His Excellency the President of Sierra Leone
State House (or anywhere on the campaign trail)
Freetown Sierra Leone
I am writing this letter whilst in hiding for fear of being hunted down by my human cousins. I escaped from the chimpanzee sanctuary in Tacaguma, quite a while ago. I am a cousin of Bruno and we both escaped together to an undisclosed location. There were then lots of false reports about our motive for escaping. Later, we learnt that some people thought Bruno had died. Others lied that he had been sighted in one place or another. He was treated like a pariah-like a Foday Sankoh figure. Unfortunately, he is no more. I have now taken up leadership of our organisation.
Let me not digress, however – I will get straight to the reason for writing you this letter. I would like to complain vehemently about our treatment by your government, which uses us for “papishow”. I would particularly like to point the finger at your Chief Immigration Officer and Minister of Tourism. My complaint is about your government placing a portrait of a chimpanzee on your passport without taking permission from our High Council. I had seen the earlier version which was a silhouette that one could not easily discern. Because we did not complain the first time this happened, you now had the audacity to make it bolder in your new passport. Your government has even bestowed on us the title of “National animal” of Sierra Leone.
It is wrong because we were not paid and we did not give you permission to use our picture on your passport. But this is the smaller point. A bigger issue is the hypocrisy of bestowing such an honour on a species related to you that you have treated so badly. I am certain, your Excellency (you are no Dominion slouch but an American University graduate) that you know you share 98 percent of your human genes with us chimpanzees-we are all apes! But our treatment shows you do not regard us as your cousins. Your government has hypocritically given us the title of “National animal”!
“National animal,” my foot! Are your citizens not hunting down our relatives in all parts of our country? I say our country because it belongs to us as much as it does to you. In fact, most of your ancestors come from neighbouring countries and met us here. If it is not poachers hunting us down for our meat, it is farmers who shoot us to protect their crops.
“National animal”, my foot! Are your citizen not cutting down the trees and forests we depend on and destroying our water sources, forcing us to migrate from place to place? You are constantly destroying our homes to build yours and cutting down trees for timber.
“National animal,” my foot! Are your people not locking up my brothers and sisters in cages, treating us like objects to be viewed for pleasure?
“National animal,” my a-s! Are your people not allowing areas specially designed for us to be destroyed by chopping down trees around these areas? Did the boss of my former reserve, Bala Amarasekaran not complain and threaten to shut down our sanctuary because of this?
Enough of my complaints. Let me mention a few other things that really irk me. By the way, how much money are you making from your new passport, which I understand you now sell for one hundred dollars? Could you not put one percent of this amount to a “Protection Fund” for us, representing your “National animal”.
Oh my God (I am not religious, but my folks tell me we have the same God), your people in the tourism sector go all over the place advertising Sierra Leone as an attractive destination for Eco-tourism. How I wish they could leave the “Eco” out. I have read a lot of the stuff they put out. By the way I am literate and read voraciously. My question for you, your Excellency is this-Why use us to rebrand your country without rebranding our living conditions? All we need is food and shelter. We don’t even wear clothes, or ride in vehicles.
Ok, I also note you had other good intentions to protect us because we, Western Chimpanzees are considered endangered. At least you have not been as bad to us as they have been in Burkina Faso, Benin, Gambia and Togo, where our relatives have virtually been wiped out. You may not want to emulate them but you are getting close. My grandparents, who were close friends with Dr. Sama Banya aka Puawui, who cares so passionately about our state and condition, used to tell me that they had a rich forest cover fifty years ago. Now only a miserly 5% remains. You definitely need to do something. I see you are making some attempts to stop people smuggling us and you have even involved your judiciary in the initiative, “Action for Chimpanzee”. But to be honest with you, your Excellency, I hope they do not judge our cases the way I hear they do human cases -I will not elaborate as I do not wish to implicate anybody. I am only bothered about our own case!
I also heard your Environment people recently went to COP 27. Why did they not think of taking any of us along? Do they really care about us? We do not even know which of your many agencies looks after our needs. We do however know that they themselves are hampered in many ways including the general lawlessness of your people. They use all kinds of big words at their conferences- ecology, biodiversity, sustainability, and climate change-I have lost count.
But let us get back to where we started the passport issue. I heard that you now have a new airport and tourists may soon start flocking in. I hope some would come purely to see us. Congratulations to your government for this development and for the new passport.
I have learnt from being with Bruno that we won’t get what we want by reasoning with your people because they think we are stupid apes. I therefore officially inform you that we have formed a rebel group called the Movement for the Protection of Sierra Leone Chimpanzees (MPSLC). It is large in number (numerical strength undisclosed for strategic reasons). We will prowl the countryside and wreak havoc to unimaginable levels, making life uncomfortable for your people. We are bush guerillas and will not brave it to the city but we will make your countryside ungovernable and make your government unpopular. Here are our demands which we want met before the elections or else we will initiate a war of unimaginable proportions that will make Foday Sankoh look like a Boy Scout.
1. We urge your government to unite all stakeholders to protect the only sanctuary we have-Tacugama the country from deforestation and human activities for future generations and help fund its operations.
2. We demand that the Immigration Department pays us for the use of our profile on your passport. The fees and payment conditions can be negotiated.
3. We ask that your Tourism Ministry stops using our name in vain unless they are ready to help in the fight to protect us.
4. If it is not too late, your Excellency, ECSL can register us to vote in the June 24th Election. I don’t want to promise you in public but I assure you we will be well disposed to vote for our colour-nature (code for green-wink, wink!). After all, most of the pictures taken by ECSL of your humans on voting cards resemble us (dark and lovely). It won’t make much of a difference!
I have written this letter to you directly because people say you are a “Tok and do” President. I very much hope your government can adopt a “Hands off our Chimpanzee” programme in the same way your dear wife has successfully championed the “Hands off our Girls” campaign. Some of our members are even willing to appear on Tic Tok!
I await your response and will send you details of how I can be contacted.
Your obedient subject (for now)
Grino (cousin of Bruno)