Photograph by Kalilu Totangi
In 1991 when the civil war broke out in Sierra Leone, Brima Koker joined the rebel RUF (Revolutionary United Front) army to fight against Government forces. The war lasted until 2002 and left more than 50,000 people dead and over two million people displaced in neighbouring countries. The organisation Fambul Tok, (Family Talk, http://www.fambultok.org/ ), emerged as a unique approach to community reconciliation in post-conflict Sierra Leone and has helped rebuild many lives.
Some of us did not really want to join the rebels but they harassed us and then attacked us. Even now I have a deep scar on my left arm from that time. So I gave the matter some deep thought, and realized that to resist the tide would be foolish. But in joining the rebels, I had to turn against my own family. I have a brother named Vafi, who was the proud owner of two concrete houses in Nyandehun. I take full responsibility for what happened to those houses. I burnt them down so there was nothing left but rubble.
Many things happened during this war; we went to many places and I saw many terrible things. In the end I fled to Liberia under Save the Children but they brought me back to Nyandehun once the war had ended. When I came back, of course all was not well between my brother Vafi and me. He still bore a deep grudge against me for what I’d done and this of course affected our relationship. But when Fambul Tok came to investigate conflicts in our community and to promote forgiveness and reconciliation, we all went to the open field at the bazaar to see whether we could reconcile. I was standing some distance away from Vafi; he wouldn’t even turn in my direction. At times I sneaked a look at him to see how he was responding to the other people who were making confessions.
Then I went up to him directly and asked for his forgiveness. I told him that everything that happened was due to the war and I prayed that he would find it in his heart to forgive me. I said that some of the things we did during the war were terrible and we shouldn’t have done them, but that these were unique circumstances and we were not in control of our actions or of what happened next.
I am pleased that my brother has come to forgive me. Today I thank God for our relationship. Since Fambul Tok came, when we met and embraced each other our friendship has been rekindled. We now laugh and have fun together. I am one of the leaders of this town and Vafi is one of my most trusted lieutenants. Whenever we have work to do in the village, I put him in charge and he fully delivers on my behalf. Our relationship is very good now. In fact I can say there is love between me and him, and not only him but also all of the other members of his family. I now visit their household and keep spend time with all of them.
I am really pleased about this and certain that since we’ve rekindled the friendship we had as children, nothing will ever separate us again, except death. At least that is my prayer every day.