Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Africa's New Orleans Ready to Party with End of Junta Freedom in Freetown

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Africa's New Orleans Ready to Party with End of Junta Freedom in Freetown

Article excerpt

With its easygoing, colorful culture and pleasantly seedy, balcony-lined streets, Freetown has long been known as the New Orleans of Africa. Now, following the flight of Major Johnny Paul Koroma and his street-gang-style junta, it feels like Mardi Gras.

More than a week after the first Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping troops fought their way into the town center, something approaching normal life has returned to the chaotic streets of Sierra Leone's capital.

Colorfully dressed women haggle on the pavement over cloth spread with lollipops, razor blades, or rice. A scattering of watchful pale faces marks the return of Lebanese traders, the linchpin of the capital's business. Only the unusually low number of cars and the occasional heap of burned rubble testify to the nightmare that Freetown has endure since Major Koroma and his fellow officers seized power from elected President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah last May. Stolen cars and burned houses The cars were mostly stolen early on, while the houses were burned more recently, destroyed by vindictive junta fighters after the Nigerians began advancing on the capital earlier this month. "They just went around attacking people and burning houses," says Henry Conteh, a Freetown businessman. "They said if the AFRC {Armed Forces Ruling Council} can't have Freetown, then nobody's going to have Freetown." Mr. Conteh was hitchhiking near a Nigerian checkpoint on Main Motor Road. Once prosperous, he too lost his car to the junta fighters. The general looting of vehicles also ruined his business selling spare parts. But, he admits, he feels great. "I am so pleased this thing is over. For so long now we have lived in the valley of the shadow of death." A belated 'Happy New Year' One of the few remaining embassy officials in town put it another way. "People are so glad these days you know what they are all saying. …

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