Monday, February 20, 2012

SLPP's Mende Flagbearer Paradox

Segbwema MP Fallay
Winning Aspirant Bio
Yesterday, I spent some time looking at some internet clippings of the speeches of aspirants for the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) flag bearer position on YouTube. SLPP famously had 23 aspirants for party presidential candidate.The number was eventually whittled down to 19 candidates as some candidates could not meet the criteria set for eventual qualification. The contest was not for financially handicapped candidates and one of the first to bail ship was our own Segbwema MP Honorable Robin Fallay. (An aside-Hon. Fallay should focus more on the problems of Segbwema, but I will address that another day)

Going back to the Internet video clipping of SLPP presidential aspirants, three common themes seemed to stand out:
  • Ernest Koroma had failed Sierra Leone and needed to be replaced for the salvation of the country, its future and for posterity.
  • Each candidate was the best that could replace Ernest Koroma and any of the other candidates would somehow not be up to the task.
  • SLPP should not elect a Mende candidate as most Sierra Leoneans were of the opinion that the party was a "Mende Man" party and electing a candidate from another tribe would somehow convince Sierra Leoneans that this was not true.
The matter of whether President Ernest Koroma was a failed candidate or whether each of the aspirants was better suited to replace him is not the subject of this particular article. This article is focused on the third theme, that a Mende candidate would somehow be unsuitable for the SLPP in order to challenge the perception that it was a tribal party. I will try to examine whether this statement can pass the rationality test or whether it is inherently fallacious and promotes reverse discrimination.
Dr. Kadie Sesay VP Aspirant

My own candid opinion is that the statement that a Mende candidate was somehow bad for SLPP as it would reinforce negative perceptions that people have of the party is illogical, fallacious and a promotion of reverse discrimination and I would endeavor to back my position by proffering a set of arguments.

To be very clear, I am from Madingo/Konyaka heritage. My people migrated and settled in Eastern and Southern Sierra Leone a couple of generations ago. My grandfather introduced the people of the then small town of Segbwema to the Islamic religion and up to this day, people come from all over Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to pray at his grave site in Segbwema. I nesaw my grandfather, but people of Segbwema are convinced that he had some wonderful qualities and as he is my grandfather, i am not willing to challenge this. But back to SLPP and the Mendes.
Second Place Usu, Skipping  ship?

The main parties in Sierra Leone, SLPP and APC, draw their support from the southeast and north of Sierra leone respectfully, unfortunately. Northerners mostly gravitate to APC and Southeasterners identify with the SLPP, the negative result being that Sierra Leoneans are now starting to ascribe party characteristics to certain people. It is now common for people to assume that you are SLPP as soon as you say you are Mende or APC if you are Temne. I have a friend from southern Sierra Leone who is a strong supporter of APC and an Ernest Koroma fanatic. My friend had a very hard time trying to convince members of our local APC chapter that he was genuine and up to this day there are those that view him with suspicion, especially when he sometimes hangs out with me, the nephew of SLPP agbagba, Late Hon. Salia Jusu Sheriff.

I believe that as citizens of Sierra Leone, Mende people or Temne people or even the less populous Krios should have an equal opportunity to become president of Sierra Leone and that the only thing that matters is the individual's character, experience and qualifications for the position. Saying that a Mende person should not be elected as a presidential candidate of a major party is an indirect attempt to strip that person of his full rights as a citizen of the country solely on the basis of tribal origin, a condition which nobody has control over. The only qualification of being a Mende man is that your mother loves a Mende man, they tangle, and they have you. As simple as that. So for you to be deprived of the right to enjoy the benefits of citizenship because your mother happened to marry your father is just grossly illogical.
Alpha Wurie-Intellectual

The candidates who state that a Mende candidates should not be voted for, to protect the image of the party, are however asking the Mende members of the party to vote for them. The ridiculousness of this position is that you are asking people to consciously discriminate against themselves. With the fact that every human being aspires to become the best they can, asking somebody to discriminate against themselves is asking them to reduce their own aspiration in support of yours, solely because they happen to be born one way and you another. Except in positions where you are a martyr or pretending to be Jesus Christ, discriminating against oneself is pretty hard to do as it defies all the rules of human behavior.
SLTU Timbo

Imagine again a situation in which the Mende candidate is the most qualified, the most charismatic, most popular and has the best plans. Should people vote for the less qualified, less charismatic and more mediocre candidate who is non Mende? Will the country be better served if mediocre candidates are elected solely to change people perceptions? Should not what is good for the country more important? Is the fact that a person is Mende so unacceptable that a mediocre moron would be more acceptable as a candidate because they are non Mende?

If somehow, some people do not want a Mende candidate or a Temne candidate just  because they happen to be Mende or Temne. Should the Mende or Temne candidate really care about people that do not like them solely because theyhappen to be Mende or Temne? If someone does not like you because of your tribe would it not just be an exercise in stupidity and futility to try to satisfy them? They are not going to like you anyway, as people who are prejudicial are pretty close minded.
Andrew Keili Preacher's son

The ruling All Peoples Congress manipulated their constitution and shifted their leadership elections to 2013, ensuring that there was no challenge to Ernest Koroma's leadership, effectively barricading the aspirations of the likes of Eddie Turay and other potential challengers. Was the fact that APC has only a single candidate through dubious manipulation better than what SLPP did only because they happened to get a Mende candidate?

A lot of SLPP supporters in Freetown are leaving the party claiming that the election of Julius Maada  Bio has confirmed their suspicion that SLPP was a Mende party. If you leave a party that is perceived as Mende for one that is perceived as Temne, are you really doing anything different? Why not just stay where you are and help change what you do not like?
Late Uncle Salia Jusu Sheriff

Sierra Leone has thousands of problems, social, economic and political. What we need are candidates with the ability, willingness and determination to put the country on the path to sustainable growth and development. Whether that person is Loko or Krim, Temne or Mende, Fula or Kissi, should not really matter. The only qualification is that the person should be SierraLeonean and willing to make big decisions. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

UK Blacklists Major Nigerian Universities

Medical graduates from nine universities in Nigeria will no longer be able to obtain licenses to practice in the United Kingdom, following a decision by the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) to ban the higher institutions.

The GMC, a body of independent regulators which registers medical doctors to practise in the UK, took the decision to bar graduates from the nine universities from writing PLAB.

PLAB is the UK exam that enables non-UK Medical graduates to undertake post-graduate medical training in the country.

The affected graduates are those who graduated after December 10, 2010 from Ambrose Ali University, Ebonyi State University, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Nnamdi Azikiwe University, University of Jos, University of Nigeria and the University of Port Harcourt.

It also applies to those who graduated on or after April 1, 2010 from Igbinedion University College of Health Sciences and the University of Benin.

According to Jason Day of the GMC’s press office, the schools were axed because they no longer meet the required standards for practise in the UK.

He added that the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) had also advised that they suspend accreditation of some medical schools in the country.

“The decision only applies to students who graduated from those medical schools after the MDCN suspended their accreditation,”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Helping Re-elect President Barack Hussein Obama

President Barack Obama
The People's Choice
The year has come when progressive Americans have to either let their voices be drowned out by the noise of the Tea Partiers or come out in full force to help reassure the reelection of President Barack H. Obama to four more years at the helm of the nation.

Though conservatives would beg to differ,  I am of the solid opinion that president Barack Obama's tenure has been good for the security of America as a nation and for the promotion of peace and democracy throughout the world.

I am not just endorsing President Obama because I did so in the last election or because of some primitive loyalty to the Democratic party or even an identification with his heritage. I am doing so because I believe that though he has been confronted with considerable resistance and challenges, he has largely stood by the promises he made in his campaign and he has proven to be substantial both as an individual, a leader and a visionary.

Republicans are sure to deploy every weapon in their arsenal  and millions of corporate dollars to diminish  the President's status in the eyes of the American people, but given the current field of Republican candidates and their positions, this will be tough for them to do as their candidates are a group of flawed and questionable characters all of who do not seem to be able to fire up their individual bases except for Mitt Romney who has a large Mormon base that is trying to ensure that their brand of Christianity, which regards dark skinned people as cursed by God, will become more mainstream.
Newt Gingrich-Thinks poor people are lazy

Just taking a view of the field of Republicans candidates, there is Newt Gingrich, a man with dubious conservative credentials who says one thing while doing the exact opposite. As speaker of the House during the tenure of Bill Clinton, he gave president Clinton hell  and eventually had him impeached for an affair with white house intern Monica Lewinsky while he, Gingrich,  was secretly having an adulterous affair with his current wife who was then his secretary and reportedly asking his then wife to engage in an open marriage. Yet this is the same hypocrite who goes around the country preaching to people about family values. Gingrich  publicly opposes President Obama's Affordable Care act while at the same time he was benefiting to the tune of millions of dollars acting as consultant to health insurance exchanges. He publicly condemns the practices of Mortgage backer Fannie Mae, yet profits millions giving consultant services to the Same Fannie Mae. When president Obama took office, the American economy was in free fall, banks were in the red and running to congress cap in hand asking for bailouts. The level of unemployment was high and rising, and president Obama decided that American taxpayers who had lost their jobs were not going to be abandoned in the streets when they fell on hard times. He decided to extend unemployment insurance to at least enable laid of workers maintain some semblance of dignity. This compassionate act is ridiculed by Newt Gingrich, calling the president the "greatest food stamp president" for standing by unemployed Americans in need. Gingrich and every politician knows that presidents do not create jobs in a free enterprise economy like America, but any compassionate system does not abandon its workers who had been paying taxes in good times, just because they are currently unemployed. It is this particular statement of Gingrich's that show how out of touch he is about the effects of the Bush depression on the morale and dignity of the American people. While he is criticizing the president for helping the poor, he would rather have a $400,000.00 credit line at Tiffany's for jewelry for his third and current wife.
Gay hating Santorum

Rick Santorum as a candidate is all about intolerance and gender discrimination. He  would rather have all women stay at home looking after their children, giving the example of his lawyer wife who quit law practice to look after their army of children. What he fails to appreciate is that as a politician surviving on the pork and illegal deals in Washington, he could afford to do this, but millions of Americans need that double check to survive. So the decision by Mrs Santorum was easy, as they could afford to. The majority of Americans however need that second paycheck to survive and the role models should be the moms who juggle work, the kids and the home. Left to Santorum, gays would be deprived of their rights as citizens and banished to some remote area of Siberia. To him, the only people who matter are those he calls Christian conservatives. How Christian or conservative his crowd is nobody knows, because only God knows who a true Christian is. We have seen too many pastors, priests and conservative politicians exposed as frauds and mere charlatans in recent years to be swayed by their talk of religious righteousness. Santorum will be an ideal president for a small conservative hamlet of close minded people, but unfit to lead a nation as diverse as America, as this country guarantees freedom for all.
"I do not care about the poor"

What can I say about Mitt Romney that has not already been said. This is a candidate who has taken so many sides on so many issues that the only thing that comes out of his mouth that you can believe is that he is a candidate for president. We only know this because he runs for every position he can run legally for.He was for abortion before he was against it. He condemned the auto industry bailout in his own home state and now talks as if he was one of those that saved the Big Three automakers. He was for health care mandate and passed it into law in Massachusetts, but is now against it. He was for contraception but is now against it. Trying to analyse the shift in positions by Mitt Romney over a given 24 hour period is an exercise in futility. It is like trying to use the right eye to trace the movement of a ricocheting bullet with the left eye closed, an impossible exercise. The only thing Romney has going for him are his millions that he is using to vanquish his opponents through negative ads and his army of corporate backers who want to go back to the days of low financial regulations when mortgage companies sold loans to  customers who could not afford them or banks could levy overdraft fees as they desired.
President of Utopia?

There is not much to say about Ron Paul, as he seems to be a decent and principled man. His ideas about national defense, military spending and international affairs often leaves me wondering whether he thinks he is running as a candidate for the presidency of heaven, where everybody is peaceful. For a candidate to ask what harm it is if Iran had a nuclear weapon, means a serious lack of understanding of the threat that intolerant zealots like Iran's president poses to peace loving people all over the world.

Given the characters above, one wonders what has happened to the great Republican party that only individuals like these, the hater Michelle Bachmann,  999 Cain, and "I can't remember" Perry would be serious candidates for their presidential ticket. Why are so many serious and moderate Republicans not running. It is a real pity if any one of these characters has even a remote chance of leading this great country.
Creepy Bachmann
999 Cain

Barack Obama deserves a second term. He has freed this country from the shadow of Osama Bin Laden, who is currently terrorizing fishes at the bottom of the pacific. Sworn American enemies like Al Alwaki and Ghadaffi have gone on without a the loss of American blood. The nation feels safer as intelligence is now being used more that military numbers.

Osama in the Pacific
The economy, which has been president Obama's Achilles heel is now picking up pace. The president is encouraging firms to bring back jobs to the country and they are responding positively. America's respect around the world is once again on the ascendance. Apart from party loyalty and those who would never vote for Obama no matter what, Americans should give this president a second chance. The progress of the past two years should not be derailed. If the economy continues to be stimulated, jobs will be created, creating more taxpayers, revenue and subsequently reduction in the deficit. It would be unfortunate if at this moment in time we were to allow any of the Republican candidates to take us back to the Bush era days that almost ruined this great country.

Let us all go out this November and vote for President Barack Obama, a man who has prematurely aged by spending all his waking hours focusing on the problems of the country and her people.

Redefining The Office of Diaspora Affairs

One of the exciting and laudable initiatives of President Ernest Bai Koroma when he assumed leadership of Sierra Leone in 2007 was to launch the Office of Diaspora Affairs, which I will henceforth refer to as ODA.
ODA Campaign pictures
The ODA has the stated aim of  laying "the foundation for a productive and mutually beneficial partnership between the government of Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone Diaspora"(ODA,2007).

The specific goals of the ODA included:
  •  reversing the nation's brain drain by identifying Sierra Leone professionals in the diaspora and encouraging them to come home and engage in nation building.
  •  encouraging diaspora investment by creating a suitable financial and fiscal environment for investment and business start up .
  • educating Sierra leoneans in the Diaspora about the 2006 Citizenship Act which accorded dual citizenship status to Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora that had obtained citizenship in their resident countries, thus legally enabling their participation in the country's governance and development.
Initially the report card on the ODA was fair, but as with most things Sierra Leone, it was soon converted from a national institution into just another mouthpiece for political party propaganda. One of the early mistakes was having this office headed by a relatively inexperienced returnee from America with little experience in public administration with a chiropractic degree that had little or no relevance to what the office intended to achieve. Initially some jobs were advertised and I guess some party faithfuls who went back got jobs, but there was never any meaningful effort to reach out to Sierra Leone professionals in UK and USA who did not go to public events wearing red. Unfortunately those that went back were no great role models either, as they fell into the same corruption trap that they used to vehemently criticize when they were scoffing dollars in foreign lands.

After the 50th Independence celebration fiasco, the ODA has more or less lost its appeal and most Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora now think the whole office was just a bad joke, as there are hundreds of graduates parading the streets of Freetown, jobless. If we were to give a numerical grade to the ODA for its performance over the past years, it would be the proud recipient of 30/100 or 30%, earning a letter grade of F for failure.

I still believe though that the initiative of the ODA was a great one and I am of the sincere opinion that if the whole focus of the ODA is retooled, it will become a force for good in Sierra Leone, beneficial to both government as a revenue generating entity and to Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora as a one stop shop for anything they would be interested in doing back home.

So how can the Office of Diaspora Affairs live up to all the hype that was generated at its inception. I believe the ODA can still redeem itself by doing the following:
  • Genuinely reaching out to all Sierra Leonean professionals in the Diaspora regardless of shades of political opinion. Though there are many very educated Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora who are APC, there are thousands who are SLPP, PMDC or completely apolitical or independent of party affiliation. So focusing recruitment only on those that wear red shirts and ties on ceremonial occasions severely minimizes the pool of talent that could potentially  be drawn upon.
  • Most Sierra Leoneans I know in America want to one day go back home and build a modest house or even a significant mansion. The corrupt practices of land owners and ministry of land officials have however left bitter tastes in the mouths of not a few Sierra Leoneans and many people I know are now quite skeptical of even buying land in Sierra Leone. The ODA can help solve this impasse by helping Sierra Leoneans acquire legal land in Sierra Leone for an administrative fee.  Most people I know would not mind paying the ODA even $500.00 for  each transaction if only they are guaranteed that the deal is genuine and any land contract through the ODA has the guarantee of government. 
  • The ODA should also be constantly be researching investment opportunities in Sierra Leone,printing brochures and booklets about such opportunities and forwarding them to embassies to distribute to Sierra Leoneans.
  • Education in Sierra Leone is currently on life support. There are many Sierra Leone organizations in the diaspora that are willing to support students in Sierra Leone with scholarships and other educational tools, but identifying students who have enormous potential but are financially challenged has always been a problem. ODA can contact schools to get lists of students who are outstanding and link them to Sierra Leonean organizations in the Diaspora. 
  • ODA need to get its act together and revemp their website. The ODA can work in collaboration with department of immigration, enabling Sierra leoneans to renew their passports and other documents online. ODA can help people get school and university transcripts and provide information to the world about educational opportunities in Sierra Leone. 
The Office of Diaspora Affairs should really be treated with all seriousness. I live in a Jewish neighborhood here in Saint Paul. The relationship between Israel and the Jewish diaspora could be used as a model in Sierra Leone. Israel ensures that Jews all over the world are actively engaged in the nation's affairs and they respond in kind by promoting that country's interest all over the world. Instead of focusing on the Attitude and Behavioral change secretariat which in my opinion is just a political gimmick and a money waster government should focus on revamping, revitalizing and reimagining the role of the Office of Diaspora Affairs.

You can learn more about the Office of Diaspora Affairs from their website
The site is never updated and most of the job posting are from years ago

Segbwema blogger

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sierra Leone Witch Gun-A scientific analysis

Olu Gordon my role model
Died too young
Death of the young is a phenomenon that is very common in my country Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone as a country has never really embraced science into the general explanation of natural phenomena. Most tragic occurrences in Sierra Leone are always given interpretations based mainly on traditional beliefs.

In Sierra Leone, death among the young, people in the prime of life is so common that it has become accepted as just another aspect of the complex puzzle of life. If you tell a typical Sierra Leonean that young people are not supposed to die, they would probably laugh in your face and view you as someone whose western education has gone to their head. The truth however is that young people are not supposed to die. America has a population of over 300 million people, but if you look at the obituary section of most American newspapers, most of the deaths you will see are people in their 70s, 80s, to 90s. Of course I know that standard of living and the miracle of modern medicine prolongs life in America, and the comparison in this case may be incongruous, but the point I am trying to hone into the minds of people in my country, especially those responsible for preventative health care education, is that death among the young should be an exception rather than the rule. 

Late Abdulai Keita Bangura
A Sierra leone Gem
When you sometimes call to old friends in Sierra Leone and ask about old acquaintances, it is not uncommon to be told, "did you not hear? So and so died two years ago", leaving you in shock and awe. Though death among the young has become common in Sierra Leone, in their heart of hearts, most Sierra Leoneans know that young people are not just suppose to die like that, in untimely fashion (with the definition of untimely a subject for intellectual discourse). 

Juju man
Sierra Leoneans generally believe that death among the young can be explained by looking for sinister forces at play; the evil machinations of the childless aunt, the dark practices of the rival at work, the midnight visit to the marabout of the uncle whose heart burns at the success of the brothers child, and so on and so forth. The death of a young relative becomes a time for mutual suspicion, a time for pointing hands, a time for victimization of those without influence, without much social status, without wealth. When a young person dies, seeking scientific explanation for the event is given the least priority. The explanations of doctors are routinely and consistently dismissed in search of more heinous interpretations that will seek to lay the blame not at the failure of the health care system or even at the lifestyle choices of the deceased, but interpretations that will just increase the depth of disharmony and acrimony that already exists among friends and relatives.

Witch Gun?
In Sierra Leone the concept of the dreaded and much revered "witch gun" is alive and well today in the country and those of us who argue against these simplistic interpretations are dismissed as people who do not know what they are talking about, people who have a lack of cultural understanding, people who have fallen into the river of western education and have now become shallow minded fishes. I do not know the specific origin of the concept of the "witch gun", but it is a concept that is part of the folk lore of most tribes in Sierra Leone, the Mende, Temne, Limba and Kono  and other tribes. Even the Krios, who are an amalgamation of African peoples, have come around to believing in the concept of the "witch gun". People who engage in the dark arts of withcraft and wizardry are supposed to have an invisible mysterious gun forged in the very depths of hell  that can instantaneously snuff out the life of any body who it is pointed at, as long as the trigger is pulled, regardless of how healthy they are. It is believed that the range of these guns are simply incredible. With the right set of incantations, these guns have the amazing ability to reach their targets as far as the north pole, by simply  pointing them at a picture of the intended target.

The proliferation of money seeking, fear mongering, and traditional culture infused Nigerian churches to the Sierra Leone Christian religious landscape has just added fuel to the belief in these dark phenomena. These churches whose religious preachings are a blend of Nigerian traditional beliefs diluted with doses of scripture, preach about the underworld, demons, and witchcraft and have given scriptural credence to the already existing cultural explanation of random happenstances. Most deaths among the young these days in Sierra Leone are ascribed to the dreaded "witch gun". People looking for simplistic explanations to mysterious events have found an outlet, and the interpretation is widely accepted. 

Late minister Mohamed Daudis Koroma
Since 2007, two aide-de-camps (ADCs) to our current President Ernest Bai Koroma, the deputy inspector general of police, and a minister or two, young notable people on the political scene in Sierra leone have died suddenly. Sierra Leoneans have generally rushed to the explanation of witch gunnery for these sad and traumatic events. Among the opposition SLPP, some young potential leaders of the party have also lost their lives in like fashion over the past years.
Late SLPP strongman Jonathan  Alpha

 Reports from Freetown reaching the Segbwema blogger states that over the past years, practitioners of this purportedly evil craft do not hide anymore, and sit, "gbangbawoday"  around Ross road in the Eastern part of Freetown, openly plying their craft. Sometimes it is reported, the government makes half-hearted attempts to round up these scoundrels that are mostly people displaced by the war from the localities around Freetown who no longer want to go back to the boredom of village life since the war ended. So they stay in Freetown, preying on the gullible citizens that believe in their crafts, which is a sizeable portion of the Freetown populace, including those who are "educated".

Merely dismissing this "witch gun" phenomenon without proffering an alternative explanation would be neither judicious, nor scientifically acceptable. So I will attempt to give a summary explanation of what I believe is responsible for these happenstances (as I am getting ready to watch the "Super Bowl" and cheer on the New England Patriots).

Sierra  Leone has a serious problem with cardiovascular diseases. Genetic factors, the typical Sierra Leonean diet of rice and palm oil, and the lifestyle of alcohol and smoking, are known primary risk factors for cardiovascular diseases like Coronary Artery Disease CAD and Hypertension, the main factors responsible for the "witch craft phenomenon and early deaths in Sierra Leone. Palm oil is full of saturated fats that cause plaque build up in the blood vessels. When Sierra Leoneans become affluent, they replace healthy foods like fish and nuts for  fatty meat and eggs, sources of cholesterol, the main agent that accelerates the build up of plaque in the blood vessels. If there is build up of plaque in the vessels of the heart (an organ that never sleeps, is perpetually at work and continuously needs to have oxygen) blood flow to the heart is compromised leading to cardiac arrest and cardiac death, "heart attack". This occurs so suddenly it is almost as if one has been shot by a gun. The ultimate effect is sudden untimely death of the victim.

Ex Zambian leader-Stroke Victim
Hypertension is the more insidious killer. Foods high in salt increase the osmotic concentration of blood vessels, which are fragile vessels. The vessels in the brain are particularly delicate. If they burst, the brain becomes bathed with blood, a condition known as hemorrhagic stroke, a quick killer as brain death is true death. Plaque build up in blood vessels of the brain may also deprived brain cells of oxygen by reducing blood flow to the region of the brain supplied  by the vessels, causing ischemic strokes, mostly caused when blood clots block vessels. If blood flow to the  right side of the brain occurs, left sided stroke occurs, and vice versa, based on the complex biology of the human body.

Sierra Leoneans can control these occurrences by becoming more proactive in health care matters. Avoiding alcohol and smoking, both of which cause blood vessels to narrow or vasocontrict is a major step to longevity and cardiovascular disease prevention. Limiting the intake of salt, palm oil and other saturated fats, eggs and other foods high in cholesterol, are good food choices that may contribute to the longevity. Regular lab tests to determine cholesterol levels and daily blood pressure monitoring are essential in knowing one risk for cardiovascular disease. Refined sugars, flours and excessively starchy foods should also be substituted with fruits, nuts and green vegetables. Beans and other legumes are good sources of protein and good oils.

Sierra leoneans, let us monitor our health and make good lifestyle choices in order to combat an early introduction to the bullet of the witch gun.

By Sheku Sheriff
Segbwema Blogger
Sheku Segbwema Moi Sheriff

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Vagabond King-A wonderful story about Strasser

Simon Akam
Published 02 February 2012
When 25-year-old Valentine Strasser seized power in Sierra Leone in 1992, he became the world’s youngest head of state. Today he lives with his mother and spends his days drinking gin by the roadside.
New Head of state Strasser

What went wrong?
There are two ways to drive inland from Freetown. The first is to go through the eastern, poorer quarters of the Sierra Leonean capital. There decrepit vehicles jam narrow streets lined with mouldering clapboard houses. With such heavy congestion, it can take many hours to make the journey. The alternative is to take the so-called mountain road. You drive up into the hills, past the camp of the British army-led training team left over from Tony Blair's little war in 2000. Soon the tarmac ends and a dirt road threads past straggling villages into the forest.

The track of reddish laterite – which bypasses the city and its traffic – is treacherous after rain, and traces a route down into a broad valley. A mile or so before it rejoins the main highway leading inland, a side road branches off to the left through a quiet village. At the far end of the settlement stands a faded sheet-metal advertisement for Goodyear tyres. And there, most afternoons, a tall man with close-cropped, greying hair sits on an open porch by the side of the road, often dressed in just a pair of shorts. If you arrive late in the day he may be drinking gin from a plastic sachet. His name is Valentine Strasser; he is 45, and was once the youngest head of state in the world.

It is ten years since the end of the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone. In 2007 power changed hands at the ballot box – and yet, to the outside world, the iconography of that long war – child soldiers, violent amputations and conflict diamonds – is ineradicable.

World's youngest leader
The story of Strasser, who seized power in a military coup at the age of 25 in 1992 and ruled for four years until he was deposed by the same method, is unusual even by the experience of West African dictatorships. His improbable rise to executive power and his precipitous fall to roadside penury is a parable of the human consequences of premature kingship.

Strasser says he was born on 15 September 1966 in Freetown. His father was a teacher, his mother a small-time businesswoman. After attending the Sierra Leone Grammar School (founded in 1845), he became an army officer, serving in neighbouring Liberia as part of a regional peacekeeping mission, the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). Like Sierra Leone, Liberia was established as a colony of freed slaves. Civil war had broken out there in 1989, and in 1991 ECOMOG was attempting to secure order in the capital, Monrovia. "Fighting was going on every corner from three factions," Strasser told me one evening, speaking softly and with a slight lilt.

After seven months in Liberia, he returned home. The war followed him. In March 1991, rebel fighters crossed over from Liberia into the remote eastern part of the country. This incursion of as many as 2,000 men, most of whom were on loan from the Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, marked the beginning of Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict.

Led by Foday Sankoh, the rebels came to be known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Sankoh was a former army corporal and one-time jobbing photographer and, like others among the initial RUF leadership, he had received training at al-Mathabh al-Thauriya al-Alamiya, Muammar al-Gaddafi's World Revolutionary Headquarters in Benghazi, Libya.

By 1991 Sierra Leone was close to ruin. After independence from Britain in 1961, there had been a brief period of relatively functional democracy under the leadership of Sir Milton Margai. He died in 1964 and was succeeded by his less respected stepbrother Albert, who disbursed vital positions in government to people of the Mende tribe regardless of qualifications.

The decline accelerated under Siaka Stevens, a trade unionist who was elected in 1967 but did not become prime minister until the following year because of a series of coups. In 1971, Stevens declared himself president. Charming but spectacularly corrupt, he systematically degraded state institutions and operated a system of personal patronage. He plundered Sierra Leone's diamond wealth and even entered into negotiations with an American company to have toxic waste dumped in the country in exchange for a fee of $25m.
“At the age of 80, Stevens left office with an estimated fortune of US$500m," says Sareta Ashraph, a London-based lawyer formerly at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone who is now working on a history of the civil war.
"The sheer corruption and violent repression of the Stevens regime extinguished the hopes of an entire generation and laid the foundation for the country's brutal civil war."
Following riots in Freetown, Stevens stepped down in 1985. Two years later, at a ceremony held in the grounds of parliament, a local preacher compared the former head of state's reign to a "17-year plague of locusts" in an address that was broadcast on national radio.

The next president was Joseph Momoh, a military officer. Despite his initial promises of reform, corruption persisted under him. He acquired the nickname Dandogo, which means "idiot" in the language of the Limba people of northern Sierra Leone. By 1991, Momoh had been in power for six years and the nation was ripe for revolt.
Wounded in action
On Strasser's return from Liberia, he joined a unit fighting the rebel incursion in the east. The conditions for the government troops were wretched. Logistical support was poor, supplies of weapons and ammunition were limited and there was scant medical provision. On 1 May 1991, he received a shrapnel wound to the leg while defending a bridge.
“I was inside a bunker and I got blasted," he said. "It was a shell that actually landed on the sandbags." On another occasion when we spoke he said: "No casevac [casualty evacuation] procedures were made. In terms of helicopters or ambulances to shift the casualties . . . the problem was not with the level of training, but with the equipment that was available and the manpower. My disgruntlement stemmed from the fact that after I got wounded in action, I could not be evacuated, either by an ambulance or a helicopter."

Aware that they were fighting a war that their political masters would not resource properly, Strasser and other junior officers began plotting a coup. On 29 April 1992, they launched Operation Daybreak, raiding the office of the president in central Freetown as well as the lavish old presidential lodge off Spur Road in the West End of the city. They found President Momoh hiding in the bathroom of the lodge, wearing a dressing gown. He was bundled into an army helicopter and taken over the border to Guinea.
Strasser emerged as the public face of the uprising, in part because of his language skills – he spoke English well enough to read out a statement on the radio. As a captain, he was also of a higher rank than his co-conspirators. Some argue, too, that Strasser got the top post because those around him felt that he could be manipulated easily. "He was chosen in spite of, not because of, his leadership capabilities," says Joe Alie, a professor of history at Fourah Bay College in Freetown and the author of a 2007 history of the country since independence.

Joseph Opala, an American historian who first came to Sierra Leone in 1974 as a Peace Corps volunteer and has spent much of his adult life in the country, witnessed the wild early days of the new regime. Avuncular and bearded, he runs a project to restore the former British slave fortress on Bunce Island, near Freetown. Shortly after the 1992 coup, Opala was rounded up by soldiers and taken to State House, the white-walled seat of power in the city centre that bears an odd resemblance to a lighthouse.
The windows in the president's office had been shot out. Momoh's staff stood erect, in abject terror. Sitting around wearing camouflage fatigues and Ray-Ban sunglasses were the young officers who had mounted the insurrection. They were cleaning their Kalashnikovs and were stoned.
Strasser turned to Opala. "A wan know if America go recognise we gobment?" he said, speaking in Krio, the Sierra Leonean lingua franca. Krio is built on an English chassis but has a distinct grammatical structure and uses borrowed words from a plethora of other sources. In response to
Strasser's question ("I want to know if America will recognise our government?"), Opala asked him in turn if he had spoken to the American ambassador. The new leader replied that he had, but that he had not understood what the diplomat had told him. "En English too big," he said. "A no undastan natin way e talk."
An extraordinary scene ensued. At Strasser's direction, Opala left State House and walked through deserted streets to the US embassy, which at the time lay one block away. There he told a jumpy marine guard that he had a personal message for the ambassador from the coup leaders. He was allowed in and explained to the head of mission that the heads of the new government wanted to know if Washington would recognise it. The ambassador, a black American named Johnny Young, said that he had spoken at length to Strasser and had outlined the position of the US administration – that in general it did not acknowledge regimes installed by force but, in this instance, because the previous government had also not been democratically elected and considering the dire condition of the country, it was prepared to make an exception.

Ukrainian connection
In the early days, Captain Strasser's coup was popular. There were promises of a fresh start for the country. Young people mobilised to keep Freetown clean. Celebratory murals and other street art flourished. The new rulers of Sierra Leone called themselves the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). Strasser was the council's chairman.
For all the jubilation, there was still a war to fight. Out in the bush, the army continued fighting the rebels. The junior officers who formed the NPRC had experienced the wretched conditions of the government troops. They wanted to improve matters, so besides tripling the size of the army, they went shopping.
There have been few better periods in history to buy guns than in the early 1990s. The Soviet Union had disintegrated, leaving huge arsenals in the hands of often unpaid and unsupervised officers. Dollars went a long way and official documentation was circumnavigable. Crucially, too, Sierra Leone's new leaders had a Ukrainian connection. During the cold war, the Soviet Union had funded scholarships for students from the developing world. Sierra Leoneans were among those who took up the chance to study in the USSR. One such was Steven Bio, who had studied in Kiev. A cousin of Julius Maada Bio, a member of the new junta, he had useful connections with gunrunners in Ukraine. He would be the go-between.
However, as the arms bazaar began to thrive abroad, the jubilation that had greeted Strasser's assumption of power at home began to diminish. In October 1992, the RUF took Koidu Town, capital of Kono District in the diamond-mining east. The capture of the town marked a step up in the conflict.
In Freetown, the NPRC government announced that it had uncovered an attempted coup and disarmed the instigators. Executions followed on a beach on the outskirts of the city, but the 29 people executed were considered to be innocent, and soon afterwards Strasser declared a nationwide period of mourning. "To people who were politically savvy, what it meant was there was no coherent government," Opala told me. "The conclusion was obvious – no one was in charge." (Nineteen years later, the mention of the executions stirred Strasser to anger. "Fuck off, man. In Texas they kill people every day," he said when I pressed him on the subject.)
Power in Sierra Leone was now in the hands of a group of very young men. "The children are running the country," it was said. A photograph of Strasser at the 1993 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Limassol, Cyprus, shows a young man in sunglasses and a T-shirt, emblazoned with the words "Sunny Days in Cyprus".

There were parties, too. Strasser made Valentine's Day a great national celebration, along with Bob Marley's birthday. The junta favoured pale-skinned women, creating a craze for bleaching among girls in Freetown. Women who tried to lighten their skin tone with chemicals were called "wonchee girls". Older Sierra Leoneans still mention that phrase readily when asked about their impressions of the NPRC. But perhaps the most telling indication of the onset of decadence in Strasser himself was his choice of accommodation.
Kabasa Lodge is in many ways the embodiment of all that is wrong with post-independence Sierra Leone. Built by the kleptocratic Siaka Stevens, it is a monumental structure the size of a missile silo or respectable late-medieval castle, and squats on a hilltop in Juba, in the West End of Freetown, with expansive views both out over the Atlantic and to the forested hills of the peninsula south of the city. It was here that Strasser chose to live.

The 1992 coup had decapitated the command structure of the army; brigadiers were expected to take their orders from captains and lieutenants. In the countryside, both rebels and the poorly trained soldiers were often more interested in looting property from civilians than in fighting each other. The line between the resistance and the rebellion became blurred, reflected in the neologism "sobel" – soldier by day, rebel by night.
By late 1993, though, the much-enlarged government army was close to defeating the rebels. In December Strasser called a ceasefire, but that turned out to be a mistake: the RUF regrouped and began setting up jungle bases around the country in 1994 and 1995. The rebels were a threat once more and the government was losing control.

Glittering prizes
In the south, the RUF attacked the facilities of Sierra Rutile, a company mining titanium ore, cutting off a crucial source of state revenue. The rebels set up a base in the town of Moyamba which put them within a day's striking distance of Freetown. Vehicle ambushes left few people willing to travel upcountry.
With the security situation deteriorating, the NPRC was becoming increasingly unpopular. It was then that Strasser turned to foreign fighters. White mercenaries are a charged subject in Africa, conjuring up a host of associations, from "Mad" Mike Hoare in the Congo of the 1960s to Richard Burton and Roger Moore in the 1978 film The Wild Geese and, more recently, the farce of the 2004 "wonga coup" in Equatorial Guinea. However, in Sierra Leone, shortly after South Africa's first multiracial elections in 1994, ex-apartheid enforcers re-engaged as soldiers of fortune and ended up saving huge numbers of lives. They nearly saved the country, too.

In February 1995, the NPRC engaged the services of a company called Gurkha Security Guards (GSG), which employed Nepalese ex-British-army troops led by an American, Robert MacKenzie. MacKenzie had fought in Vietnam and, in spite of an arm injury sustained there, he later passed selection for the Rhodesian SAS. He also worked as a correspondent for Soldier of Fortune magazine. His masterminding of GSG's involvement in Sierra Leone was a debacle: he was quickly ambushed along with Strasser's aide-de-camp, Abu Tarawalli. It is still not known for sure if those responsible were the rebels, or whether he was betrayed by Sierra Leonean army soldiers he was meant to be assisting.
After MacKenzie went missing, his wife asked Al J Venter – a writer with a long interest in mercenary affairs – to visit Sierra Leone to investigate what had happened. Venter discovered that a group of nuns had also been captured and taken to the camp where MacKenzie was held. The nuns were eventually released, but before then they saw the American strung up, and his heart cut out.
The next group of white mercenaries to land in Sierra Leone was Executive Outcomes, which blazed a trail for private military companies of the modern era. Composed predominantly of former South African special forces troops, Executive Outcomes was active in Angola during the civil war there, fighting both for and against Jonas Savimbi's South African-funded rebel army, Unita.
The brokers of the deal that brought Executive Outcomes to Sierra Leone included Simon Mann, later of the botched "wonga coup"; Tony Buckingham, who now runs Heritage Oil, a company whose prospectus hints at the risk that the media may mention his previous mercenary adventures; and Eeben Barlow, a former South African special forces officer. The role of Executive Outcomes was to combat the rebels. The mercenaries would be paid in diamond concessions and cash.
They arrived in Sierra Leone in small numbers – about a hundred on the ground at any one time. Most of the operatives were black but theleadership was white. They used helicopters, they had their own logistical train and they were fearsomely competent. "These people knew Africa," Venter said. "They set up their own supply units . . . they brought everything with them. They drove [the rebels] well away from Freetown, then they launched an operation into Kono. They did it; they turned the war around in record time."
Joseph Opala recalled how Executive Outcomes would give a radio to each of the paramount chiefs, the leaders originally appointed from the ranks of local kings and queens by British colonial administrators at the end of the 19th century. "They said: 'If you call us we will be there in 15 minutes.' And they were."
The mercenaries achieved what thousands of UN peacekeepers five years later were unable to do: they stopped the war. "At a total cost of $35m [just one-third of the government's annual defence budget], the fighting in Sierra Leone had ceased and over one million displaced persons returned to their homes," wrote P W Singer of the Brookings Institution in his book Corporate Warriors: the Rise of the Privatised Military Industry.
“They did what they were here to do – that I can assure you," Strasser told me. "In fact, fighting stopped. It was a war machine that was capable of handling the security difficulties there at the time."
But the mercenaries were soon forced out of Sierra Leone by other countries' disapproval. There was substantial international support for a peace accord that was negotiated in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, in 1996, and the RUF made withdrawal of foreign forces a provision of signing it. Executive Outcomes left in January 1997. Without a disarmament programme in place, the Abidjan agreement proved ineffective. Clashes continued and after another military coup in May 1997 the violence escalated once more. In January 1999, the war reached its nadir when RUF fighters sacked Freetown in Operation No Living Thing.

As for Strasser, he was deposed in a palace coup on 16 January 1996. He had gone to inspect a passing-out parade at the military trainin academy in Benguema, less than 30 miles from Freetown. In the afternoon he went, without a substantial security escort, to a meeting at the defence headquarters at Cockerill, back in the capital city. There he was overpowered and bundled into a helicopter and flown to Guinea, just as had happened to Joseph Momoh four years earlier. Strasser's successor, the leader of this second coup, was Julius Maada Bio. The new leader was still only in his early thirties.
Strasser Destitute and Broke
When I asked Strasser why his reign ended as it did, he refused to accept there had been a coup. He claimed he had merely stepped down at the end of the ten years of military service for which he had signed up. That statement is fantastical, and must be discounted.

Anything for a quiet life
The post-deposition period is perhaps the strangest in Strasser's unusual life, taking him from West Africa to Coventry in the West Midlands. When the international community had negotiated with the NPRC over the reintroduction of civilian rule, one of the incentives offered to members of the junta in return for relinquishing power was the opportunity to study in the west. And even though Strasser had eventually lost power by less graceful means, he was able to take up this chance.
Warwick University's decision to consider admitting him was controversial. "When it became known who he was, there was a lot of disquiet in the law school and the university," recalls Roger Leng, an expert in criminal law at Warwick who later taught Strasser. There was a fierce internal row over whether he should be allowed to enter as a student, despite assurances from reputable sources to the university that Strasser was not responsible for human rights violations.
Eventually he was accepted and took a foundation course to compensate for his lack of formal qualifications. The intention was that he would then progress to a law degree.
Leng was surprised when he met Strasser for the first time. "He was quiet. I don't think really he was equipped to study at this level," he said. "I'd expected a swaggering, arrogant guy and he was quite the opposite."
Strasser's second life as a civilian in England did not go well. His unwanted celebrity was a problem. He took up residence in an anonymous red-brick terraced house at 47 Poplar Road in suburban Earlsdon in Coventry, the city nearest the university, but the local and national press began to take an interest in him. He claims, too, that his stipend was inadequate. It even turned out that among Strasser's fellow students in 1996 was a niece of one of the victims of the extrajudicial killings of December 1992.
According to him, the woman spoke against him on television and lobbied against him. The archives of the Boar, Warwick University's student newspaper, mention inquiries launched into his presence. "The university's belief that Strasser's studies will contribute to the democratisation process has been attacked by those who consider that an individual with such a brutal background should not be afforded acceptance within wider society," the Boar reported in October 1996.
Later he had an unsuccessful affair with a supermarket checkout girl. "She knew who I was, because the papers in Coventry had things about me," Strasser said. "She knew I was a former dictator."
Warwick University closed its file on Strasser in January 1998. A spokesman for the university, Peter Dunn, believes he left campus before then. "My recollection was that he wrote to the university staff saying that he was leaving," Dunn said. "One of his concerns was that he was fed up with his history in Sierra Leone being constantly brought up." Strasser corroborated that account. "I saw front-page articles saying 'former dictator' and 'human rights violations'," he said. "It was impossible."
After dropping out of Warwick he moved to London, but there he found no peace. Albert Mahoi, a Sierra Leonean who goes by the nickname of Carlos, was running a business in south-east London that offered cosmetics, money transfers and international calls when he met Strasser. Mahoi recalled encountering him at a nightclub in Camberwell; another Sierra Leonean exile was abusing him and Mahoi felt he had to intervene.
“I said: 'Don't do that – he was our president,'" Mahoi told me. "I talked to Strasser, I told him to calm down." He bought the former head of state a bottle of Courvoisier. "He was stressed up; you know when someone loses everything. There was no respect for him."
With the Guardian newspaper questioning why a one-time West African strongman was living in London, Strasser left the country. The Home Office would not comment on whether his visa had been revoked. In December 2000, he went briefly to the Gambia and then back to Sierra Leone. And he is still there.
Strasser Today Living with Mum

Moving with the times
The civil war finally ended in 2002 after a Blair-led British military intervention stiffened a floundering UN peacekeeping mission. The peace has held, and in November the country will hold its third multiparty election since the war's end. Large iron-ore mining projects are coming on line, and the IMF predicts massive GDP growth of 51.4 per cent this year.
Yet Sierra Leone remains impoverished; it ranks 180th (out of 187 countries) in the UN's Human Development Index and per-capita GDP stands at just $325 a year. The country also has a large pool of marginalised ex-combatants and other young men who continue to pose a threat to stability. Despite enormous expenditure of foreign aid, corruption remains endemic and progress on infrastructure frustratingly slow.
Desmond Luke is a former chief justice who trained at both Cambridge and Oxford. "One of my biggest sadnesses is when I travel out of Sierra Leone and I come back," he told me recently at his house in Freetown. "The only change one really does see is it seems to get dirtier."
Some of the figures from the war years are still in politics, too. Maada Bio, who deposed Strasser and was briefly head of state, is now the candidate for the main opposition party in the November presidential election.
Strasser lives quietly with his mother, Beatrice, in the house he built at Grafton, east of Freetown. The once-elegant white villa is run-down and the walls are stained. Across the potholed road stand the burnt-out ruins of another house that Strasser had built while in office, but which was bombed by Nigerian fighter jets during the civil war.
He receives a government pension of 200,000 leones (£30) a month. That is a recent improvement on the 64,000 leones (£9.40) he used to get. He is desperately poor and does not even have a mobile phone to hand as he sits by the roadside in the afternoons. "It's a new set of circumstances and I've got to accept them," he said of his life with his mother.
I asked Sheka Tarawalie, Sierra Leone's deputy minister of information, why the former leader receives such meagre support. "You know, Strasser was not an elected head of state," Tarawalie said. "That is one of the problems. He came in as a military man."
Strasser in his Village

"Bad dictators"
One evening last summer, at the start of the rainy season, I arranged to meet Strasser for a final dinner. I went to see him with a friend and a British researcher resident in Freetown. We drove over the mountain road and picked Strasser up from his house.
He sat in the front seat of my Land Rover, wearing trainers and cut-off jeans. At his suggestion, we went to eat at a Safecon petrol station on the main road upcountry. There we sat at a table outside in the evening light.
It did not go well. He was drunk at the start of the meal and became agitated. When I raised his time at Warwick, he raged at me – I was his assassin, he said. I was the president of America. He became increasingly unstable and threatened to have us arrested, only to change his tone. "I'm not going to arrest you," he shouted. "Otherwise you'll say I'm Idi Amin or another bad dictator like Colonel Gaddafi."
Then he wrote this, in block capitals, in my notebook: "Europe still continues to underdevelop Africa. Africa's raw materials are Europe's tool to keep black Africa under so that western Europe continues to improve. Answer, 3,500 words."
There was something of Lear in Strasser that evening, the broken king raging at the injustices of the world. I met him again several times after that and he was always sober and lucid. Yet that night I had seen a different Valentine Strasser and begun to understand something of the burdens he carried. As we drove back over the hills in the tropical dark, it was clear to me what a terrible misfortune it was for him to have been crowned by accident.

Culled from the New Statesman

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