By Sheriff Mahmud Ismail
Early Monday morning, August 10, 2015, going through the more than 2000 unread ‘Whatsapp’ messages on my mobile phone, I stumbled upon the most gruesome pictures I have seen since the end of Sierra Leone’s ten year brutal war. It was the body of the victim of what is now widely reported as gang rape, left humiliated, in stark nudity and in the most grotesque of manners. A young unsuspecting girl, with the beauty that could stampede an octogenarian, had been brutalized and wasted the night before. Her ruthless assailants showed no mercy – one of her legs apparently broken, blood streaming from her ears and the beautiful white sand heartlessly stuffed into her nose and mouth- the stunningly beautiful girl had definitely met a very painful death on the beautiful beach.
Sierra Leone’s Lumley Beach is one of the nation’s premier touristic attractions. It also serves as one of the most accessible social rendezvous for all classes of Sierra Leoneans and tourists visiting the nation’s capital. It is on the foot heels of the famous Aberdeen Creek and the banks of the Atlantic Ocean stretching some unbelievable six kilometers. From ‘Cape’ through the Family Kingdom Resort to the Fibre Optic Landing Station in the west part of Freetown, it covers the area hosting Sierra Leone’s foremost hotels and entertainment centers including some of the country’s onlys- the only Five Star Hotel- the Raddison Blue, the only international conference centre, the Bintumani International Conference Center and the country’a only Gulf Course.
The Lumley Beach’s breathtaking beauty is accentuated by the majesty of the banging waves under the clear blue skies in the mornings; and the colourful radiance of the sun setting in the evenings. This is reinforced by the towering meander of green hills overlooking the beach and the paved roads replete with sidewalks. Although the artificial beautification is ongoing, the Lumley Beach now flaunts a remarkable level of social emminence that has made it a magnetic attraction for night life. It’s the heart beat of Freetown where most of the city’s social class converge on Fridays through Sundays to have fun with work mates, catch up friends and make new ones; business people make deals over some saumptous lunch or dinner, while tourists simply relish the natural glamour all week long. Ironically, it is in this vibrant and magnificient environment, where life is enriched and lengthens, that a young girl met her untimely demise in one of the most horrific ways. This is why the public is astounded and outraged because like the calmness of its waves and it’s soothing winds, the Lumley Beach area is pretty safe and peaceful and people do spend time down to the wee hours without life threatening incidences.
Looking at the gore pictures so insensitively shared so generously on social media, I was stupefied and for a moment, I felt like my heart had skipped a beat. I looked vacant, raging with anger at the wickedness of the perpetrators of this heinous crime but also at the humiliation of the poor girl both by her killers and by those disgracing her in death by sharing those images of her uncladded corpse. I was not alone in my anger, many of my compatriots were outraged and we continue to be alarmed by this dastardly murder and the callousness that characterised it’s announcement.
As this observer put it, ”I have been saddened like most of you out there because of the sadist, inhuman and brutal manner in which our sister was ganged raped to death”. He has also expressed umbrage at suggestions that the victim was a sex worker. ”Frustrated too that people were quick to jump to conclusion that she was a prostitute. Yes she could have been a prostitute to put food on the table but in this case she resisted. She did not want this particular one”. He went on to ask: ”Let’s even assume she was a prostitute, did she deserve being raped and killed and fed with sand?” The imaginative reconstruction of that sad moment expressed so graphically in the below sentiments is particularly heart rendering.
”I still picture her fighting her ruthless invaders but they were fierce and ferocious and therefore she cried out for help but none came to her rescue. None of us heard her groaning!!! Images of how she met her death, of how she called for help, of how she felt that you and I were there to protect her; images of how she felt when she finally realized that she was in a state of nature where the strongest survives; the pang of death!!! I still hear her moaning, I hear her screaming and I keep imagining the time she finally gave up; that she must have given up because she saw no reason to live after she must have felt let down by our security apparatus and even by us in the public”.
That soul touching rendition of the physical and mental brutality inflicted upon the powerless lad should awaken our conscience and should be the reason why we must try to redeem ourselves. But even now, in death we continue to let her down by ”jumping into conclusion and making the killers look like heroes! ”She could have been my 17 year old sister -that I cherish so much and will protect her with my life-; she could have been your girlfriend that you love, adore and cherish; she could have been one of my best female friends who may have decided to go out to ‘kill the usual stress’ or to have fun and who would have been caught up in this unfortunate situation. She could have been any lady who decided to go out on the beach at night to savour the beauty of nature all alone only to be raped to death by some savages!!!”
The disappointment and the blamed is further apportioned to sections of society. The legal and justice systems have been called to duty as one commentator put it: ”we need to reform our laws to work in the best interest of all and sundry especially enacting laws that create equal opportunities for both men and women. Our laws have not been too adequate to protect our women folks making them more vulnerable. When the rights of women are guaranteed, respected and protected we are assured of a safer environment, empowerment of our women folks which makes them economically independent guarantees that they will be in a better position to act as partners in development”.
On this, another angry Sierra Leonean disagreed. ”I share exactly those sentiments above. However, I don’t think it’s about laws to protect women. It’s about how serious we are as a nation to enforce laws and fight injustice and evil in our midst. What happened was rape and murder. Our laws are very clear on the punishment for these crimes”.
The police have also come under serious criticism for what some have described as their ”inability to solve such crimes and bring the perpetrators to account”. This commentator complained: ”But our police prefer to be out in the streets chasing drivers for minor traffic infringements than investigating and prosecuting these crimes”. Then again he turned the spotlight on to society and the women’s organisations: ”And most of us ordinary citizens just look the other way. But where are the women’s rights groups?, he asked. He further lamented that, ”I was at the beach yesterday and this morning. It’s a shame on all of us how normal life was on the beach. This was the scene of a heinous crime for God sake! Yes, we should be at the beach; but to demand action, not to enjoy ourselves as if nothing happened. Something is wrong with us in this country. What are the police doing? What are our women’s rights groups doing? What are we doing?”.
”Frustration is what you feel when women’s rights groups are more active fighting for political representation than for justice for other women who are raped and murdered, another friend posted. The frustration is understandable, I have not even seen a single statement that action is being taken or from a civil society ( rights) organisation demanding justice. I haven’t heard (the women in) the media, civil society or even the human rights commission making the right ‘noises’over this calamity. Must it have to do with political party demonstration before it generates the kind of interest we see in political related issues? Life at the beach is normal and not even a placard on the scene of the crime but look at the papers tomorrow and you would find the photos and story about the violent attack at the house of a politician.
This is why I applaud Power Women 232, the only women’s group to have, as of yesterday, posted a campaign demanding justice for this victim. So I entreat my readers to join Power Women 232 to raise your voice against rape and to seek justice for the violent murder of this victim on our beautiful Lumley Beach. Ours is a country of law and order and no one should lose their life this way. Let’s unite for justice!