From the Editor’s Keyboard

On Dr. Samura Kamara and Others

By  | 4 May 2013 at 20:49 | 2255 views

Editor’s Note: This commentary is being re-published by popular demand. It was first published in February this year.

For a very long time now I have observed how it’s sometimes very frustrating and depressing to be a Government Minister in Sierra Leone (I will not even talk about being a President or Vice-President) and other African countries. Yes, the position can be very enjoyable with all the perks and power play but in the Sierra Leonean context it can be very nasty too.

That may be the reason why some people do not want to be Ministers especially women who cannot stand the very tough environment encircling a government minister. In most cases the President can do nothing about it because he himself is constantly under siege. On reflection I think this phenomenon is not only African. Look at what is happening to President Barack Obama in America, the constant, unwarranted and clearly baseless attacks on his personality and even members of his family and relatives.

I guess you have to be very thick-skinned and a fighter to be a government minister in Sierra Leone and the rest of Africa. Here are two examples:

Dr. Samura Kamara

Take the case of Dr. Samura Kamara, the current Foreign Minister. This man has suffered a lot through out his career as an Economist and financial expert since he returned home from his studies in the US to serve his country. Some sections of the Sierra Leone media had said and written a lot of uncharitable things about him but no proof has been submitted in about 30 years; yet he never bothered to reply to them or take them to court. However, government after government had sought his services, no matter their political persuasion.

What I have discovered after careful research is that it’s not really the journalists but envious people(sometimes within his own party) who want his job that are behind these attacks. People normally pay journalists in Sierra Leone to do these kinds of things, one of the biggest problems in the profession. One of the recent attacks, to my shock, came from a newspaper owned by a government official! I would therefore like to admonish Dr. Kamara to continue his good and dedicated service to the country and ignore some of these distractions.

Zainab Bangura

Zainab Bangura is one of the well known female politicians in the country. Like Samura, she has gone through hell with all sorts of attacks and allegations against her from the time she was head of the Campaign for Good Governance
to Minister of Foreign Affairs to Minister of Health. She now works at the United Nations in New York.

Not many women in Sierra Leone can endure what she has endured but she continues to hold her head high because nothing has been proved about the countless allegations heaped on her over the years. For example in a recent corruption case at the Ministry of Health where some donor money went missing, some journalists making allegations against her fail to realize that it was she that brought official attention to the issue but more importantly, donor money never goes through a Minister but through representatives of the donor agency on the ground in Freetown who have their own bank account and disburse funds.The corruption only happens if contractors fail to implement their contracts. It is ministry officials and donor representatives who select the contractor, not the Minister. This is different from Sierra Leone government projects and contracts where the Minister himself withdraws money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund which is Sierra Leone government money. So to say the then Minister Zainab Bangura or any other minister had knowledge about the disbursement of donor funds in Sierra Leone is simply nonsense.

Now I turn to the new Minister of Health, Miatta Kargbo.

When I first heard that this new Minister is a Six Sigma Black Belt the first thought that came to my mind was, Oh my God, she is going to offload some karate kicks on some Borbor Bellehs at the Health Ministry. But Sigma Black belt simply means somebody who is an expert in restructuring and deleting defects in any organization (to put it very simply). She therefore seems to me an appropriate person for that Ministry. She was a presidential adviser at State House which means the President has been able to assess her work. And things seems to be happening at the Health Ministry already. I wish her well.

And now Interior Minister Joseph Bandabla Dauda

JB Dauda, popularly known as Jam Body for Development is simply the most experienced Minister in the current cabinet. In fact he was Minister of Interior before this new appointment. However, before he could settle down the American embassy in Freetown came out with a factual but very embarrassing (for the Sierra Leone government) press release warning its citizens about crime in the city of Freetown. JBD therefore has to immediately swing into action and see what could be done about this since the country’s police force is under his jurisdiction.

Journalism, Government Officials and Speculation

I will not waste time on the above since the internet is full of information and analyses on them. The only thing I want to stress is that you cannot claim to be an independent journalist if you are in government service. As a government official you are expected to serve the government, your employer.
You are either an independent journalist or a government official. You cannot be both. Some journalists resign the moment they get a government appointment but they still do their journalism either with a pen name or recede into the background of their newspaper, letting others be the public faces of the paper while they continue to quietly work as journalists.

An independent journalist is... well, independent. It’s not however a crime for a government official to write in newspapers or blogs. The former British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Ian Hughes, did just that. The difference between a government official and an independent journalist is that the government official is restricted on what he writes or says or he will be sacked, whereas the independent journalist is free to write whatever he wants and even speculate. Of course the independent journalist can be sued if he goes beyond decency and tries to present speculation as the truth or if he knowingly denigrates or brings to disrepute individuals both private and public. Enough.