The New Boats

by Mirabel Pictures / WeOwnTV
The New Boats

Dear GlobalGiving Community,

This week we received an update from Kabba who is one of the cameramen for The New Boats. Kabba has been working as a correspondent for The Guardian to report on the news of Chinese fishing harbour issue. The New Boats is in final stages of editing as we prepare for a broadcast this Fall. While this story of the Black Johnson beach controversy will not make into the film, it will definitely be a focus of our ongoing outreach work. 

‘Catastrophic’: Sierra Leone sells rainforest for Chinese harbour. 

Controversial deal with China would be ‘disastrous’ for fishing and protected rainforest, say opponents. 

A $55m (£39m) deal struck by the government of Sierra Leone with China to build an industrial fishing harbour on 100 hectares (250 acres) of beach and protected rainforest has been criticised as “a catastrophic human and ecological disaster” by conservationists, landowners and rights groups.

The gold and black sands of Black Johnson beach fringe the African nation’s Western Area Peninsula national park, home to endangered species including the duiker antelope and pangolins. The waters are rich in sardines, barracuda and grouper, caught by local fishermen who produce 70% of the fish for the domestic market.

After reports of a Chinese-backed fishmeal plant began circulating on social media, A statement that appeared to be from the Sierra Leonean fisheries ministry confirmed the deal, but denied the planned construction was a “fish mill”. The facility would be a harbour for tuna and “other bigger fishing” vessels exporting to international markets, it said. It would include a “waste-management component” to “recycle marine and other wastes into useful products”.

The government said the beach, one of many along the nation’s 250-mile (400km) coastline, was the “most suitable place” for construction, and revealed the finance ministry had set aside a compensation package of 13.76bn leone (£950,000) for affected landowners. But the statement leaves more questions than answers, say those objecting to the plan.

Two legal campaign groups, the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ) and Namati Sierra Leone, have written to the government, under the 2013 Right to Access Information Act, demanding to see the environmental and social-impact assessment studies, and the report showing that the beach was, as claimed, the most suitable place for construction “in terms of bathymetry, social safeguards (minimum resettlement costs) and environmental issues”. They are also seeking a copy of the grant agreement between China and Sierra Leone.

Basita Michael, a lawyer for the ILRAJ, said: “The press release was very vague. It left us wondering how did we arrive here and how come we are only hearing about this now. We have a right to know more.”
James Tonner, who owns land at Black Johnson with his mother, Jane Aspden Gbandewa, has written an open letter to the president, Julius Maada Bio, calling for him to intervene and stop the construction, which Tonner said would be “disastrous for the country and the planet”.

It would destroy pristine rainforest, plunder fish stocks and pollute fish breeding grounds and several ecosystems, Tonner said. The beach is on Whale Bay, so-named because whales and dolphins are seen there.

Tonner, who lives in London, has set up a crowdfunding page to fund a judicial review into the deal. The government could be acting unconstitutionally if it acquired the land compulsorily, he said, because the constitution requires any such move to be in the public interest. The compensation stated by the government was also unfair, he argued, claiming that the rate was about 30 times lower than the market value of the land.

“Under the constitution, the government can sequester land if it is in the public interest,” Tonner said. “Even if this just a deep-water harbour, it is not in the public interest because it’s not a suitable site. There are fish breeding sites in the lagoon. It will wipe out the local fish people live on.”
Tito Gbandewa, Tonner’s stepfather, is a former fisherman who runs an ecotourism business on the beach and owns about 1.2 hectares. He said: “If they do this here, the water will be dirty, there will be a lot of oil and noise, the trawlers will be all around.

“Our own fishermen won’t have a place to fish. Everything will be spoiled. Tourism will be finished.”

Dr Sama Banya, president emeritus of the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, echoed Gbandewa’s comments, saying the proposed development would have a “disastrous” impact on tourism and “the very fish industry that it’s supposed to support”.

Emma Kowa Jalloh, Sierra Leone’s fisheries minister, insisted that the plan was for a harbour and not a fishmeal factory. She said: “I can categorically tell you there is no fish mill [sic] going in at Black Johnson. What we are doing is a fish harbour that will be built by the Chinese government. A fish mill is something where you go and catch all the baby fish and grind it into food to give to piggeries, and fish in aquaculture – and that is so not true.”

It would be built with a Chinese government “grant” and equity from Sierra Leone in the form of land, she said. Half of the land needed was government-owned, she said, including the seafront, up to 200 metres from the sea. The rest has been acquired through compulsory acquisition, she said.

“People are making this fuss about it,” the minister added. “I would just appeal to people: ‘be patient, we want to be developed, we want to grow, we want to be classified as an upcoming country. There must be development and somebody has to sacrifice.’

“I’m not saying everything is going to be 100% perfect but we will make sure that it is near-perfect.”

Thank you so much for your generous support of this project.

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Hawa smiling during the ceremony
Hawa smiling during the ceremony

Hello Everyone,

This is Barmmy Boy reporting to you from Freetown, Sierra Leone. As always, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued support of this project. We have some good news to share. We have secured post-production support from Generation Africa (GA) and begun our edit. We are looking to complete the film by early summer. The GA team also began conversations about delivering the film to ARTE for European television broadcast. It is so important to get this story out to the world, so we are thrilled about the possibility, BUT, unfortunately, there is no shortage of in community work we need to stay focused on here in Sierra Leone. We are dedicating all monies raised through this GG platform towards supporting community surveillance efforts and our local community engagement and impact campaign. 

I am just back from Funkia Wharf and the scarcity of fish has left local fishermen turning to desperate. The fishermen were engaged in traditional ceremonies. I will share the pictures below. I interviewed Alfred the former harbormaster about the ceremony.

"When we experience this kind of scarcity, we normally go to our elders and the leaders of female secret society. They prepare sacrificial foods and dress two young girls in white clothing. On the beach, we perform a special ceremony and then the girls and offerings are loaded onto a boat. The food must be offered to the Sea Gods by virgins dressed in white. We hope that they will be happy with this offering. we have not needed a ceremony like this for over ten years."

The seas were quite rough that day, so I was nervous for the girls while filming the ceremony. Hawa says she was calm in performing the ceremony as she was instructed. She continued by saying "it was my job to bring the food  to the gods of the sea in order to please them for enough fish to be available at the wharf."  People turn back to their culture and tradition when nothing else is working and the mood on the beach was hopeful.  As for me, I grew up a fisherman and have fond memories of offerings like these. But it also serves as a call to action to stay focused and persistent, both bringing this story to light via our film, and by empowering locals with community education, fortifying community surveillance efforts and pressuring local governments. Often in Sierra Leone, 'environmental issues' are regarded as things that foreigners and aid workers care about. But people are beginning to see that this word is inseparable from their food security, from the health of their community, their livelihood. The time to act is now if we want to protect this beautiful land and ocean!

Thank you all again for the support you have given us. until Friday we are eligible for matching funds, so please share our project with your friends and network. 

With Gratitude,

Barmmy 

Speaking with Alfred the former harbormaster
Speaking with Alfred the former harbormaster
Two young girls on board a local canoe
Two young girls on board a local canoe
Crowd gathers at the beach at Funkia Wharf
Crowd gathers at the beach at Funkia Wharf
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Wudie and his wife Aminata at their new mini shop
Wudie and his wife Aminata at their new mini shop

Dear GlobalGiving supporters,

We are excited to share our latest update with you, our community of support! While the COVID 19 outbreak and its adverse restrictions has posed certain challenges to a fishing community like Tombo, the last few months have also seemed to bring families closer together. In Tombo, people live in dense settlements and spend a lot of time out and about throughout the day. Wearing face masks, handwashing, and going through military and police checkpoints with temperate checks has become the new normal.

We wanted to write and update you all on how our characters are coping with these new challenges. We met with Wudie, and he reported one positive aspect to the new changes is that he now gets to spend more time with his wife and children at home, keeping safe. His wife (Aminata) runs a tailoring material shop call Aminata Wudie Mini Shop. 

There had been reports of misinformation and rumors that have affected Tombo and other seaside communities. For example; bathing in saltwater kills coronavirus; or the coronavirus doesn’t survive in seaside communities because of the salt water, therefore fishermen don’t get the virus. Initially, this made it difficult for health authorities and the government had to deploy the military and the police to enforce health measures. Given our experience for the deadly Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone people are adherent to the health measures, and we are happy to report that Tombo, like the rest of the country, has accepted these new health measures.

Here is the latest COVID-19 country report: The infection rate is low and going down. The National COVID -19 Emergency Response Centre report 8 new active cases today 7th November 2020 and the total number of deaths so far stands at 74.

Of course, the economic effect of the outbreak has been difficult, but all our characters in this film and their families are doing the best they can. We are committed to continuing to film with all our characters even in challenging times like these to capture the impact of COVID 19 in their lives and the Tombo community.

There are some great matching opportunities coming up on GlobalGiving. Please consider making another donation as we try to reach our goal by the end of the year. Of course, #GivingTuesday on Dec 1st and GlobalGiving’s Monthly Donor Drive (Dec. 14-18) is the boost you’ll need this year-end fundraising season! From Dec. 14 - 18, GlobalGiving is matching all new monthly donors at 200%. 

With Gratitude,

Barmmy

The Tombo community
The Tombo community
Miles B filming
Miles B filming
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Tombo youth, looting local police station.
Tombo youth, looting local police station.

These last few months have brought new challenges for Sullay and many of the fishermen of Tombo. Restrictions put into place to curb the spread of COVID-19 have limited the number of boats that can fish each day. As a result, catch has been low. In a village where almost everybody’s livelihood depends on fishing, frustrations are growing. People are trying to comply with public health guidelines, but the situation is complex as many families are hungry. Tensions boiled over recently and a group of young men began to demonstrate. They set fire to a local hospital, the FSU building and they looted the police station. At this point, no one had been injured, but the local authorities were not able to put the situation under control and they called for back-up. Armed military and police from Freetown had an accident on the way to Tombo and one police officer died. Many community members speculate this colored their intentions when they arrived and they began to fire live bullets at the demonstrators.  

The situation escalated and the youth, in turn, threw rocks. When the situation finally calmed down later in the day, many people were injured, 16 people were arrested and two community members died in the conflict according to the Inspector General of Police, officer Sovula. It is an absolutely tragic situation for a community that was struggling for their food security and livelihood before COVID-19. This increased pressure has pushed Sullay and many of his crew members to their limit. Many fisherman are considering moving to Guinea where they believe they will find a better life. 

We are committed to seeing this story through until the end, wherever it takes us. We will continue to passionately advocate on behalf of local fishermen and to educate both local and international communities about the precarious situation of West African fisheries. We have begun editing our material but have planned production shoots through early fall. Any further support you could give this project would be so valuable at this critical stage. Our project was just selected for a matching opportunity this upcoming Wed, July 15th. The match begins at 9AM EST, so if you do plan on donating to the film, please consider planning your support on Wed July 15th at this page: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/the-new-boats/

With Gratitude,

The New Boats Production team

a typical day at Tombo
a typical day at Tombo
the violent conflict spilled over to the streets.
the violent conflict spilled over to the streets.
Boats in waiting, due to the new restrictions.
Boats in waiting, due to the new restrictions.
Many people fled the scene when violence began.
Many people fled the scene when violence began.

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Fisherman in Tombo celebrate their New Boat!
Fisherman in Tombo celebrate their New Boat!

It was a joyous and colorful day in the Tombo community with local music and dance as a new boat touches water for the first time. It is the newest boat in Pa Seaport’s fleet. During the rains his son Sullay's boat was totally destroyed, but they managed to save enough funds to build this beautiful new vessel they name 'Bondo Fera'.

As part of our community's tradition, many turned up to lend a hand as Sullay and Pa Seaport push their boat to the water. These amazing women are an important part of this community, working as fishmongers, fish smokers, and many are also wives of the fisherman. It is a sight to see as they hold on to the rope in pole positions in front of the boat, singing and dancing as they worked together while the drummers are sounding their drums. they work this way until the boat touched water. They are happy to help, but they are also celebrating because the more local boats there are in their waters and the more their fisherman are given the chance to fish freely the more they will be able to provide meals for their families and homes. They are also praying that foreign boats fishing illegally and into the breading zones will soon stop. 

Wudie was also present representing the Antisanal fishermens Union, because he believe together as one people they can raise a community they always call home (Tombo) and they will be able to fight a just fight against foreign vessels.

Blessings to you all,

The New Boats Production Team

Local women help pull the boat to the water
Local women help pull the boat to the water
The New Boat at sea and fishing!
The New Boat at sea and fishing!
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Mirabel Pictures / WeOwnTV

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
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Twitter: @WeOwnTV
Project Leader:
Banker White
San Francisco, CA United States
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