Volunteer Posts In the University of Makeni

The following three posts at the University of Makeni are being publicised on our website in conjunction with VMM who are in partnership with the University. The posts are Lecture in Science Education,  IT Administrator and Research Co-ordinator:

Background of VMM

VMM’s aim is to build the capacity of local development organizations’ through strategic partnership in terms of the provision of skilled human resources, counterpart mentoring and project resource support. Established in 1969, VMM has built strategic partnerships in over 25 countries and provided over 2,500 specialist personnel, access and provision of training courses for local personnel and access to project specific funding in line with agreed Partner Plans. VMM undertakes its development under the principles of integral human development and dignity and respect for all.


Background of University of Makeni

The University of Makeni was founded in October 2005.  It admits students from all creeds and beliefs.  It is located in Northern Sierra Leone and is a private university managed and funded by the Catholic Church through the Diocese of Makeni. The university has two colleges, Fatima College and St Joseph’s College. Each occupies its own campus close to Makeni town, a town of around 80,000 and the headquarters of Bombali district. 

The University started as the Fatima Institute in 2006, and became the first private university in Sierra Leone in 2009. The activities of the institute are centered on the following:

Educational networking: to attract quality graduates in the fields of Social   Sciences, Philosophy/Divinity, Special Education and Agriculture.

Training and capacity building geared towards improving civil society organisations that are dedicated to improving the social, political, economic and religious condition of the poor, vulnerable and marginalised.

Research and development: conducting social research, build and nurture scientific networks through collaboration with other institutions and organisations.

The university also plans to introduce courses in Agriculture, science and science education, health sciences, and engineering in the near future. As well as its teaching function the university has a well developed community outreach programme in mental health, good governance training for local counsellors and other community posts.

1. Role Title

Lecturer in Science Education *


Makeni, Sierra Leone

Duration of Assignment

Two Years


Job Description

There is a need to improve science education at all levels in Sierra Leone in order begin to implement social and economic development. Secondary school science education is of poor quality and at the end of senior secondary school few students have achieved the necessary grades in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) to qualify for entrance to university.

The University of Makeni plans to introduce science and science education courses to address these problems and as a first step has started one year remedial courses aimed at tutoring students to enable them to resit the WASSCE exams and gain the required grades to gain entrance to university. This post is designed to improve the quality of science teaching on the remedial course, focusing in particular on practical science skills.

Main Responsibilities

1) Teach two or more of maths, physics, chemistry, biology subjects to students on the remedial programme of UNIMAK (this is a repeat year for students failing to get high enough grades in West African Senior School Certificate Examination for university entrance)

2) Teach on the Bachelor of Education and Post-graduate Certificate in Education as required. Subjects dependent on skills and experience of the VM

3) Provide expertise in equipping and organising the science lab(s) as they are built.

4)  Provide staff development activities in the area of active participatory teaching and learning and practical skills in secondary school science.

5) Work as part of the team of staff in UNIMAK Department of Education/ Science and with Unimak partners, to draw up a modular programme of science and science education at undergraduate level

Qualifications Required

  • Third Level Degree in Science or Maths
  • Relevant Secondary School Teaching qualification

Qualifications Desired

  • Masters degree  or Ph.D. in Science Education

Skills Required

  • Significant experience of teaching Practical Science and/ or Maths in secondary schools
  • Fluency in English

Skills Desired

  • Ability to work with colleagues to develop their skills in active teaching and practical science.
  • Excellent communication and organisational skills
  • Teaching experience in development countries

Closing Date

No closing date has been set for this role. Applications are considered on a first come first serve basis. For further inquiries please contact your nearest Regional Office or apply online

* Personnel appointed to this post will be vetted in accordance with the VMM Child Safeguarding Policy


  1. Role Title

IT Administrator*


Makeni, Sierra Leone

Duration of Assignment

One Year


Job Description

1) Oversee and coordinate all aspects of IT in UNIMAK administration and facilities for academic staff and students

2) Participate in senior management meetings to provide input on IT needs and developments

3) Provide expertise and advice on upgrading of systems as the university expands

4) Oversee staff development activities in the area of IT to ensure staff that can make efficient use of all IT facilities available

5) Put in place systems for secure use of the IT network including the databases.

6) Responsible for overseeing all existing databases and advising on necessary upgrading and training as identified

7) Work alongside local counterpart staff member to mentor and develop their skill set to enable them to be able take over the role by the end of the two year assignment

Qualifications Required

  • Relevant  Advanced Third Level qualification in IT/Computer Science

Skills Required

  • Excellent communication and organisational skills
  • Ability to be proactive in foreseeing and avoiding problems.
  • Self motivated able to take initiatives to deal with difficulties
  • Fluency in English.

Skills Desired

  • Significant experience in developing and maintaining IT systems for an educational or commercial institution

Closing Date

No closing date has been set for this role. Applications are considered on a first come first serve basis. For further inquiries please contact your nearest Regional Office or apply online

* Personnel appointed to this post will be vetted in accordance with the VMM Child Safeguarding Policy


3. Role Title

Research Co-ordinator*


University of Makeni Fatima College, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Duration of Assignment

Two Years


Job Description

The University hopes to develop a strong research programme over the next five years. This post focuses on the task of developing and supporting a strong research programme relevant to the needs of the country.

1) Develop a research centre at Unimak to coordinate and stimulate a culture of research within the institution

2) Participate in senior management activities aimed at developing the university

3) Provide staff development activities in the area of research skills- project design and implementation, project bids, publications

4) Develop a programme of research

5) Be responsible for developing Unimak research journal and support both staff and students to contribute

6) Draw up an annual programme of research seminars using both Unimak and workers from other institutions in Sierra Leone, Africa, and other continents to participate

7) Work in partnership with an identified member of Unimak staff to skill share and mentor so that they may take over the post before the end of the two year placement of the VMM personnel

8) Work with heads of department to support research activities of departmental academic staff

Qualifications Required

  • Masters and/or Ph.D from an accredited third level institution.

Qualifications Desired

  •  Ph.D from an accredited third level institution

Skills Required

  • Significant experience of designing and carrying out research projects.
  • Good record of publications in academic journals.
  • Fluency English

Skills Desired

  • Experience of successfully bidding for research funds
  • Previous work experience in universities in developing countries

Closing Date

No closing date has been set for this role. Applications are considered on a first come first serve basis. For further inquiries please contact your nearest Regional Office or apply online

* Personnel appointed to this post will be vetted in accordance with the VMM Child Safeguarding Policy



Roman Catholic Missions to Sierra Leone in the Nineteenth Century

Roman Catholic Missionaries in Sierra Leone in the Nineteenth Century

Seán Farren

(This article is published in the Journal of Sierra Leone Studies, Vol.2, No.2, 2013)

From early in the nineteenth century Christian missionary activity, first in West Africa and later in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, became a significant feature of most European Christian churches. Sierra Leone was one of the first West African settlements to experience sustained evangelisation by European missionaries, to begin with by Protestant missionaries, mainly Anglicans and Methodists. Roman Catholic missionaries did not arrive in Sierra Leone until towards the middle of the century. This article discusses and assesses the early phases of their missionary endeavours in the country.

Phase 1 – Pre-1860

While evidence exists of some Roman Catholic missionary activity along the West African coast from the early seventeenth century, it was desultory and lacked organisational drive.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn1″>[1] It was not until the nineteenth century that determined efforts were made to develop concerted missionary activity among communities living along that coast. At the time new missionary congregations were being established in several European countries to meet the challenge of Christian evangelisation which easier access to coastal communities offered. Congregations like the Holy Ghost, today known as the Spiritans, the Society of African Missions, the White fathers, and the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, all French foundations, date from this period and by the middle of the century their missionary endeavours in Africa were gathering pace.

The arrival of Roman Catholic missionaries in Sierra Leone occurred in a rather round-about way and they came from the USA, not Europe. In the early 1820s many religious and philanthropic groups in the USA, especially the American Colonization Societyand%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn2″>[2] which campaigned for the liberation of enslaved people, supported the establishment of what became the independent state of Liberia as a home for former slaves, somewhat along the lines followed in Sierra Leone several decades previously. In the course of debate around this proposition, the Roman Catholic Bishop John England of the diocese of Charleston wrote to Pope Gregory XVI in 1833, suggesting that missionaries be sent to the ‘free blacks’ of Liberia.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn3″>[3] Eventually, in 1841, the Vatican asked the bishops of Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York to send missionaries from their dioceses to Liberia. Among those to respond was Fr Edward Barron an Irish priest who was ministering in Philadelphia at the time and who was an associate of the Holy Ghost congregation.

Barron was appointed a bishop and left for West Africa in 1841 accompanied by a Fr John Kelly from New York and a lay catechist from Baltimore. His jurisdiction was extended from Liberia to include Sierra Leone and the whole of West Africa and he became known as the “Bishop of the Two Guineas,” a generic name given to the sub-Saharan region of the West African coast. Bishop Barron’s contact with Sierra Leone was, however, brief. He visited Freetown in 1842 where he met a small and, according to Fyfe, ‘a priestless Roman Catholic community chiefly Jolof and a few recaptives from Portuguese colonies’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn4″>[4] Unfortunately, Bishop Barron became seriously ill soon afterwards and resigned his jurisdiction leaving no permanent mission behind.

Sixteen years elapsed before another attempt was made to establish a mission in Sierra Leone. Then, following the creation of the Vicariate of Sierra Leone in 1858,and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn5″>[5] a group of three missionaries from the recently formed Society of African Missions, arrived in Freetown from Dakar in January 1859. They were all French and were joined, in May, by the founder of the society, Mons. de Marion Brésillac accompanied by two other missionaries. Tragically, all but one of this group succumbed to yellow fever within six weeks of each other and, with their deaths, ended the first planned Roman Catholic mission to Sierra Leone. In a spirit of what today would be described as ecumenism, the funeral rites for last of the group, Mons. Brésillac, were presided over by a priest of the Anglican community in Freetown.  The surviving member of the group returned to Dakar and the mission closed.

Phase 2 – Mission Revived

The next phase of Catholic missionary activity in Sierra Leone commenced when, in 1863, the Holy Ghost congregationand%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn6″>[6] assumed responsibility for the mission at the request of the Office for the Propagation of the Faith, the Vatican body charged with overall responsibility for the Catholic Church’s missionary initiatives. That office described the territory in very unflattering terms as having ‘a pitiless climate, a native population degraded by long years of paganism and characterised by the worst features of a tropical seaboard, a campaign of the most intense opposition organised by the native sorcerer, the Mohamedan Almany and Protestant proselytiser’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn7″>[7] However, contrary to this image, Sierra Leone, a British Crown Colony since 1808, had been developing its own very distinctive character, and by the middle of the century had a mixed population of approximately 15,000 living in Freetown and the surrounding peninsular territory, many descendants of former slaves liberated from their slave ships by naval patrols stationed at Freetown. From the early days of the colony, the authorities had encouraged European missionaries to go to Sierra Leone with the result that by the middle of the nineteenth century a number of Protestant churches were firmly established in Freetown, and were conducting schools, while Fourah Bay College functioned, primarily to train a local clergy.

The Holy Ghost congregation had among its principal objectives the evangelisation of sub-Saharan Africa and was to become one of the largest Roman Catholic missionary societies working in Africa over the next one hundred and fifty years. However, the congregation’s early members being mainly French, it was realised that to work effectively in those parts of Africa like Sierra Leone that were coming under British control, the congregation needed English speaking members. With that objective in mind the congregation established a number of secondary schools in Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, predominantly English speaking and Catholic. There it was hoped young men could be attracted to the congregation.

The arrival of the congregation in Ireland coincided with and contributed to what would become a remarkable growth in missionary activity that would eventually take Irish men and women to the four corners of the world, mainly the English speaking world and, in particular to British colonies in Africa. That missionary movement was encouraged by the huge emigration from Ireland that followed the tragic famines of the 1840s and which created large migrant communities in America and Australia, and also by European imperialist expansion into Africa and elsewhere across the globe. Interest in the Catholic Church’s missionary activity was encouraged by the establishment in many parts of the country of support organisations like the Association for the Propagation of the Faith whose aims included fund raising, helping to recruit potential missionaries, and spreading information about the work of various missionary congregations.

The Holy Ghost congregation’s first foundations in Ireland were made when a number of French members opened schools in Dublin (1859), and at Rockwell in County Tipperary (1864). However, when the congregation assumed responsibility for the Sierra Leone mission there were, as yet, few Irish members and, until the early years of the twentieth century, the mission would consist of more French than Irish members. In 1864 the first four Holy Ghost missionaries arrived in Freetown, led by Fr Edouard Blanchet, who was accompanied by Fr Koeberlé, Bro. Wurm and an Irishman, Bro Mathews. Fr Blanchet’s missionary career was to be, in nineteenth century West African terms a very long one, though not all of it in Sierra Leone. He didn’t retire until in 1892. Fr Blanchet had previously worked at St Louis, in what would later become the Senegal, while Bro Mathews had worked in the Gambia.

Before discussing their work in Sierra Leone, it may be helpful to offer a brief account of the approach to evangelisation which informed Catholic missionary activity of the period.

Approach to Evangelisation

Like all Christian churches, the Catholic mission’s basic motivation was a concern for the eternal destiny of people and its conviction that membership of the Roman Catholic Church was the key to ensuring that destiny would be in Heaven. To this end, it was also a mission, ‘which while it acknowledged its European cultural trappings also recognised the need to cultivate local leadership’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn8″>[8] According to James Dunne, the approach of the Holy Ghost missionaries was set out by one of the congregation’s founders, Fr Francis Liebermann, who ‘had insisted to his missionaries that a self-sustaining Christian community had to be rooted in the mentality, customs and culture of the local community. Missionaries were to avoid disturbing these customs and were to lead the people to be more perfect in their own way according to their own customs’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn9″>[9] Consequently, Liebermann directed his missionaries to spend their first year listening, observing and learning local languages and, as part of their approach, were to become involved in education, agriculture and technology.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn10″>[10]

So, while the main missionary emphasis was on ensuring as far as possible the ‘eternal destiny’ of those to whom the Christian gospel was preached, practical ways of winning local converts had to be found. These were mainly through the establishment of schools, orphanages and medical centres. Among those targetted were former slaves, particularly in Sierra Leone. The founder of the St Joseph of Cluny congregation a number of whose members would establish a mission in the country, Mother Anne-Marie Jahouvey devoted herself to this task. Mother Jahouvey had visited Freetown in 1823 at the invitation of Governor McCarthy where she had reorganised the Liberated African hospital and had cared for victims of yellow fever that was raging at the time, and of which she almost became a victim herself.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn11″>[11]

The extent to which Liebermann’s advice was heeded and local customs respected by his missionaries, whether in Sierra Leone or elsewhere, is a matter of judgement.

Mission established

On February 12th, 1864, the four Holy Ghost missionaries came ashore at Freetown and were given residence in premises at Rawdon Street where they slept on the bare floor for sometime due to a lack of furniture. On the following Sunday, they said mass for a congregation of fourteen Catholics though the total number of Catholics in the town was said to be between sixty and seventy. The house in which they lodged was later leased by Fr Blanchet at sixty-four pounds a year and the first chapel was established there. In 1865 Fr Blanchet opened a primary school at Rawdon Street and named it after St. Edward the Confessor. Due to the lack of Catholic teachers, he hired Protestant teachers until the following year when Bro Claver, a native of Mauritius, arrived to take over responsibility as school principal. Fr Blanchet also provided a small dispensary from which he distributed medicines every morning.

A year later, two Irish men, Fr Thomas Bracken and Bro Christian Foley arrived to strengthen the mission. Fr Bracken, replaced Fr Koeberlé who had died quite suddenly. By then the Rawdon Street premises had become too small and on October 13th, 1867, work commenced on a permanent mission house at Howe Street. The building was completed in 1868.

Bro Foley only stayed a short time before returning to Ireland in 1869 and, tragically, Fr Bracken died within eight months, leaving Fr Blanchet as the only Catholic missionary in Freetown. In his short period in Freetown Fr Bracken had become quite well known, especially among the Irish soldiers attached to the West Indian Regiment stationed there for whom he was chaplain. His funeral was an occasion of mourning not just among the Catholic congregation in the town, but more widely as well. According to Blanchet ‘The funeral of Fr Bracken was a triumph for the Catholic Mission. We never realised till then how much sympathy the whole population of Freetown had for us’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn12″>[12]

In a letter to his superior in Paris Fr Bracken described a typical day for a missionary.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn13″>[13] He rose at five, said morning prayers, celebrated mass, read his breviary (book of prayers), took breakfast, and spent the rest of the morning reading, writing, receiving visitors, and preparing for his instruction classes, before having lunch and taking recreation (mainly resting in his room). In the afternoon he would go for a walk during which he would visit local people, members of the European community, the hospital and the army barracks. Instructions of persons preparing for the sacraments took place in the evening about seven, at times well attended, at others frustratingly poorly attended. Dinner followed and then, after evening prayer, he would retire.

Bracken and Koberlé’s early deaths underlined the fact that life expectancy for Europeans in Sierra Leone was frequently very short, although there were notable exceptions such as Fr Blanchet. Following Bracken’s death, over succeeding decades several other missionaries succumbed after quite short periods in Sierra Leone. The effect of their loss was to impede the work of the mission, especially in education.

Girls’ Education

In 1866 three Sisters of Cluny arrived in Freetown. Like the Holy Ghost congregation, the Cluny sisters were anxious to recruit members from Ireland and, in 1864 had established their first school there.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn14″>[14] Two of the three were Irish, Srs Kearney and Sheridan. Such was the novelty of the sisters that when they arrived five ‘gendarmes’ were needed to prevent the crowd that had gathered from ‘envahir l’église’ (invading the church) to see the ‘sisters of mercy’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn15″>[15] The main focus of the sisters’ work was to be the education of girls and soon after their arrival they established a primary school.

The two mission schools quickly attracted considerable numbers of pupils, especially from among the poorer sections of Freetown’s society. According to Fyfe ‘The Roman Catholic mission looked after the poor more than the Protestant churches which, based so firmly on the prosperous  laity, tended to succumb to the temptation … of ministering too much to the self-esteem of the successful’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn16″>[16] From an enrolment of 113 in 1868 the boys’ school expanded to 212 a year later, while the girls’ school grew from 80 in 1867 to 200 in 1869. Reports on the two Catholic schools compiled as part of a survey of the colony’s education provision by a J. Stuart Laurie, an inspector sent from London at the British government’s request, reveal that the boys’ school had three teachers, one educated in Mauritius, the second educated in Ireland, and the third, a lay person, educated in Barbados.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn17″>[17] The school had 114 registered at the time of Laurie’s visit and offered the following subjects: English language, composition and grammar, history, reading, writing, drawing, arithmetic, scripture, Christian ‘politeness’ and singing. Annual expenditure on the school was recorded as £180.

The girls’ school was described as catering for boarders as well as day scholars. The former were charged £2 per month if full boarders and £1 if half-boarders. A similar range of subjects to that in the boys’ school was offered with the addition of knitting. There were 65 pupils registered at the time of the survey and the staff consisted of the two Irish sisters. Annual expenditure on the school amounted to £120. In neither school were tuition fees levied and in both schools the textbooks in use included titles from the Irish National School list as well as from that of the Irish Christian Brothers, texts then widely used in the English speaking world.

In these early years the reputation of the Catholic mission’s schools was such that at a meeting of principals of Protestant schools in 1872, the Director of Public Instruction was reported as saying, ‘If I had any advice for the Government it would be to confide our schools to the Catholics. It was among them that I noted progress and only among them’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn18″>[18]

Inter-Church Rivalries

The reputation of the Catholic mission did not, however, remain unsullied. Given Sierra Leone’s already quite developed Protestant presence the arrival of Roman Catholic missionaries was the cause of some suspicions and tensions heightened by more general events in the Catholic Church at the time. Catholic missionaries regarded their Protestant counter-parts to be teaching profoundly erroneous interpretations of the Christian message, and had, therefore, to be challenged in whatever ways possible.  They aimed therefore, to seek conversions not simply from among non-Christians, but from among the Protestant community as well. They did so, wherever possible, not only by preaching the ‘true’ faith, but also by trying to demonstrate a better quality in the services they provided compared with those offered by other missionaries, especially in their schools. Comments like those of the Director of Public Instruction together with the enrolment of Protestant pupils strengthened their schools’ reputation especially that of the girls’ school.


In some Protestant circles, attitudes towards the Catholic mission were, at times, quite hostile – the initials RC were often translated to read ‘Roman cockroaches’ while others viewed the missionaries as ‘jesuits’ ‘who would stop at nothing to achieve their goal’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn19″>[19] Fueling the rivalry between the churches was the Catholic determinations to win as many converts from Protestantism as possible. Writing about the Protestant pupils who had enrolled in the convent school, Sr Marie-Therese claimed that they would soon become Catholics, noting that ‘elles ne savent pas meme ce que c’est le protestantisme’ (they do not know what Protestantism is).and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn20″>[20]  Her companion Sr Kearney claimed that it was only the Protestant ministers and, by implication, not the ordinary people who were ‘furieux contre nous. Ils disent toute sorte de mal contre nous. Surtout, ils dissent que nous sommes des idolatres et que nous obligeons tout le monde a etre catholique ( .. who are furious with us. They speak all sorts of evil against us. Above all, they say we are idolaters and want to make the whole world Catholic).and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn21″>[21]

In these early years inter-church tensions were directly raised by a letter issued by Pope Pius IX in 1869 as part of his preparations for the Vatican Council then about to be convened in Rome.  Addressed to ‘all Protestants and non-Catholics’, the Pope wrote ‘we cannot restrain ourselves on the occasion of the future council from addressing our apostolic and paternal words to all those who, though acknowledging the same Jesus Christ as Redeemer and glorying in the name of Christians, nonetheless do not profess the true faith of Jesus Christ, and do not follow the communion of the Catholic Church’, and he called on them to recognise the error of their ways and to acknowledge that the Catholic Church was the one true church of Jesus Christ.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn22″>[22] Fr Fritsch, Bracken’s successor at the Catholic mission, circulated an English version of the letter in the hope that it would ‘bring forth the most salutary fruits of salvation in the hearts of all those who shall read it with a reflective and unprejudiced mind’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn23″>[23] On the contrary the letter provoked considerable hostility from the Protestant churches. A series of thirteen sermons was preached condemning the letter at Christ Church, Pademba Road. In one, the Principal of Fourah Bay College, Rev. Henry J. Alcock, claimed in quite extravagant terms: ‘… that mere zeal will no more prove him (the Pope) right or myself, than it would prove a worshipper of the Indian idol Juggernaut right, who after spending his life serving that false god, ends it by crushing himself to death beneath the wheels of his car’. and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn24″>[24]


After the positive start and the respect for the mission demonstrated at Bracken’s funeral, this controversy put the Catholic Church in Freetown on the defensive, and, to a certain extent would contribute to a decline in enrolments in its newly opened schools. Nevertheless there were also those who recognised that the Catholic missionaries were working hard at getting to know the people of Freetown. Writing about these early years in an unpublished Chroniques des Missions, the unnamed author quotes a local journal which stated that the missionaries, ‘gagnent l’esprit de la population par la bonté, l’indulgence et l’affection de la population qu’ils lui témoingnent et de plus ils ne sont pas aveuglés par les étroits préjugés de couleur’ (…win the minds of the population with their charity, with the indulgence and affection which they manifest towards them, moreover they are not blinded by the narrow prejudices of colour).and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn25″>[25]

Phase Three – Mission Develops

Despite this hostility, the mission continued to develop. It received a boost when Governor John Pope Hennessy (1872-3), an Irish man and a Catholic, and his wife became regular participants in church services, albeit for a very short time. Their attendance conferred a form of unofficial acceptance of the mission into the colony’s life. Notwithstanding this boost in status, developing the mission was slow work, not least because the toll on missionaries’ health was severe. Furthermore, internal tensions surfaced occasionally, suggesting that relationships between members of the mission were not always smooth and, at times, were quite fraught. Mission superior, Fr Gommenginger, who arrived in 1873, wrote to the Mother House in Paris that it would be better, despite the shortage of missionaries, if one or two of his colleagues should leave Sierra Leone voluntarily, or be recalled because they were not, in his opinion, suitable for missionary work.

One missionary who fell foul of his superiors was Bro Eugene Sullivan, who served in Sierra Leone in the 1870s. A highly regarded teacher in the boys’ school, he strongly complained to the Mother House about the mission’s failure to provide secondary education. Despite being told that secondary education was not a priority in the mission’s plans for evangelisation, he argued its importance, and warned that the Catholic people would be the losers for not having educated men in public life as a result of this inaction. Bro Sullivan pressed his case but was later transferred to a new mission in Monrovia where he died some years later.  It would be nearly fifty years before second level education would be provided by the mission. Meantime Catholic boys and girls who sought second level schooling were obliged to attend schools under the auspices of other agencies and other churches. The absence of a second level school probably explains some of the failure to recruit any Sierra Leoneans to the Catholic clergy until well into the next century, whereas the rival Protestant churches had for long been educating local clergy.


Later the behaviour of a Fr Muller caused a number of parishioners in Freetown to sign a letter to Paris complaining and asking that he be called home.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn26″>[26] The letter talked of the ‘very sad and awful conduct of our present Acting Superior Fr Muller’ who had berated the choir boys for singing a wrong note during the benediction service. The fact that there were several Protestants present who, as the letter also states, ‘were laughing heartily’ only added to the scandal. The letter recommended that Fr Muller be replaced by ‘our well dear Fr Cosgrove’, an Irish missionary. Perhaps not surprisingly, Fr Cosgrove had himself been the subject of some criticism by Muller in one of the latter’s reports to the congregation’s superior in Paris saying that he was ‘not a missionary’.


In 1888 Fr Haas complained that the sisters needed to control their budget and that they were not observing their congregation’s religious rule, describing it as ‘une letter morte’ (a dead letter) and that they lacked ‘la charité mutuelle’ (sisterly love).and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn27″>[27]  Other concerns provoked a letter dated 9 April 1891 from Fr Boyce to the Holy Ghost Superior in Paris.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn28″>[28] In it Boyce complained that the boys’ school in Freetown was being badly managed; that the principal teacher was a Protestant separated from his wife and living with a Catholic girl. Boyce also referred to money being spent foolishly on buildings and spoke of the principal of the girls’ school as having no English despite having lived in the country for ten years. He also claimed that Fr Blanchet, the superior in Freetown, was unapproachable on these matters and suggested he willingly tolerated laxities.

A year later, a Fr Tom O’Carroll wrote bitterly about what he had heard being said about him in Paris, apparently by Fr Lorbor, his local superior.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn29″>[29] He had decided to maintain his silence for the sake of the mission but now that his priestly role was ‘en jeu’ (at risk), he would do so no longer. It is never completely clear from the correspondence what O’Carroll’s problems were, though a fondness for alcohol may well have been the issue.


Living as they were in very small groups with few social outlets and in climatic conditions that posed serious risks to their health; it is hardly surprising that such tensions and conflicts would arise. However, despite these problems, the mission progressed as the number of Catholics gradually increased. The Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1884 and towards the cost of which many of Freetown’s Protestants contributed, was solemnly inaugurated in 1887 in the presence of the colony’s dignitaries including the acting Governor and the consular representatives of France, Germany, Portugal and Spain. At the inauguration ‘a fine sermon’ was preached by Fr. Frawley.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn30″>[30] Fr Frawley wrote about the ‘people coming in great numbers to be instructed’ saying that ‘last year we instructed sixty adults and hope to exceed this number this year’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn31″>[31] On a personal note and with no hint of any tensions, he added that ‘since coming to Sierra Leone I have been very happy … I like this mission very much’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn32″>[32]


The provision of educational opportunities was still the mission’s main social service, but the favourable start in the late 1860s and early 1870s did not persist, at least not in the case of the boys’ school which lost its earlier good reputation.  In 1888 Fr Haas complained that the school was ‘not clean and that attendance was low’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn33″>[33] Consequently parents were sending their children elsewhere. Another petition, signed by over forty prominent Freetown Catholics and submitted to the Superior of the Holy Ghost congregation in October 1890, pointed to the serious decline in numbers, from 200 to 20 and claimed the education provided was of the ‘lowest standards’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn34″>[34] The petition deplored the fact that Catholic parents were sending their children to Protestant schools and that there were ‘no Catholic young men holding any social positions with whom young ladies leaving the convent could marry’.  On the contrary, the girls’ school was described as thriving with many Protestant parents choosing it as the preferred institution for their daughters’ education. Indeed, according to an associate professor at Columbia Teachers’ College in the US who had visited Sierra Leone, ‘The best mission school seen here and the best primary school in all of West Africa was St Joseph’s Convent for girls under the direction of Irish Catholic sisters’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn35″>[35] With such a reputation for the girls’ school, it was no wonder that the petitioners were pressing for improvements to the boys’ school. Their letter recalled the days when Christian Brothers taught in the school and requested their return. Change came with the appointment of a new superior of the mission.


Phase 4 – Pro-Vicar Apostolic James Browne


In 1894 after Fr Blanchet had retired, another petition called for the appointment of a bishop, Irish or English (obviously a native speaker of English was preferred).and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn36″>[36] The petition acknowledged the good work of Fr James Browne who had arrived in Freetown in 1893 as mission superior following ministry in Ireland, Trinidad and the USA. Browne who would serve for the next ten years was to prove an energetic leader of the mission and was the obvious choice of the petitioners. However, the petition was not responded to and, while appointed superior, Browne was not immediately appointed as bishop, though he would be some years later.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn37″>[37]


Under Browne’s leadership boys’ education improved and mission stations were established in the Protectorate, declared in 1896. Early attempts to establish such stations had not met with any success. One attempt in 1881 at Benty in the Melacorrie region met with considerable opposition from Protestant missionaries in the area and it was considered prudent to withdraw.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn38″>[38] A mission at Rio Pongo in the North, which Fr Gommenginger established in 1876, also struggled and did not become a permanent establishment.  Within the colony a mission station at Murraytown was opened in 1880 and it too struggled for a considerable period before eventually being firmly established. The main mission station to be established outside of Freetown before Browne’s arrival was developed by Fr Blanchet at Bonthe on Sherbro Island in 1893. There, schools for boys and girls as well as an orphanage were established, the latter under the care of the St Joseph of Cluny sisters. However, the sisters were unable to provide personnel for the orphanage for very long and concentrated instead on the school.


Browne made exploratory visits to several areas to talk with local people about establishing schools and missions. He describes one such visit by canoe up the River Bum when he was accompanied by a Fr Touhy, who could speak Mende.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn39″>[39] Everywhere they went they were asked to open schools. As result an out-station to Bonthe was established at Bamani in 1897, the first of several to be established over the following decade.


Browne was eventually appointed Pro-Vicar Apostolic in 1898 with the authority of a bishop, a much delayed acknowledgement of the growth of the mission and of Browne’s energetic contribution to that growth. His letters reveal a man of considerable enthusiasm with an urgency to get things done.  He frequently wrote with a scarcely revealed frustration of the need for more missionaries, of the need to replace those who died unexpectedly, or those who had to be allowed home to recuperate from illness and fatigue. One of Fr Browne’s letters reveals the commitment to building and the need for tools.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn40″>[40] He wrote asking a Br Regis who was preparing to travel to join the Sierra Leone mission and who had worked with him in Trinidad, to bring with him ‘an inch chisel, a couple of turn screws and a couple of bradawls and gimlets’. He also requested table knives, a table lamp (oil) with a good reflector, three dozen Sacred Heart medals, school songs, canticles and hymns and, in a p.s., added ‘a small harmonium for our school, price five or six pounds’.

Browne had contact with a society in Paris that raised funds for the missions for which he annually completed a detailed questionnaire providing information about the mission’s work. He frequently wrote about his visits into the Protectorate, and the conditions of the ordinary people. He described the homes of the Mende being poorly constructed, and not well kept. He also mentions cannibalism and domestic slavery still practised in some places and hoped they could be eliminated. Emphasising the demand for schools, he told of the large attendance of local chiefs at the opening of a mission chapel at Mogumbo in 1900, and of the enrolment of many children in the school alongside it.

Hut Tax Wars

Although missionaries benefitted from European colonial expansion, they did not always find themselves in agreement with the policies or decisions of the colonial administrations. In Sierra Leone, one of the consequences of Britain’s extension of its jurisdiction beyond the original colony was the decision to impose a new tax, the ‘hut tax’, to pay for the new administration. The tax was a house tax but, however necessary the colonial administration viewed the tax, the implication for those affected was that they did not own their houses, an implication widely resented. As a result the tax was resisted and a bitter conflict broke out led by the Temne chief, Bai Bureh, in the North and by several Mende chiefs in the South and East. While resentment of the ‘hut tax’ was directed against the colonial authorities, missionaries in a number of places also suffered in the ensuing violence, notwithstanding the clear opposition some expressed towards the tax.  In 1898 Fr Browne wrote that the ‘hut tax’ was harsh and unjustified’, but he and others also spoke out against cannibalism and slavery. This criticism was resented by those responsible for the practices and placed its critics in considerable danger.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn41″>[41]

Fr Tuohy, based at Bonthe, wrote an account of the situation there following the outbreak of the war.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn42″>[42] According to Tuohy violent resistance to the tax occurred when the colonial authorities started to imprison chiefs who were leading the anti-tax protests. Attacks on European owned property on the mainland forced many to flee down river to seek refuge at Bonthe. People gathered at the mission for protection against the feared arrival of rebel forces. Luckily, the failure to acquire a sufficient number of boats to take the rebels to Bonthe spared the refugees. Once the uprising had been put down, missionary activity resumed in the areas affected without any apparent long-term effects.


After a sustained presence of forty years by the close of the century the Roman Catholic mission in Sierra Leone had developed firm roots, not just in Freetown and Bonthe but also in several locations in the Protectorate. When Browne died in 1903 permanent mission stations were functioning at Moyamba and Mobe with a number of out-stations attached to each. To these would soon be added stations at Gerihun in 1904, and at Serabu and Blama in 1905. In the colony, apart from Freetown itself, mission stations were located at Ascensiontown and Murraytown. The Catholic mission then consisted of eleven priests, four brothers and eleven sisters caring for a total Catholic population of nearly 3,000 with 900 children enrolled in their schools.

From the humble and inauspicious beginnings in 1864 when Blanchet and his companions stepped ashore to establish the first permanent mission growth had been slow but steady. Relationships with the wider community were now quite harmonious, another contrast with the situation just a few decades earlier. With respect to the latter it had been of significance that several of the colony’s governors after Hennessy had also been Catholic and had regularly attended Catholic services. The missionaries had reciprocated and had gradually abandoned the more stand-offish earlier approach which had kept many of them apart from the wider European and African communities. As happened when Fr Bracken died, but on a far greater scale, Browne’s funeral occasioned a very large demonstration of public respect for him and the Catholic mission.  Civil authorities, merchants, traders of Freetown and the army – for which he had acted as chaplain, and members of non-Catholic communities joined their Catholic citizens at the ceremonies.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn43″>[43] Leading Catholics in the colony wrote to Paris paying tribute to Browne saying ‘we cannot let this occasion pass without placing on record our high appreciation of the services he has rendered in furthering the cause of the Catholic religion, namely by the opening of missions in the hinterland and by bringing together that bond of friendship between our separated brethren and the Catholic Church’.and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftn44″>[44] It was a fitting tribute not just to Browne, but all who served the mission over the previous half-century.


Note on author

Dr Seán Farren is a visiting professor at the School of Education in the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, where he lectured for twenty-eight years prior to his retirement. His research interests include the history of Irish education on which he has published extensively in academic journals, book chapters and in his book The Politics of Irish Education 1920-1965 (Belfast, 1995). As a former elected member of the Assembly of Northern Ireland and minister in the Northern Ireland executive (1997-2007), Dr Farren has also published extensively on the political situation there, his most recent publication being SDLP: the struggled for agreement in Northern Ireland (Dublin, 2010). Dr Farren, who taught in Sierra Leone in his early career, at Bo and Kenema, is currently researching Irish-Sierra Leonean connections and has published the booklet Slave Traders, Governors and Missionaries:  Irish-Sierra Leonean Connections 1750-1960 (Dublin, Sierra Leone-Ireland Partnership, 2011).

Dr Farren can be contacted at s.farren@ulster.ac.uk.



and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftnref2″>[2] The American Colonization Society (in full, The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Colour of America), founded in 1816, was the primary vehicle to support the return of free African Americans to what was considered greater freedom in Africa. It helped to found the colony of Liberia in 1821–22 as a place for freedmen

and%20Ireland1/Roman%20Catholic%20Missions%20to%20Sierra%20Leone%20in%20the%20nineteenth%20century.docx#_ftnref3″>[3] Dunne, James, Creoles and Catholics in Freetown 1864-1896, unpublished dissertation, Fordham University NY, 1993. Copy in archives of Irish Spiritans, Dublin.

Biofuel project ‘leaves Africans without food’

Thousands of people in one of Africa’s poorest countries are going hungry because of a biofuels “land grab” by a firm that receives funding from the Department for International Development, a charity claims.
ActionAid accuses the Swiss company Addax Bioenergy of threatening livelihoods in rural communities in Sierra Leone, where it runs an extensive sugar-cane plantation.
Addax, which will soon begin the first commercial shipping of biofuels from Africa to Europe, receives funding from a UK-based development fund that received just under $150m (£97m) from DfID in 2012-13.
The Addax project, set up in 2008, saw the company take a 50-year lease on 57,000 hectares of land in the Makeni region of northern Sierra Leone. Due to begin exporting in 2014, the project will produce 85 million litres of ethanol a year, for petrol  enough to meet 12 per cent of the UK’s ethanol consumption in 2011/12.
The scheme had been promoted as an example of an environmentally and socially responsible biofuels project. But following visits to the Addax project and 100 interviews with local people, ActionAid claims that the company is harming the livelihoods of 13,000 people, across 60 villages.
Of those surveyed, 99 per cent said that food production had declined in their communities, and 90 per cent said that loss of farmland to the Addax project had been responsible. More than three quarters of local people said that they had never seen the land lease agreements with Addax and 85 per cent said that they had not been adequately informed about the pros and cons of the company’s investment in their land, the charity claimed.
The project is funded by a number of development banks and Government-backed funds, including the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), which receives substantial funding from DfID.
Tim Rice, ActionAid’s biofuels policy adviser and author of the report, told The Independent: “It is deeply concerning that DfID, whose aim is to reduce poverty around the world, is funding a project in one of the poorest countries in Africa which is pushing people off their land and into hunger.”
Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP for North-east England, and a member of the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy and Development committees, told The Independent she would call for a European Commission investigation into the project. “It is a matter of great concern,” she said.
A DfID spokesperson said ActionAid’s claims should be investigated. “EAIF makes their own commercial funding decisions,” the spokesperson said. “As one of EAIF’s funders, we would expect them and their fund managers to investigate any allegations raised and to seek reassurance from the company.”
An Addax spokesperson said the project in question “is already held up as a positive example by the authorities in Sierra Leone, and by international organisations like the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN and the African Development Bank.”
Friday September 06, 2013

Priorities for Action in Sierra Leone

As required by the US development agency Millennium Challenge Corporation, SL must conduct an analysis of the principal constraints to economic growth and poverty reduction which must include consulting with the people to identify priority areas. In your opinion which areas are the main priority areas you think our government should focus on to address our economic challenges if these funds are given to SL by the US government. We know everything in SL today needs immediate attention but it is also true that we may not be able to address everything immediately. However, some areas can be catalyst to addressing other problems. Please vote for the most seven priority areas.

What do you think are the most pressing areas is it Energy, or Healthcare, Education, Diaspora Voting, drinking water, or more lets tell them what we think. No name or personal information required. This information would be useful for the MCC Unit team coming from Sierra Leone. Please go to this link below and click on MCCSL PRIORITY SURVEY to select the most pressing areas that needs immediate attention in your opinion:  http://slpw.org/


Jesmed F Suma

Executive Director

Sierra Leone Policy Watch Inc. 



Tel 908-759-4332




Land Grabbing, Economic Development and Human Rights in Sierra Leone

The Politics of Land Grabbing; Strategies of Resistance
Centre for Peace and Development Studies, University of Limerick
4-5 June

Land Grabbing, Economic Development and Human Rights in Sierra Leone –
A case study

Dr Seán Farren
Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership

Contact: sean@slip.ie

Sierra Leone, the sub-Sahara country with which Ireland has had the longest historical connections, emerged from a bitter conflict some ten years ago. Thousands lost their lives, many more were injured and horribly maimed, infrastructure destroyed and the country’s economic and social development seriouSierra Leoney retarded. Not surprisingly, the country finds itself close to the bottom of every index of development ad is very anxious to expedite economic development in order to eliminate extreme poverty. It is in this context that the issue of large scale land acquisitions has to be considered.
This paper explores Sierra Leone’s experience of land acquisitions against the backdrop of the state’s efforts to stimulate the economy. Among the issues raised are the displacement of local communities, the challenge to their rights, the replacement of food crops by crops such as sugar cane and oil palm, base ingredients in the production of bio-fuels, and the threat posed to the environment by the scale of these investments.
Attracting Investment
Since the conflict ended Sierra Leone has shown a remarkable degree of political stability. Three general elections have taken place in relatively peaceful circumstances, one resulting in a change of the ruling party. In addition, there are positive signs of an economic recovery, particularly as far as restoring and developing infrastructure, the redevelopment of pre-existing extractive industry enterprises and opening of new enterprises. The prospect of off-shore oil is also attracting investment interests. With considerable international assistance, investment in health services, particularly in maternal care, is bearing positive results while in education progress towards achieving the goal of universal primary schooling is steady while second and third level have also seen progress in recent years.
It is not surprising that Sierra Leone like many developing countries anxious to reduce budget dependency on foreign aid, has adopted investment policies which include targeting overseas enterprises, offering generous allowances, no or low taxation on profits coupled with the expatriation of profits and support with start up costs where that is necessary.
Much of the Sierra Leone government’s effort in attracting such investment has focused on multi-national agri-businesses eager to invest in opportunities to develop cash crops like sugar cane and oil palm and in food crops like rice mainly for export. In this regard Sierra Leone is no different from other sub-Saharan countries to which multi-nationals in the agri-business have been attracted to make similar investments.
The Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), which encourages foreign investment claims there is an abundance of uncultivated soil rich land available in the country with a plentiful supply of water. The agency stresses the opportunities for the production of ethanol from sugarcane and bio-diesel from oil palm and points to Sierra Leone’s proximity to Europe where the EU wants to significantly increase the use of bio-fuels in transport.
Regarding land tenure SLIEPA states that land is considered a heritage, to be preserved and handed down to future generations. The agency explains that the tenure system is communal and that ‘The Chiefdom Council, headed by the Paramount Chief, is regarded as the custodian of the land on behalf of the entire Chiefdom but decisions regarding land are taken in consultation with heads of the various land owning families’. However, the agency also states that ‘strong government facilitation makes land easy to obtain in most agricultural areas through secure, long-term leases’.
The SLIEPA document goes on to provide detailed guidance on how companies can acquire leases on land where they would wish to cultivate particular crops. SLIEPA has already indentified areas which would be suitable for the cultivation of particular crops and offers its services to interested companies. Among the guidelines local consultation is stressed as being an extremely important part of the process. According to SLIEPA ‘strong engagement at Chiefdom level is key, paying particular attention to land owners’. Companies are also advised to conduct an Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) and to ‘secure the free, prior, informed consent of affected communities, not limited to only Chiefs or other representatives’.
It would appear, therefore, that the government goes along way towards respecting local rights and on the kind of advice potential investors should follow
Scale of the Acquisitions
In Sierra Leone over 1m hectares (ha) or over 20% of all arable land, have now been acquired by foreign companies coming from countries such as Belgium, China, Germany, India, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Portugal, UK, USA and Vietnam. Two of these companies are SOCFIN and Addax and a brief word on their acquisitions and on their declared policies.
According to SOCFIN (SL) the company secured, in 2011, 6,500 ha of prime farmland for rubber and oil palm plantations in Malen chiefdom in Pujehun District of Sierra Leone. The firm is now seeking an additional 5,000 ha in expansion plans in the Malen or neighbouring chiefdoms. The initial investment, estimated at $100 million, with promises of job creation, compensation for lost farms, and construction of infrastructures, has enjoyed high-level government support. It is not the only company acquiring land in this area. In total 9000 ha have been acquired by large agri-companies.
SOCFIN claims that one of the most effective ways to help support sustainable development is by doing business in a socially aware and responsible manner, helping to create and share wealth, invest in local economies, develop people’s skills and spread expertise across borders. SOCFIN firmly believes in an environmentally responsible management and cares about its social responsibilities.
The SOCFIN group is also a founding member of RSPO (the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), which aims to promote the production, procurement and use of sustainable palm oil by means of compliance to RSPO principles & criteria:
1. Commitment to transparency
2. Compliance with applicable laws and regulations
3. Commitment to long-term economic and financial viability
4. Use of appropriate best practices by growers and millers
5. Environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity
6. Responsible consideration of employees and individuals and communities affected by growers and mills.
7. Responsible development of new plantings
8. Commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity.
Addax Bioenergy is a division of the Swiss-based energy corporation Addax & Oryx Group (AOG), created in 2007. In Sierra Leone, the Addax Bioenergy project will produce sugarcane on 20,000 ha for ethanol production, to be exported to the European Union. Addax benefits from a duty-free access to Europe through an Economic Partnership Agreement. The sugarcane by-products will be used to generate about 15 megawatts (MW) of excess power, which will be fed into Sierra Leone’s national grid.

The Addax land lease is for 50 years, with a possible extension of 21 years. Rents from the annual rental fee of USD 12 per ha are to be divided among landowners (50 percent), Chiefdom Councils (20 percent), District,Council (20 percent) and the national government (10 percent), in accordance with the MAFFS policy document on lease payments and distributions.

Employment figures vary according to the source. The MOU states that in the first phase of production (2010-2013) the project will employ an estimated 3,000 people, increasing to 4,000 in phase two of production (2013-2015).161 The Addax website states that the project will provide more than 2,000 “direct jobs,” without defining what a “direct job” entails, whether permanent or seasonal. The Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) for the project said Addax would employ approximately 2,200 permanent and 2,500 seasonal workers, locally recruited, ot quite the 3000 promised.

Critical Views
As is now well known, such investments have attracted considerable criticism. The recently published 2012 Global Hunger Index report lists the ‘scrambles to invest in farmland around the world’ along with drought, shifts in energy prices, and shocks in energy supplies as factors underlying the scarcity of resources we depend on to produce the world’s food supply and points to Sierra Leone to make its case.

The main Sierra Leone based NGO with an interest in the land acquisition issue is Green Scenery while one of the main international voices raised to question the manner in which investment in land is being encouraged and developed is the Oakland Institute based in California, USA. More recently Concern Worldwide in conjunction with Welthungerhilfe and the International Food Policy Institute have highlighted land acquisitions in Sierra Leone.
Green Scenery’s vision is to empower the Sierra Leonean people to work towards peace and development, with equitable access to the country’s resources, equal access to facilities and opportunities, while upholding respect for human dignity and protecting the environment. To these ends Green Scenery supports local communities whose resources are threatened and lobbies government, parliament and public authorities on environment and justice issues.
The Oakland Institute has a worldwide remit ‘to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic and environmental issues in both national and international forums’. The institute has published several reports on land acquisition in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. Included in those are reports on the situation in Sierra Leone.
The Oakland Institute has raised concerns about land acquisition in Sierra Leone. Together with Green Scenery, the Institute challenges the claim by SLIEPA, frequently repeated by Government Ministers, that the country has vast areas of “available,” “unused,” or “under-utilized” land. However, according to the Institute, it is unclear what is meant by these terms and whether Sierra Leone’s “cultivatable” land is, in fact, used or unused.

The Institute claims that there is no reliable data to show how much of the country’s land is actually under cultivation and indeed how much is required to meet Sierra Leone’s food needs. Its reports also claim that there is ‘a lack of transparency and public disclosure’ surrounding land deals. The Institute claims that ‘Land leases are negotiated directly with chiefs and landowners, and often the signatories do not have copies nor are they aware of the terms of the leases or even the land area covered. As a result, there is little critical or accurate media coverage of the land deals, Sierra Leoneans don’t know how much of their farmland has already been leased to foreign investors, and there is no serious public debate on the subject.

The Oakland Institute further claims that its studies have revealed that ‘Foreign investors often employ local “agents” or “coordinators” to identify land for lease and negotiate leases with local communities, chiefs, and landowners. There is evidence that these “agents” take unfair advantage of local traditions, perceptions and vulnerabilities in order to convince local populations that they will benefit from the lease deals, while refraining from discussing potential risks such as loss of farmland or negative environmental impacts.

The Institute points out that ‘The Government of Sierra Leone provides myriad financial incentives to encourage foreign investment. General fiscal incentives include a 10-year tax holiday on agricultural investments, a 100 percent foreign ownership in all sectors, which require no restrictions on expatriate employees and also permit full repatriation of profits’. Set these costs alongside the very dubious benefits of bio-fuels and the environmental threats posed by production methods, and huge question marks arise over the whole land use policy.

Regarding the regulatory framework for the negotiation of land investments the Oakland Institute and Green Scenery claim it is ‘extremely weak’. Oakland argues that ‘the policy guidelines and incentives for investors, developed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), contain a number of loopholes, and appear to be non-binding. Without the establishment of an MOU, the government and people of Sierra Leone are vulnerable to environmental degradation and loss of local rights to land’.

Furthermore, according to the Institute ‘there is confusion surrounding the purported “availability” of cultivable land: the oft-quoted notion that 85 percent of arable land in Sierra Leone is available to investors appears to be based on outdated surveys, conducted over thirty years ago, as no recent land survey documents have been identified’.

The 2012 Global Hunger Index highlights the fact that local communities appear to have been misled Sierra Leone about the nature of some land deals. In the Malen Chiefdom the investment ‘was presented as a far smaller deal than was actually the case. Local landowners were informed only after the decision had been made by the tribal authorities and were told to thumb print or sign without knowing or understanding the details of the agreement. Indeed, it was a full three months after the contract had been signed that it was fully read out publicly with ad hoc translation into the local language’.

Despite political backing, the SOCFIN (SL) investment has faced significant resistance from the local population. In October 2011, 40 protesters were arrested, following tensions between local villagers and SOCFIN. The locals were protesting the land deal, criticizing the company’s lack of transparency, proper consultation, and information regarding potential resettlement. Protesters also raised issues of inadequate compensation, corruption, and pressure on land owners and town chiefs to sign agreements.
Assertions that the land acquired by Addax was degraded are firmly denied by local farming communities. An elder of the community in Lungi Acre commented that, “It’s a big lie. It’s nonsense . . . it’s here we used to get the most rice to service the whole place . . . This place is called Lungi Acre because of its rich productive capacity, and we schooled all our children from the [rice we grew].”

The claims about degradation have also been refuted by an agricultural extension officer who worked in the lease area before the project began. The officer stated that many farmers and many women’s farmer groups earned their livelihoods from the land, cultivating rice, cassava, and vegetables. They used no fertilizers and farmed “organic” produce because the land was “rich and fertile.”

The Addax website also states, “Presently, only small parts of the project area are used for food production.” It explains that a land use analysis of the site concluded that the most valuable food-producing areas on the site are the permanent rice paddies, located in land depressions. The website then states, “Addax has designed its plantation to get around the rice paddies, which will continue to be farmed and accessible by the local population”.

However, contradicting this assertion is the company’s own ESHIA document, which states that Addax will utilise a significant portion of land which was previously cultivated for staple foods such as rice and cassava for oil palm. It warns about the negative impact on food security through an increase in food prices or decrease in food availability for the local population.

Underlying these claims and counter-claims is the issue of the rights of local communities, establishing what those rights are in practice and how they can be vindicated. As Joseph Rahall of Green Scenery states, because of a lack of clarity, ‘the communities are losing far more than anyone else. They lose their land, their livelihoods and they become insecure in food as well as prone to health impacts from the operations of the companies’. Against the combined determination of the government to encourage large-scale agri-businesses to invest, and of the latter to maximize profits, traditional farming communities have little muscle.

Ireland’s Position
As a member state Ireland has supported the EU’s bio-fuel policy, although that seems to be changing, but as a donor country to Sierra Leone Ireland also has an obligation to ensure that its support is not used to the detriment of the people of Sierra Leone, whether this be through land acquisitions that have negative social effects because local people are displaced, or because land is taken out of food production, or because inadequate compensation is paid to those displaced. On the contrary as far as it lies within its capacity the Irish Government should use its influence to ensure that people’s rights are upheld, that food production is sustained and that the environment is fully protected. It should also ensure that small-holder commercialisation schemes, which Irish Aid supports, are developed to their utmost, such schemes having prove their positive effects elsewhere. Above all it should use its influence at EU and UN levels to the same ends.
In conclusion, while everyone is in favour of development and economic growth, given Sierra Leone’s current challenges it is imperative that development be sustainable and equitable. However, it is highly questionable whether the land deals referred to in this paper are being implemented with these criteria in mind. More worrying is the fact that if current approaches are maintained the elites in Sierra Leone who support these investments could well be laying the conditions for future conflict.