Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Segbwema Member of Parliament Hon. Abu Jajua's Inauguration Inauguration

Hon. Abu Jajua
Next month, all roads lead to Segbwema, the headquarters of Njaluahun Chiefdom, as Kailuhun Constituency 7 prepares to inaugurate the young, dynamic and hardworking member of Parliament, Hon Abu Jajua, an engineer and machinist by profession. The inauguration slated for December 22nd to 23rd 2013 is planned as follows.

  • December 21st-Arrival of dignitaries, delegates and guests.
  • December 22nd- Day masquerade dance for the women and general population.
  • December 22nd- Night Masquerade dance for the men.
  • December 23rd- Inauguration ceremony followed by masquerade dance.
  • December 24 and 25th-Christmas and Boxing day.
Honorable Abu Jajua is gradually becoming the most hardworking Member of Parliament in the recent history of the Kailahun Constituency. He is easily accessible to his people, gives constant updates of his activities and is very responsive to problems affecting the people. His hands on approach distinguishes him from past MPs who spent much of their time in Freetown and only went to the constituency during occasions or to campaign for reelection.
Abu Jajua, Robin Faley, PC Coker Jajua
Chiefdom Unity

With just a year in Parliament, Honorable Jajua has successfully undertaken the acquisition of a cassava plantation in Upper Nyawa for the women and youths and sought approval to install a large scale gari processing machine for commercial activities. The goal of the honorable is to increase the income potential and productivity of the people in this traditionally neglected area of the constituency.

The young MP was also very involved and active in the provision of material and financial assistance to the victims of flooding and windstorms earlier in the year around the environs of Laleihun Kovoma and Segbwema. The MP toured the affected areas, gave emotional support to the victims and donated bags of cement and food to help the area recover from the natural tragedies.

Wesley Secondary School has also benefited a lot in material and financial assistance from the MP who was at hand for the school's jubilee celebrations earlier in the year and also rushed to provide emergency assistance when windstorms blew off the roof of the main school building earlier on in the year.
Hon. Jajua Inspecting Flood Damage
Laleihun Kovoma

Honorable Jajua has also sought approval for the rehabilitation of the Bunumbu to Tondola feeder roads and the rehabilitation of the Togoma Yekedu to Kailahun highway through Mendekema. He has also been very involved in the lobbying effort for the ISU road construction project from Kenema to Segbwema with the help of the government. The once menacing and treacherous Kenema Segbwema highway is expected to be as smooth as a ride in a European city. The honorable has also been actively seeking for the families whose lands were used to mine granite for the ISU road construction to be adequately compensated.

Honorable Jajua has also been actively lobbying Gold Tree Palmoil Processing Company to assist in the rehabilitation of the feeder roads in the areas in the proximity of the massive oil palm plantation and about 40% of the feeder roads in the area has been rehabilitated just within the year.
Hon. Jajua Providing Disaster Relief

Honorable Jajua has reached across the political divide to encourage president Koroma to support the construction of a fence around the Segbwema Town field. The honorable has seen the necessity to collaborate with the government on issues of development as he is acutely aware that development is both a government and an opposition business. Former honorable Robin Faley who defected to the All People's Congress and lost to Hon. Abu Jajua by over 9000 votes still has his eyes on retaking the constituency and is working hard to bring some APC propelled projects to the area. At the end of the day these efforts can only help the people of Njaluahun Chiefdom who have long been neglected in terms of meaningful infrastructural development under many successive governments.

Inspecting Storm Damage at Wesley School
To further encourage education. The honorable has instituted a full university scholarship for a deserving student and he intends on working on a scholarship program for more students in the immediate future.

Segbwema Town Library
Segbwema Bridge Construction ISU
On the political front, Hon. Abu Jajua was one of the champions for the campaign to replace the late MP of  Kailahun Constituency one, MP Alice Foyah who died suddenly after a trip from overseas. Hon Jajua was campaigning for her to be replaced by her husband Amb. Patrich Foyah on the SLPP ticket, while his Njaluahun rival ex-Hon Robin Faley campaigned on behalf of Susan Bona the APC candidate. APC badly wanted this priz and  poured in millions of leones, but were ultimately unsuccessful in capturing the seat from SLPP. 

Hon. Jajua has also been very active in engaging Constituency 7 descendants in the diaspora to participate in constituency development. These discussions are promising to yield some dividend soon.

We congratulate Hon. Abu Jajua for his hardwork, dedication and devotion to the people of his constituency and continue to encourage him to do the best he can to set an example of what a member of Parliament is supposed to be.
Historic Segbwema in 1972
42 years ago

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dr Yumkella's Inspirational Speech to Alumni, Students and Stakeholders of Christ the King's College (CKC) Bo.

CKC 60th Anniversary Celebrations 

Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella's Address to CKC Stakeholders
Dr. Yumkella Addressing CKC

Theme: Responsibility and Values 
Principal, Staff and Board of Governors, National President of COBA, His Excellency Former V. P. Solomon Berewa, Honorable Ministers, Traditional Rulers, Mr. Mayor,  Elders of Bo, Former Ministers, Members of the Clergy, Members of the 4th Estate, Parents, Students,All Protocols Observed.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Board of Governors, staff, students and the executive of COBA for inviting me to this 60th Anniversary celebration. I also had the opportunity to join you for the 50th Anniversary (when I was UNIDO Representative in Nigeria).

Today brings back a lot of memories such as my first day in the boarding home in 1971 at age 11; or the day I interrupted the prayer session in 1977 to mobilize the students to join national demonstrations under the No-College-No-School protest (started by the late Hindolo-Trye and others); I can recall the day in 1977 my late Uncle, Drissa Macua Yilla got up from his sick bed with his hunting gun and fired 2 shots in the air at the Clock-Tower location to protect his pharmacy and the TOT-Bar from being burnt down by thugs during the national elections, and two days later when Kaindeka led a group of youth from Jaboima to protect Sweet Bo from being burnt down by the same thugs. But the best memory of course is the day I summed up courage to propose to the most beautiful girl in Bo Town, one of the daughters of Bo, my wife Philomena Nicholas (daughter of Madam Nancy Nicholas, aka Mama Nicho, the former Mayor of Bo).
School Alumni

I was told that many people are curious about my speech. There are even speculations about what I may or may not say. Some even wonder why I would come to Bo for this event. In order to keep my commitment to COBA and get here in time for this event, I traveled 24 hours, through different flight connections, to be here for 48 hours. I did this because I owe a lot to CKC; more importantly, when I give my word, I stand by it. The bottom line is that I am here to celebrate with my kith and kin, I am here to inspire the young generation that they can be better than me and others before them. So I will speak from my heart about how CKC prepared me for my journey through life. The theme of my remarks is:

Responsibility and Values.
I firmly believe that one must have a strong sense of responsibility and a commitment to a set of core values in order to achieve success. CKC taught me to have a sense of responsibility at a very early age. The teachers and Priests of the Holy Ghost Order shaped my values at the formative period of age 11-18 years (of course I had also received a lot of do(s) and don't(s) from my parents and the extended family). As the saying goes " It takes a village to raise a child". I will draw from my own personal journey in life to show how CKC gave me the tools, core foundation and sense of Responsibility and Values that have contributed to my few achievements during the past three decades
CKC Bo Town

Sense of Responsibility.
One of the turning points of my youth, was when charged with the privilege and responsibilities to serve as school monitor. My responsibilities at school included ringing bell as notification for change of classes, ringing the bell at boarding home to announce study time, play time, meal time, bed time etc. This meant by the early age of 12, I've been introduced to sense of responsibilities and to manage activities when things happened in the entire school at large. It also meant that I had to be more responsible and conscious of time than my peers, because if I am late then every body will be late. This also taught me discipline and personal sacrifice because I had to stop doing things I liked in order to be ahead of other students and ring the bell (I had to wake up at 6 am to ring the bell to wake up others at 6:30; I had to stop playing before others, I had to eat quickly ahead of others, I had to stop hanging-out ahead of others). In form three, I was put in charge of the dispensary in the Boarding Masters office. I had to clean the wounds of those with soccer injuries, to dispense WL-Laxative to those who had constipation from too much garri (till today I do not know why the medicine was called WL). This experience taught me humility and public service. The Priests were teaching me to "wash the feet of others". From then till I reached upper-six, I was a Prefect or Monitor for all sorts of things. So early in life CKC taught me Responsibility, Service and Humility. So discipline is the other requirement. Respect for law and order including the rule of law must be embedded in the young minds, and must be a golden thread in the fabric of society. But discipline begins at home, it is also institutionalized when those in authority respect and enforce the rule of law.

A sense of Proportion
In life, one must know ones limits. One must accept that as good as you are, there are others who are better, and to get ahead you must cooperate with others. There is a saying that goes like this, "Alone you can go FAST, but Together, we can go Far." CKC taught me to build partnerships and strategic alliances. When I was in form one, I was top of the class. But this was form 1B; then we went to form 2A to meet the brightest students. In the first term in form 2A, I was placed 7th in the end of term exam. Can you imagine from being top to being 7th. In fact, the man who was 1st continued to be first in class for the next 5 years. So I learnt that though I was smart, there were others who were far smarter, and if I had to be as good as them, I had to partner with them, study like them, and play like them. My friends coached me in mathematics, chemistry, and physics. I coached them on how to cram history, literature, bible knowledge and biology. I remember some students use to call me "photographic brain", because I could cram very well. To cut a long story short, My friend Sam was always first, Joseph was always second, and I was always comfortable at 3rd place. From Donald Bash-Taqui we learnt bravery and courage, to stand for what we believed. If you are in trouble you want Donald next to you. But the two of them showed me how to be analytical, they sharpened my numeracy, and helped me think hard and connect the dots. We were best of friends and in form six we slept in the same small room.
CKC's Iconic Crocodile

 A Readiness for Leadership
In 1977, when we got to lower-six, the teachers decided for the first time that the students should elect their senior prefect from a short-list of three nominees provided by the principal and staff. Three best friends, KKY, Sam and Joseph, sleeping in the same 8x8 room, had to compete, campaign and debate in front of the students. How can I compete against two guys who were smarter than me and always first and second in class. Wow, I was introduced to politics; I had to dig deep into myself and ask what is my competitive edge, why do I believe that I should lead the students? In the end, I won the elections. One year later, I had to join our friends in Bo school (Harry Selenga, Baba Musa Danjaji, Eric Jumu, J.B. Laggah, and others) to organize the Bo version of "No College-No School" demonstrations. I also became president of the the Bo United Nations Students Association (BUNSA).

God's Time is the Best
So my association with the United Nations started in 1977-78, at 17-18 years, when I was elected President of BUNSA. The Vice President was the senior prefect of the Bo school. You fast forward to 1989, when I desperately wanted to be a young professional in the UN and World Bank. I lobbied some people, but it did not happen. I went on to be Assistant to the Dean University of Illinois College of Agriculture, and then Assistant Professor at Michigan State. Well God's time is the best. In 1996 two decades later, I was called to join the UN at much higher level (a director level at age 36). I learnt another lesson, that one must always work hard, train properly and prepare oneself so that when the Almighty opens the door of opportunity, you can sprint through it to success. Remember I was a long distance runner for St John's Hall in athletics (400 meters, 800 meters and the mile); I know that to win in long distance competition, you train, you pace yourself and be ready for the dash at the finish line. When I ran for the election to the post of Director General, I was dismissed by my opponents because I was the youngest candidate and they said my country did not have international clout. Well, as I did for the senior prefect election, I ran a smart global campaign, focussing on my superior knowledge and practical experience within the UN; and I won by a landslide. So sometimes the Almighty might not answer your prayers immediately, he prepares you through detours and rough terrain; and then, Eureka! all factors suddenly come together easily and smoothly. Some call it luck, I call it Devine intervention having a date with solid preparation and hard work.

The Future
Mr. Principal, distinguished Alumni, Elders, ladies and gentlemen,What we do now, sometimes determines our future. The choices we will make in the next 3-4 years will determine the fate of our country (your fate), for the next two decades. We can be as poor as the Niger Delta, or we can be as wealthy as Dubai. I believe that the best way to predict the future is to create the future.

Many days and nights I ask myself and ponder over questions about our country Sierra Leone.In the abundance of our natural wealth that have been discovered over the past 8 years and provided by the Almighty for 6 million souls; in the presence of abundant open-source knowledge systems in this digital age, why must the next generation of Sierra Leoneans (our children and grand children) be poor, why should they be destitute, and why should they be ignorant? It was Bob Marley who said "In the Abundance of water, only the fool is thirsty".

 Are we pre-ordained to be poor? Why should another generation of Sierra Leoneans become economic refugees in London or New York? Our children and grand children deserve better. As a man who has defied the odds, worked hard to find a place on the global stage, I believe we can shape our destiny if we have some shared values and a strong sense of responsibility, coupled with determination to be amongst the best. 

Since we live in a globalized world, we must think global and act local. We must learn how others are creating wealth and spreading prosperity for their citizens and generations yet unborn. You the current students of CKC (the next generation of Sierra Leonean Leaders), and your parents as well, should understand that to make Sierra Leone a prosperous nation, to ensure that you do not continue to hug the bottom tier of the development ladder (as we have done for the past two and half decades), you must be ready to compete with other youth from other nations. Competitiveness of nations, and the prosperity of the citizens require knowledge, skills and a core set of values (a culture) that molds the people into a formidable professional cadre or productive labour force. It requires leadership that puts the interest of the common people first; it requires leadership that understands how private sector led-growth buttressed by smart macro-economic and trade policies can propel a nation to double digit growth and structural change.

We must embrace foreign direct investments and global strategic alliances for trade and technology cooperation. We must invest in functional literacy. Functional literacy rate refers to the percentage of literates imbued with enhanced adaptive capabilities to use modern technology and devices and to commercialize new knowledge. To this end, the future workforce should be empowered with adaptive thinking and skills to blend with and adapt to the rapidly changing facets of industrialization. Functional literacy rate facilitates creative and innovative thinking skills in order to remain dynamically relevant, to face the challenges in global market place, and to seize emerging opportunities.

 An Indian friend recently told me this story. At the Crystal Palace Industrial Exhibition in 1851, American goods were at the center of attraction. The surprised British industrial stakeholders, whose forefathers emerged as the pioneers of industrial revolution a century ago, went to the US to find out the reasons. They realized that the productive functional literacy rate in the US was higher than that of England. In the 1980s when Japanese goods successfully penetrated the European and North American markets, the surprised industrial magnates of the US, whose forefathers transformed a great agrarian economy into a mighty industrial power after the civil war, went to Japan to find that functional literacy rate in Japan was higher than that of the US.
School Campus

Over the past ten years I have supported the promotion of functional literacy in Sierra Leone. I encouraged UNIDO to build 11 growth centers in communities all over the country, with the largest one in Bo Town. Two years ago we started building the fisheries training institute (which the rebels had burnt down) at Ferry Junction; I am happy to say that in four weeks on December 18th the President will inaugurate the new fisheries training institute.

Today, on behalf of my family, I pledge to help establish the computer lab in CKC. In addition, we will provide 10 tuition scholarships for the school, one 4-year college tuition scholarship (to Njala University or Fourah Bay College) for the student with the best WASSE result. (He will be required to maintain a high Grade point average while in college). We will also make a contribution towards the new school block, and are willing to assist COBA to raise funds for its construction. 

Finally, I hope in the next couple of years I can join you on the ground to shape our country's future. Yes, I will be back in Salone in the near future. As I have always said, there are no red or green Sierra Leoneans. There are only one people with a common destiny, and a dream for a better tomorrow. I hope that all my stories todaywill convince you that you can compete and that you can be great. In fact, you must compete, otherwise we will all remain poor, begging for aid and help all the time. With a strong sense of Responsibility, a sense of Proportion, commitment to Partnerships, a readiness to serve others, commitment to Hard Work, a solid Education, and unwavering Faith in the Power of the Almighty, are the the keys to success and prosperity for you and me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fire at Sierra Leone Post Office.

Post Office on Fire
The central part of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone was a hubbub of activity today as a column of smoke that soon grew wider was seen billowing out of the Sierra Leone Post Office (SALPOST) in the morning hours. For the better part of 45 minutes, amazed onlookers gazed in bewilderment as columns of smoke engulfed the building with no response from the city's Fire Force, only for them to come later to the scene with all the urgency of a snail.

Reports from Freetown indicate that the fire originated from the office the General Manager Samuel Koroma who at the opportune time was having a meeting at the National Revenue Authority (NRA) and later stated that he had no idea what might have initiated the blaze. He had left his laptop on in the office, according to a reporter from Politico Sierra Leone and had himself only known about the blaze through a telephone call.

There was extensive damage to the contents of the office, with suspicions that the fire could have been the result of faulty air conditioning in the GM's office.
Still Smoking

With the high level of corruption in the country's capital and given that the country has a history of fires mysterious whenever there are serious investigatory probes, the Sierra Leone conspiracy theorists today had a field day on social media, especially with the coincidental timing of the GM's meeting at the NRA and a fire outbreak in his office that destroyed all documents in his office, including his laptop. 
Smoke Spreads

Luckily the damage to the SALPOST building did not involve any human tragedy as the workers and those there at the time seemed to get out of the building in one piece.

Immediately post independence, the Sierra Leone Post Office, which later in its history was called SALPOST, was one of the most efficient institutions in the country with branches all over the country and tonnes of mail and parcels sent domestically and internationally. However the immense corruption of the late 70s and early 80s did not spare the post office, marking a precipitous decline in the provision and efficiency of postal services. By the early 80s staff at the postal offices in the country started to tamper with packages and letters, especially from overseas and the institution gradually lost faith with the people.

Before the war, many people used the post office to send small sums of money to their relatives.However, criminal elements at the post office started to reportedly scan mails to see if there were any monies and the letters never reached their intended recipients. At the height of the war and before the proliferation of money transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram, the post office was the main way to send money and people living out of the country started to be very creative in sending money, sometimes using carbon paper to wrap money before putting it in envelopes. It was however a losing battle as corrupt delivery men just grew more creative and bolder.
Fire Force Finally Here!

Some years ago, there was a report that American Diversity lottery Applications posted by people anxious to escape the grinding poverty in Sierra Leone were dumped secretly in the ocean. The news whether true or false was met with outrage and protests by young people who had applied for the lottery and that was another low point in the history of this once reputable agency.

With the proliferation of Internet based sources of communication, the emergence of courier services such as DHL and UPS and the widespread use of mobile services, the once formidable hold the country's post office seemed to hold over communication seem to have been lost for ever.

Unlike other African Postal services that envisioned the impact that emerging technology will have on their business model and were proactive in championing Internet and in some cases mobile technology, the Sierra Leone Post Office, buried deep in corruption and institutional inefficiency, was not nimble enough and has largely become a white elephant that no longer has any degree of impact in the country.
Sierra Leone Post Office in 1910

This fire as bad as it is, could provide the much needed impetus to reexamine this colonial relic that is headed by yet another Koroma and question what next for this once formidable national institution. But with all the documents in the GM's office on fire, I guess it is just another case of what Sierra Leoneans call "Kombra fart pan in pikin nar buff case"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't Count on Chinese Friends

There is this growing tendency for many countries in Africa to now rush to China in search of economic and technological assistance, with the Chinese being only to willing to embrace these friends with benefits. In some of these African countries Western Aid is seen as an albatross around their necks, with the West being viewed as being too questioning, too critical and too judgmental. Worst of all the West's insistence on proper democratic governance is anathema to the many dictatorial despots around the continent.

 Mugabe, Bongo, Bashir, Jammeh and many others under Western pressure see China as an escape valve. With now the second largest economy in the world, a population way in excess of 1 billion, industries hungry for the oil and raw materials from Africa, the Chinese are only very happy to extend a welcoming arm.
Chinese Leader Xi Jinping

African dictators and emerging tyrants see China as the friendly economic power who comes to your assistance but does not care whether you are a dictator, a tyrant, or just a plain old murderous despot. Countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe and other tyrannies around Africa that either have no democratic institutions or pretend to be democracies see China as the trusted partner, who can rush in to build national stadiums, relatively cheap skyscrapers and large scale agricultural projects that have no regard  for environmental impact or the impact on small a ale farmers. The Chinese are only too willing to close their eyes while you butcher your own people.

There is a worrying positive correlation between the closeness of African countries to China and the weakness of their democratic credentials. Leaders like Zimbabwe's Mugabe, Gabon's Bongo and now Gambia's Jammeh have either strong or developing relationships with China, but weak relationships with America and Western Europe.
Gambian President Jammeh

It was announced today that The President of the Gambia Yayah Jammeh who had long recognized the Island nation of Taiwan, has renewed diplomatic ties with China and given up Taiwan. Just about a month ago, with the UK being critical of the growing dictatorial tendency of Gambian leader, he withdrew his tiny country out of the Commonwealth of Nations, calling the body a relic a colonialism. The fact that many young Gambians benefit from Commonwealth educational assistance or that the commonwealth promotes cooperation among countries with an identical historical past, or even the fact that some countries that were never British colonies are trying to get into the Commonwealth was of relative little significance to Jammeh. So with the commonwealth out of the way, the Chinese have stepped in and the Taiwanese will have to find other partners, as China does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan. Jammeh now has the most repressive regime in West Africa.

China's policy of noninterference in other countries' domestic affairs bothers on the extreme. Its approach to African leaders is to be completely nonjudgmental and uncaring. If you want to kill your citizens, go ahead, China will be willing to sell you cheap guns to help you do so. If you want to engage in endless civil wars, China is only too willing to sell cheap landmines, weapons and ammunition to all sides. At the end of the day, China itself is a one party authoritarian regime which suppresses internal dissent and keeps minorities such as the Tibetans under suppression. So who are they to question anybody else's democratic credentials?
China Ambassador Victor Foh

One worrying trend in Sierra Leone is the growing relationship between the current Ernest Koroma led government and the Chinese, as exemplified by the fact that no less a person than the former ruling party Secretary General is now the country's ambassador to China. Sierra Leone delegations, from the President, ministers or political operatives now make Frequent trips to China, as we are daily informed by the country's hardworking press attache to the communist country John Baimba Sesay, a man who thinks China is second only to Heaven. In the past few months, the President spent a week or two in China and just in the past week, Foreign Minister Samura Kamara spent about a week or so in China and he left with glowing praises for the communist autocracy.

As the relationship between China and Sierra Leone has grown, so has been the growth growth of signs and symptoms of tyranny in Sierra Leone. This negative democratic trend is seen as a surprise to many, as President Ernest Bai Koroma in his first term had attempted to project the image of a true democrat. However, as the President and his government's relationship with China continues to strengthen, many of the negatives aspects of the  Chinese autocracy has started to surface in Sierra Leone. It is as if President Koroma is now taking daily lessons from China. China's high level of official corruption, repression of freedom of speech, tight control of the media and use of the police to stifle opposition or dissent are all starting to be commonplace in today's Sierra Leone.
Tiananmen Square Massacre

The Sierra Leone police that was proudly reformed by Ex-President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is now slowly being transformed into an organ of state terror, with the law and order forces now increasingly turning their guns on defenseless citizens, all in a bid to muzzle public dissent, with national security being the new Koroma excuse. Some time ago in the towns of Bumbuna and Koidu, unarmed peaceful demonstrators protesting against working conditions were gunned down like animals with no concern by the government. A few days ago members of Sierra Leone's increasingly trigger happy police opened live bullet rounds on a group of protesting secondary school students right inside the capital Freetown. Unfortunately the President's sycophantic press were already calling the demonstrators alleged students.

A few weeks ago some journalist in the country wrote a critical article in which the President was likened to a rat. For expressing such an opinion tthe editors of the paper were locked up in Sierra Leone's notorious Pademba Road Prisons and refused bail. It took an outcry from some important stakeholders in the country and the international economy for the government to allow them bail, even then setting bail terms so stiff that you would think the offense committed was treason. Even before these journalist were arrested and mistreated, the President's Special Assistant Sylvia Blyden openly bragged that the government will soon start "sanitizing" journalists in the country and her attacks on the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists have been taunting, demeaning and relentless with the President making no move to stop her harassment of journalist and thus indirectly endorsing her actions and her statements.
Billion Mouths to Feed
The fight against corruption is now almost lost in Sierra Leone. The Anti Corruption Commission set up after the war is now notorious only for the number of cases they lose. Some time ago, the Anti Corruption Commission lost a case against one of the rising political stars in the country, one Momoh Konteh who was filmed together with another government affiliate Alex Mansaray openly soliciting bribes in an Al Jazeera investigative sting. Both of these fellows were caught on tape asking for bribes and both escaped untouched. The same notorious Sylvia Blyden a tabloid journalist then, went after the reputation of the Al Jazeera investigators and is now the Special Executive Assistant to the country's President.

The Sierra Leone diplomatic mission in China tries to paint this new relationship as the best thing that has happened to Sierra Leone since independence and the gullible and uninformed public are swallowing this juvenile propaganda hook, line and sinker. However, many Sierra Leoneans who know the Chinese government's actions and their history are very skeptical of this new found love, as the Chinese are nobody's friends. China only cares for the interest of the Chinese, period.

To take a closer look at this new diplomatic charm between Sierra Leone and the communist autocracy, the country has had diplomatic relationship with the Chinese as far back as I can remember. It was the Chinese that were given the contracts to build the government Youyi building and the National stadium back when we were primary school kids. But where were the Chinese when we had the ten year civil war in Sierra Leone? They say a friend in need is a friend indeed. Which relief team did the Chinese ever send to Sierra Leone? China's was main interest during the war was in selling poor quality weapons to our armed forces. When the time came for intervention to stop the war, the Chinese were not around, they were nowhere to be found, the perfect fair weather friends.

China's diplomatic selfishness is not limited to Africa. A typical example of the real nature of the Chinese is being seen today in the typhoon Haiyan tragedy that is unfolding in the Philippines. While other countries are rushing to pour money, manpower and other essential aid services into the Philippines, the Chinese assistance is so paltry that even other countries have cried out against such a blatant display of selfishness and inhumanity.
Haiyan Tragedy
Don't wait for China

While the American government has committed over 1000 troops and over $20 million to aid relief work in the Philippines excluding the millions being collected by private individuals and organizations, Japan pledging up to $10 million, with even problem plagued Indonesia committing $2 million, the Chinese government with the second largest economy in the world,has only pledged a miserly $1.6 million according to the BBC. The BBC reports that just like their government the Chinese people do not care about the tragedy either. One Chinese citizen reportedly stated that what matters is not the amount of money that their government gives but the intention. What is the benefit of intention in the face of a tragedy as immense as Typhoon Haiyan which has claimed thousands of lives and destroyed whole towns in the Asian country.
Haiyan Destruction

Even with the tragedy in Syria, China with their veto power in the security council  has become a major obstacle to finding a quick solution to the growing human crisis in the country, with their refusal to condemn or even caution the Assad regime even in the face of heinous human rights abuses, just because Assad is a great customer for their weapons and to Beijing that is the only hing that is important.

So as the leaders in Sierra Leone continue to snuggle up to these fair weather friends, the Chinese, the citizens will have to look beyond the propaganda and ask the hard questions. What do the Chinese really want? The Chinese care little for human rights, environmental concerns and democratic progress, afterwards the government has over a billion people to provide for and if they can rape countries whose leaders are either too naive, too greedy or to corrupt to question their true motives, that will only make Beijing happy.

Though our men in China are being feted and made to report in glowing term about China, the civil society must remain vigilant to the danger that the Chinese pose to growing democracies around Africa.

From Segbwema Without a Smile.

Just Being Serious
As we grow up we make meaning of the world around us through our society's eyes. Sociologists may call it symbolic interactionism, learning to develop a subjective interpretation of the world through social interactions and the subjective meanings we attach to symbols.

Traveling makes you experience some strange things. I had this friend from Guinea Bissau that I met in Jarra Soma, the Gambia. From the moment we met, the fellow took an instant liking to me and insisted that I must have lunch with his family. I felt honored and decided to oblige him.

Well, the lunch day came and we went to his house to eat some peanut soup (groundnut in Sierra Leone) with fish and rice. Being a food we eat all the time in Sierra Leone, I was happy, as some of the food around Gambia is strange to the Sierra Leone palate. At the table, my friend dished me a hefty plate of rice with peanut soup. Just as I was about to eat, the fellow literally took a gallon of lime juice and proceeded to pour it all over my plate of peanut soup with fish.

"Sheku, you will like this my friend," he said.

I took a spoon and not wanting to dampen his anticipation of my response, I  told him that it was great and and feigned some half hearted enthusiasm, while swallowing without chewing. I never realized that eating could be so painful.
"I told you that you will like it," he said. I never went to his house again.
East meets West

That experience made me realize that the world is basically a place we see through cultural lenses. Here was this fellow totally enjoying the soup while I felt as if I had just been fed a plate prepared in purgatory.

When I came to America it looked and felt a strange place from the country and place I grew up in. American interpretation of symbols were so different from mine that it almost seemed like we were on different planets.

In my Sierra Leone society, we were brought up to believe that it was very disrespectful to look your elders right in the eyes while they were talking to you. In America if an elder person is talking to you, it is considered disrespectful not to look them in the eyes. In America, eye contact is very important, as people who do not make eye contact are regarded as insincere and even dishonest people. So who was right the people of Sierra Leone or the Americans?
The American Smile

Americans love people who smile, not even often, all the time. An American would appreciate you smiling even if you had all the troubles of the world camped on your head. In response, everybody tries to smile all the time, even when they have no need to. It took me some practice, but I can now even attempt that great American plastic smile.

No kidding, Americans have basically perfected the plastic smile, especially those who have worked for long in customer service. They have that smile that is always so tightly moulded onto their faces that it would seem as if not even a thunderstorm could wipe off it off. 

In my area of Sierra Leone, smiling all the time especially among men is considered a symbol of foolishness and a mark of irresponsibility. A man who smiles all the time is viewed as being unserious and unreliable; otherwise they would not go about smiling about nothing. Who do you believe?
Give us aid, keep your gays
Yayah AJJ Jammeh

The other day I was reading about the  President of Gambia, Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh addressing the issue of gay rights. The Gambian President is very easily one the most traditional leaders in the world today. A self proclaimed super herbalist who claims to have a miracle cure for AIDS and Asthma, President Yayah Jammeh's public statements against gays would have been considered a joke were it not that about a year ago, he just decided that the country's death penalty was not being enforced and said, "what is the use of having a law if you can't enforce it?" He then proceeded to execute 9 death row inmates in one night just so that the death penalty law would be given some respect. Talk about caring for the law. 

President Yayah A. J. J. Jammeh thinks that gays are a bigger threat to the world than global warming and has warned them to leave the Gambia or risk being beheaded. Apart from the beheading part, most West Africans have almost identical intolerance towards gays and believe that gay rights are an abomination. When I tell people that I never realized that there were gays while back in Sierra Leone, they never believe me. We just never discussed such topics, or nobody ever discussed it with me. So as far as I was concerned there were no gays in Sierra Leone because nobody ever told me anything about gays. However, now that I look back and reflect on some of my friends in boarding school, my hometown Segbwema and the city I grew in Freetown,  I can tell for sure that I had gay friends, I just did not know it then. When we were boarders in Bo School we had a term for it, "butter waise."

In Sierra Leone and many African countries there are many gay people who will never dare come out openly. Such is the social stigma of same sex relationships that most gay people stayed in the closet, permanently. You always had that friend who had no interest in girls, but you just thought he was the most seious guy among your group. In America, gay people are not only open about their orientation, they have gay pride parades.
The Segbwema Smile

Sierra Leoneans, we are a particularly superstitious people. In my home town Segbwema, we were told not to call the word "snake" at night, lest we attract those poisonous creatures. In America our children now want snakes for pets. In Freetown there was a time in primary school when we were told that there was a mysterious lady in town who could kill people by talking to them. It was said that the only way we could save ourselves was by wearing a small key chain around our necks. No kidding, most people in Freetown had a small key chain around their necks. This was probably in 1977 or 1978. Our society was steeped in superstition with little value given to scientific opinion, so we grew up superstitious. Tell American kids to wear keys around their necks or else some mysterious lady was going to kill them and they will tell you to bug off.
Try this in Sierra Leone

Some journalists in Sierra Leone recently got into major trouble for likening the President to a rat. They were locked up for over two weeks and refused bail. In USA, Tea Party members and supporters stand right in front of the White House, in front of the US Secret Service and TV and call President Barack Obama "a fascist Kenyan born Muslim and a food stamp promoting socialist who should go back to Africa and give them back their country," while displaying pictures of him as a joker and a Savage. Such is the strength of freedom of expression here that you can practically say anything short of slander and libel and go away free.
No Smiling Business

People are basically the same. The main difference between individuals is not their race or the tribes they belong to, but simply the culture they grow up in and the beliefs that were handed to them by that culture. When it comes to intercultural comparisons, there is usually no right culture or a wrong culture, there is mostly just one belief system against another belief system. Societies with rigid and inflexible belief systems tend to progress slowly and those that are open to and incorporate new beliefs progress more rapidly.

To say for example that Sierra Leoneans cook better than Gambians or Gambians cook better than Sierra Leoneans is essentially a stupid argument. Sierra Leoneans are brought up to love and value their cassava and potato leaves while Gambians are brought up to love and value their "domoda" and "benachin"

Food is actually a great example of how cultural influence allows us to see things differently as in the case of my Guinea Bissau Friend. One common argument people in my country usually have is; which tribe can prepare tastier food than the others? Every tribe in Sierra Leone claims that their food is the best. It is only by understanding that the taste of food is acquired that you begin to understand that actually, everybody is right. The food you grow up eating always tastes better than the one you are not used to.

When we go to parties here in America, Sierra Leoneans  gravitate towards cassava leaves like iron filings to a magnet, while Nigerians rush to the "fufu" or Foo Foo." For Sierra Leone children born in America, it's a different story. They will let you have your wonderful plate of cassava leaves for a chicken nugget.

Prejudice usually stems from the false belief that your own way is the right and best way and that the ways of others are wrong. It is a failure to essentially perceive the fact that the ways of others are acquired through own unique upbringing. 
Wish I had my Rappel on

The next time you see me looking stiff while wearing a coat, don't think you are better than me or that I am not civilized. Think that I came from an Islamic household in Segbwema in which nobody wore a coat. I am not wearing the coat to feel comfortable, but I'm wearing the coat only because the event demands a coat. So next time you don't see me smiling, don't think I am not a good person, I am just trying to be serious.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Liberia Bans Okadas: Any Lessons for Sierra Leone?

National authorities in Liberia have banned the use of motorcycle commercial transportation in the country's capital, Monrovia. Commercial motorcycles or "Okadas" as they are popularly called around West Africa, became the primary source of commercial transportation in postwar Liberia and Sierra Leone, a growing trend in West Africa, as all the nations copy  the lead of West Africa's trendsetter Nigeria.

Given the relatively low costs of operation of Okadas, high urban traffic congestion and the poor condition of roads in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Okada use has emerged as as an easy solution to the growing transportation problems in these and other West African countries.

However, with lax central control of the Okada transportation industry, the sector has largely had to regulate itself. Okada drivers with very little formal training have become an increasing health and social hazard, responsible for the maiming and deaths of many of their passengers. Everybody in Sierra Leone knows somebody who has been involved in a senseless Okada accident. Just a few years ago, a very good friend of mine, a very talented individual who had decided to temporarily relocate to Sierra Leone was hit and killed by an Okada while he was crossing the street to buy something. Two months ago my cousin had his leg fractured after falling of an Okada on the road to Kenema.
Okada Politics

A lot of Okada drivers are reckless, some ride drunk, putting both their lives and that of their passengers at risks. Unlicensed drivers flee the scene of accidents preventing immediate life saving care. The Liberian government has taken a stand against these drivers before, but it was unsuccessful and already the citizens of Monrovia who depend on them to get around have started to complain against the current campaign to get them off the streets of Monrovia.

Okadas would be difficult to regulate in Sierra Leone for a multitude of reasons. Firstly they provide a vital source of employment for the youths in a country where youth unemployment at over 70% is among the highest in the world. Secondly, most of the Okadas are owned by influential business and government figures who benefit directly from their operation and would hence be unreluctant  to lose this vital source of extra income.
Okada Recklessness

At the political level, Okada drivers form an important political pressure group in a country where every decision is now premised on political expediency rather than economic or social reasoning. No political party would want to alienate this vocal pressure group which is vital in electioneering periods to move people around from one place to another.
Freetown Okada Fashion

More importantly, Freetown is almost like a geographical trap, a congested city whose expansion is severely limited by the Peninsula mountain ranges and the Atlantic Ocean. Increasing taxi cars to battle the growing transportation needs of the geometrically increasing population of this city which is already plagued by perpetual traffic gridlock, would just add to the traffic, congestion and pollution. All other solutions like reconfiguring the road network would be prohibitively expensive for a government that is currently up to its ears in debt.

Will Sierra Leone follow Liberia's lead to ban Okadas from the capital? Not very likely, and not in the next few years. For now the best that can be done is for the authorities to work with the drivers and come up with some safety training, develop training manuals, develop a uniform code of conduct, revoke the licenses of those that have particularly bad safety records, and generally increase the regulation of this vital service sector.
Freetown Traffic Congestion

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