This week, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists released a strong statement on last Saturday's kidnapping and public humiliation of four female journalists. A quote read: "We condemn in the strongest of terms these illegal arrests and detention of the journalists and reiterate our appeal to the public that formal and civilised channels exist for seeking redress which must be respected."

In a media statement also released this week, Reporters Without Borders added their voice: "Such disgraceful behaviour worthy of a bygone age is very damaging to Sierra Leone's image."

Haja Massah Kai-samba, the Sowei who told the local press that the four journalists were taken into “our custody because they spoke unfavorably on radio against FGM,” seems not to know that abduction is a crime in Sierra Leone. Or that the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone found people guilty on accusations which included crimes such as abduction; the kind of actions that the nation was forced to put up with for years.

Perhaps Kai-samba's ignorance of the law comes from her Nongowa chiefdom leaders who suppress and drown out the truth. Or with Sierra Leone's recent history of armed conflict, perhaps there is a tolerance for abductions and torture in chiefdoms like Nongowa that would have been unheard of in Ella Koblo Gulama's Kaiyamba, or Honoria Bailor Caulker's Kagboro.

I think even Mammy Yoko, who built social capital through traditional societies, but watched her husband horse whipped in public by a sadistic colonial governor, won't have felt the need to flaunt her political power by parading women in public. But that's only opinion on what I think is the real image of some of the best known traditional female leaders in Sierra Leone.

The fact is whatever side you fall on the cultural wars, Sierra Leoneans
should be worried about what happened in Nongowa. As a nation that is still dealing with the fall-out from war, we should have as much concern for the crime against the four reporters, and the cause of the crime, as we do about the adult female literacy rate in recovery and development.

By all means, let's talk about the participation of women in local/national government; whether the infant mortality rate is up or down; percentage of the population with access to safe water, and just how many children under 5 have nutritional wasting.

But let's not shrug off what Massah Kai samba did in Nongowa, Kenema. As you lie back and think of Sierra Leone today, ask yourself:

What does it mean for my individual security in a chiefdom where Kai-samba can abduct Manjama Balama-Samba of the United Nations radio and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, Henrietta Kpaka, SLBS, Isha Jalloh of Eastern Radio and Jenneh Brima, also of Eastern Radio, and then forcibly undress them and make them walk butt naked through the streets of Nongowa?

We've been here before, and the nation paid a heavy price.


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