Public Officials Must Be Regulated
There is a new trend with the government officials especially on how ministers conduct themselves when it comes to public engagement. This is mostly so with the use of social media. The manner in which public officials have taken to social media in the last year or so is disturbing and frankly appears to not present any moral sense. It is vital to ask if there is any law that moderates the way some of our public officials conduct themselves on social media.
We cannot be having some of them engaging with members of the public on regular and constant abuse and counter abuse. If for anything, the fact is, a ministerial office comes at the behest of the President and as such, the conduct of those occupying such positions must be in line with public decorum and a show of high sense of public morality. We cannot continue to have ministers engaging on social media tirades and expect the public to take them with the seriousness their offices deserve. It is about time that the presidency ensures those appointed to higher positions live up to expectations.
Congratulations on Winning AWOL’s Award
I followed the last AWOL Award in Freetown and was happy that your news magazine won last year’s Print Media of the Year Award. This is encouraging and should serve as major factor for you to continue well in line with public expectations.
It was good you won in the midst of seeming challenges for the media in the country, with constant efforts to undermine the vital role of the press and existing threats to press freedom. SierraEye Magazine has been providing impartial news report for over a decade and I look forward to the magazine doing more in the coming years.
Lastly, never relax thinking you have come this long. This is a new challenge to you and the team of writers. Congratulations!
Fredrick Samuka, Freetown
Send your letters, comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Virus ‘Next Door’, Time to Act!
Much remains to be understood about the 2019 coronavirus. Since the new virus was first detected in Wuhan in late December to date, it has killed over 300 people with more than 17,000 others infected. The vast majority of deaths and infections have so far occurred in Hubei province. Countries the world over, not least African nations are ramping up efforts to stop an outbreak of the virus that has so far spread to several Asian countries, the United States, Europe and Australia. Africa has seen a rise in a number of sectors, though with plethora of challenges. It boasted in 2017, seven of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world.
It however has a reason to be worried over an outbreak of a deadly virus in China as it remains Africa’s largest trading partner for close to a decade as major cooperation programs boosted bilateral trade between the two. The first half of 2019 saw a surge in China’s total import and export volume with Africa, which stood at $101.86 billion. During the 2015 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Johannesburg summit, it announced 10 major plans for cooperation with the continent, many of which were target at economic and trade cooperation. FOCAC, which was setup in 2000, remains a major platform for strategic cooperation engagement between the continent and China.
Given her past experience during the Ebola outbreak and how it cost us as a nation, Sierra Leoneans are right to be wary. This is also against the backdrop of the long standing ties of cooperation both nations have enjoyed not just at the bilateral level, but at the people-to-people level too. There are also hundreds of Sierra Leoneans flying to China on business trips given the deep trade and travel ties between the two.
The impact is now obvious, with over 30 million people under real lockdown with air travel reduced. But there is more to it. The economic consequences of the virus will be severely felt in Africa, which is more exposed to the Chinese market than any other region in the world. A drop in the importation of goods from China would lead to scarcity of goods and subsequently increase in price of commodities. There is certainly going to be a downward trend in passenger traffic between the continent and China. The outbreak could cost China tens of billions and what this further means is they would turn their attention to the domestic crisis than concentrate on their ‘go-global’ policy especially in terms of their development cooperation with Africa along the FOCAC framework.
So, with both countries appearing to be neighbors from a distance, and with what we went through following the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it is vital that stakeholders, but especially the central government takes necessary measures that would deal with an outbreak. The fact that a country like Ivory Coast has reported a suspected case of the coronavirus is a cause for concern much as there has not been any confirmed case in the continent as at the time of going to press.
Nigeria for instance, advised her citizens to delay travels to China unless if extremely essential with Ivory Coast taking further cautionary measures. And in what appears like the continent putting China in quarantine, flights like Royal Air Maroc, Kenya Airways and other African airlines with direct flights to China have suspended their operations to that part of the world.
Sierra Leone’s health facilities are seriously challenged. This was manifested during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Countries with stronger health systems like Nigeria were quick to contain the spread unlike Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone which had extremely poor health facilities. And we had a slow start to an outbreak that eventually outstripped others. The alarm was raised but we could not act promptly and subsequently killed close to 4000 people.
We should continue to see Ebola as an eye-opener if we are to successfully prevent further outbreaks of any kind of virus or disease in the future. The government through the ministry of health and sanitation should go beyond watching the situation and take concrete actions. There should be tough measures at our border crossing points, not just at the airport. Our health workers should be on their guard. Body temperature checks should be reactivated, public education drive must be robust and community engagement at the lowest level should form part of those actions that would raise awareness.
The time to act is now than to wait when things get out of hands. But as we do that we must ensure we do not stigmatize people especially the Chinese. We know what it means to be stigmatized. We had our experience with ebola. We would not want to see others go through the same terrible challenge.
Samura Kamara “On the Road Again as a Flag Bearer” ahead of 2023
The opposition All People’s Congress appears to have been engulfed in series of intra-party squabbles, with a miniature group of young people, known as the National Reformation Movement calling for internal reforms. There have been a number of actions taken by the group, with accusations coming out that some former flag bearer aspirants are the brains behind the movement, something some of them, at least the former Attorney-General Joseph Kamara have denied. The NRM was all but a good platform used to call for reforms especially with calls for the removal of a clause in their 1995 party constitution that allows selection of officials into positions.
But their recent decision to use a sitting member of parliament of the governing party as their lawyer in a case against their party was received with mixed reactions. They come out as surrogates of external forces, or at least they have allowed their movement to be hijacked. That notwithstanding, there have been calls for the party to put their acts together and provide an effective and efficient opposition in a country that has been overtaken by some kind of ‘benevolent dictatorship.’
The last presidential elections brought out 28 flag bearer aspirants, some said to have had no business even showing interest in vying for the presidency. A little known unassuming candidate, Dr. Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara (Ph.D.) was subsequently selected by the party’s leadership for the position, something that brought with it rancor and splits. He was the country’s foreign chief prior to his selection. Before that he had served as Finance Minister, Financial Secretary and Bank Governor. Many saw him as a less radical leader, against the expectations of those hardliners within his party.
In this exclusive interview, Samura Kamara looked back at the Makeni convention in 2017 that brought him forward as a presidential material. He also discussed the NRM, and on his presidential ambition, said, he is “on the road again as a flag bearer” ahead of 2023. He also took a sweep at those managing the country’s economy, including the current Bank Governor, further criticizing state institutions like the police, NEC and the judiciary. “There is one commonality and that is there is growing anger, dissatisfaction and resentment not only against the government but also against public institution; parliament, judiciary, NEC, security apparatus,” Kamara said.
First was his reaction to his selection as flag bearer in 2017 by the APC.
Usually, when you are announced a winner amongst a heavily contested position, a contest in which each one of you qualifies and you turned out to be announced as a winner, first you get moved. But then automatically you become moved by asking yourself ‘why is it me?” ‘What makes me different to the others?’ At that material time, you would not be able to find any answer unless to say, it is a Divine intervention. And that was my conclusion. So, through God’s Grace; I could not boast to be superior to any of them.
Just after your selection as per the APC’s 1995 Constitution, some other aspirants, it appeared at the time, stayed back. What did you do or are you still doing to get everybody onboard?
During the 2018 campaign, I didn’t do anything other than to continue selling the party, selling myself, selling ideas, hoping that we would win. So, our message at that time was more about what the party did, how we could continue the good work of the party and moving forward. It was all about continuation to the extent that you come up with new ideas but with time to reflect on what we didn’t do that we ought to have done. I did not spend time to think about those who were with me or those who were not with me. I saw many colleagues both from the party as well as professionals. I didn’t blame anybody for not being with me around the country but those who were with me, I was very appreciative.
Now, going further towards 2023, if given the opportunity by the party, I would like to continue as the flag bearer. I do not see any animosity between myself and the other aspirants, both old and those who are coming in now. But I’ve always believed that the party would not like this type of competition again, because what happened in 2017 should never have happened. This is not the history of the APC we know. The APC is a family and I think we should do better by having a mechanism whereby clear criteria are provided and then we move forward.
I’m going back in the contest based on my own credentials, not on anybody else’s credentials. So I won’t blame or stop anybody. As I always say, each one of us is eligible but people should go there and sell their credentials. I would never go there and tell stories about the other to boost my own position. I would go there based on what I have achieved, what I intend to do and my qualities.
What is your take on the National Reformation movement and do you think the call for reforms is a just call?
The NRM is an unfortunate hiccup but I think it is not an insurmountable impasse for now. That is why I have even called one of the leaders to talk to him to see whether common sense would prevail. When the NRM was floated, I have a meeting with them and my take, after listening to all of them was their premise was wrong. If we want to reform the APC, you don’t reform it on the bases of 2018 election. We won the elections but we didn’t gain the power and it was not selection per se of a flag bearer. There were detailed consultations, there was detailed understanding reached both at the NAC level but more particularly at the convention level. We all signed a disclaimer that whoever was chosen would stand by the other. I was not a member of NAC but what transpired in NAC was very clear; that all of NAC agreed to allow then President Ernest Bai Koroma to nominate and bring forward to them somebody.
I also know in the process of consultations having that mandate, he organized series of dinners for all known and unknown candidates. I was an unknown candidate. During the first dinner, he told us it was not a government meeting but an APC family meeting to talk about the next flag bearer. I remember vividly what he said that he had invited all of us; those who had come out and those who had not come out. He asked the question “what do we do?” The conclusion was that “pa go ahead, we have every confidence in you.” I didn’t know much so I didn’t speak much. There was a second dinner; he asked us whether there was a rethink; he asked the same question and there was the same result. And then a third dinner on our own and this was hosted by Diana Konomani. We all spoke and the result was clear; there was no consensus. Everybody as it were, went to sell their positions. Finally, he called us again and there was nothing. We went to Makeni for the convention; he had a NAC meeting and reported his feelings. After that we had another dinner in Makeni where he made similar pronouncements and admonished all of us to work in unity for the party. I remember the Chairman, Bai Kurr asking the convention if they were the ones that asked President Koroma to select and there was a public acclamation throughout, which means, even the mandate was reaffirmed by the convention. He called another NAC meeting again, expanded it to have all chairmen of the districts and regions before we (aspirants) were called in. He did not make a speech; he just announced the flag bearer and the running mate. He came out and in the end my name was announced.
So I told NRM we should not simplify this process. It should not be as simple as the way they are projecting it. This man (Ernest Bai Koroma) did not sleep overnight, against all odds and say he is going to appoint Mr. X; he must have done serious consultations. Consultation is the hallmark of good management. Now if you say you don’t want consultation, you don’t want selection, you are looking at it in the most simplistic manner. I told them they are all young brains. When you want to reform the APC or anything, don’t look at the people; you look at the systems, the structures, the processes and procedures. If they are faulty, you correct them. It is not about Ernest Bai Koroma is too old, Yansaneh is old or Minkialu is old. No! Don’t look at them; look at APC as an institution.
And I have my own views about the party; the type of reform that we would need for the party is not chasing people, it is about the structures. There are so many structures that ought to be there that are not there, structures that would make the party sustainable , self-financing, self-supporting without relying on individual people. Today we are talking about funerals; every time there is a funeral they ask for contributions. It is about time we have a Social Welfare Committee or Unit that would take care of social safety net within the party. We have very old people, those who have suffered in the party and when I visit them, they tell you the party has forgotten about them. I feel sad. Those people need to be taken care of.
I went to Siaka Stevens’ place. When I saw the relics, I really shed tears. Somebody you say is the father of the party, you go and look at his home; all his property, all his estates ruined down. I went to Binkolo before even the campaign, I saw the relics of Momoh’s place, I was sad. I think the party must have its own structures that will bring everybody together and we were in governance for many years. The party does not have serious headquarter town offices in the districts, you have to start scavenging. I think it is about time we have to focus on these types of things. Even financing, helping the people; we today have a supporting instrument called microfinance. How can we build on that? All I want from NRM is I would rather, with their brains and diversities, I told them they should form themselves into an intellectual Think Tank for the party but let us don’t chase people. This same 1995 Constitution has seen the party all this time. Let us go and look for the limitations, where we have gone wrong. It is not the Constitution but our own behavioral patterns.
We recently saw the return of Sam Sumana to the APC. Given all what had happened, what do you think his return would bring to your Party?
Everybody has a value. Nobody is indispensable and I cannot say my value to the party is higher than the other person’s value. No! It is about one assessing oneself. If I am in a family, what do I do to strengthen the family? God has a way of testing people in life. He tests you when everything is rosy around you; the other is when you are down, how you behave. It is that balance many a time that forsakes us. I am not against Sam Sumana or against anybody but when you are in a family, there may be squabbles. Like the prodigal son. If we are Christians, let us reflect on that story.
Let us come down to governance issues and national politics. The Bio led government is almost two years in office. On the economy, something you handled for years either as Financial Secretary, Bank Governor or Finance Minister. What is your opinion on the economy, the Government’s fiscal and monetary policies and the Bank of Sierra Leone’s policy on foreign exchange?
When I hear the Governor makes his pronouncements I remind myself of my many years at the Central Bank when we had exchange control regime and how the regime failed us; when we had economic emergency pronouncements. When people come and announce fiscal restraints, emergency fiscal situations; if you are running a small economy like Sierra Leone, your best bet is to have a high sense of liberalization and then you watch and correct. We had times when you could support your currency by selling a convertible currency. Those policies never worked. The Central Bank used to sell foreign exchange, they never worked. You will just be addressing the symptoms and not the root causes. That is why when I listen to these pronouncements; I just conclude that we do not learn from history, not just history of Sierra Leone.
There is no way I would as a Governor, chase the dollar boys in the street. It would not work. You are only creating artificial scarcity of the currency and by doing so; you are giving room for a further depreciation of the currency without announcing the devaluation. And what is worse is, when the currency depreciates itself following market trends, you cannot control it. So go back and look at those market forces that are pushing your currency up and down. Yes we don’t have foreign exchange but why don’t we ask ourselves “how can we earn foreign exchange?” It doesn’t mean you will earn it overnight.
If you have an economy where the mining sector has collapsed ask yourself why. Sometimes it is external policies but sometimes it is through our own domestic policies and then, when you come back and write letters to over 500 enterprises that earn foreign exchange and say they should bring back all their foreign exchange. The 10,000$ announcement is not an international policy; it is the United State and it states you cannot enter into the country with more than 10,000$ without declaring. If you declare, fine but to say you have to bring it back is like you earned it for them. What would they do? They would hide it and there is no way you are going to arrest them.
I believe in broad base consultation. I think the Governor should have called these people who earn foreign exchange because the government is not getting enough foreign exchange since the collapse of the mining sector. The real sector that is giving us money, agriculture takes time. So, call these people, talk to them, and cajole them. Do you need the foreign exchange to boost your foreign reserve, or to support government transaction or to provide to the other private sectors who are consumers of foreign exchange?
On the general economy, what is good for me is that all the elements that would build a better economy in this country are still intact. There may be hiccups in the mining sector but that does not mean our mineral base has collapsed; perhaps the policies, perhaps they do have good investors or perhaps we do not manage the investors we have properly. So take time and look back and that is why one must always give oneself time to reflect and move forward. But if you come and blame everybody, you say for instance you inherited a shattered and battered economy, where is this shattered and battered economy? The only way to build a country is through infrastructures- health, education, roads, energy, and water. These infrastructures are necessary. You build them; you have opened the opportunities for employment, for self-financing programmes.
As I’ve said always, if you want to manage a country, don’t target people; target systems and institutions. People will come and go but the institutions will stay. For me, politics is not a passion, it is not an end for me, it is just a means where I think I can add more value to help the country; what I didn’t do as minister or Governor that I would be able to do as a president because development must come in incremental doses. What I would pray for are good advisers.
What is your assessment of the judiciary?
There is one commonality and that is there is growing anger, dissatisfaction and resentment not only against the government but also against public institution; parliament, judiciary, NEC, security apparatus. The people are showing it in different ways. If the judiciary allows government to target individuals, that is a problem. As a judiciary, the law must be targeting criminality without looking at the individual. But our politics today is wrong because we are targeting individuals and sometimes for no good reasons; just because we want to sustain ourselves in power. If people are having this growing anger, you should ask. This is why perhaps we take comfort when the President said they would have to work hard to be more efficient and effective, taking 2020 as a year of delivery. That is a dangerous pronouncement also because structural projects cannot be delivered in one year. Sometimes, it takes a long time to initiate a serious project. If there is continued violence and continued lawlessness it is good to talk about that but let’s find solution.
The TRC and the Special Court helped us when we were considering post war reconstruction. These two institutions gave us an idea of what might have caused the civil war and how not to do things again. The Special Court targets those who had greatest responsibilities. But again, it also allowed you to understand the human nature. Every day, whenever I see things happening, my mind goes back to the TRC report. You don’t want to go back to those things that led to the civil war. There are a number of structural factors that provide the foundation for conflicts; irregularities before, during and after elections is a big factor. If you don’t correct them, people would lose confidence. You should not allow a continued loss of trust in the key political public democratic institutions like the legislature, which is still on a crossroad. Today, I’m shocked to see parliament go into long recess. Is the ruling party scared?
What next for you ahead of 2023?
For 2023, I am on the road again as a flag bearer. I want to vie for the position. I will continue to be with the people, continue to express my appreciation to the people for their support during the 2018 campaign. I am happy with the responses I’m getting. Also, I’m on a learning curve. What happened in 2018 has allowed me time to know people and the politics of Sierra Leone much better.
Flying, But At What Cost On Us Mr. President?
When a new government is elected to office, there is always a relish on the part of the presidency to travel to countries to familiarize itself with other governments and in the process strengthen her ties of cooperation at both bilateral and multilateral levels. It is all but important that a new president meets other leaders around the world especially for a developing nation that would need support for her development agenda. However the biggest challenge is the level of a nation’s economic realities. If, for instance, a nation is going through serious economic challenges, one well-balanced decision it would make is to cut down on spending.
Wings like A Dove:
Sierra Leone reportedly spent close to 30 billion Leones on the President’s foreign trips in 2019. By August of last year, the President instructed ministers and senior government officials to desist from traveling abroad until further notice. The measure was to help lessen rising government spending. This followed public outcry about the huge cost of the President’s trips overseas to taxpayers, something critics had estimated at $50,000 per trip.
In late 2019, parliament enacted the 2020 Finance Act which, if it had been allowed, would have changed the Public Financial Management Act. That Act, subsequently returned by the President to parliament after public outcry, made provision for a non-accountable imprest for daily international travel expenses excluding purchase of tickets incurred by the President, Vice-President and the Speaker of Parliament.
President Julius Bio has made over 40 trips within two years in governance, something that has also received sharp public criticism. If the President isn’t flying to Ghana on some urgent regional matters, he would be going to Liberia to receive an honorary PhD, or in the United Arab Emirates on a state visit and attending an Annual Global Education and Skills Forum, least to the People’s Republic of China to strengthen ties of cooperation and in the process have a taste of the sweet charming Chinese cuisine. Japan successfully made it to the list of nations he had traveled to, when in August 2019, he had arrived in Yokohama ahead of the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7). And then came South Africa, where the president recently visited for a mining indaba in Johannesburg. We heard of dozens of investors coming. We remain hopeful, as a country. What else if not that?
In other words, within two years, the President has literally developed wings like a dove, perhaps going with the biblical quote as contained in Psalm 55:6- “If only I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and find rest.” By mid-2019, he literally got some rest when he “disappeared” only for the nation to learn that he was in Kenya, East Africa, in a luxurious safari resort on holiday. An online newspaper, Sierra Leone Telegraph had referred to president Bio’s disappearance then as an ‘earth shattering’ mystery. Whatever the case and outcomes, the President is a flying one and maybe, this is needed at all times. But at what cost are such overseas trips on the country? And would such public funds be used to meet social needs like access to safe drinking water, health care, solve the perennial electricity challenge all of which are core to ensuring proper governance structures?
Answers from Civil Society & Politicians:
SierraEye tried for two weeks but fruitlessly to talk to the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray to know what in two years, he thinks are their scores as a government. We also had wanted to discuss extensively the overseas trips by the President by looking at tangible results from those trips, cost on the country economically, government’s reaction to public criticisms over the numerous trips and issues of transparency around the President’s delegations. Several promises were made by Minister Swarray to respond to questions sent to him but none came by the time we went to press.
Civil society is a vital component in the promotion of good governance. It thus provides people with the needed platforms to hugely contribute in the process of governance. In Sierra Leone, though there appears to be a shrinking space for their work, civil right groups have remained true precursors in the pursuit for openness and government’s transparency. Like the media, at least some have stood the test of time since the election of a new government some two years back.
Abdul M. Fatoma of Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, Sierra Leone says, when people take a look at the frequent trips, they can look at his (President) justifications and see a level of dishonesty “because when he came, he promised the people of this country that he was going to ensure financial discipline on the use of money. But to continue with larger entourage with public fund would mean his earlier words on financial discipline are nothing honest.” Government, Fatoma said, has ambassadors and a foreign minister and directors in ministries who could be traveling. “There is need to also cut down on his trips the same way he did with ministers unless when extremely necessary,” he argues.
“Most countries we meet to strengthen our ties with have representatives here in Sierra Leone,” Fatoma said. “What we should do is to look at critical issues back home. When you look at even the website of the British High Commission to Sierra Leone, it does not present a good picture for the country. It talks about poverty, high level of corruption, challenge to water supply, electricity, etc. These are the things that should be invested on, and with that citizens from other countries would be advised that Sierra Leone respects the rule of law, human rights, and promotes fight against corruption genuinely. Without improving on these things, no matter the number of trips you make to those western countries, the same message continues to go out.”
Marcella Samba Sesay is Executive Director, Campaign for Good Governance, a right group that promotes the building of institutions crucial to democracy, ensuring a transparent and accountable government and pushing for active citizens’ participation in the political process, amongst others. Sesay says there are critical issues around the frequent trips by the President, one being lack of transparency. “He doesn’t travel alone, he goes with an entourage. Transparency around those traveling with the President is questionable. When this government took over, they were transparent by way of making public those traveling with the President. But as the travels keep increasing, the level of transparency depreciated.” This, Marcella Samba Sesay says, is worrying from the viewpoint of ensuring an open and accountable government and for a country with economic challenges.
The CGG boss agrees some of the interactions by the President overseas would not bring immediate benefit. “But equally so, we need to understand and juxtapose the trips and the real dividend the country is getting,” she said, emphasizing that Sierra Leone is “actually spending huge money on foreign trips by the President.” With such frequent trips by the President, CGG believes, there are Ministries, Departments and Agencies that won’t get the revenue needed to provide service to the people. The country should be looking at the economic realities versus the dividend in terms of what we are getting from those trips. There are a number of home initiatives that are important. Hunger level in the country is alarming especially in rural communities. So, as civil society suggests, we also need to look at what we can do with the quantum of money spent on travels.
Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray is leader and chairman of the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), a left wing anti-elitist party formed after he fell apart with the then ruling All People’s Congress. Mansaray remains critical of the current administration, not least when it comes to issue of spending of public funds. He thinks the frequent presidential trips abroad are “a complete waste of state resources.” The President, he said, keeps flying but often returns home with nothing tangible to show. In 2018 alone, he said, “the country spent close to 30 billion Leones on the President’s foreign trips and one wonders where we are heading” given the serious economic challenge the country is faced with. Mansaray equates the President to someone running a Non-Governmental Organization that travels “to beg for money,” saying “regardless of the travels, if nations are ready to help us, they would help.”
Foreign trips by presidents should bring about tangible results, be it in the short or long term. In the case of President Bio, there are some tangibles. By the end of last year, the Chinese had sent to Sierra Leone 7,000 tons of food aid to support in bolstering growing hardship in the country. However, this food aid ended with corruption scandal, leading to the dismissal of the Minister of Basic and Primary Education. The country also saw feasibility studies conducted for the rehabilitation of Wilberforce Military Barracks and the construction of the Foreign Service Academy. Other tangible support came in the form of setting up a VIP convoy with bikes, cars and support cars.
By April 2019 also, a delegation from Dubai Port World, Abu Dhabi Port and Manawala Abu Dhabi Airport Company in Dubai was in the country on a two day working visit to explore investment opportunities in our port and marine sector, local media had reported. The President also received a delegation from UAE which was a follow-up to his last visit to the Arabian Peninsula nation, according to a state house press release.
There however, had not been the kind of turnout of credible investors that the country would expect given the dozens of trips the President has had in two years. This may not be unconnected to the level of rising political tensions and the failure on the part of government to reduce those tensions and create the platform that would guarantee real investors’ confidence.
President Bio was at the UK-Africa investment summit in January. The Summit helped to strengthen the UK’s partnership with African countries and further demonstrated that it (UK) was aggressively looking to form solid trading & investment relationships with African nations. African nations made use of the existing opportunities. For instance, as an outcome, Nigeria scooped hundreds of millions of pounds deals from the summit, same with Ghana. Ivory Coast reportedly signed investment deals costing £302 million. In the case of Sierra Leone, our president returned home with a paltry £101,000, a donation made by Chelsea center back, Antonio Rudiger, as support to the country’s Free Quality Education.
For Marcella Samba Sesay, after twenty months in office, she would “advise the President to look inwards and minimize the trips. Look inwards and see what we can do as a nation and think together.” This is a similar sentiment shared by the ADP Leader, Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray who argues that the President has people he appointed to positions of trust, people that he can delegate some of his trips to, “but if he doesn’t trust them to be traveling, then it is sad,” concluding that “for good two years in office, we have seen nothing but a complete failure on the part of this administration. The President needs to sit home and try to fit our broken economy.”
This is a view shared by Abdul Fatoma. For him, it is time the President tests the potentials and abilities of the country’s envoys. “If the President has to meet with a country’s foreign minister, we can have our foreign minister or even an ambassador to do that. Sadly, most times he travels, not his colleague president would meet him. So, we can have minister to minister to meet and discuss. If we are talking about AU Heads of States meeting or ECOWAS or MRU, that is good, but for, example the US, most of the time, it is senior government officials meeting our president, which I think does not sound respectful to us as a country” Fatoma said.
Sierra Leone cannot afford to be spending billions of Leones annually on foreign trips by the President but gaining little or nothing in return. We are a nation with an economy that is not only challenged, but highly reliant on donor support, with less that we can locally boast of in terms of export. Our tax base, in terms of revenue mobilization is weak, compared to other nations. There is need for a review of trips on which the President could embark on; at least some could be delegated to relevant ministries/ministers.
The Life of a Sierra Leonean
By Nyamacoro Sarata Silla
Six years ago I wrote an article on what life presents for a person born as a Sierra Leonean. It was a grim account. This article is an update of the previous and seeks to look at the areas if any that have improved for the lives of Sierra Leoneans.
It is almost 60 years following independence from British colonial rule and to date all indicators tell us that Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in our world. USA Today, a news outlet, lists Sierra Leone as one of the top ten poorest countries in the world (USA Today January 2020).
World Bank describes the Sierra Leonean economy as that of a least developed country. In addition some other news agencies describe Sierra Leone not just as poor but as extremely poor. To gain further insight into the economy and have a Sierra Leonean perspective I accessed the website of the country’s Finance Ministry. It appeared to demonstrate that there is very little about the economy that is not aid driven.
A quick search on the internet shows that information on Sierra Leone from International agencies such as the United Nations and World Health Organization are just as discouraging. Currently in Sierra Leone we are unable to register all births. The same applies when people die. Not all deaths are registered and as a result we can only estimate our annual births and deaths. A week ago I was informed that 60 bodies were unidentified at Connaught morgue. This means that no one came forward to identify the dead and take bodies away for burial or have their deaths registered. This is particularly troubling when you note that registration of births and deaths had started in the colony of Freetown in 1791 and that in 1901 a law was enacted which made the registration of births and deaths compulsory for both Freetown and Bonthe. The year 2020 should be a different one. It really should be routine across our nation for all births and deaths to be registered.
Being in Sierra Leone recently indicated that even the tip of the proverbial iceberg remains untouched in enabling the lives of our citizens to be better; we still grapple with opportunistic diseases causing the deaths of many of our citizens, lack of electricity remains problematic pretty much as we were six, fifteen, twenty and thirty years ago, food shortages, clean water, access to basic affordable healthcare, social concerns, gender based violence, child abuse, fuel crisis, road traffic accidents, crime, youth unemployment, inadequate customer service, lack of discipline and poor sanitation.
To move the lives of citizens forward, the basics really have to take first priority for any government in power. An environment in which sanitation, basic healthcare, education (free quality education a government initiative which is currently in place has had mixed reviews particularly on the inclusion of the word quality) and agriculture is placed high on the agenda. These do not seem to be glamorous areas for government to focus on. They generally do not facilitate innumerable trips abroad or celebrity lifestyles.
Of course the fight against corruption plays a huge part in the success of any country and Sierra Leone is no exception. Corruption remains rife. Some advancement has been made in the fight against corruption mainly in recovering public funds from the previous governments. However, the road remains hard and long. Premature congratulatory attitudes are best quelled for now until we come out of the doldrums in the fight against corruption. This might take years to achieve as it is also about changing hearts and minds as well as the full application of the law.
The struggle continues!
“Fight against Corruption Will Remain Fair and Fierce” – Ben Kaifala
President Julius Bio came into office with a commitment to fight corruption. His government in 2018 appointed Francis Ben Kaifala as Commissioner of the country’s anti-graft body, the Anti-Corruption Commission. Close to two years in office, his tenure in the office has witnessed an increase in prosecutions as well as stronger efforts in the areas of prevention and public education. But this period has had its own challenges, with the public seeing it more as one that has been chasing past government officials, something Ben denies in this talk with SierraEye Magazine.
On whether the recent changes to the ACC Act which gives him enormous powers thus appearing to have usurped the powers of the AG in terms of being principal legal adviser to Government on contracts, the anti-graft boss agreed that “the Commission has powers, whether that is extremely powerful is not something I can say.” The Commission, he said, is “going to continue to investigate members of the past government who have issues of corruption hanging over their heads that have not been cleared,” also defending why they didn’t ask for a sitting government minister to be relieved of her duties whilst she is being investigated but another was relieved.
Francis Kaifala started off by him taking the magazine through what he thinks are his achievements as Commissioner:
I came in on the 28th of June, 2018. Practically, not much changed since I came in. There were no sackings, only the leadership was changed. I came in with a vision to ensure we try to expand the boundaries of the fight against corruption to take it as far as we could, to be able to use the Commission as a bean for a kind of social revolution, a revolution that would permeate down in ensuring transparency and accountability in public service and for us to be united in doing that as a sacrifice. The staff received that well and I created the enabling environment to feel comfortable to work and achieve this and a lot has changed. We expanded the scope of operations; more investigations were happening, covering wider sectors. We have been engaged in more systems processes and recovery, changed name of Systems and Processes Department to the Preventions Department so that a lot more scope could be given to what they can do in terms of prevention. We also improved the Public Education Department by introducing the Public Relations Unit in that department.
The recent changes to the ACC Act give you immense powers. What is your response to those who say you are most powerful person in the country today and you have usurped the powers of the AG in terms of being principal legal adviser to Government on contracts?
When I came in, I viewed the fight against corruption like a business and you being the CEO of that business. You view it as a production chain; there is a downstream end of the production and the upstream end of the production. The downstream end is the raw materials, the middle stream is where they are processed and the upstream is where they are sold. So I saw that there were problems along the supply chain, problems with the production mechanisms, the tools used, the regulations around them and also the upstream end, the judiciary’s response to how things are happening.
So basically, one of the things we set out to do was to correct that. We also identified that the 2008 amendment had loopholes and these were informed by things that happened in the country. After the 2008 amendment, in 2013, we were still rated as the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International. So, going forward we saw a more decline in our ranking after 2016 in the international indices that measured corruption perception. There was a need to take onboard this fight, by correcting these loopholes, by making sure that the proverbial supply chain is properly cleaned and one of the things that needed to be done was an amendment that would capture those issues to enable us to be properly positioned to fight against corruption. That is why that amendment was promulgated including the powers that go with it. If you want someone to attack a monster like corruption, he would need the tools and weapons to be able to battle it and we felt that all the issues in there were necessary and proper and when we went to parliament there was an overwhelming support in parliament. When it went to cabinet, there was an overwhelming approval. That is why we also have the anti-corruption division at the High Court so that the judiciary that deals with our cases is also better prepared and have a more efficient system in terms of case management and case disposal system.
So, basically if somebody says I am the most powerful man in the country that would not be entirely correct. We all know there is supreme executive power given to the President by the Supreme Court. I agree that the Commission has powers, whether that is extremely powerful is not something I can say.
Let us look at recovery of public funds. We know billions were recovered by the previous commissioners. What are the figures for the last two years under your watch?
When I came in, the Finance Director gave me records of actual recovery by the ACC, that is monies that came through ACC. At that time, the entire recovery by this Commission from day one to the time I came in was about 16 billion Leones. As I speak with you, we have recovered over 20 billion Leones and we have handed over to the President 15 billion Leones of that money to build an advanced diagnostic facility. Of course as you know 10% of that money is used to cushion our operations.
Do you take directives from the presidency when it comes to prosecuting people?
At all not, the ACC is functionally independent. The President is head of the country and of course he leads everything. He is the one man that is 100% elected by the people. We all are working within the agenda of the President. If the President came to power on the basis of fighting corruption, when he is accounting for that at the end of the day, his is not talking about what he would do as president; he is talking about what we would do at the ACC.
So yes, my time at the ACC is consultative and inclusive as governance itself is consultative, informative, educative and interactive. But to say we sit here and wait on the President to give us directives is incorrect and the current President has never ever interfered in our operations, even though we keep him informed on issues that need his attention.
There appears to be sacred people in this administration. A minister was sacked recently because he was being investigated by your office whilst another minister, a Resident Minister who is also being investigated by your office over the Chinese rice scandal is still in office. What is the difference between the two?
Investigations are usually structured in such a way that responsibility is identified clearly and it is based on responsibility or participation in the entire corruption process that determines what action we take. With the Chinese rice saga, rice was handed over to the Ministry of Basic Education and the purpose was that it should be used for school feeding program. The school feeding program itself is handled by WFP, so one would expect the rice would be handed over to WFP to deal with it. But if it is not handed over to WFP, you would also expect that there is a proper system put in place to ensure it is properly applied and utilized.
When we started the investigation, it was divided into three phases; the decision makers; those in the ministry who were given this rice and who knew what happened in cabinet, who knew what the instructions were that came with the rice and who decided to do things we felt were improper. Those people bear the greatest responsibility for whatsoever happened. There are also the people who took the rice from the ministry to be delivered to the various schools. So that is devoid of the decision. The decision may have been even wrong for you to have been given the rice but let say you were given, did you take it to where it should go? Then there is the third phase, we checked with the schools to find out if they received it.
When it comes to the issue of Mr. Timbo and the Resident Minister, the Resident Minister’s case is that they were taking bags of rice to Port Loko District after a decision was taken by the ministry that certain percentage should go there. Then it got there; the villages were inaccessible by those big trailers. So they decided to leave the rice with the Resident Minister so she can help facilitate for the rice to get to the villages and that is how they gave her a certain percentage of the rice. To hold her on the same scale as you would hold those who took the decision to first, take the rice to places where proper systems were not put into place would be most improper. You will commit no crime to receive. Where crimes comes in now is what she did with the rice.
But did she deliver the rice to the schools?
That is what we are now verifying. We actually retrieved several bags of the rice with her because even when she received it, she didn’t have the capacity to take the rice to the villages. The only way we can be able to establish that indeed she committed any wrongdoing is in that phase of verification which is now happening. That is why she was not arrested or relieved because you cannot say simply because they took bags of rice to her; she is culpable of an offence.
Here is another issue; you were literally defending the Chief Minister when a journalist was investigating an alleged 1.5 million dollar bribe. That matter may have come to an end but why did you take the position you had taken when the issue became public?
Again, that is another misunderstanding of the issue. The Chief Minister sent me information that he has been accused by a journalist of engaging in corruption. I am the focal person for the fight against corruption. Once I received this information, I got to the journalist as his number was on the information I received. I called him and asked if he can work with the Commission to get to the bottom of it. When I did that, it was not to protect the Chief Minister. It was for me to be able to take my responsibility because the Chief Minister is a public servant and if there is allegation of bribery against him, I am responsible to look into it. The journalist refused to cooperate with me and he made all kinds of accusations against me. We went to the bank where he alleged the money was paid. I personally called the MD of that bank and asked her whether there is any truth in the allegation. She said no. The bank told us the Chief Minister has nothing, except an expressed travel card which has never been charged.
Whilst I got that information, I woke up in the morning and the journalist was on the radio making all kinds of accusation against my institution. When you are a leader, your primary responsibility is to protect the institution that you lead and the other responsibility is to be able to achieve your mandate. My institution and reputation were under attack. So when I called that morning to correct those issues within the public domain, it was nothing about the Chief Minister. It was to present the correct facts as they happened and to defend my institution against such callous attack. We however pointed out that the investigation remains open and if people have information, they should come to us.
Will you assure the nation that you won’t be afraid to go after SLPP members?
I do not see SLPP or APC. I am not here to do an SLPP or APC bidding. I am here to carry out the mandate of the ACC as established in section 7 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act. What we are interested in is the evidence that supports whatsoever claims and where it leads, that is where we go irrespective of who you are or what position you hold. There is the minster we were talking about; we have investigated Sarah Bendu who was appointed by the SLPP government. If anyone has the evidence or the lead, something which can help us to zoom down on issues, please take a chance with me and let’s see.
But public view is that your era in the ACC is mostly focused on chasing officials of the former government. How would you react to that?
We at the ACC under my leadership follow the evidence. I came in at a time when there was a transition of government. Naturally, it is not like you are going to find evidence the next morning against the people who just came in. Corruption is something which builds on for a very long time. Those who took the Commission of Inquiry money, immediately we investigated, prosecuted and found them guilty in two weeks. It was this current government. The rice saga, we went in quickly, by the time people could know, the Minister, Permanent Secretary, the Deputy Minister and Head of Nutrition were relieved of their duties whilst investigation is ongoing.
There are many other cases in the current administration where we have gone in. Dr. Denis Sandy has been investigated several times here.
Our investigations do not always have to lead to prosecution. There are many things we can do, it can be administrative, it can be court led or non-conviction based asset recovery. Do we have an instance of evidence that is available to me and we decide to look back? I challenge anyone to bring that. I am assuring the nation, the fight against corruption is going to remain fair and fierce. We are going to continue to investigate members of the past government who have issues of corruption hanging over their heads that have not been cleared. We cannot be cowed. It is not a weapon against the former regime or a weapon against the current regime. It is about evidence. If anybody that has been charged to court does not at least have something to answer by virtue of his responsibility given by the state, I stand to be judged by it.
Let me draw your attention backwards; the investigation on the Minister of Lands, Dr. Denis Sandy that you referenced. At what point would you normally ask for public officials to be suspended or relieved?
When we have sufficient evidence to establish a corrupt practice that is when we come in. But most times, it is when we indict an official. If the nature of what that public official did is such that, continuing in office even before we indict might prejudice the investigation, we can make a request to the person who has responsibility to relieve him to do so. But we cannot do so if at least we do not have something we can hold on to, to make such request.
You have had a number of out of court settlements on matters of corruption with suspects. Was that not undermining public confidence on the institution?
It is not in any way undermining public confidence. In fact it was geared towards increasing public confidence because the volume of recovery we made in those settlements was unprecedented, for example, for one person to pay 2 billion Leones to the Commission. We go to the court, the court fines them 30 million Leones minimum and that is it. Juxtapose 2 billion Leones to a 30 million Leones fine. The whole idea behind it was to make sure there was greater efficiency in the fight against corruption. What we did was to create a system whereby we do not send every case to the court and continue to choke the court system. There are 71 cases outstanding in the court with no decision, some since 2012.
The ACC Act gives the Commissioner prosecutorial discretion. The Commissioner cannot look at a particular case and decide that we don’t have to go to court. Sometimes it is because the evidence is itself not reliable to take the risk to go to court, or sometimes it is because it is more efficient or rather more expedient to be able to retrieve the resources and proceed without committing further cost of investigating and going to court and prosecuting without even knowing when that judgment would be forthcoming and even if it does, what way would it go. So as the Commissioner, the court gives me that kind of prosecutorial discretion to determine what to do as per law and that law is not just the Anti-Corruption Act, even International law allows these things; non conviction base asset forfeiture is something which every jurisdiction that fights corruption recognizes .
Public procurement appears to be an avenue for pilfering public funds. What is the level of collaboration between your Commission and the National Public Procurement Authority?
The degree of collaboration with them is huge particularly in our prevention drive. Even when we did our amendment, it was a concerted effort between us and them in respect to the contracts clause. Now, when a contract is to be terminated by reason of the fact that it was negotiated with corrupt elements in them, we have to agree. So, if I have the evidence I simply take it to the CEO and we say it should not go through, then they give their consent in writing and then we proceed to terminate. That is the highest peak of collaboration. We have signed an MOU; we jointly launched the standard bidding document for 2020.
What is the latest with the teachers that your Commission paraded for public viewing on allegation of corruption even when they had not been charged at the time and why did you choose doing that?
They are in court standing trials. Criminals who are arrested are paraded everywhere in the world. They are introduced to the public that these are the people arrested. We carried out a raid over the week, arrested them in examination malpractices; teachers taking exams with students in the principal’s office and we introduced them to the public.
Everywhere in the world when these criminals are introduced to the public, they are not taken to court. It isn’t an indictment; it is not saying they are guilty. It is simply saying these are the people we arrested.
And the President himself had to apologize for that your action?
Yes he apologized. I do not control the President. Those who took unto social media considered themselves the public view. We have done our research and we are of the view that more people were in favour of what we did. Like I said, our actions may not be perfect. It can never be perfect when you are confronting corruption. We do not always expect the public to be in the same line with us and our mandate is not to please the public. Yes we had public outcry but was it in the majority? We have no way of knowing. Did the President apologize? Yes. Do we think we needed to apologize? No I don’t think so but the President, the head of the state. He did so on our behalf and that means we did.
Have you had lonely moments in the job?
I can assure you that it is a difficult job. You are dealing with people who, some of them have been very close to you, either as a family, or you went to college together or had social interactions in the past and sometimes people who emotionally you may feel attached to. But you see sacrifices have to be made.
People have to understand that the collective interest is bigger than the individual interest. So, what I tell my friends is ‘do not put me in a position where I have to take a decision on you’ because when it comes to taking a decision our friendship is secondary. Yes, I have had moments when I sit in this office and look back and realize that somebody who has been close to me is under investigation. As long as we understand that a man has to do his job, I don’t think anybody would take it personal.
What should the public expect from the Commission?
The public should expect more successes in terms of convictions, in terms of investigations, in terms of recoveries, more movements in our perception indices. We are trying to move the commission from a three figure index to a double figure index within the next one to two years. And the way things are going, we are expecting to do that within the next one year. I am counting on the public’s support. Together we can change the story of Sierra Leone.
Shining Light on President Bio’s Technology Projects
By Annette Hanciles
In 2018, President Julius Maada Bio launched Sierra Leone’s first Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). Sierra Leone’s Chief Minister Professor David Francis, who presided over the creation of DSTI, stated that an agency such as DSTI was meant to use science, technology and innovation to deliver key government’s businesses in the areas of e-health, e-government, e-education and e-security. The directorate, headed by Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) who also doubles as Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) has operated now for close to two years.
The DSTI through the Office of the President has embarked on several techno centric projects in the bid to digitize and effectively make the running of government electronic rather than the now heavily paper based dependent system. Since the establishment of DSTI, here are two top projects that if implemented effectively would do well in giving a big win to the President’s technology agenda:
Ease of Doing Business
According to DSTI official website (www.dsti.gov.sl), the Ease of Doing Business in Sierra Leone is an integrated and coordinated Presidential initiative for facilitating an effective and transparent business environment. Though there isn’t much information on Ease of Doing Business in Sierra Leone from the side of the DSTI, it however is easy to safely guess what the project is all about. It is likely that DSTI project on Ease of Doing Business has to do with the Ease of Doing Business Index, which measures regulations directly affecting businesses by looking into factors such as better, usually simpler, regulations for businesses and stronger protections of property rights.
It is logical to presume that since Sierra Leone scored low 47.7 and being placed at 163 out of 190 ranking recently in the 2020 Doing Business Ranking, it is very likely that DSTI is working on some technological intervention to help place Sierra Leone higher in the rankings. These rankings are determined by sorting the aggregate scores on 10 topics, each consisting of several indicators, giving equal weight to each topic. The topics are; starting a business, dealing with construction permit, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
With an already high and irregular electricity supply in the country, most heady electricity dependent companies often do not come to Sierra Leone to do business. Other frequently encountered challenges with doing business in Sierra Leone are: Getting credit, construction permit and enforcing contracts. Due to the crucial impact of business on the economy as in the creation of jobs and provision of goods and services to support ease of living, DSTI’s Ease of Doing Business project is worthy of mentioning as one of the top crucial projects needed by Sierra Leone at this moment.
Education Data Hub
The Education Data Hub’s main purpose according to DSTI is to connect the Annual School Census (Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, 2018) and the National Examination Results (West African Examination Council, 2016-2018). The hub seeks to serve as a tool to support decision making through an evidence-based and data-driven process for research, informed policy, planning and evaluation of interventions across schools. In other words, stakeholders in the education sector like teachers, parents and students can now have access to knowing exactly the performance of schools and be able to use that data to make decisions that could overall support the continual improvement of education in Sierra Leone.
Given the constant worsening of education in Sierra Leone with the spate of examination malpractices and unbelievable mass failures in public examinations, this particular project fits quite well with the President’s flagship Free and Quality Education program. Exploring the data portal, one can easily identify the Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) facility available at schools for instance. This would particularly empower parent as stakeholders for example to ensure that they can take up WASH concern with school heads in a situation where they are not satisfied with the data they find.
It is also easier now to see the passing rate in many schools in the country, thereby enabling school heads and government education officials to take necessary steps to ensure that schools are working to see their students perform well in exams. The reason why The Education Hub is one of the top pick is due to the potential impact it will have on shaping and reclaiming the standard of education.
Apart from the above two picks, DSTI continues to do well in developing several project ideas to help push Sierra Leone to a digital nation. As a show of commitment to technology the President recently launched Sierra Leone’s National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) at Bintumani Conference Center. According to the official document, NIDS is a 10-year National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) (2019-2029) aimed at guiding Sierra Leone’s investments, policies, and governance frameworks for her present and future development. The document further states that a NIDS positions Sierra Leone among regional and global leaders in the field of digital agile governance by focusing on effective service delivery, citizen engagement, and the digital economy driven by innovation and entrepreneurship. As a national strategy its overarching aim is to reduce the cost of governance and reduce corruption while increasing national productivity.
“The Use of Child Labour in Mining Is Unacceptable”-Sierra Leone Minerals Policy 2018: Is It Working?
By Sayoh Kamara
Moves to save and or protect the Sierra Leonean child from the hazards of hard work especially in the mining sector have been at the centre stage of governments’ policies for a very long time but there seems no end in sight to this menace. This is because the socio-economic situations over time and at present provide no better alternatives to keep children from the arduous engagements or keep their parents off the hook of poverty and its attendant ramifications. In some instances, the boys and girls go for it on their own, just to make ends meet where there is or are no means to an end.
The fact of the matter is that there are no tangible remedies to this problem. There are numerous legislations and policies said to address this menace but they are mere pretentious decorations put in words and on paper to beautify the shelves. Basically, there is a standing legislation prohibiting the use of child labour in mining, particularly in the artisanal mining. In many respects, children knowingly undertake labour in artisanal mining to supplement the incomes of their poor rural families and this includes labour to pay for their own education. That is why child labour is mostly common in alluvial mining activities involving the extraction of diamond, gold and coltan.
Bashiru Njaojah, 12 years old and Usain Njaojah 10 years old are from the same parents and are living at Peleywahun village, 3 miles from the bank of the Sewa River in the Baoma Chiefdom in Bo District. Baoma Chiefdom is diamondiferous and has over the decades attracted miners from all over West Africa. It is said to have a very high concentration of descendants of Nigerian Housas, Malian Bambaras and Guinean Mandingoes.
Baoma Chiefdom is “the most cosmopolitan settlement in the entire Bo District. It is a mix bag of diverse cultures and traditions,” says Chief Bashiru Tomboyekeh, younger brother of Section Chief Sidikie Tomboyekeh.
Lately, there has been an upsurge in mining for gold and this has attracted so many women. Gold mining is not as difficult as mining for diamond. The process is soft but yet still labor-intensive. Bashiru and Usain are in classes 6 and 5 respectively. They work on the Sewa River bank alongside their mother and elder siblings every day of the week. Both are attending the Islamic Call Society Primary School (ICS) at Peleywahun Village. They have an elder brother, Sheku and an elder sister, Umu. Sheku dropped out of school since and went into active diamond mining as a Diver and Umu also dropped out of school two years ago after her Basic Entrance Certificate Examination (BECE). Both say their mother could not afford school fees and other charges so they both decided to support their mother to fend and support their two younger brothers to get educated.
The parents of Bashiru and Usain are originally from Gbinima village about 3 kilometers from Peleywahun. They said their parents relocated a couple of years ago to Peleywahun because of fear that their original village Gbinima could be sitting on a huge pile of diamonds and may one day be conceded to a mining company. As of now, the people of Gbinima bury their dead at Peleywahun for the same reason. Bashiru and Usain leave school at 2:30 pm every school day and go straight to the riverside to meet their mother, Isata Moiguah, who is 35 years old. Madam Isata lost her husband three years ago. It is at the riverside they eat and wash afterwards before going home late in the evening about 7:00pm.
Work at the mining site is routinely distributed. Bashiru and Usain are responsible for bailing the sand deposit from Sheku’s diving to the mother’s sieve which is mounted on two sticks on the edge of the river bank. The boys will turn the sand from rubber containers and when the sieve is loaded, the mother routinely pours water on to the sand over a thick mass of carpet fur. The fur accordingly restrains the sand dust from the running water and sand. This process is done continuously for like one hour. The mother then folds the carper fur, squeezes the water out in a shining bowl, drains the water from the bowl and empties the content on the carpet fur into the bowl. The content from the carpet fur are a little shiny dust-like particles and that is the gold dust.
According to Madam Isata, mostly, it takes a whole day for them to gather a kilogramme of gold dust which they sell for Le. 60, 000 (approximately $6). It is this cash that Madam Isata keeps to take care of her household as a single parent.
The family of Isata typifies the life and earnings of hundreds of rural families living near or along mining areas in Sierra Leone. What is clearly evident in these circumstances are that, dire economic conditions of families drive the need for additional hands to augment income generation.
The problem of addressing child labour in a concertedly-all-acceptable manner is as chaotic as having a policy that is s-m-a-r-t and fits with time, especially a policy that has to do with stopping child labour in the mining sector.
When the current government came to power through its campaign rhetoric of “New Direction,” the first Minister in the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, Dr. Morie Komba Manyeh (Ph.D.) was quick to undertake “a holistic review” of the Mineral Policy of 2003 to put it in tandem with present day realities. He commissioned the review and later in November of 2018, launched the Sierra Leone Minerals Policy 2018, with the considered view that “it is comprehensive and has international, continental and regional initiatives relevant to the mineral sector governance and management in Sierra Leone.
Barely, a year following the launch, Dr. Manyeh was sacked and his replacement, Foday Rado Yokie, quickly challenged certain aspects of the policy, referring to them as “mundane and not in touch with realities and needs of Sierra Leone.” Some of these aspects of course have to do with taxation and mining concessions. This has apparently put on stay, the implementation of any effective mines and mineral policy and which, concomitantly is affecting child labour issues as far as artisanal mining is concerned.
But even with a policy effectively in place, there is still a huge lacuna. Women involvement in artisanal mining is not controlled and no policy since 2003 has had any attempt at reviewing that aspect. Women need no license to go into artisanal mining especially for gold and diamond. For them, it is just a source of earning their daily bread, and because they mostly control the children, they carry them along in this search for a daily bread.
But there is a policy statement in the Sierra Leone Minerals Policy 2018 which seems to suggest that gender issues specifically related to mining and mineral development were largely ignored in previous mining policies and existing laws and regulations. It noted that differences in gender roles and enduring structural impediments at local and community levels where men and women have traditional roles continue to challenge and frustrate national gender equality interventions and therefore require practical interventions” (Sierra Leone Minerals Policy 2018: 3.11.4).
Controversially, a Government policy statement also in the 2018 policy notes, “Government will ensure that all policies relating to the sector fully incorporate strategies and actions that respect fair treatment of men and women and enhance gender equality and pay,” emphasizing that “…such policies will ensure that vulnerabilities unique to women are addressed through support systems at the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Children Affairs as well as other social service delivery agencies.” It is such controversies and policy discordance that make regulation and implementation almost impossible in ensuring no child labour in the mining sector.
“The use of child labour in mining in Sierra Leone is unacceptable and illegal.” This is an affirmative Government Policy Statement. However, the capacity of law enforcement agencies and social welfare interventions need to be strengthened, enforce child protection laws and provide support services to children who are victims of child labour; but not forgetting their parents and persons caught in violation should be held criminally liable.
However, these difficulties in addressing child labour are not akin to the mining sector alone. It cuts across and the issue of child labour is more of an eyesore in urban communities, especially in Freetown, the capital city. Policies and regulations have long been in place, but they are inadequate, poorly monitored and the system is compromised. The unacceptability and the illegality of child labour in Sierra Leone’s mining sector is literally being made acceptable and legal because of the apparent conspicuous controversies in policy formulations and also largely because of government’s very lack in capacity to implement, monitor and punish violators. The use of child labour in mining is unacceptable but it is not working in Sierra Leone.
Media and Society
Media in 2020: Commitments, Challenges and Prospects
By Janet Brima
Sierra Leone’s media has gone through series of trials, all connected to the existence of a law that criminalises free speech, the Public Order Act, 1965.
The political class continues to often enjoy the pleasure of utilizing media outlets and professionals in pursuit of their desires, however failing in their duties to actualize the values that foster free speech and ensure a pluralistic press. This is one reality that continues to have an adverse effect on the practice of journalism. Governments, both current and previous have made public their commitment to repeal Part 5 of the Public Order Act. But nothing tangible has happened, just the same rhetoric, well, as the typical Sierra Leonean politician would act.
The year gone by came with challenges, huge opportunities and with the usual redundant, less too serious political commitments to the repeal of the criminal libel. There has not been a case of imprisonment of any media practitioner by the current administration- positive development in two years of their governance but there is more it. The country continues to see a downward trend in the use of very criminal libel in threatening free speech, with bloggers being invited to the Criminal Investigations Department for some trivial social media post. Some politicians (ministers) now take pleasure in engaging in social media rants and threats all in the name of using their ‘power.’ This is the sad state of affairs the country is faced with. Against the backdrop of a joyful evolution in media both in quality and quantity and with the linked effects of the growth of social media on the very practice of journalism, one wonders what should be the outlook for the media in 2020. SierraEye Magazine spoke to Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, President of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists. On the law that criminalises free speech, he looks optimistic that Part 5 of the Public Order Act 1965 will be repealed with the passage of time.
“We are almost at the finish line now in terms of repeal of the Criminal and Seditious libel law (and I am positive that by the time your magazine is out we would have crossed that line). You may recall that by mid-December 2019 the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray, presented the repeal bill in Parliament and the First Reading was done. That is a big achievement when you consider how far we have come with this bad law. Remember that this is not just a fight of SLAJ, but other stakeholders as well, including civil society organisations (like the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Society for Democratic Initiatives, Campaign for Good Governance, CARL-SL, CHRDI, etc ), development partners, British High Commission and Irish Embassy, who have been very supportive in the area of strategic advocacy. We continue to work together, because this law doesn’t only affect journalists but every citizen.” The political will can be made available at the highest level but where other arms of government like the legislature is not clearly ready to help the process, it becomes another cup of tea, altogether. SLAJ continues to engage with MPs at various levels because they themselves as lawmakers, according to Nasralla “…understand their role and the fact that the ultimate goal is to safeguard a fundamental human right of freedom of expression and of the press and to which they have signed various international treaties and conventions. Some MPs even expressed determination, but challenged with resources, to go to their constituencies and engage the people to help them understand and to assure them that there are very strong safeguards in the Civil Libel law, as well as at the level of SLAJ and IMC, and it’s not going to be a free day for journalists.”
SLAJ is convinced that the government has already demonstrated a very strong political will by approving a repeal of the law at Cabinet level. “If it were left only to the Executive arm of Government, the Criminal and Seditious libel law is no more in our law books. And we commend His Excellency the President, Dr. Julius Maada Bio for the commitment he has shown to deliver on his party’s promise. But you know there are other equally important arms of Government, and in this case the Sierra Leone Parliament which has the responsibility to legislate,” said the SLAJ President. Agreed, it’s a matter of following due process, since laws are themselves not changed overnight. However, Nasralla said, his Association would also want to look at the commitment of Government post-repeal. “The economic condition of the media is degenerating every passing day. Government and developing partners need to intervene and salvage the independent media to save our democracy and to ensure public officials are held to account.
Beyond looking forward to government support, like Government’s annual subvention, Nasralla spoke of their vision of having a self-reliant SLAJ, not one that will continue to go cap-in-hand begging for funds. “We are thinking of getting into business; investing in printing presses, importation of printing materials, and other media related services so that the media will have access to these products, facilities and services at cost-recovery basis and the Association will also generate revenue to run its Secretariat and finance its own initiatives. We want to invest in shares in various credible companies as part of our sustainability goal.”
With all what it has gone through in the last decade, what should 2020 bring for the media? SLAJ’s Nasralla believes “2020 should be a positive turning point for the media as we anticipate the repeal of Part 5 of the POA 1965 which criminalises free speech. The repeal will lead to a turnaround for the media, opening up the struggling industry to more and more opportunities for training, scholarships, fellowships and, most importantly, private sector investment.” The need to also strengthen the Independent Media Commission (IMC) is crucial. Where the IMC is strengthened and made to function effectively, the courts become less occupied by those who feel aggrieved by the media practice. Media institutions have the moral duty to comply with their statutory and professional obligations, including payment of taxes and providing improved conditions of service for journalists. “Equally,” Nasralla said, “SLAJ is working with the IMC to help media houses become economically viable to be able to meet these obligations. Efforts are ongoing to put together a comprehensive advertising policy which will help advertisers get value for money and the media houses also get good returns for publication. In addition, SLAJ is also strongly moving towards self-regulation by consolidating its internal control systems. So, we look forward to a law abiding media; more responsible and professional media, credible and trusted media; economically viable media and a nationalistic media that will hold this nation together rather than help to divide it.”
Like society, Nasralla also looks forward to a media that will be “independent, critical, fair, honest and a development partner” and with “more women coming into the profession, empowering themselves and aspiring for leadership positions within the male-dominated industry. Arguably, the existing unprecedented challenges like fall in revenue, existing forms of censorship, public distrust and competing with social media are disturbing for effective media operations. However, the media should stay independent so as to represent range of opinions in society. Added to this, media ethics should be adhered to and professionalism pursued. SLAJ is aware that one of the main concerns of the public regarding the repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel law is the safeguards. “People ask what SLAJ is doing to control its membership; to ensure journalists practice responsibly. The public, as well as the Government, want assurances,” said Nasralla.
So, in addition to continuous training of membership, the media parent body, SLAJ is also strengthening their internal control systems towards self-regulation, having reconstituted the Disciplinary Committee to include members from the public and an increase in responsibility. “The DC will be responsible to enforce the SLAJ Code of Ethics. They will now have District and Regional representatives who will monitor the conduct of media houses and journalists across the country and report to the Committee.” There will be more specific trainings and popularization of the Code of Ethics and the “Disciplinary Committee will also engage on media literacy programs that will help journalists review their work as well as help the public understand and appreciate the work of the media.”
All things being equal, 2020 should be the media’s springboard to a brighter future given the opportunities for further growth though with challenges, which are bound to be surmounted. SLAJ is challenged to ensure, when Part 5 is repealed, the public concern is managed and media professionalism maintained. Above all, there is the individual responsibility that practitioners should work on, beyond the collective role that the parent body-SLAJ is expected to lead.
The State as the Superstructure
By Umaru Kamara
Sierra Leone is in need of national dialogues on critical issues, not least those around good governance. The need to work towards fostering national cohesion and bring social fabrics together is critically vital for our fragile democracy. Here is a reason to brace up and put our acts together; the 2019 Global Peace Index didn’t come looking too good for us, all just for the wrong reasons. Not shockingly, the country dropped 18 places down from 34th in the world to 52nd in just one year, moving the country from 2nd position to 6th.
The Global Peace Index assesses a country’s peacefulness. There are 23 indicators used to establish each country’s peacefulness score, among them; level of violent crime, level of perceived criminality in society, intensity of organized internal conflict, ease of access to small arms and light weapon, number and duration of internal conflicts, political instability, political terror and number of homicides per 100,000 people. Sierra Leone ended her civil war close to 20 years ago. Agreed we are no longer at war but the country continues to experience levels of political instabilities and this is worrying. It came as no shock, therefore that we perform poorly in the Global Peace Index; a nervous, inherently unstable and contentious country!
One institution working on issues of good governance and participatory democracy is Campaign for Good Governance. It is worried that the political divide “is creating problems” given that “instead of sound economic and governance policies, we see government taking decisions to score political points in the face of political opponents.” Politicians, especially those in governance must realize that, in a society like ours, decisions should be taken in view of citizen’s welfare. The collective issue of ‘us versus them’ is getting us into trouble and must be addressed.
Government, CGG’s Marcella Samba Sesay believes, is not just about a party in power, it takes into account even the opposition, which in actual sense is a government in waiting. Sierra Leone would need a national convening to look at those perilous issues vital to our growth and stability. We must rise above partisan slant especially when it comes to national issues. For instance, beyond and above the political interest and slants, we could look at why there has been a constant depreciation of our currency at such an astronomical level.
Public service isn’t different from actual output of government. Economic realities are now an outcome of political decisions and this should not always be the case. Jobs should not be given to secure a given tribe or region. Public life goes beyond one’s tribe or region. In present day Sierra Leone, people with security of tenure are being sacked as against what the law provides for. This is against the spirit of national cohesion. It is obvious, new people would be appointed into jobs when a new government comes into power.
“What is sad is to look at everyone in government offices as allies of the previous regime. To relinquish the knowledge base of someone that has served an institution for a decade, all in the name of satisfying your political base is detrimental to national development. Recruiting new people means, learning on the job which would take months or even years,” argues CGG’s Marcella Samba Sesay.
The ‘winner takes all’ model isn’t working for us. So, for CGG, a national conversation is critical on how for instance, state institutions like the National Electoral Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Independent Media Commission operate. These are strategically relevant in positioning the state above political power influence.
Also, we would need a legal framework on how effective transition within a democratic system is ensured. If we are to progress, the political class must see the state as one institution functioning as an entity of continuity. “Institutions like NEC, ACC and IMC are the buffers in society and when once they begin to have issues of public trust, it becomes worrying. They must have high public confidence level,” says Marcella Samba Sesay.
Institutions must be allowed to operate freely and within the limit of the law. For instance the NEC should not be seen taking decision based on the furtive directives of a given political party, same with the police. The police have a duty to be professional if they are to regain public trust and confidence. Where that is lacking, it undermines the foundation of a perfect society.
Parliament has not been better either in the last two years; wrong approach to the election of speaker and deputy, removal of legitimately elected MPs have all had a bad taste of that institution vital to representative democracy .Parliamentary representatives must be the real ones elected by voters. It becomes unbearable, undemocratic and an attack on the country’s values when those who were not democratically elected are seen representing people in parliament. And given how those institutions have performed lately and the seeming disappearance of public trust, it won’t be a bad deal if we call to also examine our electoral systems, and get a conversation around the current electoral systems to know if they are still suitable and working effectively.
But here is another thing; we would only have these sorts of discussions when we realize that there are pathways to address our problems. This brings to mind the judiciary which has not helped the process either. Have we actually sat back to look at why is it that the judiciary has become a tool of the political class? How is it that it could assign a political case (NRM vs. APC) to a presiding Judge within a day but it takes donkey years for other matters like those of the Bar Association to be assigned?
“If you have the capacity to assign a case within hours, it means a lot,” according to CGG’s Executive Director who also has called on the Chief Justice “to exercise some amount of accountability in delivering on his roles and responsibilities. He is not assigning matters and the right of people must be respected. These are the accountability entities that hold the state. People should feel confident that when they put their complaints they would be heard and someone is listening.”
Another area is the fight against corruption which also hinges on a lot of social opportunities. Government, for instance, should look at the Auditor General’s report and examine systems proposed and do a cleaning up of Ministries, Departments and Agencies. We should think above the mere incarnation of people when we talk about fighting graft. It is about the systems’ approach. Systems and procedures must be in place. Corruption is not just about pilfering state resources; it is also about nepotism, like putting wrong people in the right positions. Above all, civil society groups must be allowed with the platform to work properly and freedom of association should not be under threat. As it appears, there is not much latitude of late for their operations and this is a disturbing trend.
Government looks somehow repressive. Political stability is a concern. Government must balance the equation. There is a difference between a party in power and government. That distinction has not been drawn in the last two years and as such, everything is seen from a partisan side and this is not good for our democratic credentials. You cannot put a politician in the ministry of political affairs when the very essence of such a ministry is to bridge the political divide. That creates a lot of problems. Some of our ministries should be apolitical in at least their outlook. No one party should be seen more powerful than the state when the state is itself the superstructure, says CGG executive director. It is not the duty of a political party to decide what decision the police, judiciary or NEC should take. When a party becomes too powerful, it undermines the essence of the state and this is depressing for civil society.
The Face of the Aberdeen-Lumley Beach
By Abu Bakarr Sulaiman Tarawally
The Aberdeen-Lumley beach portrays the bastion of beauty in the capital, Freetown. This area defines beach tourism at most when its capacity in terms of accommodation and ease of access is considered. Tourists are full of praises for its looks and the face values business people have given to comfort life.
Sierra Eye magazine spoke to a few and their impressions were on the tidiness of the beach and the frenzy atmosphere to be envied.
“A very long stretch of wonderful beach, one of the best places in Freetown that is crowded on weekends on what is otherwise a peaceful place. The whole stretch is filled with some great restaurants and cafes or bars which makes Sunday night atmosphere so chilling. People throng the beach on public holidays and make the whole street best place to chill.” Mark Heinze, a foreign tourist.
There is more to be utilized of the beach. Carl Robertson, who visited from the United Kingdom spending the Christmas vacation in Sierra Leone, told the SierraEye Magazine that the beach is perfect for a quiet or reflective stroll, especially if escaping the hustle and bustle of Freetown for a short break.
Perhaps the transformation of the Aberdeen-Lumley beach suits a plan that defines what should be described as the true face of beauty characterizing Freetown. Abdul Yasin Kargbo, the former National Tourist Board General Manager once described the area as a ‘decent ecotourism hub,’ one that is preserving the environment, uniting conservations, and establishing a sustainable travel means that would see investment in sea transportation and development or transformation of the mariner in front of the Tambacular wharf.
The plan also included the establishment of a national art gallery that would host myriad of cultural facets, artifacts, monuments and relics- reason why the National Dance Troupe was relocated to the peninsular and freeing up the land.
The beach front was preserved for none permanent structures and one could walk in for a grilled fish, crumpling toasted burger, and sandwiches after taking a long stroll on the beach or having gone through a run of exercises.
By this measure, the National Tourist Board’s master plan included a good parking lot for visiting vehicles and spaces preserved to accommodate wedding receptions and cultural shows and the likes for a minimal fee. This was for the national tourist board to derive own source revenue and be able to maintain the beach in giving it a safe bean of health and a standard depicting international best practices.
The beach was becoming a dangerous spot for young girls. Hannah Bockarie was one sad example when, in 2014, she was slain and her remains found lying on the beach one morning. No clear cut as to what happened in the night preceding the day leading to her death. The incident alerted the police, the National Tourist Board and relevant stakeholders to heighten a robust security measure to discourage the looming threat. A few days later a decision was reached to demolish the rickety structures on the beach in which suspecting criminals were hibernating. It led to the arrest and detention of some young people including a musician in the course of establishing the case relating to Hannah’s murder.
This has now changed. The presence of business people on the beach means that proper security measures have been put in place to keep security watertight. The street lights serve a beautiful purpose in giving the criminals no hiding place to unbridle their mastery.
What remained to be answered though is whether or not the dreams of establishing an ecotourism hub are becoming a reality.
In 2014, the former General Manager at the National Tourist Board, Abdul Yassin Kargbo began an onslaught on illegal structures on the beach. Following the demolition exercises, the NTB and the Ministry of Lands, Housing and the Environment remapped the entire Aberdeen-Lumley beach landscape. The move was informed by the conviction that most occupants of the beach at that time were squatters. This action saw the demolition of houses built in areas along the beach without valid documentations or permit to build. It was a sigh of relief for some people.
In order to discourage immediate mad rush for the available land-spots at the beach, the National Tourist Board made it a criterion for investors to secure permit through the Ministry of Lands after applying to the National Tourist Board. This resulted in delays due to unending bureaucracies by the ministry. The beach again became a spot for criminals taking advantage of the space that existed till the business people began occupying the spots.
There was a change of guard at the National Tourist Board. The new administration saw the need to move ahead with immediate structural action points. This transformation period had to shelve the previous development master plan for the Aberdeen-Lumley beach. This way, booth owners began paying development fees, license fees and bookings for wedding receptions, show hosting, birthdays celebrations and other social gatherings.
The tourist board had models in the master plan of structures to be built as approved by the European Union. What is currently at the beach is not what is contained in the master plan for the Aberdeen-Lumley beach. For instance, the booths should be see-through villas and none permanent structures. They should not appear in anyways to cover the sea view from the rear.
Even though some of these conditions are not yet met, the aspect of beautifying the beach is gradually materializing. The beach now has bars, electricity, water supply, dust beans, mobile toilets, improved road network, and proper drainages.
The National Tourist Board has been able to recruit beach security (wardens), life guards and beach cumbers. The plan of establishing a toll system for beach goers did not materialize hence government continues to lose vital money from beach goers.
The age-old question of statistics disaggregating the beach goers’ population to determine foreign versus local beach tourist remained unanswered. Everyone goes without having to register with the National Tourist Board or the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs or the Freetown City Council.
The government is not making enough money from this area due to its free access by people of all ages. Artists have tried breaking the ground with their products- carvings of various totems; sculptures; raffia products; beads and traditional ornaments; embroideries and weaves as portrayed on our cultural dresses have carved a niche in showcasing the Sierra Leonean side of things.
Entertainment Industry, a Review of 2019
By Ibrahim Sorious Samura
2019 was fairly a good year for Sierra Leone’s entertainment industry. At least we saw more sold out gigs than the previous years, much as the country is yet to break through the online or digital markets for major deals. Here is an assessment of how the industry flared in 2019.
The creative industry has been a vital sector that contributes to job creation and boosts economic growth. Comparatively, it is mind blowing to see the strides other nations have made in entertainment, some even exchanging pay slips and medals with Western stars and corporate institutions, while the Sierra Leone entertainment industry is stuck in a quagmire, unyielding and chaotic. Governments in and out have watched the creative industry crumbled. The importance of this sector has not been realized by any government in Sierra Leone, save for political campaign periods when they would use their social influence to canvass supports from electorates. The Bio led-government announced plans to promote the entertainment and tourism industries during the State Opening of Parliament in 2018. Hopes were high, owing to the fact that his wife, graduated from the creative industry as an actress. Down the line, it has been pronouncements from either the Tourism Minister or another state functionary, with little or no effect.
In 2019, the Government through the Tourism Ministry held several consultative meetings with various sectors in the industry to participate in the formulation of an entertainment foundation named ‘Foundation for Arts, Culture and Entertainment’ (FACE). This proposed foundation is meant to serve an important role in regulating the industry, drive investment and engage government and the private sector for the growth of entertainment in Sierra Leone. The industry is largely self-funded; no government loans or supports towards persons or companies investing in it, not to mention the corporate houses who are virtually not ready to give a facelift to it except for the pittance they give to celebrities in the name of sponsorship or brand ambassadors.
While a Nigerian artiste can make up to a million dollar from endorsements, Sierra Leonean artistes are struggling to attract endorsements worth $5,000 per year. Seldom, few of the nation’s top stars make a little over $5,000 from endorsements. The mobile companies and lately, the banks have been playing that role.
Comedy & Film
This is a sector that has recorded the biggest success in the Sierra Leone entertainment industry. This is especially so with stand-up comedy, all thanks to Mastamind SL Ltd which helped in giving life to stand-up comedy in the past years. Fast forward, stand-up comedians were the most sought after in 2019 due to the professional manner they carried out their crafts. Their services were in high demand, week in week out.
The movie industry on the other hand has been the most deprived and unyielding sector in the entire entertainment industry and 2019 was no exception for it. Piracy has literally paralyzed filmmakers, who end up getting no returns from investments and are yet to attract Netflix and other online boxes. One major boost for the movie industry in 2019 was the Ebola documentary film ‘Survivors,’ which got an Emmy Award nomination. But the sector remained a challenging one with poor capacity and lack of quality equipment. In all of these, piracy is eating deep into the movie sector.
Since the 2011 Copyright Act was passed into law, the practice has got some legality it would appear. More pirates popped up, establishing and registering businesses that engage in the act. It became devastating, excruciatingly annoying for the helpless entertainers who watched their intellectual property been exploited by criminals. There is no means of enforcing the Copyright Act, to the point that piracy has become a normal thing. Now, it is the inverse, musicians are now paying for their works to be pirated to at least gain popularity.
Return of Big Sister
Social media went abuzz with jubilations when Zedzee Multimedia announced the Big Sister Season 2, a women empowerment reality TV show. The surprises in the announcement were the inclusion of other African countries into the show, the international coverage/audience/broadcast, and the $50,000 star prize up for grab. Zainab Sheriff was once again celebrated, after many had thought the show won’t come up since she broke up with her partners over a year ago. At the launch of the most anticipated show at Bintumani Conference Centre, it was made clear that the show will commence in 2020 and not in 2019, in order to allow applications and branding to be done.
The Oscars of the year was the 3rd edition of ECOFEST, which sold out to over 70,000 at the Siaka Stevens Stadium on the 29th November 2019. The show was headlined with the East African giant, Diamond Platnumz and Nigerian comedian Basket Mouth. It was without doubt the biggest entertainment event in Africa, which doubled the O2 Arena in London in terms of attendance.
Idris Elba in Salone
Sierra Leone received the Hollywood actor, musician and writer, Idris Elba in December 2019. Many expected his visit to be entertainment-led, but the focus was on tourism. Elba and the Government of Sierra Leone are working on plans to transform Bonthe Island into a touristic city. Elba’s father was born in Sierra Leone before he travelled to the UK where Idris was born and grew up. On his return to Sierra Leone for the first time, he was honored with a Diplomatic Passport by President Bio.
Few award ceremonies were held in 2019. Notably, the All Walks of Life (AWOL), the diaspora based Sierra Leone Entertainment Awards (SLEA), Faces of the North Entertainment Awards (FaNEA) and the National Entertainment Awards (NEA) were all held in 2019. In absence were the usual New Skool Awards and the SLeDU National Music Awards. The 2019 NEA was marred by backlashes and criticisms on the grounds that many unpopular actors were announced as winners, many calling the process flawed and compromised. But the organizers (Lake Productions) insisted that the winners were chosen through public votes.
Digital Markets and Social Media
Digital marketing and social media platforms have become the real deal for contemporary entertainment across the world. Musicians the world over make huge cash from their online activities like sales, streams and downloads. CDs are gradually becoming obsolete, and with piracy on the increase, having products commercialized on digital markets and building big social media followings is one of several ways to earn returns; platforms like YouTube, Netflix and more are paying huge sums for streaming, sales and downloads.
One important place stars fail to pay attention is the social media. It is very important for celebrities to build big online presence to market their brand and build networks across. These platforms have not been well utilized in Sierra Leone, with no Sierra Leonean based celebrity with over 1 million followers on social media, when their counterparts are amassing tens of millions of followers and getting hundreds of millions of online streaming from their products. Failing to properly harness digital marketing and social media presence has continued to render local stars in poverty. The fate was no difference in 2019, when stars remained very unpopular on social media and are not attracting endorsement deals or contracts to perform abroad.
The industry woke up to a new year with high hopes. New event dates have been advertised for the early months of the year. Boss LAJ has just had a successful event at the Siaka Stevens Stadium on the 10th of January. The most anticipated reality TV show- Big Sister Salone has already conducted its auditions and the show is expected to start between March and April. However, there is no idea about policies and reforms that will promote this vital industry. This should be a wonderful beginning for the New Year and form part of a lasting resolution.
Our Music Industry: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
By Moses Kamara
Sierra Leone’s modern music industry has grown tremendously over the years. There has been a remarkable increase in the quality and standard of music produced, played, and danced to. Within the last decade or so, there has been a steady improvement from the way music is made by artistes in the industry. Starting from artistes like Jimmy B, K. Man, Sisters with Attitude (SWA), steady Bongo, etc. we have seen how different music genre and style have changed, as we now listen to artistes like, Rozay, Famous, Abizzy, Nega Don, and the rest.
Irrespective of how far Sierra Leone’s music industry has progressed, the industry has also had its up and down sides respectively. There is the good, the bad and definitely the ugly. With the explosive growth of the music industry worldwide, and especially with countries like Nigeria and Ghana showing the world that music can lead to wealth creation and prosperity, it is prudent to look into Sierra Leone’s music industry and see if it can say the same, as in other countries. And the only way one can find out about the status of Sierra Leone’s music industry is to analyze the spectrum of progress including both the gains and challenges.
By all means one of the good things about Sierra Leone music industry is its low barrier to entry. The music industry is open to a point that anyone with an overnight dream of becoming a musician can literally walk into any studio and record his/her song. As compared to other countries like Nigeria, for an artiste’s music to be played on radio, he will need to have produced and mastered a good music, and have a good record label to promote their song. Sierra Leonean artistes in the music industry comparatively have their way easier. An upcoming artiste can have his/her song played on any radio without having any promotion budget to do so. The market is excessively liberal and it can take anyone a relatively smaller turnover time to become famous, once the genre of music is popularly demanded by the Sierra Leonean music consumer population.
Furthermore, as a result of an industry operated by a liberal market principle, another bonus freely provided by the nature and state of the music market is the freedom of upcoming artistes to focus on developing their talent and subsequently rise to stardom life instead of stressing over wooing renowned record labels and promoters. An aspiring musician only needs to work hard, improve his/her talent on a daily basis, and make good music that Sierra Leoneans can enjoy. That is the ultimate price it takes for any upcoming artiste to rise to success. For example, the artiste Rozay Sokota’s ascendance to becoming arguably one of the most prolific modern Sierra Leonean pop singers can pass for a good testimony here. Rozay as an artiste was spotted when she published her low budget single titled: “Life Goes On.” For Rozay to become known in Sierra Leone, it only took her to do a well appreciated music by the Sierra Leone population. And because of how popular the music became as well as appreciation of the motivational and morally centered theme of the song, Rozay became popular overnight and was soon to be recognized as a talented musician in Sierra Leone.
The musical success testaments of artiste like Rozay Sokota is an exemplary way to prove how easy it is for artistes to be recognized based on their talents and Sierra Leoneans’ appreciation of the music they make.
Notwithstanding the beautiful side, the country’s music industry also struggles with quality and standard. Despite the fact that it is easier for an upcoming musician to break into the Sierra Leonean music market, there is a high probability that the music that artiste produces is subpar to the quality of music produced in other countries like Ghana. Low quality of music is one factor that has kept Sierra Leone music stunted and hardly ever known in other parts of West Africa.
When you talk to upcoming artistes in the industry, most are often stressed about finding a good music studio to make record and master their songs. And because of this challenge, some musicians who can afford the financial implications that come with doing a great song often go to Nigeria to master their songs. The low quality of music produced is not only as a result of the sound engineering component. Many music critiques of Sierra Leonean music have also highlighted a poorly crafted concept on which songs are written. This implies that a Sierra Leonean song nowadays have no strong music concept to give it the style it needs to thrive and even compete internationally.
For most Sierra Leonean musicians, music is just about putting some lyrics on paper and then hit the studios to make sound and record. This sub culture that is prevalent in the music industry is also due to a lackadaisical attitude towards the length of time musicians undertake in perfecting their skills or talents into producing a masterpiece. Like a gold rush, musicians in Sierra Leone seem to be more focused on local fame and the money they get from gate takings through organizing micro shows in their communities. Overall, with the lack of sound engineers, enough time to master their arts, musicians in Sierra Leone are far away from breaking into mega music market like that of Nigeria. As a result, all these challenges culminate to be bad for the growth of the music industry.
Perhaps, Sierra Leone music industry’s most undisputed ugly challenge is the influence of mainstream national politics. As recent as during the 2018 national elections, musicians were openly and visibly declaring for main political party contenders. As a developing sub culture, linking the music industry with national politics has existed far beyond the 2018 national elections. Notwithstanding the fact that everybody has right to belong to a political party, it is however unwise for musicians to link the music industry in Sierra Leone to politics. By standard, music being entertainment, thrives well when it is nurtured as a purely private industry. Without entirely blaming the status quo of politically sided musicians, it is also clear that one of the reasons for this is the lack of private investors by the industry to support the growth or success of musicians.
Politicians are often willing to give musician huge sums of money with the catch that they declare for their political party and even produce political songs. The interference of politics in the industry has undermined a healthy competition among musical artistes and has succeeded in plunging the music industry into unhealthy rivalry and dissing. For a population that is so small and an economy that is still struggling, there is no chance for the country’s music industry to progress if the leading musicians still indulge in supporting mainstream national politicians and also engaging in constant dissing.
The Way Forward
Given the fact that music has to create wealth and prosperity for Sierra Leone’s youth, it is crucial that all stakeholders pay attention to its development and ensure that the industry has all the needed resources and support to successfully grow. Stakeholders such as successful musicians should begin playing role of curators rather than continue to compete on the same stage with upcoming musicians.
One model that can be copied in light of the above is that which Kabaka Multimedia Entertainment (KME) is using. Over the past two years, KME has proved to all Sierra Leoneans that investment in music through signing of talented upcoming musicians can yield good dividend. The success of the female artiste Rozay Sokota, despite her talent in music is largely attributed to KME. What KME has successfully done is scouting and pushing upcoming artistes to celebrity status in Sierra Leone. This has largely been a successful model as KME ensures good sound engineers, good promotion and better opportunity for its signed artistes thereby enhancing their access to other talented singers and platforms in West Africa.
If successful musicians who have played their own part in influencing Sierra Leone music can take up new challenges as scouting and identifying new musicians and ensure they are provided with all the needed resources, it is very likely that the music industry can be at par with other countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Other issues such as unhealthy competition and influence of politics will all become redundant eventually as most musicians will tend to focus on developing their craft to attract music investors, promoters and record labels. If this can be achieved then Sierra Leone’s music industry can shine like a beautiful diamond among others.
Memories of 2019
Power Women 232: Power Women 232 is a network of women professionals in Sierra Leone. The network aims to bring professional women and entrepreneurs together to promote career advancement and development in all fields, through networking, leadership development, social events and community service. One of their major events in 2019 was the Annual Networth Ball.
ECOFEST 2019: The Oscars of the year was the 3rd edition of ECOFEST, which sold out to over 70,000 at the Siaka Stevens Stadium on the 29th November 2019. The show was headlined with the East African giant, Diamond Platnumz and Nigerian comedian Basket Mouth. It was without doubt the biggest entertainment event in Africa, which doubled the O2 Arena in London in terms of attendance.
Hands off Our Girls Campaign: An initiative of the country’s First Lady, Madam Fatima Maada Bio, aimed at creating an awareness of “Girls being girls not mothers or sexual slaves.” One of their events was held in the country’s diamondiferous city, Koidu city, Kono on 12th October, 2019. Pujehun, where women and girls are reported to be extremely vulnerable, the First Lady was there in 2019 with the same campaign.
AWOL 2019 Awards: