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Keeping the Diaspora close to events back home: The New Media and November 17

Keeping the Diaspora close to events back home: The New Media and November 17

In the 21st century, the social media has been a very effective means of communicating much more speedily and effectively, allowing for updates to be posted as soon as something happens. Notably, people use social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to promote the causes they stand for but also to disseminate information which might have been almost impossible to send out immediately as they happen using other traditional forms of the media such as TV or newspapers. This was largely evident during the waves of uprisings in the “Arab Spring” where in the face of censorship, people used social media tools to spread information and organized their protests much more effectively.   (Photo: Umaru S Jah, author)

The Cyber Revolution

Sierra Leone has certainly not being left out of the global cyber revolution. For us living in the diaspora especially, the new media platform is transforming our relationship with our country by bringing us more closely to events back home. When something happens in Sierra Leone today, it takes few minutes for the Facebook updates to appear – in simple and precise language, the event is reported and almost immediately there is feedback from Sierra Leoneans living across the globe. From the political violence that plagued our country few months back to other social problems such as clashes and rivalries between hip hop groups, Red Flag Movement (RFM) and Black Leo, to much more positive developments such as the re-construction of roads in Freetown and beyond or the historic launch of President Koroma´s Free Health Care Initiative, Sierra Leoneans living in the diaspora have been keeping close tabs to happenings back home, thanks to the new media platform and several other online outlets. For instance: It is so common these days for one to go to a Sierra Leonean social gathering here in Berlin and someone  approaches you and ask “have you seen what was posted on Facebook today about the political rally in Freetown? Did you see the report about improved electricity supply in Freetown in the Awoko online newspaper? Almost immediately such events are discussed in details sometimes leading to heated debates as a result of the varying perspectives on the particular issue(s).

Although one can however effectively argue that the social media platform and other online media channels are far from being the most effective conduits of discussing issues of national importance in Sierra Leone as is the case in developed societies, their roles cannot be underestimated as we approach the all important November 17 polls. As I have already stated, for us living far away from home, there cannot be a better way of taking part in the discourse of salient issues in our country than using these tools, whether through our Facebook updates, contributions in Leonet or our tweets on Tweeter.

Post-nomination rallies

Political events in the form of post nomination rallies last week in Sierra Leone was no exception to the point I am trying to make here. All week, updates on the nomination of the various contestants for the November 17 polls kept filtering through the various social media sites followed by feedback in the form of comments. However, as expected, it was the two leading parties – the SLPP and the APC that captured the biggest of headlines and attracted the highest number of updates and comments. It started with the SLPP nomination: “SLPP Paints Freetown Green,” “SLPP don turn freetong upside down,” “SLPP crowd Panics APC” were among the numerous facebook updates that were posted as the SLPP flag bearer Julius Maada Bio and his running mate Dr. Kadi Sesay were marched by supporters of the party after the official nomination process. Several SLPP supporters then prematurely argued that their post-nomination rally was an indication that their party will be victorious, come November 17.

However, when the APC supporters took to the street after the nomination of their flag bearer, the indefatigable incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma, the huge turnout left the opposition supporters finding words to describe what many clearly reported as “a writing on the wall” that SLPP was doomed for defeat come November 17. From the numerous independent facebook updates reporting the remarkable event, I singled out two:

“Not seen a crowd like this since 1998 and the return of the then ousted President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Very impressive crowds at the post-nomination rally of incumbent president Ernest Bai Koroma,”updated one user.

Another held, “I must confess that I have never seen a crowd like this before. It seems like the APC can definitely claim Western Area as a stronghold. If they can pull a crowd like this on election day, it could be a bad news for the opposition.”

Thanks to the new media revolution, Sierra Leoneans living in the diaspora no longer had to rely on sometimes biased reports of these events in their country. But that ordinary people, sometimes mostly not journalists, can spontaneously report these events as they see it using their i-phones is making a huge difference in information dissemination for us living and working away from home.

Diaspora initiatives

Certainly, this trend has been keeping Sierra Leoneans, like never before, closely to what is happening in their country to a point that initiatives have been coming up to ensure that those living here can as well participate in organized forums to discuss the political present and future of their country. The first of such schema titled “Election Year Symposium” was organized in Berlin last week by the Berlin based youth group “Sierra Sport and Culture Club.” Representatives of the respective wings of the APC and the SLPP Germany Chapters were invited to discuss with their Sierra Leonean counterparts the programs and policies of their parties. Although both political groups stressed the importance of such a forum, conspicuously absent were the representatives of the opposition SLPP Germany branch much to the disappointment of the organizers and those present. The SLPP had in fact sent a letter to the organizers singed by a Dr. Sannoh highlighting the significance of the initiative but stating that the party cannot participate because it was busy with preparations for the forthcoming polls. That the SLPP Germany Chapter did not consider the event part of the preparations for the November 17 polls was what many present could not understand. It therefore came as no surprise when an APC stalwart charged that “the SLPP had nothing to say or offer that was why they boycotted this all important event.”

APC Berlin Chairman and Secretary General Mr Ahmed Salium left and Secretary General Mr Mohamed Bangura

The event however went on with input from the President and Secretary General of the APC Berlin Wing highlighting President Koroma´s achievements in various sectors in his “Agenda for Change” project including agriculture, roads, power supply, health and his vision for the future packaged in the “Agenda for Prosperity.” This was followed by a critical question and answer session.

Diaspora & Development

Before closing, I will briefly discuss the benefits of keeping those living abroad close to the political and economic life of their home countries, a development that is beginning to take foothold in Germany.

Given the important role played by diaspora communities to development back home, getting them close to issues in their home countries is an important development for a poor country like Sierra Leone that has several areas that needed intervention. In fact, through the remittances they make to families and loved ones, it has been estimated that those living in developed countries make a huge financial contributions to their home countries. However, it is my conviction that the relationship with home countries should go beyond remittances. In Germany for example, there is a battery of Sierra Leonean professionals from doctors to engineers whose contributions are more than ever before needed to continue the rebuilding of our nation. The more we get them closer to events back home, the better the chances are that they play a much bigger role to the development of their country.

Ernest Koroma´s Administration like many others across Africa has realized the importance of tapping the resources of its citizens living abroad by setting up the Office of the Diaspora. However, as highlighted at the election year symposium in Berlin last week, that office has paid too much attention to working with those living in America and England almost entirely ignoring other countries like Germany. Although the numbers of Sierra Leoneans living in those two countries are much higher, there are also a good number of professionals in a country like Germany whose contributions, as I have already stated, should not be underestimated.

Through the embassy here in Berlin, which has in fact moved to register almost all Sierra Leoneans across Germany  thereby determining their qualifications, the Office of the Diaspora in Sierra Leone should move to build closer ties with the country´s citizens in Germany and across other areas it has largely almost forgotten.

In the meantime though, I implore the numerous people back home to continue posting their updates about events back home as they happen through the various social media platforms especially as we countdown to the November 17 elections. The journalists running the various online news outlets, I must say keep up the good work!

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