Koidu, Kono
May 2002- Jan 2003
Koidu, May 2002
For 12 months of the my contract in Sierra Leone, I worked in Kono District.   Kono is renowned
for its wealth in diamonds.  The years preceding the war, people looked at it as special place in
Sierra Leone.  It was a boom town.  There were huge houses, a thriving market area, and
hopping night life.  A lot of people told me that few Konos went to school during the boom years
because people thought that they could get money quicker through mining than by spending so
much time in school for government jobs that weren't necessarily paying.      
Koidu, Jan. 2003.
Photo by Brad Arsenault
Because of its diamond wealth
Kono District was often at the
center campaigns and atrocities
committed by the RUF rebels, the
Civil Defense Force (Kamajors),
the SL Army, and West African
(ECOMOG) Peace Keepers.  
Koidu town, the district capital,
changed hands many times
throughout the war.  Most of the
time, it was controlled by RUF
commanders who held it using
terror tactics. They tended to use
the equivalent of slave labor to
extract the diamonds -- "You dig or
we cut off your hand or kill you.  
Your choice".   The government
used other tactics to get the
diamonds.  At one point they hired
South African mercenaries to
swoop in on gunships and control
the city.  The mercenaries were
rewarded the rights to mine two
kimberlite diamond pipes which the
state gets revenue through taxes.  
The ECOMOG Peace Keepers
also held the town at one point.  
Unfortunately their efforts are more
remembered for their plundering
and looting.

By the end of the war Koidu was
devastated.  One of the many RUF
campaigns was to burn down the
all the houses in the town.  The
place was basically gutted by the
time the UN force lead by the
Pakistani Battalion (PAK BAT)
entered the city in late 2001.  IRC
followed the PAK BAT and started
establishing programs.  Some of
my colleagues who first arrived in
Kono in Jan. 2002 told me that
basically the only people living in
the burnt out shells within Koidu
were young men, mostly ex-rebels.
 There were very few children and
women (unless they were the
captives).

The first time I visited the Koidu
was in May 2002.  At that point my
colleagues were telling me how
much the place had changed.  I,
however, was astounded by the
devastation and the air of
desperation.  (This feeling is
repeated by everybody new who
comes to Koidu ..... to this day)  
Even when I moved there by
October, things were slightly better
but most houses were still roofless
and people were doing what they
could to get by.  There was an
obvious housing shortage.
Families would double up in one
room of the burnt out home using
plastic sheeting or anything they
could salvage as roofing

Throughout my time there, Koidu
was constantly changing.  As
people felt the situation was safer
and improving, more and more
people started to return from
Guinea or refuge areas of Sierra
Leone.  You could go away for few
days and by the time you returned
more kids would be running
around, more homes were
renovated, and more women were
selling boiled sweet potatos and
grilled corn.  You shuddered that
the number of crazy
motorcycle-taxis you try to avoid
doubled as did rickety cars you
needed to pass.  There was even
a couple of restaurants that would
pop up and hostels to stay in.   By
my last month we even had mobile
phone service....Exciting!
Girl in Door, Koidu Nov. 2002
Boys hanging out Across form Office, Koidu Nov. 2002
Old Woman Across from Office, Koidu Nov. 2002
Coping, Koidu Nov. 2002
Old Woman, Koidu Nov. 2002