On Thursday the world awaited the verdict of Charles Taylor. It was a historic day, a first of its kind and the culmination of years of hard work. But when the verdict was heard across Freetown, life went on as normal.
I was spending the morning with my friend Sam who is volunteering for children's charity 'Future for Children'. The charity works on the streets of the capital, intercepting street children, reuniting them with their families and supporting them through school. We were taken to look at schools their beneficiaries attend and witness some of the amazing work the organisation carries out.
On our walk we met Ibrahim B. Kallon, 55, who, like many, moved to the city during the war in search of refuge with his wife and two daughters. The rest of his family were not so lucky and ultimately he holds Charles Taylor responsible for that. But today, like yesterday, Ibrahim is without a job and unable to provide support for his family as the country rebuilds. A verdict on Charles Taylor is not going to change that.
Later, we approached an old lady selling goods on the roadside and asked her thoughts on the trial. The response was simple. 'I do not want to talk about that man, he should go away and die'. Others we talked to reflected this hatred for the man telling us the different ways the war had effected their lives. Restaurant owner Kadiaku Kamara, 31, spoke of the day she lost both her parents. 'On that day I had to grow up, it was the time responsibility came to us and I was just 14'. The war had changed her life forever and yet, interestingly, we had to tell her the trial was today.
I do not doubt that there were benefits to the trial of Charles Taylor, but we did not witness any in Freetown. In fact, the city had the sense of business as usual. Much of the talk was of the evening's lantern parade which is a tradition on the eve of Independence. When I mention to a friend the cost of the Charles Taylor trial she is evidently shocked. A waste of money in her opinion, 'we all knew he was guilty a long time ago.' This opinion was one we heard time and time again. My friend Sam says his boss was equally shocked. Understandable when you think that the $250 million invested in the case could support 1.2m street children on their current budget.
Sierra Leoneans have an unrivalled ability to forgive and forget. Their focus is on overcoming the challenges of everyday life and rebuilding the country to fulfil its clear potential. The trial could be viewed as an unwelcome reminder of the past. A lot can be learnt from the civil war and I think the streets of Freetown, not The Hague, is the best place to start.