Politicians in Sierra Leone are putting the finishing touches on their campaigns ahead of the May 14 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Some are going from house to house, community to community, talking to people about their campaign platforms. One group of voters in focus during the campaigns are the amputees. These are Sierra Leoneans whose arms and limbs were hacked off by rebels who fought successive governments since 1991.
Some are located at the Murray Town Amputee Camp -- about 15 minutes from central Freetown. It over looks one of the capital's classy neighborhoods. There are about 230 amputees in the camp and a total of 1800 dependants. Most of them are 18 years old ? thats the voting age in Sierra Leone.
Lamin Jarka heads the camp. He says the politicians have flooded the camp canvassing their vote: " The presidential candidates are coming here, various political parties come in to our camps doing their campaigns, making a lot of promises. We are looking forward to someone who will come and care for us, someone who will come and takeup our children?s welfare as well as our selves and to abide (by) the Lome peace accord signed in Lome that the natural resources being mined in this country, we will get our share as amputees."
Mr. Jarka is a double amputee. He says both his arms were cut off by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. Even though both hands are missing, Mr. Jarka says he is determined to cast his ballot for the one he considers the right person: "During my (voter) registration I took my left foot toe, to do my registration. It?s the same way that I am going to cast my vote. Like my fellow brothers who?ve lost both hands too. For those with single hands, they?ll use their thumbprints to cast their votes. They have already been briefed. "
But not everyone at the amputee camp is enthusiastic. Adekali Bangura says he will not vote: "When the rebels abducted me, they told me they were taking my hands off from politics, because we voted for Tejan Kabbah. I did not vote for Tejan Kabbah in the last election, but they cut off my hand. That?s why I won?t vote this time. They chopped off my hand, for not voting the last time. If I vote now, they may take my life."
Michael Saidu, another amputee, is not convinced any of the politicians are genuine. He says the politicians never showed up at the camp: "We never saw them. They never came here to sympathize with us. They?re only now coming because it?s time to campaign and they want our votes. I do not have that intention of casting my ballot for any one of them. "
What the amputees are expecting from the politicians are answers first of all to bread and butter issues. They also want the politicians to provide education for their children, and create jobs for the youths. They say if this is done, they will know that Sierra Leone is truly on the road to recovery.