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Sunday, October 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Native son works for a better Africa

Seattle Times staff reporter

Raymond Scott traces the transformation of his idyllic suburban cul-de-sac life in Renton to last December, when his powerful father back home in Sierra Leone died and left Scott the ruler of his own little African kingdom.

So when Scott returned to the southeast region of Sierra Leone for his father's funeral, the visit quickly became an initiation into his new role as executor of a huge estate in a country devastated by a civil war. The experience immediately changed him.

He had traveled to Africa to bury his father.

He came back to Renton on a mission to raise his country.

As the eldest son of the eldest son in Sierra Leone's Scott-Manga clan, Scott now says he has a unique opportunity to share his good fortune.

At the age of 53, he has discovered that it's not only possible to go home again — it's possible to rebuild it from the ground up.

Scott has spent nearly a year working at his job as a finance analyst at Boeing by day and managing the affairs of his inheritance in his free time.

The territory left by his father, Joseph Scott-Manga IV, has been in the family since the 1500s. And even though he has forsaken the formal title, Scott is now its "paramount chief."

The Scott-Manga estate measures about 40 square miles and is home to hundreds of villagers and subsistence farmers who travel on red dirt roads and live in simple brick homes or thatched-roof huts.

Scott's ancestral village, Ngalu, also lies on the property. The village was seized by rebels during the decade-long civil war that sputtered to an end nearly three years ago, and some of the buildings are burned-out shells today.

Scott has dreams of rebuilding structures damaged during the war, starting up eco-friendly mining and farming operations, and reconnecting with a region he left behind 30 years ago. On the land where fighters trained to battle anti-government rebels, for example, Scott plans to set up cattle ranching by 2006. On lands once used only for farming, Scott wants to develop environmentally friendly — and legal — diamond mining. He dreams of bringing electricity to his ancestral village.

"This is our chiefdom, and we are the largest landholders," Scott said. "If we are going to bring this place from the 1500s into modern times, we have to do a lot of drastic things."

It takes a child to raise a village

Scott went into an emotional tailspin during his trip last winter.

He spent all of two hours with his father's body before the burial.

He spent the rest of the time conferring with village elders and reassuring farmers who feared they'd be kicked off their land now that the generous elder Scott-Manga had passed away. The memorial service itself seemed at times to be more like a tribal meeting.

Scott recalls making a frantic long-distance call to his wife, Bryanna, to suggest he may need to leave the good-paying job at Boeing to handle the ancestral estate full-time.

Her response was understandable.

" 'Are you crazy?' " he remembers her saying.

But Scott kept telling himself: "I have to do something. There's too much to be done."

Now Bryanna is Scott's biggest cheerleader and financial partner.

Scott and his wife, who also works for Boeing, have not sought private donations for their efforts. Many of the supplies and equipment they've purchased were paid for using money from their savings account or were provided at a significant discount from a number of businesses in the Puget Sound area.

In the spring, they sent $3,000 worth of commercial chainsaw equipment to Sierra Leone to set up a portable sawmill, so villagers can cut wood for home repairs.

This fall, Scott is planning to send over a 40-foot shipping container full of goodies, including a diesel truck he recently purchased at auction that has been parked in front of his home, a Jeep, six tons of rice from Costco and more than 10 tons of cement from Cadman Building Materials in Redmond.

Spectre Manufacturing in Tacoma is helping add a flatbed and a detachable trailer to the truck, so farmers in Scott's villages can use it to haul their produce to market in the nearest big city, Bo.

"They can't even wait for this truck to arrive," Scott beamed. "It's going to change their lives 180 degrees."

The couple recently refinanced their home to cover the $25,000 cost of shipping the latest load of materials and food to Sierra Leone, Scott said.

Every step of the way, local business owners have come forward to help with the project.

Central Truck and Equipment of Kent, a seller of surplus government vehicles, has helped upgrade Scott's diesel truck and will provide the staging area later this month when the shipping container is ready for loading.

"It's not like anybody came begging," explained Dennis Halverson, co-owner and president of the trucking company. "He's putting the most effort forth, and everybody kind of recognized that."

"He's come a long way and feels like he should give something back," Halverson said. "We felt compassion for him and wanted to help him out."

Les Schwab Tires and Torklift Central Welding in Kent have offered their services on the truck, as well.

"When you tell people we're going to ship this thing to West Africa, it gets everybody's attention," Halverson said. "Everybody's going to do what they can do."

A daunting goal for an American Dreamer

If Scott projects the optimism of a dreamer, it's only because he feels he has lived the ultimate American Dream.

"That's an understatement," he said, noting his economics and finance degree from Seattle University, active neighborhood involvement, job and family.

But Sierra Leone's situation makes his goals seem especially daunting. The nation of more than 5 million sits on a treasure trove of diamond, gold and iron deposits, yet its people are among the poorest on Earth, earning less than $50 a month on average. Diamond smuggling has been rampant: It served as a major source of funding for the rebels.

Eighty percent of adults in Sierra Leone are illiterate. Joblessness is rife.

"The challenges are huge in order to invest in Sierra Leone," said Abdul Kpakra-Massally, the political and economic specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital. Poor roads and a lack of electricity in outlying areas compound the difficulty.

The government is in the process of making it easier for legitimate diamond mining to move forward and it has a goal of making the country self-sufficient in agriculture, Massally said. Today Sierra Leone has to import rice, a staple it used to produce in abundance to feed its people.

Foreign investment is scarce but slowly improving.

Still, as Scott found out, there isn't even enough cement in the country to support building efforts, and what is available costs five times the market price in the United States.

"On the whole, the venture by investors into Sierra Leone is the yearning of many a Sierra Leonean," said Massally.

Scott closely followed the events of the civil war from Seattle. The human toll only worsened the economic fallout.

Rebels employed the gruesome tactic of cutting off people's limbs if they were suspected of supporting the ruling government, resulting in a nation filled with amputees.

Thousands of children were snatched from their homes and put to work in illicit diamond-mining operations, used as servants or turned into soldiers. Two million citizens were forced to flee their homes.

The war hit home when rebels killed a cousin, Scott said. The cousin's young son and daughter were kidnapped. The girl was turned into a slave wife.

Both children have been rescued. Today, Scott said, he and his sister, Joan Tucker, a U.N. worker specializing in relocating refugees from the war, are supporting the kids financially.

The name "Sierra Leone" derives from the Portuguese words for "lion mountain" and refers to explorers' belief that the coastal mountains resembled lions.

What the colonizers and their descendents found instead was a region rich in natural resources, including humans.

Sierra Leone, like much of West Africa, was a center for the international slave trade.

But in the late 1700s, liberated slaves from Great Britain and North America were relocated in Sierra Leone's British-controlled port and future capital, hence its name, Freetown. The British also set up the first college on the West African coast there, and the country became known as "The Athens of West Africa."

Scott's father wanted him to remember where he came from as he achieved success in the United States and raised a family here.

One of the items he left for Scott in his will was a book originally published in London in 1794 that reads like an instruction manual on how to colonize and exploit the west coast of Africa.

The book, "An Essay on Colonization," written by C.B. Wadstrom and reprinted in 1968, includes maps of the African coast and sobering illustrations of how to properly load Africans into a slave ship.

The book is a powerful reminder to Scott of the colonial legacy Africa endures even today, and he makes a point of sharing it with friends and visitors.

At the same time, though, Scott has begun drafting his own counterpoint to that history, one in which an African native son who makes good in the promised land returns home to pass down a more hopeful legacy.

Two worlds on one foundation

The walls and shelves of the Scotts' living room are decorated with sports photographs of their son, Ryan, who is a wide receiver on the Penn State football team. A Penn State "Nittany Lions" helmet rested on the coffee table on one recent visit, and a wooden family crest depicting a boy in ceremonial headdress hung on a wall.

Photographs of relatives from Sierra Leone's capital and around the southeastern city of Bo, where Scott grew up, sit on a shelf.

It wouldn't be unusual to find Scott dressed in a Boeing polo shirt, khaki pants and a Penn State ball cap. But stored upstairs at his house are a specially commissioned ceremonial robe and pants, both woven with cotton grown in Sierra Leone and dyed burgundy and green with plants found in that region. Scott also keeps a deep-red chieftain's cap embroidered with a combination of gold thread and real gold.

The symbols of Scott's African and American lives carry equal weight in his heart. But Scott is bridging those two worlds with more than sentiment and nostalgia. His new connection to Sierra Leone will be made of bricks and mortar.

Scott is planning to take a leave of absence from Boeing early next year until he turns 55, on Dec. 4, 2005. At that point, he will be eligible to opt for early retirement.

"I'm so consumed by trying to change things over there for the better," Scott said. "There is so much going on — I need to focus my attention."

Tyrone Beason: 206-464-2251 or tbeason@seattletimes.com

This is the first in an occasional series profiling Raymond Scott. We'll be returning to his story and following his progress in Sierra Leone in the coming months.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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