Sierra Leone’s Refugee
According to the UNHCR, otherwise known as the UN Refugee Agency, 26%
of the world’s refugees live in Sub Saharan Africa. It is estimated that
there are 18 million refugees in Africa now. The number has increased
recently due to conflicts in Central African Republic, Nigeria, South
Sudan and Burundi. Longstanding refugee populations have resulted from
“desertification” – the drying up of once cultivatable land. The UNHCR
focuses on health, education and safe environments for refugees.
Can anything good come out of a refugee camp? Before Sierra Leone
suffered the recent Ebola epidemic, it was torn apart by a vicious civil
war. Many left the country to escape the violence. As is true of all
refugee camps, life was extremely hard for Sierra Leoneans while they
lived away from their homeland and their extended families. A group of
musicians began writing and playing songs that reflected the heart-ache
of displacement. The group called themselves Sierra Leone’s Refugee All
Stars. A documentary film by the same name tells their story, including
their struggles to overcome fears about returning to their native
country even when hostilities ended.
I lived in Sierra Leone as a teenager over thirty years before the
civil war. I recognize in the All Stars’ music some of the High Life
sounds I dearly loved back then. It is upbeat, not sad in any way. It
hints at a brighter tomorrow. Here is the dedication written by band
leader Reuben Koroma to accompany their first album:
This album is dedicated to all the innocent people living as
refugees throughout the world and to all the organizations and
individuals who work tirelessly on their behalf.
A refugee has lost a lot of relationships. We have been
separated from our country, our culture, our families, and our loved
ones. But it was in a refugee situation that we found music again.
People liked to come around when we would play, and our collective
trauma seemed to minimize. We would sing about the problems that we
were facing together, and I know the refugee community felt as if we
were giving voice to our situation.
I am proud to help people realize that there is much more to
my country of Sierra Leone than war and poverty. I feel so blessed
that our songs have made it out for the rest of the world to hear.
It makes me happy that people from different countries and cultures
have identified with what we are singing, specifically our songs
that speak out against the dangers of war, dreadful diseases,
dishonesty, and greed, and most importantly our songs that celebrate
peace, unity, morality, and love. I also want to send my love and
blessings to my Mother and Father, Ya N’Digba Bangura and Pa Fullah
This month we feature songs from their first album. The first song is
“Living Like a Refugee.” Those words are followed by, “It’s not easy.”
Koroma says he made the song from the problems and suffering of fellow
refugees. The song “Soda Soap” is about a locally made soap that is
neglected until hard times come. Then everyone turns to it. The song
shows respect for what people can do for themselves. “Weapon Conflict”
uses an African proverb: When two elephants are fighting, the grass
“dem’ a-suffer.” The end of the proverb is in Pidgin English but I think
the meaning is clear enough. Common people are caught in the middle when
armed powers attempt to blow one another away. Some of their songs make
good applications of Bible passages.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All
We don’t know how many refugees listen to the radio, but since it is
the most affordable transmitted medium, we would assume a good number.
Of all the people who hear us, we would also assume refugees would be
the least able to get back in touch with us and let us know. We received
one email from a man in Eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) who
was looking for a way to receive a Bible course through the mail when
there was no postal service available to his area. He could be a member
of a refugee settlement. [It is a little known fact that the U.S.
admitted 16,370 refugees from DRC in fiscal 2016 and only 12,587 from
Syria! The difference is largely due to the fact that refugees from DRC
pose no Islamic militant threat. (The Guardian, 3 Oct 2016)]
We at African Pathways Radio want to reach out to refugees, whether
they are able to contact us or not. We want to share some music born in
their environment to ease their suffering and to show them there can be
a happy ending. They are some of the most vulnerable people in the
world, but their situation is not hopeless. Hope that will not
disappoint is promised by Jesus. He is our primary reason for