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Out of the Bag: Lively Kono… Dead Kono
By Sayoh Kamara
Jan 17, 2006, 13:54

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In those days when milk and honey naturally flowed in Sierra Leone, it was referred to by both citizens and aliens in the local parlance as "Kombra country", literally meaning a "Country where everyone was well cared for."

But this connotation was particularly related to Kono district, otherwise also commonly referred as the country’s bread basket, apparently referring to the income generated by government through its endowment in diamonds and its richness in agricultural productivity. The latter however though economically viable as well, was not as that of diamonds.

With all these resource endowments, Kono district never actually benefited from these resources. Governments, past and present did not do anything in that direction to show for her immense economic contributions to the national finance basket.

Infact like the very diamonds were said to have been a curse rather than a blessing to the entire country when the rebel war broke out, so it was already a curse to Kono district herself since the first gem stone was reportedly found on her soil in 1930. In the long and short of it all, Kono merely served as an economic pool for developing and improving the lot of peoples in other parts of the country and beyond.

Even before the rebel war broke in 1991, Kono had lost the blessing of enjoying basic social amenities such as pipe borne water, electricity, good roads, functional medicare facilities, appropriate and adequate education etc.

 At one point, even with the electricity power house in proper working order, it was only the Lebanese, alien West Africans who saw light in their homes. This was simply because the fuel and oil supplied for use in the power house were instead sold to these private generator owners, thus depriving the majority of the people of this essential utility.

In the same vain, the Kono authorities themselves contributed to the denial of their people the benefits of such essentials. The water works area, which served as a reservoir for the whole township of Koidu, was barbarically vandalized by then 2nd Chiefdom Speaker, Chief S.M. Gborie in close collaboration with then Paramount Chief, late S.M. Thorlie in pursuit of diamonds.

Even though the water supply system was at a dire straight, the existence of the infrastructure at this point in time, would have attracted some considerations for rehabilitation in the eyes of certain humanitarian institutions.

Even with these short comings in social service and infrastructural deliveries, Kono was very competitive in the social milieu of this country.

The mines, alluvial and so on, were very fruitful investments before now. Diamonds were forthcoming as long as it is mineed. In this regard, cash flowed alternatively, thus making life for the average resident of Kono, very much better. What ever one does at that time in Kono, for as long as it was business, was a success. Begging was no part of the people of Kono. Rather it was a place of competition among peers, family members, friends, associates in return of offers of gesture in kind or being the first to do good onto others.

Invariably however, the alien Lebanese, Syrians and other West Africans became the beneficiaries of this economic largesse. This was simply because the invested thoroughly in the process and were as well exceptionally receptive and philanthropic to the people. They were therefore paid back with diamonds, whether they were found legally or stolen.

Kono was boisterous, booming with life like fire on a savannah grass in a harmattan season. Nothing was anyone’s problem. Maintaining and sustaining life to the barest minimum was not a problem. The principle in Kono then was "once you work even if you don’t get you will not sleep hungry."

Major towns like Jaiama Sewafe, Jaiama Nimikoro, Bumpe, Yengema, Motema, Tombodu, Kayima, Gandohun, Jagbwema-Fiama, Kombayendeh etc. were resorts for their descendants on a weekly basis. The Konomanyi Park will be jam-packed on Fridays and Saturdays by Kono families leaving to spend weekends in their "sweet" villages. The main district headquarter town of Koidu was however the mix point of the social sweetness of Kono, culminating from her economic boom.

On arrival at the town’s main square, the Opera, one is met with a blossoming life full of all sorts of economic activities. Music blasts from loud speakers hung on the windows of discotheques, providing succour for those people that would subsequently check in later in the evening to "spend-no-check"-a depiction of the reckless manner in which people wasted money on pleasure.

The Opera building to the residents of Koidu is a monument of assurance. All throughout the rebels, sobels and Kamajor invasions of Koidu town, people were mostly concerned with the state of the Opera building.

The first question asked by anyone after loyal troops had recaptured the town was "Opera dae?" And once the response was positive, people became confident. Kono, as expected was very beautiful. It had quality houses which can only be measured up with those on Spur road, an area of opulence in those days.

However, the infrastructural beauty of Kono, like was the economy, was solidly in the hands of aliens or rather, other Sierra Leoneans that were not actual Konos. They inhabited the beautiful homes they mostly even owned those homes. They rode flashy cars and lived the life of opulence.

This was all within an environment of peaceful co-existence and fraternity. The situation as a result of this well mixed social set up was such that a common phrase, "Konoman" was coined by the very Kono people, to refer to all those people who lived and worked in Kono. By this definition, all men were equal and all men had equal access to almost everything except for membership into the sacred ‘Poro’ or "Sumoi" societies. To the actual Kono then, such strangers living in his household he referred to in Kono language as "Nna Sonda Kendeh" meaning "my good strangers".

But all these have changed today. A culture of hatred and jealousy has of late submerged those old good days of fraternity, economic boom, love, brotherhood and openness. Indications are that this culture which has overshadowed those embellished fine state of affairs in Kono is a consequence of the war, especially the period between 1998 and 2000.

 Everything that made up Kono was vandalized. One school of thought holds it that it was the deliberate action of some disgruntled Konos who were conscripted in the army and in the rebel fold, who perpetrated the destruction in apparent disenchanted with the economic and social domineering of aliens.

 Another school of thought had it that the record destruction of the entire Kono land emanated from the fight for hegemony between the rebels and the combined Ecomog/loyal forces over the area, in order to gain unhindered access to its wealth of diamonds. However, after the dastardly destruction had been done, the RUF emerged as controllers of the land.

The period of RUF control over Kono witnessed unimaginable devastation. Reports have it that there were Konos within their rank and file who actually oversaw the destruction.

Some houses that were burnt could have been easily rehabilitated. But their foundations were undermined in search of diamonds, consequently leading these houses top collapse. Major streets in Koidu which had classical structures such as Dabundeh Street, John Kellie Street, Ndomaina Street, Main Kainkordu Road, Masinbgi Road etc became virtual mining sites.

The Konos, some of whom had returned from refugee camps in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia in their own accord and have seen the destruction metted to their homeland quickly developed the sense of patriotism and nationalism to rescue their homeland from extinction.

In this circumstance, the issue was not only a fight to liberate the district from the clutches of the rebels and their destructive tendencies, but also to exert their authority and ownership over their land that was being plundered indiscriminately. The rebels in Kono most of whom were Temnes sided their kiths and kins against the Konos’ fight for liberation.

In an attempt to establish a difference between who was a true Kono or not, another phrase was this time coined, "Konomokwe" meaning, "Konoman’s business".

This was the idea on which the incidence of December 2000 was built which resulted in the loss of several lives and properties. Even though this genuine move yielded dividends-the district was liberated, the consequence of this new phenomenon of a new consciousness of the Konoman has had negative repercussions on the present socio-economic status of the people and district in general.

 Kono, by virtue of its richness in diamonds and the viability of its soil would have been built by now had the god’s and the ancestral spirits of the earlier Konos who introduced the phenomenon of "Nna Soda Kendeh" were happy with the present attitude of the present day Konoman, now characterized by xenophobia, hatred, greed, centrism and egotism.

Five years on since that famous "Konomokwe" the situation in Kono in terms of the economy and social make up is disappointingly retrogressive.

Kono is no longer its former self. The vibrance, the exuberance the blossom and energy that used to characterize Kono has dissipated. Nothing however has changed in the working habit of the people. Now the earlier principle of whether you work and get nothing but you will not go to bed hungry does not hold any longer. People, most people in Kono now go to bed on an hungry stomach. This is not to talk of the frustration of sleeping under tarpaulin sheets with its excruciating heat.

The consciousness brought about by that nationalistic "konomokwe" which has now caused the Konoman to grab all the mining areas for onward sale to companies is having no goodon the welfare of the people of Kono. Where provisions for alluvial mining are made available, the conditions imposed are not friendly. That besides, the seizure, dispossession and sale of lands owned by people now considered as aliens is another sad episode. Perhaps that is why the gods and the spirits have concealed the diamonds in apparent retaliation of the change of attitude of their sons, daughters and grand children.

This situation was worsened last year. At a moment when diamond were reportedly found in the Kamakwie area in the Bombali district, Kono almost became a deserted town. Today, it is sparsely populated with its usual boisterousness completely faded. Hunger, frustration and deprivation is now the order of the day.

In an attempt to therefore ameliorate this situation, the chiefs of Kono sometime last year reportedly consulted a Clairvoyant, who advised them to offer one of the most unimaginable sacrifices in present day civilization. A cow was reportedly slaughtered, the head cut off and buried in a deep hole alongside food conduments including large sum of money. This was an apparent attempt to appease the gods and the spirits. Nobody could tell what happened to the rest of the cow. Nobody at the least was given anything to eat of that sacrifice. Instead of meeting its value, the said sacrifice further angered not only the ordinary people including moderate Konos but the gods and spirits for whose apeasement it was offered. The situation is even far worse than it was before that sacrifice.

People are now blaming the chiefs, especially the Chiefdom Speaker I for Gbense Chiefdom, Chief A.M. Kamanda who it is indicated championed the sacrifice for his own advantage. He now wields more powers than the substantive Paramount Chief, P.C.Kamachendeh, who since his election has been residing in Freetown.

The hope of Kono ever returning to its glory is now hinged on the reformed attitude of the Konoman and their chiefs, whose brazenly tough stance on the independence and authority of the Konoman is at variance with the earlier sprit of oneness and fraternity. The people that are now been seemingly antagonized equally suffered with them, if not more than them in terms of loss of lives and property. The situation in that regard should have been one of tolerance and solidarity for the recuperation of what have been lost by all and sundry. That sacrifice which has proved to be very unpopular should be rescinded with one that will involve all the people of Kono. Such a sacrifice should please and satisfy the people for which it is intended for. Sacrifices are known to be intended for the the gods and spirits only by intention. The actual beneficiaries are those living people who should eat and drink of the sacrifices.

It is only when they are happy will the gods and spirits too become happy and thus reward for the sacrifice as expected by all. The aspirations of the forefathers should be upheld by this new breed of Konos. Certainly, Kono, is the land of the Konos even if they would not want to further generalize the Konoman phenomenon.

But what needs to be reminded of these people is that, Kono cannot and will not be managed and developed by Konos alone. Some spirit of tolerance and openness must be encouraged. By this the gods and the spirits will be appeased and diamonds once again flow like manna on the sieves and washing pans of miners.

And indeed the district will be rebuilt even before government starts turning attention to doing its meagre development programmes. I only hope the Konos are listening!

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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