Twelve of the Sierra Leone athletes who fled the games village have now
been located, but another two team-mates are still on the run. That’s
on top of the more than 20 athletes who went missing from the Manchester
Commonwealth Games in 2002, all of whom are still missing. So what
makes these people so desperate to avoid returning home? A glance at
the country’s stats offers a clue:
- The West African country of Sierra Leone is the poorest and one of the most
corrupt in the world. More than 80% of its people live on less than
$A1.30 a day.
- The average life expectancy is 39.87 years.
- Only three out of ten youths can read and write.
- The richest 10% of the population in Sierra
Leone controls 43.6% of the country’s wealth.
- Over 90% of women have experienced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or Female Circumcision.
- The government is slowly re-establishing its authority after the 1991 to
2002 civil war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the
displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the
population). During the civil war, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), at times joined by
renegade elements of the former Sierra Leonean army, committed widespread
and systematic violations against civilians including amputation, rape, and
forced conscription of children. Their aim was to terrorise the population
into submission and wrest control of the country’s rich diamond resources.
- The last UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 2005,
leaving full responsibility for security with domestic forces, but a
new civilian UN office remains to support the government. Mounting
tensions related to planned 2007 elections, deteriorating political and
economic conditions in Guinea, and the tenuous security situation in
neighbouring Liberia may present challenges to continuing progress in
Sierra Leone’s stability.
- Meanwhile, the country’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah seems oblivious.
No wonder the Commonwealth Games are “like starting a new life” for Sierra Leone’s athletes.