From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

May 4, 2010, 17:00


Aminata Forna Returned to Face the Men Who helped Siaka Stevens’ APC cook up Plot that executed her father Dr. Mohamed Forna



Victoria Brittain reviews ‘Devil that danced on the Water’ memoir of Aminatta Forna, who returned to Sierra Leone to clear her executed father’s name


When western television screens began to show women and children with amputated limbs, and other devastating evidence emerged of the descent into violence in Sierra Leone’s civil war in the late 1990s, the crude explanation was that a generation of drug-fuelled youths had been incited by diamond-hungry Lebanese and Liberians to rebel against the corrupt and incompetent status quo. Aminatta Forna’s story of her father’s execution on trumped-up treason charges, 25 years before anyone had heard of the Revolutionary United Front, gives a more personal framework for understanding the horror of the 1990s in the linked wars of Sierra Leone...


Mohamed Forna was probably the most brilliant man of his generation in Sierra Leone - a doctor trained in Scotland, a finance minister who became a spokesman for many poor developing countries, and an opposition leader who embodied the hopes of Sierra Leoneans that independence would bring health and education to all. At the end of the 1960s, on the brink of his political career, he was warned by the powerful politician who would be his nemesis that he had perhaps spent too much time in England. Dr Forna, he said, had failed to understand that in Africa, “politics and violence were inseparable”. Extreme orchestrated violence was already the norm of the two dominant political parties in Sierra Leone. Coups, arrests, exile and more violence followed.

For Aminatta, the youngest of his three children, Dr Forna was the adored and attentive Daddy who commanded her total loyalty through the family and political upheavals that dragged her through nine homes in six years...

...At first the warm, embracing life they had known there before was poisoned by battles with their new stepmother, Auntie Yabome but Yabome emerged as a heroine as the trap closed around Dr Forna. She managed to smuggle the children out of the country and make a life for them in England, showing bravery and loyalty that marked Aminatta for life. Her cooperation has made it possible to unravel the strange story of the elaborate plot that framed Dr Forna.


In the second half of the book, Aminatta returns to Sierra Leone as an adult, a journalist, determined to uncover the truth of her father’s death. Like Gillian Slovo, who in Every Secret Thing went back to South Africa and confronted her mother’s presumed killer, she was impelled to meet the men who betrayed her father. She tracked down almost everyone who was used to build the shabby and unconvincing case against him, based on statements made under torture (later disavowed) and pure fabrications by the police. It was agonising work. Her interviews with broken men are extremely moving, and tell everything of the world that vanished with her father.

As Slovo wrote about herself, Forna was “a child of secrets”. As an adult she wanted to put together the jigsaw of her father’s political secrets, but she had not foreseen the personal impact. “I had spent 25 years in ignorance and one year gradually uncovering some of the truth, and yet now I could barely recall what it felt like not to know,” she writes. “It was as though this terrible knowledge, of the lies and the manipulation, the greed and the corruption, the fear and violence had been with me for ever. So this is innocence lost, what it feels like. The country had changed, I had changed - as for the past, it was irrevocably altered.”

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.