Your trusted place for Sierra Leone and global news
HomeFeaturedState of the Association Report 25 March 2011 at the 18th SLAJ Biennial Conference in Kenema

State of the Association Report 25 March 2011 at the 18th SLAJ Biennial Conference in Kenema

State of the Association Report 25 March 2011 at the 18th SLAJ Biennial Conference in Kenema

Mr Chairman, National and Regional Executive Members of SLAJ, All past Presidents and Executive members of our noble Association, SLAJ affiliate bodies, heads of media organisations, other distinguished delegates and guests, good afternoon.  (Photo: Umaru Fofana, SLAJ President)

  • Bereavement

I want to start on a very sad note. In the last two years we lost over one dozen of our colleagues through natural causes. May their souls rest in perfect peace.

  • Honour over dishonour

It gives me great honour over dishonour and pleasure over dismay, to have served you for the last two years despite the trials, tribulations and vicissitudes my executive and I have gone through over the period. When I won the elections in November 2008, I was under no illusion that it would all be smooth sail and rosy and cosy for me and for my executive.

  • Departure from the dark past

Our last elections bore the hallmarks of a complete departure from the bad things of the past, including but not limited to the lack of transparency and accountability in our Association and its members. I can proudly stand here and assure you that thanks to the executive and to you the general membership, our Association is in a healthy state even if there have been some very challenging times and moments.

  • No roses expected

When in November 2008 you spoke loudly and clearly that our Association must never be the same again, that thunderous sound did not only reverberate across our country, but still does resonate in my head. If nothing kept us firm and loyal to you throughout this period, that did. In the last Twenty Seven months, your mandate has brought me and my executive joy and excitement- joy and excitement because you bestowed your confidence in us; joy and excitement because, we have been able to serve you with dedication, commitment, honesty and sincerity; joy and happiness because, with the unwavering support of the vast majority of you, we have accomplished so many things which have left so many of you wondering how so few of us who have so many other things to do, have done so much in so short a time.

  • Tears

That said the last two years have also brought me and my executive tears; tears emanating from unnecessary and unwarranted derisions on my person. Tears borne out of malice, hate and anger because we vowed to answer to and for only you. But these tears have run down the cheeks of men and women who have a strong character and are unwaveringly committed to being unwavering. But we have ignored our own tears to be able to have the courage and strength to wipe your own tears whenever you have been in distress.

For reasons far away from the interest of our Association my executive, especially myself, have been called all sorts of names on some radio stations and in some newspaper and online publications. In these situations I have doggedly calmed down my nerves and the nerves of my colleagues in the executive. I have reminded them that you have to have haters in your life but you should always forgive them for nothing annoys them more.

  • Hate

People hate you because they envy you, they cannot be you. It is better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for who you are not. Haters and backstabbers are insecure and confused, says one writer. They’re only seeking to hurt. Haters only hate the things they cannot get and the people they cannot be. If people say something about you, backstab you or judge you as if they know you when they really do not, don’t get affected. Just think about the fact that dogs don’t bark if they know the person! That said, it is good to always remember that in the face of unjust criticism we can become bitter or better; upset or understanding; hostile or humble; furious or forgiving. We chose what was best for the Association.

  • Done so much with so little time

Through the calming of the nerves and the wiping of the tears that have been ceaselessly flooding from our eyes for simply being committed to you and no one else, or for protecting your assets and resources and not sharing them or paying ourselves with them, we have remained unperturbed and focused and have achieved so much. So much so that you, our members, sometimes forget that ours is a voluntary job and that we have our individual employers, and have been here for only two years. Sometimes some journalists would call me at very odd hours demanding my presence at different times in different places for different reasons ranging from official to personal.

  • Given my all to SLAJ

In the last twenty five months, I have given my all to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ). With support from my colleagues in the executive, I have transformed our association to its glory days and probably even beyond; which is testament to the avowed commitment I made when I set out to claw back ownership of our association from Special Interests in politics and in business as was contained in my manifesto at the time.

Today I am sure that ownership can be seen, heard, felt and enjoyed by members. And we must never allow a reversal of those gains made in this time.

  • National HQ for SLAJ

I promised you in 2008 that if you voted for me I would ensure we got a befitting headquarters with a conference hall to help us raise the necessary rental so our dependency on donors for such would minimise. In less than one year, we landed a headquarters that’s first of its kind in the history of the association. For the first time in the nearly 40 of SLAJ, we held our General Meeting in our own office at our own Harry Yansanneh Hall. Thanks to the goodwill of the British High Commission who paid a year’s rental and bought the necessary furniture and equipment we needed. Thanks also to the United Nations who paid for another year, and to the Chinese Embassy who donated a plasma TV, two computers and printers and built us a signboard which is probably the most imposing in the country.

  • Regional Headquarters

I also promised that if you voted me in, all the regional SLAJ branches would secure an office space. The Northern Region was the first to identify an office building which we duly paid for. Then the Eastern Region identified theirs and we duly provided the funds for rental. I am pleased to inform you that a few weeks ago, the Southern Regional Executive informed us that they had also identified an office space which we have duly paid for and secured. Like with the other offices, we have instructed our colleagues in the South to send in an estimate to furnish the office.

  • Offices for SLRU, WIMSAL, SWASAL

Also, like with SLAJ offices elsewhere, there will be rooms for the Sierra Leone Reporters’ Union, Women in the Media Sierra Leone and Sports Writers Association of Sierra Leone. This is also a commitment I made that if voted into office, the SLAJ affiliate bodies would be enhanced. I would like to pay tribute to Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo who, as SLAJ President, both decentralised the association with the establishment of the regional branches and established SLRU. These are two watershed developments in the evolution of our association.

I also promised while campaigning for your votes in 2008 that I would strive to bring back the respectability SLAJ once had but was fast eroding at the time. I am sure today you are prouder members of SLAJ than you were then. Our organisation is regarded by the public to be the most formidable arm of civil society in the country. Despite the misgivings some may have over the practice of a small number of journalists, they hold SLAJ at a very high esteem. And despite all the campaign of calumny aimed at me and the association by a few individuals, you can count on your fingers, we have moved on. I forgive all those behind these campaigns.

  • Strict financial discipline

The last two years have seen the introduction of strict financial discipline in the Association. For the first time in 2009 we published a complete list of all those who donated to SLAJ during our Annual General Meeting in Makeni. We have also been informing you at every step of the way about what we have been doing and receiving in your name. Some of this did not go down well with certain individuals who thought we should be sharing your money among ourselves in the Executive and paying them a salary as they said they used to do. We also stopped the payment of money where no receipts were produced to show how previous monies had been spent. These and other unquestionably unconscionable behaviours we’ve put an end to in the interest of SLAJ.

  • Transparency and Accountability

Transparency and accountability we have displayed in action and in the finances of our Association. We opened ourselves to auditing and other scrutiny and issued statements on virtually everything we did and received in the name of SLAJ.

  • Inspire younger journalists

I promised to inspire younger journalists to uphold the virtues of our profession; they feel more inspired today than at any other time. The vast majority of those who apply to enter the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College, have told their interview panels that they were inspired by me to join the trade. But in all of this we have singled out and respected our senior colleagues in thoughts, utterances and in action. NOT because they “CONTROL” the media, as no one does that, but simply because they are our seniors.

  • Conditions of Service

We dared step into the vexed issue of conditions of service for journalists. Shortly after we had assumed office, we made a visit to His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma where, among other things, we raised the issue of the appalling conditions of service at the then state broadcaster, SLBS. We agreed that a more durable solution rested in the corporatisation of the outlet. That has been done.

  • SLBC Board of Trustees

We are closely monitoring recruitment procedures being carried out; especially those by the Board. And we will stop at nothing to ensure the right things are done and our colleagues who have the requisite skills, knowledge and experience are not left in the lurch. We have been sometimes saddened by the apparent overbearing influence the Board has sought to bear on management in areas they should have no business in. we want to assure management and staff that SLAJ will remain engaged on the matter. We still feel sad that Parliament turned down, without reason, our nominee to that Board. But Dr Julius Spencer duly allowed us to move on and send another nominee, Ibrahim Karim-Sei who has since been approved by the House.

  • Private Media

On conditions of service of journalists working in the private media, we organised a Media Owners’ Meeting in May 2009 which was attended by a good number of media proprietors. In that meeting and endorsed at the last SLAJ AGM, a minimum wage for journalists was established. Sadly, up to now, a good number of journalists working for the private media are not on pay. Unless where they are volunteers, this is tantamount to enslavement and it is both sinful and criminal. Even where they are paid, some take home a take-home pay that can barely take them home. But we are not alone in this and many other countries in the sub-region are grappling with the same issue which is now being addressed at the sub-regional level with the West Africa Journalists’ Association (WAJA).

I promised no discrimination between journalists based in Freetown and those in the provinces. I said at the time and I still maintain that there are good journalists based in the provinces as much as there are in Freetown. Therefore, we have been much calibrated in sending members abroad for training and other programmes that are not media union policy meetings. From Ghana to China we have been open and transparent. Even some media training programme applications which were in the past kept under wraps, my administration advertised for all to try their chance.

  • Training Manual

Thanks to the Network Movement for Justice and Development, a training needs assessment has been completed and the manual is being prepared to form the basis for future training programmes for journalists throughout the country. This training will start shortly after this conference.

  • Protection for Journalists

Perhaps more than at any time before, my administration robustly sprang into action whenever there was an attack against a journalist or a media house. We did not just sit down in one place to condemn. We went out and out of our way to provide protection for media workers even those who were not SLAJ members. When we did so in one instance when the police issued a notice unleashing irate people against the publisher and the editor of Awareness Times, a good number of you protested on the grounds the newspaper had been diametrically opposed to the Association and that the proprietor was not a member of our association at the time. I defended our stance by explaining to you that the SLAJ constitution states that journalists, NOT only SLAJ members, should be defended. On the disagreement with SLAJ on certain matters, I insisted that we should not punish people for simply disagreeing with our views or stance.

We provided lawyers for colleagues who were taken to court and we travelled to attend their court sittings even up in the provinces such as in Makeni and Kenema, and of course in Freetown. In collaboration with Talking Drum Studio and the Independent Radio Network, we responded very promptly to situations that posed a serious threat to the survival of community radio stations and the journalists working for them. In this pursuit, we were in action across the country; from Kambia to Pujehun, from Tombo to Bo. In additional collaboration with the IMC, we were able to ward off a potential threat to the safety of Radio Bintumani and the staff working there leading to the reconstituting of the board and securing the position of the journalists.

  • IMC

Speaking of the Independent Media Commission, we have had our differences with the IMC especially over the closure of the two political party radio stations which SLAJ vehemently opposed. However, I doff my hat to them for their service especially in recent years. The Chairman, Mrs Bernadette Cole has acquitted herself very well which has attracted donor interest and Government and public respect for the commission. As she wraps up her long and distinguished service to that commission in the coming months, one cannot help but admire the expansion the commission has undergone not least because of the establishment in the South and in the North. The Chair and her commissioners have moved to all the regions of this country to protect the media in the midst of a sometimes hostile public, as well as in reigning in on overzealous journalists in the face of a sometimes aggrieved public. The IMC Commissioners have been exemplary. Employed in various offices and with so much to do in them, they have availed themselves to discharge their duty wherever the need has arisen. I therefore would humbly suggest to you, fellow delegates, that for the four commissioners Augustine Garmoh, Mohamed Samoura, Joshua Nicol and Isaac Massaquoi, we renew their soon-to-end mandate, to continue on the IMC for another three years, while we consciously, conscientiously and conscionably look for someone to replace the doyen, the erudite fountain of the media in Sierra Leone, Christo Johnson. It is with regret that we can no longer continue to have him at the IMC as our Permanent Representative as by law established, but we will ensure the Association continues to make good and thorough use of his vast knowledge. We will also consult with Government on the next Chairman of the Commission so we don’t create the vacuum that has beset the PPRC.

  • Spectrum Fee for Community radios

Following my election in November 2008, I immediately engaged the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) on the need for a review of annual spectrum fee for radio stations. In what I thought was unfair, I addressed the NATCOM Board on the need for community radio stations not to be charged the same amount of $US 500 per annum as commercial radio stations. The NATCOM Boss, Mr. Sirray Timbo showed profound understanding and agreed, together with his commissioners, to my proposal that community radio stations should pay half the amount, which has served as a real relief for them. As if that was not enough, a good number of these community radio stations that were in arrears had those debts waived off by NATCOM.

  • Website

Even though they would not like to be mentioned, I will mention that Search for Common Ground (SFCG) and their affiliate Talking Drum Studio (TDS) especially its Country Director, Ambrose James, have been very helpful to SLAJ. They paid for the setting-up of a website for the association after I held discussions with them. Contrary to some misleading and vexed attack on my Executive that the site is incomplete, you can go to www.slaj.sl to prove it is up and running. SFCG and TDS have also paid for the training of people to operate the website, a training that is ongoing. Amadu Daramy, a SLAJ member and former webmaster of the State House website has agreed to be our webmaster.

  • Blog

Talking about the SLAJ website, we are also on new media with hundreds of Friends on Facebook. We have also discussed with the United States Embassy for training in setting up and running blogs. At the end of this biennial, we will inform you about details for this training on blogging which is quite trendy in present day media but not so in and on Sierra Leone.

  • IFJ

I am pleased to inform you, fellow delegates, that after nearly forty years, SLAJ finally became a full member of the International Federation of Journalists. This also means that we are now a full member of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), an offshoot of the IFJ. This followed anger and frustration among members of my executive when we learned for the first time in late 2009 that we were only an Associate Member. I spared nothing in writing letters to and discussing and sometimes arguing with everywhere and to everyone concerned, that we deserved to be a Full Member especially because of our recent strides in the defence of journalists. The IFJ Executive Committee duly obliged and approved of our Full Membership.

  • Training

Mr Chairman, fellow delegates, training in blogging is just one of many things my executive would like to embark on in the coming years should you vote me in. The needs assessment I spoke to you about has brought out so many interesting training needs we need to address, and with next year’s presidential, parliamentary and local government elections approaching, there is need for an intensive training for journalists.

  • Community radios

In all of this, the survival of community radio stations will be key especially around our forthcoming elections. Depending on which political party is dominant where, they would like to control these radios and dictate their editorial content. We will work with the IMC to reconstitute those boards of trustees that are long overdue. The new board members will be trained on their responsibilities and those things they must not attempt to do chiefly determining editorial content of the stations.

  • Building

In our last meeting with HE President Ernest Bai Koroma, we rekindled the burning need and desire for a permanent headquarters for SLAJ. The SLAJ secretariat has duly written to the Minister of Lands, as advised by President Koroma, requesting for a plot of land. We will concentrate our synergy on this in the coming years. Thanks to Frank Kposowa under whose presidency we secured a plot of public land when Paul Kamara was Lands Minister, a piece of land we have long forfeited. With your support we will revive that determination for this project such as was shown by Ibrahim El-Tayyib Bah when he was SLAJ President. We would even solicit his involvement in the project to have our own structure such as our colleagues in the Ghana, Senegal and others do.

  • Monthly Symposium

Through the leadership of the Publicity Secretary, Sayoh Kamara, we have collaborated with the BBC World Service Trust to be holding a monthly symposium on current issues for the deeper understanding of journalists. While this has been concentrated in Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Makeni have also benefitted from hosting it. In a recent meeting with a delegation from DfID, who are funding the symposium, I renewed our desire to continue with the Symposium even if we look forward to changing tact and method in organising it. We therefore urge all to embrace the need to participate in it for it will broaden our scope on the issues of the day.

  • Criminal Libel

A free media is the bedrock for the development of any nation. Without it, we are doomed. Compared to many other African countries, Sierra Leone is doing quite well. Barring some kneejerk and sometimes unprofessional reactions by the police, and the attacks on journalists by political party militias and supporters which are profoundly reprehensible, the media has been generally spared with no journalist in prison relative to their profession. However, the continued existence of Criminal and Seditious Libel Law is a clear and present danger for the media. We regret and condemn the fact that the Attorney General recently threatened to invoke the provisions of this terrible law against Awareness Times newspaper. We urge Government to work with us and the IMC to find a way repealing this law.


The Sports’ Writers Association was on the brink of disintegration. We intervened to iron out their differences which brought the younger sports journalists and the elder ones. I put my personal self on the line to resolve it and they listened to me. Pleased to inform you that even though there are a few issues of concern which will be later addressed, they are a united body yet again.

  • Newspaper vendors

The newspaper vendors were also on the brink. Some aggrieved members complained to me and I held a series of meetings with them which eventually led to proper financial accountability by the executive and elections were later held.


Our peace efforts have not been confined to our affiliates and partners. We have done all we can to ensure that whosoever has differences should come and let us iron them out. I solicited the intervention of our elders to resolve the problems left in the wake of our last elections. On that note I would like us at this biennial, to include in our constitution, the Council of Elders and specify their role which is very significant.


Mr Chairman fellow delegates, I would like us to discuss and agree a method of organising our Annual General Meetings. To say that must all converge every year is pretty expensive. SLAJ has grown in more ways than one including in number. We should consider adopting a method whereby the AGM should bring together a representative group of delegates and not all members. Funds are drying up and getting harder to secure for such programmes hence we must change tact.

  • SLAJ Finances

While the Financial Secretary will later talk you through the financial report, I wish to inform you that we were shocked that despite the hundreds of people who voted in 2008, presupposing that they all were fully paid-up members of the Association, we did not receive a single Leone on membership dues upon assuming office. The amount of money we inherited, it was later claimed, was money given to SLAJ by PANOS  for a specific programme. This idea of people pilfering with SLAJ finances MUST be discouraged by forcing those who do so compulsorily  pay back.

  • Personal Sacrifice:

Finally, in the last two years, I have added a new meaning to service, and a new character to selflessness. In this time, I have left the comfort of my home to travel to the four corners of the country whenever there has been an issue with a journalist or a media institution. In this time, I have left the love and companionship of my beautiful wife and children to respond to attacks on journalists wherever and whenever they have occurred. In this time, and in all of this, at my own personal expense; with money I should have kept for my children’s future. Perhaps I have been the only president of any association or organisation who has run his office without an official budget.

And in this 2-year period, I have quarrelled with my friends in government and in the opposition because they have endangered the safety and security of my journalists. I want to state here that I have done all of this for only one reason: PROTECTING YOU THE JOURNALISTS. That I will continue to do. That I will be prepared to die doing. No attacks on you, I will quarrel with no time.

God bless journalists and journalism! God bless SLAJ! I thank you.

By Umaru Fofana, SLAJ President

Stay with Sierra Express Media, for your trusted place in news!

© 2011, https:. All rights reserved.

Share With:
Rate This Article
No Comments

Leave A Comment