Surviving without guns

Apr 23, 2018

Momodu Jawara making farming tools © Alpha Sesay/UNDP Sierra Leone

A LIFELONG TRADITION

Momodu Jawara is a Yalunka. One of the ethnic minorities found in Koinadugu district in northern Sierra Leone. Along with agriculture, Jawara's kinsmen are known for three things: cattle rearing, beekeeping and more importantly wildlife hunting.

In Banjuguya, a remote village just walking distance to neighboring Guinea, and the hub for wildlife hunting. Blessed with fierce hunters and gifted goldsmiths they are revered by the outlying villages.

The practice has been in existence for more than a century. Momodu Jawara, 47, and Mohamed Jawara, 35 are siblings. The duo, are goldsmiths and hunters respectively. A skill they inherited from their forefathers.

MORE THAN JUST A GAME

For the Yalunkas in Banjuguya, wildlife hunting was more than just a game. It is a means of survival in a remote and poverty stricken community.

Wildlife gun-hunting had been a tradition dating back centuries.

"It is even a tradition for parents to buy a gun for their unborn," said Musa Sesay, Security Coordinator in Banjuguya. "If the girl is not interested in hunting, it becomes the property of her husband."

These guns, made from unserviceable guns, blended with local scrap metals used to be made serviceable by Jawara's forefathers. It is a skill their father tried to teach Momodu, but he passed away shortly before he could master the art.

Nonetheless, Mohamed ended up being a blacksmith not as powerful as his predecessors but he knows the art of gun-making.

During the decade long civil war, there was the proliferation of small arms, particularly in communities with blacksmiths and those bordering Guinea and Liberia. Banjuguya was no exception.

Therefore, guns become a necessity as they serve dual purposes, for personal security and a means of livelihood in these harsh conditions.

CHANGING THE NARRATIVE

“Changing this custom is not a child’s play,” says Musa Sesay, Chiefdom Security Coordinator in Banjuguya.

It requires massive sensitization backed by sustained alternative livelihood intervention.

Through funds received from European Union (EU), and a project of Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (NATCOM-SL), sensitization campaigns were undertaken in 12 communities.

The outcome of those campaigns led to 5 communities surrendered their arms and ammunition. The project is being implemented in these five communities in four Koinadugu district and 1 in Kailahun district.

“The message they brought us was simple but powerful,” says seventy-five year old Saio Samura, town chief. "Avoid guns for peaceful communities, clean water and better education for our children."

Awareness about the menace and proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) to community peace, security and development has grown. More people now want to give up their guns more than ever.

Mohamed Jawara, a retired hunter gave up hunting partly because of the sensitization messages. When the sensitization campaign reached Mohamed about the dangers of keeping gun, he sold his to someone for three hundred thousand Leone just over USD30.

A decision that he still regrets. "I still wish I knew the person," he says. I will not hesitate to give him more than what he gave me to get the gun back and hand it over.

EFFORTS ARE PAYING OFF

Two years down the line, efforts from ECOWAS-EU project is paying dividend. Communities are encouraged to voluntarily give up their weapons in exchange for community development projects based on their top-most prioritized needs.

"We value water more than the meat we get from hunting. We will ensure that anyone who has a gun surrenders it so that we can get more help." Community like Duguray, are having their first ever protected source of water, thanks to this project.

Almost in tears, the section chief said that the provision of the hand pump would put an end to his community battling with cattle for the limited water due to the shallow and unprotected sources of water they used to have.

In all, seven communities have submitted guns so far, all have been provided with protected hand pumps and motorbikes to transport their produces from their farms to the market.

The project Coordinator, Wilhemina Sho-Cole said that they are providing these alternative livelihood options, water and sanitation facilities in these communities that needed it the most.

“The location of their farms to their markets is miles apart. It is costing them a lot of money”.

“We are helping these communities with durable bikes so that they can easily transport their produce from their farms to the market,” Said Sho-Cole.

With these motor bike, they will be paying 1,000 Leones anywhere they wish to go within their communities, the market and the farm. The proceeds Sho-Cole said will be used for maintenance of the bikes and hand pump whenever they need repairs.

For sustainability, the communities will be given a task within one year to purchase at least one more motorbike from the proceeds.

DEVISING NEW WAYS TO SURVIVE WITHOUT GUNS

Sanu Turay is a farmer. She had a "Chakabula gun" -locally manufactured shot guns-which her late husband left her before he died a few years ago. She used the chakabula to scare away wild animals in her rice plantation.

She said that when the sensitization began a few years ago, she was informed about handing over her guns.

Turay hesitated because she wasn't sure what method would she use to scare away wild animals. Then she realized that making dummies and fencing the farm would help solve the problem.

She has all the reasons in the world to be happy because she had waited for a life time to have her first protected source of water. 

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