The Michael Jackson Lesson for Salone

22 September 2009 at 02:10 | 1239 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The media – radio, T.V., internet; BBC, CNN, CBS, etc. – in nearly every country on planet earth, in French, Korean, Arabic, Chinese languages, etc is afire with condolences using god-like accolades for the “King of Pop”, Michael Jackson.

From our own small corner of Sierra Leone it appears as if there is hardly anything we can add, or, connect our country with, to this global outpouring of awe and grief. But there is… Including the numerous Michael Jackson (MJ) imitations in our country, a link of Sierra Leone to the late mega star was the attempt to lure MJ to come and visit here, and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our Tourism Industry.

That was in 1998. Renowned lawyer, D.B. Quee, in his dank office on ECOWAS Street in the heart of the bustling business district of Freetown, had shown me several dazzling photographs of the Sierra Leonean delegation that had gone to meet with Michael Jackson (MJ) in a hotel in California, U.S., that year.

Quee was in the photo dwarfed by Michael Jackson; and there was also then SLPP Minister of State, M.B. Sesay – their Negroid complexion accentuated by the near-Caucasian skin tone of the African-American Michael Jackson made famous, or, notorious, for trying to conceal his race.

After that meeting, in a low-ceiling parlour – with subdued gray sofas and drab-coloured carpet - in his two storey house Close to State Lodge at Hill Station, I met the brains of the entire programme, the colorful late Junior Kabbah, one of the sons of former President Tejan Kabbah. (I had gone there with the ‘Sierra Leonean Michael Jackson’, a musician in his own right, popularly known as “STEFANO”).

It was Junior Kabbah who had told me about the plan his Sierra Leonean group has with Michael Jackson to invest some $700 million in a tourism estate in Freetown: “Hotels, casinos, game parks, like Sun City in South Africa”; he spoke expansively, as if that dream was already a reality. He also showed me a huge autographed photograph of Michael Jackson and said that he would sometimes speak with MJ on the phone. J

Junior Kabbah, confident, friendly, asked me “not to rock the boat” with whatever I would do with the Michael Jackson idea; and assured me that I would be “part of the team” he was the covert leader for, which was developing the MJ programme in Sierra Leone.

About a week before meeting Junior Kabbah, I had published in THE DEMOCRAT newspaper my pace-setting attempts in October of 1997 (yes, even when Major Johnny Paul Koroma’s AFRC/RUF were in power in Freetown) to publicize my vision of attracting Michael Jackson to my beloved country.

The late King of Pop

In Monrovia, Liberia in 1989, the magazine I (was) am the brains and Editor for, GREENLOVE, published a piece on the video which my organization aimed to use to link Michael Jackson and the quest to preserve and conserve the rainforests of Liberia, which was then one of the richest biological spots in the world. In 1990, the organization I was the CEO for in Liberia, Save My Future Conservation Society, did a 3 minute documentary called “Liberian Girl”. Remember, there was this song, “Liberian Girl” in Michael Jackson’s 1987 album, “BAD”.

In my video, there was a “Liberian Girl” (a part played by a sixteen year old African-American who was schooling in the mega-elitist American Cooperative School in Monrovia) who called out to Michael Jackson (a part played by ‘the Liberian Michael Jackson’, who was really a Sierra Leonean) to come and save the rainforests of Liberia. This video was aired on Liberian T.V. to commemorate “Earth Day”, on April 29, 1990 - even as the Charles Taylor-led NPFL rebels were poised to enter the capital city. Back home in Sierra Leone in 1997, I merely tried to revive these MJ ideas which I had already activated in another country.

Kanja Sesay, the then powerful NaCSA boss, a college mate of mine at FBC in the 1970s, on learning of my involvement with the Michael Jackson idea, had taken me to the State House office of one of President Kabbah’s Ministers of State, M.B. Sesay. Like Junior Kabbah, M.B. Sesay promised that they would work with me to develop the MJ idea. Of course, the deteriorating security situation in 1998 would have scared Michael Jackson from coming to Sierra Leone.

I was not surprised when I learned a year or two ago that a brother of Michael Jackson, Marlon Jackson, was part of a conglomerate that had invested about a billion dollars in a theme park in Lagos, Nigeria – that tries to draw links with the Atlantic Slave Trade as well. I was in Nigeria between 1990 and 1995, and presented some of MJ ideas and linkages with the Atlantic Slave Trade with Nigerians. Ideas have no boundaries and are easily ‘absorbed’ by others once they’ve hit the air waves. As we speak about ‘re-branding’ Sierra Leone, it is my hope that those with ‘power’ in the private and public sectors will fully appreciate the power of ideas. That is a lesson we can learn from the ‘missed opportunity’ of taking advantage of Michael Jackson.

Sierra Leone, with a little bit more of hard work, and imagination, can market the rare gift that we have to the world: with one of the most idyllic beaches on planet earth; and being one of the centers of Heritage Tourism – of the Protracted Holocaust of the Atlantic Slave Trade. All of us, politicians especially, should realize that we have to do aggressive marketing of our country. However, marketing one’s country, or ‘re-branding’ it, if you like, should not mean being engaged in cheap propaganda. We must not attempt trying to ‘sell a rotten fish to people’, and convincing them that the ‘fish is really fresh fish’.

From what I have written above, we could have gotten Michael Jackson to visit Sierra Leone in 1998, we could have gotten our billion dollars investment if our country had not been engaged in its nasty and brutish war. Today, if we work harder, if we have more Justice and Equity in our country, if we cease seeing politics as physical war and political opposition as enemies, thus creating a sense of instability in our homeland, then, we are certain to attract the biggest investors to come to our county – and make our country a joyous place to stay in, for all political partisans.

As the world raves over the “King of Pop”, I close with one of Micheal Jackson’s lessons which was quoted in an EBONY magazine of 1982: “The Greatest Sin of all Sins is to be given a gift, a talent, and not to let it grow…That is the Greatest Sin”.

It is a lesson for individuals. Collectively for us in Sierra Leone, the “Greatest Sin” we have been committing is to be endowed by God with one of the richest countries in the world and we have succeeded only in stimulating a society of disgraceful poverty. Let us repent of our Greatest Sin!! And make our country into one with some of the richest people in the developing world - within the next thirty years. That is the lesson of Michael Jackson.