Last week Sierra Leone celebrated it’s 50th anniversary of Independence. As well as all night parties and local live concerts that kept me up to the wee hours, the government had funded a huge celebration in the National Stadium, which is only 5 minutes walk from my new flat that I’m living in for the time being. I moved off the Africa Mercy over a week ago now, so my time is being spent doing bits of work for Medical Assistance Sierra Leone, the UK charity that I did a bit of work with when I first arrived in Sierra Leone 10 weeks ago.
Anyway, since the country was on holiday last week there were only a few things to photograph for MASL and I got to exercise my shutter finger at the stadium events. The celebrations last week reportedly cost the government $25 million – perhaps not as much as last weeks royal wedding (right?) but then this is one of the poorest countries in the world and there has been debate (certainly from the locals) as to whether there’s much to celebrate.
My housemate Victor, a 20 year old History and Political Science student in his final year at Fourah Bay University in Freetown disagrees with the amount of money spent and refused to go to the celebrations at the stadium. I certainly admire his determination for silent protest and putting his money where his mouth is, but I wasn’t going to miss this unique opportunity to witness Salone celebrating in style.
School children wait outside for their chance to come in and parade.
The Union Jack hangs among other flags – a reminder of who once controlled the former British colony.
The crowd gazes up at the big coca-cola sponsored screen detailing the entertainment in the centre of the pitch.
A high-ranking military personel looks a little lost amongst the common crowds and street entertainment under the stadium seating.
The army waits outside in case any trouble starts. As it happens there was very little trouble at all and the feeling I got from the crowd was very much of high spirits from the freedom they had to enjoy the day.
A dancer puts on her moves in the stadiums bowels where street entertainers do tricks and traditional dancing for money. It was one of the few occasions where I gave out money – I wasn’t obliged to, but since the locals were I couldn’t not.
The locals look through the fencing to the secured centre where the hired entertainment, press and VIPs were located.
Many leaders from the provinces came down for the event, dressed in their finest traditional clothing, yet still watching from behind the fencing.
A group of acrobats from Guinea jump through hoops for Sierra Leone.
Locals had a choice of seating in the stadium or watching from the ground. The day’s events were completely free.
VIP guests were seated in a smartly dressed marquee just behind the track with prime views of the entertainment.
Boys painted in Sierra Leone’s colours relax on the pitch under the heat of the midday sun.
Dancing devils scuffle as one of the acts leaves the centre stage. Devils are well-known as part of the local culture in this area of Western Africa. The wearer assumes the spirit linked with the costume when it is put on – and dances and acts accordingly. Despite the devil name, it is not always a bad thing.
President Ernest Bai Koroma is welcomed to the stadium. Security, naturally, tightens and those in the press pit (below) are reminded that they are only here at his invitation.
A marching band leads in the military representatives.
High-ranking military personel march around freely, making sure people know they are very important.
My personal highlight of the day was shinning up the floodlights just outside the grounds with the street boys. For someone that used to be afraid of heights, ascending wasn’t the most enjoyable part…
…but once at the top, the view was stunning.
Whether or not the population felt the money could have been best spent somewhere else, to all appearances those that turned up certainly enjoyed it, and with regards to organisation (relative to organisation of everything else in the country) I would say the planners did an excellent job.
The last month with Mercy Ships was a difficult one and I didn’t have much chance to post any photos, but they were taken and will go up in the coming few weeks. However next up will be a short photo essay showing the celebrations from a totally different point of view.