As Mr. Blyden, as we fondly called him, embarks on his last journey to join the great ancestors, we honor his life and labours, and express our appreciation for the very positive impact he had on us. We will never forget his tireless leadership, inspirational mentorship, and his generosity of spirit. We will remember him as a patriot, pan-Africanist and internationalist who encouraged us to work together to enrich our lives and those around us, and to be fine citizens of Sierra Leone, Africa and the world.
The majority of us got to know Mr. Blyden as rising senior secondary school and college students who were members of the Sierra Leone United Nations Students Association (SLUNSA) in the 1970s and the 1980s. As the Chairman of the Sierra Leone United Nations Association (SLUNA), Mr. Blyden devoted considerable energy and resources in supporting teachers and students to build SLUNSA branches across the country. While he inculcated in SLUNSA members a spirit of independence and self-help, encouraging that we pay our dues and undertake fund-raising activities, he was a generous sponsor. He frequently provided the first donations, and matched funds we raised. His business premises, first at Charlotte Street, and then at Kissy Road, generously hosted SLUNSA regional and national executive headquarters for nearly a decade. By the early 1980s, SLUNSA was one of the largest and well-known student and youth organizations in Sierra Leone.
Apart from support for the development of SLUNSA, Mr. Blyden was also influential in the cultivation of our inquisitive and youthful minds. There are very few, if any, SLUNSA members who were not inspired by his oratory, knowledge and remarkable grasp of international issues. He helped expand our horizons and our understanding of the world. SLUNSA branch meetings always discussed current affairs, and had serious debates on national and international issues. With Mr. Blyden’s support and guidance, and those of late Mr. Ernest Cummings, SLUNSA organized regular national conventions and model United Nations assemblies in Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Makeni. Hundreds of students from the different regions of Sierra Leone came together to discuss the dominant issues of the day including the Liberation Struggles in South Africa, Conflict in Middle East, the Cold War, Nuclear Proliferation, Third World Development, and Global Peace.
Mr. Blyden was also instrumental in garnering support for SLUNSA members to attend and participate in international conferences in Ghana, Nigeria, United States, the former Soviet Union, and in Sierra Leone. One of the highlights of our SLUNSA days was our participation in the Fourth Regional Conference of African UNAs on the “Role of African Public Opinion in the Mobilization Support for the Struggle against Apartheid and Racial Discrimination” in 1985 at the Miatta Conference Center. For many SLUNSA members, these meetings were veritable training grounds for the varied lives and work we now do in Sierra Leone and in different parts of the world.
In addition to his cosmopolitanism and internationalism, Mr. Blyden was a model of patience, youthful exuberance and camaraderie. He was a skilled diplomat, who worked with us to focus on finding common ground and resolving challenges rather than dwelling on our differences and problems. Despite being older and much wiser, Mr. Blyden also conveyed to young people that they were important and their views mattered. He was an optimist, with an infectious sense of humour and a zest for life. Youth, for Mr. Blyden, was time of joyfulness. So, he supported our variety concerts, outings to the beach, and the parties with the same enthusiasm with which he backed our interest in international issues. These social and cultural events gave us spaces to express our talents, learn valuable organizational skills, and above all, build enduring friendships across the country.
No tribute can fully capture Mr. Blyden’s wide-ranging impact on what now seems like the halcyon days of our youth. Nonetheless, in Sierra Leone and in all the far-reaches of the world where former SLUNSA members now reside, we rise to acknowledge his labors, to salute his achievements, to honor life and legacy, and to mourn his passing. We will not forget your unflinching solidarity with those who suffer, struggle for justice and dignity, and work for peace and understanding at home and abroad. We will always remember your unassuming humility, friendship and patriotism. Journey gently and rest in peace, our dear Mr. Blyden!
We extend our sincerest condolences to his wife, Mrs. Jollimina Sylvia Blyden, his surviving children, grandchildren, and the rest of the Blyden family.
Finda Fillie Faboe
Mohamed A Hassan
Abdul M. Iscandari
Muctar Hamzah Jalloh
Ronald Archie Porter
Thelma Wusi Porter
Photo: The late Babtunde Blyden flanked by famous Liberian singer Miatta Fahnbulleh and her mother. Miatta’s father, the late Boima Fahbulleh, was at one time Liberia’s ambassador to Sierra Leone.