Africa - What's Going On?
AFRICA: "What's Going On?" May 2017
Henry Huffard Sr. Producer, Africa

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

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.

He adds:

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 Koroma.

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 Stars

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 broadcasting.


Andy Baker, Vice President - Development      World Christian Broadcasting
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