When Radio UNAMSIL, one of United Nations flagship projects in Sierra Leone, got merged with the government owned and controlled Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) the hope was that the resulting national broadcaster – the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) – will be put in the hands of a fine management with the dexterity to identify the synergies and delicately tap the human and material resources of both the better resourced Radio UNAMSIL and those of the poorly resourced SLBS thereby moulding the new outfit into a truly professional independent national broadcasting service that will serve as a key pillar to foster national cohesion, transparent governance and therefore sustainable social and economic development.
It would, however, appear that in Sierra Leone where our politicians are still learning the ropes of democratic governance it was a bit too much to ask the government to relinquish total control over SLBC while still continuing to largely fund it and allowing its management to be taken over by independent operators belonging to an industry where professionalism in journalism is still troubled by a mirage of challenges. This, I must say is a tall task for any government in an emerging democracy; even the previous SLPP government of Pah Kabbah faced challenges in coming to grips with this concept. Recall that during the heat of the Iraqi war when the then Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair, failed to convince the national independent broadcaster - the BBC- about his justification for the war the prime Minister and his government became so peeved that the then Director General of the BBC was bullied into resigning from office; thereafter a more politically-friendly DG was installed. That incidence spoke volumes of the journalistic professionalism and integrity of the departed DG. Coming back home, given the pronouncements of the present government of their total commitment to the establishment of an independent national broadcaster some of us were hopeful and even prayed that the process will succeed – for then our country would have been flagged as an example of an emerging democracy that had succeeded where many others have failed. But then it would appear that for purely narrow/selfish considerations of political survival with little reference to the bigger and more lasting credit of bequeathing a proud legacy the current APC government is going back on her words; what a pity!
When to the expectations of the cynics and to the chagrin of optimists (like me), the management and professionals at SLBC allowed this government to re-acquire and slowly start domesticating/taming our “independent” national broadcaster to the extent that the SLBC commenced its return journey to become the old SLBS, I decided to readjust my listening patronage to the BBC, once more – while filling the void in current affairs by reading selected trustworthy dailies. It was while on this menu several months ago that I started receiving calls from friends and colleagues about reports carried by Radio Democracy FM 98.1; such calls would invariably cause me to re-tune my radio and would keep listening to the end of the progamme. This was how I became an avid listener to Radio Democracy’s flagship programme “Good Morning Salone!”. I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the relatively high professional standards the young men and women working for Radio Democracy have succeeded in maintaining in spite of the challenges they face by being called names when they try to maintain as level a plain field as is humanely possible in an election year in an emerging democracy divided by politics.
The menu for the Thursday, 28 June 2012 broadcast of Good morning Salone! included a headline news item about a letter United Democratic Movement (UDM)’s Mohamed Bangura had written to Rtd Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio, the flagbearer of the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). When Mohamed Farid Kargbo (one of the anchors of the programme) interviewed Mohamed Bangura and asked him to dilate on the issue and concerns raised in his letter Mr. Bangura complained that the SLPP flagbearer had stated in a public speech that members of his party have the capacity to resist violence and that since only the Sierra Leone Police should have such capacity his interpretation of that statement was that the SLPP was planning to embark on violence and may even have acquired weapons. I did not listen to that speech by the SLPP flagbearer but my first reaction on listening to Mr. Bangura’s bellyache was to burst into a big laughter and wondered why Radio D had decided to highlight such a trivial matter by making it headline news. On second thought, however, it donned on me that the issue at stake was no laughing matter and in fact I became quite saddened. I became sad that someone vying to become my President could have such a narrow intellectual bandwidth as not to know that there are peaceful forms of resistance other than violence for violence. God, please save Sierra Leone! I became sad that Mohamed Bangura has never heard of Mahatma Ghandi, or Martin Luther-King Jr.! Where was Mohamed Bangura when Boris Yeltsin climbed on top of a Soviet T-tank to resist the communist system that was oppressing his people? Was Mohamed Bangura’s head berried in the sand during the recent “Arab Spring” when at the Tahrir Square in Egypt protesters used every peaceful means (including spreading themselves in the path of army tanks) to resist President Mubarak’s army from continuing to bully them? Did it not occur to Mr. Bangura that the SLPP flag-bearer was simply calling on his members to exercise maximum vigilance? This is why I wonder whether UDM’s Mohamed Bangura is a serious Presidential candidate, a mere political charlatan/buffoon, a sheer mischief-maker or the cock-and-fire ventriloquist that he has been identified as. I was also saddened by the fact that Mr. Mohamed Farid Kargbo failed to educate Mohamed Bangura on the various forms of resistance to violence. But my saddest moment was when Farid asked Hon. Tamba Sam how much ammunition the SLPP had acquired as if to concur with Mohamed Bangura and to class the SLPP as a reckless party; that I believe was well below the belt! Farid’s question is one that could have been asked, albeit with a tinge of jest off the air but definitely not on air; I pray that question was a result of a mix-up between him and the production team backstage. I am also flabbergasted about the undue airtime that is given to this political charlatan to make mostly noise while saying very little of substance. I still recall with some grief when he was given too much airtime and space (by especially SLBC) to wage a war of calumny (with baseless and unproven allegations) on the erstwhile ERSG, Michael von Schulenberg, while university dons like me looked quietly on, is spite of Michael’s efforts to salvage our institution. I was even more disturbed when it emerged that he was simply doing someone else’s bidding. You see given the very low level of literacy in this country it behoves those of us who have crossed that threshold of intellectual attainment and who therefore have become opinion shapers to be patronising to our less fortunate folks by ensuring that they are not misled or hoodwinked by selfish individuals seeking to achieve their nefarious goals by hook or by crook.
Perhaps this is a good opportunity to reiterate a statement I made in a previous piece that our societies have been sensitised and sanitised to such an extent that we are no longer as lumpen (spineless) as we were 10 or more years ago. There is hardly anybody in this country now who will willingly give his/her limb to a rebel to be hacked/amputated while participating in the bargaining as to whether s/he prefers “short sleeves” or “long sleeves” - as we did during the war years. I am sure, nowadays, anybody wanting to amputate any limb from an average Sierra Leonean will first have to beat all the energy out of that person before going ahead to hack his/her limbs.
My advice to the SLPP flag-bearer is that next time he is making a public statement he must choose his words meticulously, realising that his listeners belong to wide spectrum of intellectual capacity, with the likes of Mohamed Bangura occupying the lower end of the value chain with a high capacity for mischief-making. During a brief shopping visit to downtown Freetown I overheard two fellows arguing, with one asserting that “98.1 has confirmed that SLPP has weapons”; I was forced to stop and give a quick clarification. This incidence actually prompted this piece.
Dr. Thomas Yormah is Associate Professor of Chemistry at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.