 13 for a night landing we looked out the window of the commercial 757 jet to see no lights—nothing that signaled the major metropolitan area we were approaching.

Eventually, tiny runway lights appeared as we landed in Lungi, the airport for Freetown, the capital city of the West African country.

One of the most impoverished countries in the world, Sierra Leone has no electrical grid. The few existing lights flickering around town are fueled by generators or candles in a country where $2 a day is a middle class income and the average person lives only 37 years.

Yet Sierra Leone is the center of a lively and growing, world-changing liberation movement led by African workers determined to overturn the brutal colonial legacy, not just for Sierra Leone but for all of Africa, and put power into the hands of the people.

I had the honor to join Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party, and his delegation traveling from the U.S. and Britain to the founding conference of the African People’s Socialist Party-Sierra Leone.

The APSP-SL is led by Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, the former journalist and child soldier who made a U.S.-wide speaking tour in 2006, hosted by the Uhuru Movement. Comrade Bah was the leader of the popular Africanist Movement, which recently voted to dissolve itself and reorganize as the African People’s Socialist Party-Sierra Leone.

The newly launched Party is a member of the African Socialist International (ASI), an organization also growing in Kenya, Guinea and South Africa, Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere with the motto: “One Africa! One Nation!” and “Izwe Lethu i Afrika!” (Africa is our land).

The ASI is based on the understanding that Africans are one people wherever they are located around the world, and that Africa and all its resources are the birthright of every African person on the planet.

I am a member of the African People’s Solidarity Committee, the white organization working under the leadership of the Party in the U.S. Two other members of the solidarity committee—Alison Hoehne and Sandy Thompson—were also part of the delegation.

As part of the African People’s Solidarity Committee we often give presentations in white communities about what Chairman Omali Yeshitela has named “parasitic capitalism.”

This means that capitalism and the wealth of Europe and North America come directly from the enslavement of African people, the genocide of the Indigenous people and the violent theft of the resources of the majority of the people on the planet for the benefit of the white world.

We talk about how half of all the world’s resources are enjoyed by North Americans. We show how there is a direct inverse relationship between our access to prosperity and the poverty and degradation experienced by Africa and much of the rest of the world.

As one of the countries designated the least “developed” in the world by the United Nations, Sierra Leone was the clear, living example of the other side of the parasitic equation. It is as impoverished as Europe and North America are prosperous.

Freetown is a city of nearly a million people, teeming with life, full of beautiful, resourceful, dignified people for whom every day is a struggle to feed their families and themselves.

To witness first hand this daily struggle for survival was a profound experience as cold statistics became living, breathing human beings with names, families, children, hopes and dreams.

Issa, Masaray, Fenty, Sia, Aminata, 10-year-old El-Hadji—these are some of the comrades in and around the newly formed African People’s Socialist Party. These are people who have dedicated their lives to making the struggle for liberation, dignity, justice for themselves and for all African people. It was an honor to be part of the white solidarity committee under the leadership of this powerful movement.

There is no clean running water and no infrastructure for indoor plumbing in Sierra Leone. There are few good roads, no public schools, no social services, no traffic lights or vehicle emissions standards.

A school teacher makes just $50 a month and the cost of living is high with a 50-kilo bag of rice costing over $40 and a liter of diesel fuel going for $5, when you can get it. The country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world and rampant malaria. Hospitals, by all accounts, are vermin infested institutions with no medicine or technology, nor food or water for the patients.

Shelter for many, if not most people, are structures made from sheets of corrugated tin nailed together. But even those with houses have neither a kitchen nor a functioning bathroom. Cooking is done outside over a wood fire leaving the city in a haze of smoke much of the time.

Every day people are hand washing their clothes for the next day, hanging them out to dry and then pressing them with irons heated with burning coals. Despite these difficult conditions people emerge onto the streets daily looking sharp and well-put-together either in traditional or Western dress.

From the balcony on the second floor of the YMCA where we stayed in Freetown we could see a “mental institution” next door where one man had a chain around his ankle and young people played in a courtyard as rats scampered around. Down the street were polio and leprosy institutions run by white missionary-type, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international charity programs that line many white people’s pockets at the expense of the Africans.

Sierra Leone is a beautiful, mineral rich country with gold, bauxite, rutile, iron ore, abundant fresh water, rich offshore fishing grounds and some of the best gem quality diamonds in the world. It produces coffee, cocoa, ginger, palm kernels, palm oil, cassava, bananas, citrus, peanuts, cashews, plantains, rice, sweet potatoes, cattle, fish, pigs, poultry and sheep. (1)

By all rights Sierra Leone should be one of the best places to live with one of the highest standards of living. Freetown, on the Atlantic coast with lush, verdant hills rolling down to the sea could be one of the most sought after places to visit in the world.

But like all of Africa the on-going ravages of centuries of European slave trade, colonial and corporate plunder, imperialist backed war and neocolonial politicians have left the majority of the people with shortened, difficult lives of almost unimaginable poverty.

One hundred percent of Sierra Leone’s lucrative mining industry, which includes the country’s diamonds, iron ore, rutile (a mineral used in paint) and bauxite, used in aluminum, is owned by foreign corporations, mostly from the U.S., Britain and Europe.

This “foreign investment” is simply a shadow economy serving only as economic extraction from the country and continually downgrading the standard of living of the people. Diamond diggers work on commission for an average of 30 cents a day.

The foreign mining industry is colonialism pure and simple with mines guarded 24 hours a day by highly armed private military companies (PMCs) trying to make sure that no challenge comes from the African people, the rightful owners of the land and its resources.

According to the website promoting these mercenaries, Sierra Leone Private Security Companies,

“Three-quarters of Sierra Leone currently is under contract to international mining companies for mineral exploration. Diamond export revenues alone increased by 700 percent in five years, from less than USD 20 million in 2001 to more than USD 142 million in 2006…Many extractive mining and timber companies, such as Sierra Leone’s second largest diamond exporter Koidu Holdings currently train and arm their own private security forces under agreement with the Sierra Leone government.” (2)

Meanwhile, two thirds of the Sierra Leone’s six million people eke out a meager existence on subsistence farming at near starvation level which accounts for an outrageous 52 percent of the country’s GDP. And this is taking place on only 8 percent of the land, although at least thirty percent of Sierra Leone’s landmass is potentially arable! (3)

There is no Sierra Leone economy. There is modern-day colonial extraction by U.S./European corporations accompanied by enslavement and violence, and a hand-to-mouth underground economy forced on the people.

This is the same story all over Africa. This is the legacy of colonialism and nominal “independence.” In 1885 the European powers met in Berlin to carve up Africa and impose colonial borders with the sole purpose of facilitating plunder and slavery for the benefit of Europe.

Long-term African kinship groups were separated in this process, and the ability to freely move through the imposed borders was difficult or nearly impossible for the working person, and remains so today.

The U.S. media cries that the problem in Africa is “corruption,” but the problem is neocolonialism, white power hidden behind African puppet leaders. Most of the genuine leaders of Africa who had the interest of the masses of the people at heart were overthrown or assassinated by the U.S. CIA—people such as Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Patrice Lumumba in Congo.

All over Africa the U.S. and European imperialists and their trans-national corporations have set up the situation that best forwards their ability to rob and loot: self-serving indigenous puppet leaders who repress the people and make money from their suffering, volatile political regimes carrying out U.S. proxy wars, IMF “development” restrictions that impose ever deepening “debt,” dislocations of millions of people, violence, coups and profound poverty.

These are the same policies used to enforce colonial domination over African communities inside the U.S.: black neocolonial mayors and city council people who carry out the brutal police containment policies imposed by the white rulers—policies responsible for the rampant mass imprisonment and police brutality for African people. This is why New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or most of Detroit looks more like Freetown than white suburbs a few miles away.

The founding of the African People’s Socialist Party-Sierra Leone was a huge success and a turning point in history with the masses of African people taking history into their own hands. It was the first workers' socialist party ever founded on African soil.

More than three hundred people a day attended the sessions at the British Council Hall. Men and women of all ages participated in the conference, although most people were young, exposing the reality of a people who are not expected to live until their 38th birthday.

People are ready to do whatever necessary to end this inhuman colonial reality under which Africans have been born and have died in unmitigated suffering for the past 600 years.

Chairman Omali Yeshitela as the keynote speaker was greeted enthusiastically at the conference and other places, not as an outsider but as a brother African returning home with a report from the African family exiled abroad.

The Chairman always forcefully states that Africa is not poor; it has been looted for the past 500 years and that Africa’s resources belong to African people.

Africans did not leave Africa voluntarily but were kidnapped, turned into a commodity and enslaved for hundreds of years. Every place around the world that African people are living they face the same conditions of poverty and repression. Africans are not citizens of the countries where they were enslaved; they are colonial subjects.

It’s clear that imperialism is in crisis today because of the resistance of peoples around the world to the incessant plunder and resource wars that the U.S and Europe have imposed on the majority of humanity for so long.

All over the planet people are back—fighting for their self-determination, control of their own resources for the benefit of their own people.

The formation of the African People’s Socialist Party in Sierra Leone takes this world struggle to a higher level as an organized, disciplined, workers’ party with a unified socialist worldview and the ambitious and necessary goal of wiping white power off the face of the African continent. This is what it will take to finally put political power and control of Africa’s resources into the hands of the masses of the people.

For me as a white person this trip to Sierra Leone was one of the most profound experiences of my life.

It was inspiring to see African people, brought together by their beautiful culture but also by a unified will to overturn similar colonial conditions whether in Africa or inside the U.S. or Europe.

There is nothing that we have in America or Europe that does not have a bloody story behind its glitter—including diamonds, computers, cell phones, chocolate, the U.S. national parks or the Wall Street stock market.

We can “feel better” if our computer does not contain coltan from the Congo or our Nikes supposedly weren’t made in sweatshops, but it does not change the reality of colonialism for the majority of people on earth.

For us to be able to buy a house, have a job, drive to Starbucks or take a vacation to the Bahamas, this economic system requires that African mothers die in childbirth, babies with bloated bellies starve to death and people die before they are barely in adulthood.

This parasitic system is in deep crisis now—even some white people are feeling the pinch. Capitalism is in a crisis because oppressed peoples on the planet are taking back what is rightfully theirs. This means that the land of oppressed peoples around the world is no longer the playground for imperialist plunder and pillage. This is justice.

President Obama’s “recovery” is a false dream because, as Chairman Omali Yeshitela says, the genie will not go back in the bottle. For us capitalism will never look the same as it did five years ago. The world has permanently changed.

Whole civilizations of people have been wiped out by this capitalist beast and the earth itself is being destroyed for the lifestyle of the white world. There is no future for this blood-sucking parasite.

But there is a positive future being determined by the masses of African workers that will ultimately liberate all humanity by freeing the world of this death-dealing system.

The future of the planet is at the crossroads. World peace, environmental sustainability, a prosperous world community and beneficial economic system will be possible only when African and other oppressed working people around the world are once again self-determining. This is the only viable future for us as well. Peace is only possible when the thief and bully has been brought to justice.

We can be part of changing the world by standing in solidarity with the African Revolution. Join in, there is much work to do.

The National Conference of the African People’s Solidarity Committee will be held January 10-12 in St. Petersburg, FL. Chairman Omali Yeshitela and other leaders of the African People’s Socialist Party will give presentations. There will be workshops, studies and organizing for action. For more information:,


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