By: Abu-Bakarr Jalloh

In 1994, almost two decades ago, I found a kid who had made away with one of my rental bicycles. My friends and I dragged him to the police station to get him to return the bike. At around 8pm local time at the central police station in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone, the police asked me to report a statement against the alleged thief. Before I began my narration, the officer told me to buy his candle, pen and paper. I tried to walk to a nearby shop to get him the items but he said no. “Put the money on the table,” he pointed to the table. “I will buy it later myself”. I paid a bribe.

Last week, I inquired about renewing my passport in Germany. I called at the embassy in Berlin and spoke to a young Sierra Leonean on the phone. “Use the account number on our website that ends with 3”, he instructed. ‘Wire 35 Euros to it and come to Berlin with a receipt”.

Splendid. That’s all he said. I had read on the “website”, which by the way is a blog, that the embassy does not issue passports. Excuse me? What do I do? I have three options. Option one is incur the embassy’s cost of making the passport for me in Freetown. The second option is to fly home myself and get a new passport or final option, get someone in Freetown to do it for me. That means, a DHL fee of about 100 Euros would have to be paid to get the booklet here. Also, splendid.

The question remains; why must I pay another 35 Euros to the embassy? I read that my new passport would have to be approved by my country’s diplomatic mission in my country of residence or the mission responsible thereof. On the SL embassy site, I also read that to approve all documents, the applicant must pay a fee of 30 Euros. But I was told to wire 35 Euros. Below the approval fee, I read another fee of 5 Euros for registration forms. What? Is the form a booklet or a mere piece of paper? Super splendid.

The question now in my mind is how is this different from a cop two decades ago that asked me to buy his candle, pen and paper?

For a system as corrupt as ours in the midst of political turmoil and a decade-long unrest that ravaged the economy, I reasoned with a lone cop trying to make ends meet. I believed the country was lagging behind the world’s development pace and no single individual could differentiate between good and bad governance; not even a cop.

I understand that our system then was not capable of making the officer a responsible cop. I would even reason with him now if he would ask me to buy his paper because our economy is still not strong enough to make our men and women in uniforms better officers.

But for the following reasons, I will not agree with Sierra Leone’s diplomatic mission to Germany to pay 5 Euros for a piece of paper:

Firstly, as a matter of principle, I refuse to see reasons why the embassy would require its citizens to buy forms. This is an archaic and outrageous form of revenue collection and one of the indirect reasons why we attained the status of a failed state.

Secondly, let’s do the math. How much does a paper packet cost? In Germany, it’s between 4 and 10 Euros depending on the quality of the paper. Let’s assume they are using a 60g paper. How many papers do they need for a form? I take it that the government in SL pays the person writing the instructions on the paper not by the revenue collected from selling the forms. This is just too outrageous.

Thirdly, for the fact that it is a diplomatic mission representing a country in a foreign land, that is the more reason why its system of operation should be transparent and corrupt free.

Finally, if SL has one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, is extracting unnecessary fees from its nationals the best way to maintain that development?

I am ready to negotiate a 50 percent tax of my income or even pay it without questioning. If I can pay that same amount of tax to my current country of residence, heck I am willing to give the money to my beloved country. But I refuse to pay 5 Euros bribe to the embassy of SL in Germany.

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By Khadija Mansaray
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We have a very beautiful country, fertile soil, abundant rain, rich minerals, natural harbor and more. Our population is about five million yet with all this we are one of the poorest countries in the world.

Why is Sierra Leone poor amid all the riches it has been blessed with? The answer: The people. We are unpatriotic, dishonest and hate each other. The fundamental values, or lack of them, ensure that the country remains poor. Some may say this is a harsh conclusion but the evidence speaks for itself.

Good governance is anathema to us. We continuously elect bad governments and ensure they stay in power for too long. We cry for law and order but detest discipline and make enemies of those who enforce it. We frustrate good people. We fight them, accuse them, humiliate them and if possible physically harm them. The Sierra Leonean sense of right and wrong is completely twisted. We steal from our bosses and think it is ok because they have more than we do, they are wicked and evil if they decide to discipline us.

A woman finds her husband cheating and she is unreasonable not to have expected it. The Sierra Leonean way of life is to rip the other off. Honesty and integrity are seen as weaknesses and not virtues. From the top to the bottom to cheat and lie is normal. In the markets we fiddle the meat scales, we dent the measuring cups, we add other substances to Gari and palm oil. We lie and cheat at every opportunity and all of this is acceptable business practice.

In management they talk about win-win situations but the Sierra Leonean only knows win-loss. We are always out to get one up on the other. Using and hurting people to get ahead is OK and sometimes even applauded. We completely abuse goodwill and shamelessly say ‘nar wey you fool’.

Exploiting people in vulnerable situations is also OK. We have no respect for poor people and treat our domestic servants in the most appalling manner. We feel we have the right to verbally abuse poor people just because we have given them some food and shelter. We do a small good deed and follow it with numerous acts of cruelty and wickedness and expect to be loved for it. What we do to poorer relatives living with us and the so called ‘men pekin’ – ward – is disgraceful. We turn them into slaves for our children. We deny them the opportunities that would make them progress. We verbally, physically and even sexually abuse them and we scream ingratitude when they walk away.

We waste our energies on the silliest prejudices ever. Every group of Sierra Leonean thinks they are better than the other and that only they should progress. We make it a mission to hinder the progress of others. In institutions – academic or otherwise – we seek to further the interest of our own only. We believe that good things should only come to certain people and woe betides someone we look down on rise to a certain status or position. We scoff and laugh and fervently pray that they fall from grace so we can justify our prejudices. We have not yet learned that a humble beginning is no crime and that the people we should admire are the ones who achieve in spite of poverty. We are hung up on status and do the most disgraceful things to achieve it.

We are callous and heartless. We never really cared about the war and the sufferings of people until it came to our doorstep. Yes we were quite happy to keep partying in Freetown until our homes were burnt down too. Until we realized that our sons could be abducted too, our daughters could be raped and our husbands killed and that being elite was not going to save us. We all pretend that rebels did all the evil things in the war. But we know the homes of the privileged were swept clean by their neighbors, friends and family who moved in when the rebels left. How many of us lucky to have our homes untouched then proceeded to buy goods we knew were obviously stolen. The ‘item’ became commonplace in Freetown. The streets were flooded with stolen goods and it was OK. We were buying looted goods like they were going out of fashion.

In the aftermath of the war security became an issue and checkpoints sprang up all over the place. Now we had power over everyone. Now was time to humiliate our wealthy and snobbish neighbors. Get them down their cars and make them walk, search them in the most humiliating manner and let them know they were at our mercy. How many people did we point as rebels or collaborators because of personal vendettas, grudges or just plain envy? Those of us fortunate to escape to Guinea or Gambia, on our return we embarked on the most vicious witch-hunt ever. Everyone one left behind was a collaborator and must pay for it. To hang the collaborator became our mission. We give the impression that rebels committed all rapes but how many of our “respectable” men abused the women who came to seek shelter in their homes. How many displaced men abused their fellows displaced who were more vulnerable?

The Sierra Leonean is hungry for power. And it is a power to suppress and oppress the other especially the vulnerable. We are happiest when we oppress others. The teacher with the cane taking out his frustrations on a pupil, the manager with the promotion that beautiful girl wants, the lecturer with the marks yet another beautiful girl wants, the officer who allocates market space, the government minister with the lucrative contracts, even the school prefect. The list is endless and it’s all about power and exploitation. We’ve perfected gossip and turned it into a national pastime.

A person decides they’ve had enough of being overweight and opts for a healthy life style and lose weight. They become fit and slim and we say they have HIV/AIDS. I have never seen a people who rejoice at others’ misfortunes like we do. A woman is widowed and we smirk. A man abandons his wife and kids and we jump for joy. A family loses their home and we’re happy and laugh because now they shall suffer like us. We openly make fun of disabled people.

We rejoice when people suffer loss or misfortune and cannot bear to see others happy and successful. We can’t help ourselves; instead we have to bring them down. Our tendency to bury our head in the sand would be hilarious if it weren’t so serious. All of our leaders are good it’s the people around them who mess things up. Our husbands are not uncontrollable perverts it’s the women out there desperate to get them. Our uncle can afford that swanky car despite his meager salary because his boss made a generous payout last Christmas. Our beautiful 21-year-old daughter is not dating that short and balding 56-year-old for his money. It’s the devil in the bush who takes the Downs Syndrome child away.

The state of denial makes it easier for us to turn a blind eye to everything. Then we come to the diaspora. You think we would learn something instead we take our wickedness to another level. The blatant exploitation and lack of regard for others becomes even worse. You would have thought the loss of status and the cleaning and care jobs would have taught us to appreciate people. But no! You would think the discipline we are forced to practice in our jobs and day-to-day activities would become ingrained. Again no! The speed with which we revert to type when among our own is phenomenal. We turn up late at parties, hardly give presents, talk down to people helping behind the bar, leave the toilets in a mess, steal what we can and go home. We really are a bunch of savages. We are among the world’s greatest litterbugs.

The annual Fourah Bay-Foulah Town Outing in UK attracts the best and worst of our society. Whilst it brings us all together we leave the beaches in such a state it’s a wonder they don’t ban us. We litter with impunity failing to realize that is likely to be one of our own black brother or sister cleaning the beach the next day. How would we feel if we turned up at our cleaning jobs and met that same kind of filth? Yet we go on about how filthy other races are. Our regard for the institution of marriage is a joke. We teach our daughters chastity at 13 and encourage them to be home-breakers when they turn 20. And now we have Facebook, a brand new platform to show how ugly we can get.

While other communities use it more positively we do our usual thing. We bully and abuse. But we have two good things. We are warm and hospitable to foreigners. We welcome them and make them feel at home. The Sierra Leonean will open his heart and home to anyone. We also have a very high religious tolerance. The Sierra Leonean will kill you for your property, your wife or your money but never ever for your religion. Although that itself begs the question, do we really care about God?

Every Sierra Leonean reading this knows we need to embrace the good and let go of the bad. But the question is: are we ready to change??!!

As part of our training program at DW Academy, this is a show I hosted in German.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/52163383″>IMS Glocal TV Magazine Vol.4-B</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/dwims”>International Media Studies</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Posted: September 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

Africa is a Country (Old Site)

A muted response in the blogosphere persuaded me to write about Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai’s now not-so-recent remark, which I’ve come to think of as ‘the “white man” comment’. If you missed it, in June 2012 Yishai, responding to criticism of Israel’s treatment of African migrants, claimed that: “Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man.”

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This month saw me joggling between several things. I was rounding up a month-and-a-half long internship at the Deutsche Welle English for Africa department, which by the way I was offered a job afterwards, when this television stuff came up. We met for a meeting and four of us offered to anchor the show called Glocal, Global Reporters, Local Stories. Glocal is produced by us  students in the International Media Studies Master’s degree program at Deutsche Welle Academy and is broadcast at the German western regional channel WDR. Anyways, at the meeting we agreed to host the show in German, I began getting nervous, and each anchor would have to write down his or her individual intros and ques for each piece. That solved, we had to select partners, two males, myself and a friend from Bangladesh and two ladies, a French and a Chinese. To make the selection easier, someone suggested “Height”. It looked like we were getting there. I was asked to compare heights with my French friend and that was it. Paired.

My co-host and I met a few days later and worked on our script, gosh…how  writing in German was much cooler than I feared. I’d worked in German before during my internship adapting stories from German to English and although this was a whole different I enjoyed doing it. I had to create my own words in German. Not bad for a starter I’d say. Anyways, we did it but not quite completely. I had to run to the library to read for the semester exams and my friend had her own appointment. By the way I am still studying for exams and that actually begs the question why am I blogging right now when I am supposed to be studying? No idea. So we met again, finished the job and emailed it to the lecturer for approval.

The script had been edited, with the wording almost entirely changed. At least my ideas stayed. That reminds me, I still have a lot of work to do on my German language. We’d met before for a practical training with the teleprompter but since I had anchored the newscast at ABC SL before, I wasn’t worried much. The entire time I had been thinking about how I was going to anchor it in German just like I did in English. The night before the hosting day, I stayed up for several hours literally planting the words in the script into my head.

As usual, I showed up in the morning at DW all glowed in smile as if nothing intense was happening inside of me. I changed into my suit and didn’t even notice when the producer came around taking photos. It sort of felt really good doing what I always wanted to do in my life. The media, news reporting and anchoring, making documentary films and setting up a new form of public sphere back home are always the issues I come to think of when questions about my career path pop up. These issues light me up and give me a sense of purpose of being in this world. I have tried thinking about different careers but this is what I believe to be my calling and I have set forth for it.

In front of the camera, I felt at first as if I was in a shoe box, i.e. the viewfinder to which I am so used framing people in a shot and for the first time since ABC I was getting framed in that same pattern. I saw myself because we had a TV monitor in our direction. With all the flattering comments of how cool we both looked on screen, no self praises here just recounting, I sort of managed to forget about the shots and concentrated on the content of the script.

After several takes, we pulled it off. We did it.

Glocal will be aired probably before the year ends and I will make sure I blogged it. If you might be wondering why my ending here is abrupt, I probably just thought about going back to reading the academic stuffs.

I do appreciate you time for reading about my work and thoughts and hope to share with you my next blog post.

Have a wonderful time.

ABJ

Africalink: Listen to the show

Africalink 20.08.2012: Listen to My Latest Report

President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, has today declared the outbreak of cholera a national emergency.

The outbreak, which was first alerted earlier this year by relief agencies has claimed the lives of about 180 people with further 10,000 reported cases.

The government has set up a task force with support from relief organization UNICEF to halt the disease.

Koroma says the disease might claim more lives if the outbreak is not curtailed.

His announcement, though, has brought fear among the local population