Prof. Margaret Kroma, education, spoke to a group of local members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) yesterday about the social, economic and political impacts of war on women and children in her native country of Sierra Leone.
Kroma began her presentation by explaining how the war that plagued Sierra Leone throughout the 1990’s differed from other domestic wars.
“It’s hard to [label] this a civil war because the war wasn’t between fighting groups but [it was] a war of military groups against innocent people,” Kroma said.
According to Kroma, deviant groups specifically targeted civilians. Throughout the unrest, rebels forced young boys into military service and women into sexual servitude. Additionally, many rebels maimed civilians by amputating hands and arms.
In the culture of Sierra Leone, “women are usually responsible for the economic livelihood of households, food security and education of children and the extended family.” Consequently, “women have born the brunt of a war that wasn’t their making,” Kroma said.
Sierra Leone — a nation of approximately 4.5 million people in West Africa — was a British colony until gaining its independence in 1961. According to Kroma, Sierra Leone was especially susceptible to internal conflict because its people had no experience in self-rule.
“The preconditions for democratic politics weren’t there. People didn’t know how to govern themselves [and] deviant groups and leaders set in place a whole military infrastructure to benefit themselves,” Kroma said.
Kroma also cited the nation’s rich mineral resources as motivation for corruption.
“The beginning of war in 1991 … had nothing to do with a love for the people but for diamonds,” Kroma said.
Kroma spoke extensively about the position of the United States and other western nations in the peacemaking efforts.
“This violation of human rights should not go unpunished or be swept under the carpet for peace. To let this go unpunished sets a terrible precedent on the world stage,” Kroma said.
Kroma reminisced about the culture and beauty of Sierra Leone prior to the early 1990’s.
“This was a country that used to be a beautiful place before destruction occurred … slowly making its way to connecting with a world system at its own pace,” Kroma said. “Sierra Leone was called the ‘Athens of Africa’ because it was a beacon of education and higher civilization,” she added.
With this ideal in mind, Kroma remains optimistic about the future of the nation. She stressed the importance of international aid in establishing a democratic government. Kroma also cited, “education as the single most important investment of the country,” especially in regard to the current generation of children. She referred to these children as “the lost generation,” for the psychological trauma caused by the war.
Members of AAUW welcomed Kroma, who had been a member of the Sierra Leone Association of University Women before she left the country in 1991 for graduate studies in the United States.
“Margaret gave an absolutely splendid talk. I had some idea of the situation in Sierra Leone but I had no idea of specific atrocities,” said Mala Sen, the secretary of the local AAUW branch.
Addressing the need of international awareness and intervention, Patricia Sims, vice president of the local AAUW branch, commended Kroma. “If you look at Afghanistan, we have so much of this going on now. We should make people more aware to perhaps prevent [further atrocities],” SIms said.
Kroma is an associate professor of international extension education at Cornell as well as a rural sociologist. Her presentation was part of a monthly series which the AAUW hosts. The AAUW is a national organization of women that strives to promote education and equity for women and girls.
Archived article by Laura Rowntree