Opening Statement at the SLAJ National Public Lecture on the theme “Sierra Leone at 50: How far, How Near?”
18 April 2011, British Council – Mr Chairman, Lead Presenter and Lead Discussants at this Public Lecture, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I would like to thank you very much for finding time to come to this National Public Lecture on the first working day in the week which obviously is a very busy day for you all. Your being here today shows your commitment to the world of intellectualism and dedication to finding a solution to our nation’s myriad of challenges fifty years since we gained our independence. (Photo: Umaru Fofana, President SLAJ)
In the last year or so, SLAJ has been organising a series of talks funded entirely by the BBC World Service Trust. Not only have journalists had the chance to listen to different issues being discussed by different speakers, local and international, they have also benefited from quizzing especially public officials and donors on how funds are donated and expended.
In the coming months we intend to expand on this to include more public officials coming forward to defend their policies and actions. This will not only enhance open governance whereby public officials will give an account of their stewardship but will also put straight wrong perceptions held about such policies and officials.
Today, as journalists, we are joining the rest of our compatriots in marking preparations in the run up to our country’s 50th independence anniversary. The topic: “Sierra Leone at 50, how far how near” has been carefully chosen. Clearly we have come very far since our nationhood in April 1961. The majority of the country’s current population was not yet born when the Union Jack was being lowered 50 years ago. And what especially our generation has seen has been a rapid decline of our nation’s fabric.
Clearly the decade-long civil war destroyed our country; but perhaps that war only killed a dead man as we were already on a slippery slope. Justice no longer existed for the ordinary man; education was for the rich; employment was for the chosen few; politics was based on cronyism; the list is long and probably endless. Since the end of that war almost another decade ago, have those acrid realities changed? If, somehow; why not somewhat? If, no, why not?
What factors are holding us back to attaining what I dare refer to as our rightful place of prosperity, justice and sustainable growth? Have our huge mineral deposits been used for our betterment, or are still being used for such? Hasn’t our politics become more polarised today than ever before? Are our politicians more concerned about the people they are supposed to be serving than seeking self-aggrandisement to better their own lot and the lot of their families?
How about the vexed issue of tribalism and Colourization in politics which is being stretched to affect our daily life? Is anyone responsible for belonging to their ethnic group for them to be favoured or punished for belonging to it? Why is it that outside politics and favours, tribe doesn’t seem to matter at all in our beloved land? But when it comes to especially the selfish intent of politicians and their cronies, and the backward-pointing overlapping proclivity that politics is, tribalism raises its ugly head? Let me feel free to wear my red neck tie or green shirt without being seen from someone’s heart in stead of their eyes. Let my family name be Massaquoi, Sesay, Conteh, Rogers, Kamara, Bangura or Koroma without being aligned to one political party or another if only to get us nearer to prosperity for all, regardless.
But in all of this we are blessed that we still are a religiously tolerant nation with members of the dominant Muslim and Christian faiths living together in harmony. But beneath the veneer of that harmony belies the threat posed by some new and young radical Pastors and Sheiks becoming fiery in their preaching? How do we keep the gene in the bottle?
Thanks to ActionAid and the BBC World Service Trust for funding this Public Lecture, which provides an opportunity for us all to suggest possible answers to these and many other questions, to reflect on our 50-year journey devoid of our political, tribal or other affiliations.
The Lead Presenter, Dr Kelfala Marah who’s the Chief of Staff at State House, and I were in college together even if he was my senior, and we have fond memories of those days. I regret to inform him if he doesn’t already know that the Fourah Bay College we were at and the one that exists today are different for more reasons than one. Tribal and national politics is eating into the students’ union fabric; itself a mirror of our present day society.
I am not oblivious of the fact that I am not a panelist here today. Therefore I will end here by informing you all, that the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists will in the coming months take centre stage in reawakening the spirit of pride and patriotism in the Sierra Leonean.
The love of our anthem and the country’s tricolour flag must not disappear with the passing of our Golden Jubilee celebrations. The different colours that have been attributed to our national colours during these celebrations stand to show our knowledge, or not, of these colours as a people.
Together we can lift this nation again and make it stand taller than it was, and taller than any other. Once again welcome to this National Public Lecture and may we imbibe all what will be discussed here today for love of country.
By Umaru Fofana, SLAJ President
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