As this is my first time reaching out to you, I would like to first congratulate you belatedly on your appointment last June, 2023. It is refreshing to see a Ministerial Cabinet full of youthful energy, new ideas and strategies for governance in Sierra Leone. Despite my recent criticism (outlined below), I am a deep fan of this administration, the President, and especially, forgive my Kono bias, the First Lady.
As I am sure you are aware, I am writing on behalf of the National Sowie Council/s regarding several matters of urgent concern - not just to sowies but to the vast majority of women in this country who are members of Bondo and Sande society. To get straight to the point, I am particularly concerned about egregious allegations made against Bondo and an alleged sowie from Kambia District. These potentially defamatory charges against the women of Bondo were published in global media outlets, such as The Guardian UK and CNN just prior to the UN’s International Zero Tolerance Day for FGM on February 6, 2024 (see our press releases regarding these publications).
The above claims concern the alleged death of an alleged 13 year old girl in Kambia allegedly due to what opponents refer to as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The only “evidence” of alleged FGM murders in these news stories was a verbal interview with a sole activist: Rugiatu Nenneh Turay. The CNN news story showed a photograph of what was alleged to be the full wrapped corpse of the “victim”. The words of a notorious FGM campaigner and a picture of a completely covered “body” was sufficient for otherwise responsible global news outlets to openly and recklessly allege that Bondo murders innocent young girls in Sierra Leone.
We are especially concerned with the role of Umaru Fofana, who you know is a stringer for the BBC, and have written to the BBC accordingly. In 2016/17 both Rugiatu and Umaru were involved in an earlier attempt to manufacture and publicize a “kidnapping” and “forced FGM” case in Kenema against Elsie Kondomoloh, the Vice President of the National Sowie Council. This bogus case was then used as the basis of an incredulous legal complaint filed at Ecowas against the Government of Sierra Leone.
This of course leads to our greatest issue, the role of your Minister of Information, Hon. Chernor Bah who, as you are well aware, was the head of We are Purposeful - one of the Plaintiffs in the Ecowas case. Hon. Bah has been an unrestrained, confrontational anti-FGM campaigner and a lead fundraiser for Purposeful (as well as its U.S. creator, Equality Now). Hon. Bah and Rugiatu are both credited with the creation and promotion of the colonialist caricature of our society, so-called Bondo-without-cutting. We find it impossible to accept that Hon. Bah did not abuse his position as Minister of Information to arrange the CNN interview of Rugiatu and coordinate her FGM “corpse” hoax for the CNN cameraman.
Last August 18, 2023 we held a press conference in Freetown specifying our concerns with the appointment of Hon. Bah. We have advised that given his conflicting role and key position as the spokesperson for the Government of Sierra Leone, he ought to resign.
We also made clear once again that Bondo and the sowies in this country are not answerable to the UN, WHO, African Union, Equality Now, Purposeful, CNN, the Guardian-UK or any other entity that is against our cultural practice of female circumcision. We expect this Government - that many of us voted for - to advocate for our rights to gender equal circumcision, a hallmark of our ancestral traditions. We expect our Government to uphold our human rights to dignity, self-determination and bodily autonomy as well as the same parental prerogatives enjoyed by adult men and women in western countries and around the world.
We welcome dialogue and robust debate with anti-FGM campaigners, their right to organize and to free speech that are guaranteed to us all under this country’s Constitution. As a scholar, I am personally committed to the principle of constructive disagreement. However, my colleagues and I also expect the rights of sowies to be protected by our national institutions and for anti-FGM activists – outside and inside the country - to behave according to expected norms of a free, democratic and plural society. Our organizations expect that anti-FGM campaigners will not harass, intimidate and manufacture FGM crimes to achieve donor funding and international publicity.
I will continue to do my part on behalf of the sowies, Bondo/Sande women and traditional female leaders I represent to advocate vigorously for their protection, advancement and complete, “radical inclusion”, if I may, in all aspects of national and political life.
I hope to meet you soon, I am sure our paths will cross. We have many friends and associates in common. It would be an honor to pay a courtesy call to your office and address any concerns or questions you may have about my role and the work I do on behalf of grassroots women in Sierra Leone.
All the best, Fuambai Sia Nyoko Ahmadu, PhD Spokeswoman, National Sowie Council/s Founder and Executive Director, Sierra Leone Women are Free to Choose www.awafc.org www.fuambaisiaahmadu.com WhatsApp +1202.904..0023