Sierra Leone's 1996 elections arrived in the middle of the country’s 11-year civil war. The winner, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, campaigned under the slogan “The future is in your hands.” Rebels in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) dismissed the election as fraudulent, and, to illustrate their protest, began removing hands from the electorate. Patrick Lahai was 10 when he was mutilated by RUF soldiers. He spent seven days alone in the bush before being taken to hospital. Three months later, an operation to separate the bones in his right forearm gave him enough dexterity to eat, dress himself, ride a bicycle and send text messages. In 2012, this last skill found Lahai work as a journalist, tasked with a delicate first assignment: elections in Sierra Leone.
Lahai is one of 45 citizen journalists in the country who have been trained by Radar, a UK NGO. Half of the new journalists have a disability, and all used SMS during the November election to report on voting progress, rallies and intimidation across the state. Their text messages were sent to a London Gmail account, and then posted on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. One micro editorial with the byline “Patrick Lahai, dble amputee” reads, “I feel good abt RUF having a political party. It’s total democracy bcos they too are citizens.” “Some media are biased,” says Lahai. “We stay neutral.”
From the pages of COLORS #86 - Making the News.