Anchor Betty Nguyen Reports Live from Sierra Leone on Elections
From CNN Newsroom
Aired August 10, 2007
11:00 hour – ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: A country scarred by war, its people raped, maimed and killed. Now Sierra Leone voters poised to go to the polls, casting ballots for a better life. CNN's Betty Nguyen reports from the West African nation.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR (Voice-over): Sierra Leone is a picturesque place, where West Africa meets the Atlantic Ocean. It's home to more than 5 million people, many of whom are still trying to dig themselves out of poverty. Here in the nation's capital, children spend their days searching through piles of trash, just as the pigs do. Those lucky enough to find scrap metal will only earn a penny per pound. Ranked the second poorest country in the world by the United Nations, the scars from a decade of civil war are still visible.
Ahaji Jakar had his arms hacked off by rebels in 1999.
AHAJI JAKAR, BOTH HANDS AMPUTATED: I said to him, to them, I said, “Don't cut my hands, don't amputate my hands. I'm your brother. They said, no, I'm not your brother.”
NGUYEN: Amputees are a reminder that about a million people were murdered, maimed or raped in a political game of power and intimidation. Much of the world knows of these atrocities from the Oscar-winning movie "Blood Diamond." But what you don't see in the movie is how these amputees refused to let the rebels rob them of their political voice, once the war ended in 2002. With no hands to vote, Jakar shows us how he used his toes to cast his ballot.
JAKAR: Maybe I will write my S.
NGUYEN: But with a new set of arms and a new presidential election on Saturday, he can't wait to vote the old-fashioned way. In fact, the enthusiasm surrounding the election has spread like fever, creating an excitement that borders on euphoria.
(On camera): Unlike the election in 2002, which came on the heels of a bloody civil war, the fear that once ruled the streets of Freetown has now been replaced by peaceful political parties, more reminiscent of a carnival. But call it what you want, it is true that democracy is slowly taking root.
(Voice-over): Opposition party supporters stopped traffic and brought businesses to a virtual standstill as thousands filled the streets, dancing and sing. While they look to the future, Stephen Rapp is focused on the past. He's the prosecutor for the UN War Crimes Tribunal. It is his job to go after those who bear the greatest responsibility for the war and the horrors they inflicted.
And former Liberian leader Charles Taylor is the top prize. He's currently on trial at The Hague.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN RAPP, UN WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR: But justice is a key part of all of this. If you don't have the rule of law, if you have a situation where people can come in and kidnap your daughter and make her a sex slave, chop off your son's arms, rape your wife, destroy everything you've built, you can't develop a future. And that's what happened in this country. And until you have a rule of law, which we're, I think, helping establish with these judgments, this country can't go forward. And that's why I think this process is so important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: And justice is certainly what the people of Sierra Leone deserve, after suffering for so long. But for now, they'll have to find peace of mind, knowing that political change is on the horizon and the choice is theirs to make.
HARRIS: And Betty Nguyen joins us from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Betty, great to see you. The power of the vote, just fascinating, the idea of people voting with their toes. Tell us more about that process.
NGUYEN: Tony, it is truly remarkable to see people so passionate about voting in this election that they would go to those means. But there is another option this time around. They are letting people who are double amputees bring along a family member or friend who can actually make that mark for them. And I will tell you, though, Sierra Leone is one of the only countries in the world where election workers have been given a guidebook that says, should a voter come in who's missing their index finger, needed to make that mark, then you move on to the next finger, and so on and so forth. And if the right hand is gone, then you move on to the left hand. Truly remarkable.
HARRIS: Well, Betty, we saw the crowds in your piece. How about voter turnout, and I'm wondering how it might be impacted by that monsoon behind you.
NGUYEN: This rain has been going all day long. Hopefully it won't affect voter turnout tomorrow. Let me tell you this, 2.6 million people are registered to vote in this election. That is about 90 percent of the eligible population. That is amazing. They are out in the streets, they are wanting to vote, they are passionate about voting and they want political change. And they're going to do it, rain or shine.
HARRIS: Give folks a chance, a choice of freedom and they say yes. They say yes all the time. Betty Nguyen, joining us from Freetown.
NGUYEN: They take it.
HARRIS: Yes, they do -- from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Betty, great to see you. Thank you.