Sierra Leone’s fledgling media squeezed by watchdog’s fines

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 May 2015

Newspaper seller in Freetown

Several newspapers in Sierra Leone have had their knuckles rapped by the country’s Independent Media Commission (IMC), after investigating complaints of breaches of the media code of conduct.

But the total sum announced today by the IMC, is far less than the historic fine levied against one of the country’s most popular newspapers by the courts in Freetown over three years ago, for defamation of character, estimated at over £8,000 (eight-thousand British Pounds Sterling).

Journalists and proprietors of newspapers in Sierra Leone are struggling to come to terms with the need to balance the media’s right to inform, educate and entertain, with the individual’s right to privacy.

And this balance they must get right, if they are to avoid the rising cost of IMC fines, which media analysts say could cripple most of the country’s newspapers if they are not careful.

But can newspapers in Sierra Leone avoid publishing stories they honestly believe to be in the public’s interest as well as of interest to the public, for fear of financial penalties or even threats of arrest – based on ‘orders from above’ as political tension rises in the country?

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Sia Koroma – a willing tool in political infamy?

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 May 2015

Sia-Koroma

It was William James who wrote that “we are spinning our own fates, good or evil, never to be undone. Every smallest stoke of virtue or vice, leaves its ever-so-little-scar….”

With no further comment or rejection coming from the office of Sierra Leone’s first lady, Sia Koroma, it is obvious that she has seen nothing wrong with her acceptance of the position of President of the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) in the midst of the intrigues surrounding the post.

But what is it with those who are in the corridors of power? Why is it so natural for them to compromise conscience and follow the social, religious or political fashion for the sake of gain or pleasure?

Why do they find it extremely difficult to sacrifice both on the altar of truth and duty?

I know that truth has been out of fashion since man changed his robe of fadeless light for a garment of faded leaves. But is that why, Mrs Koroma lacked the guts, the finesse and the capacity to pull out of the treachery that was glaringly on display?

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Red Cross helps strengthen Sierra Leone’s broken healthcare system

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 May 2015

bola-ward-connaught-hospital

With basic and essential health services strained by the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, the Red Cross is taking steps to help reconnect communities with basic health services. (Photo: Dilapidated admission ward at the Connaught hospital in Freetown at the start of the Ebola outbreak).

Most health programmes stopped when the Ebola epidemic began one year ago, and are only now starting up again.

“Not only did hundreds of health care workers lose their lives to the disease, parents became frightened to take their children for regular vaccinations, believing they might become infected with Ebola.

“Consequently, a large number of young children have missed out on their measles vaccination and remain vulnerable should there be an outbreak,” said Moulaye Camara, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Sierra Leone.

Beginning 29 May, and as part of a mass measles immunization campaign, volunteers with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society will go door-to-door to check for unvaccinated children.

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Opposition party leader in Burundi shot dead

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 May 2015

Burundi5

Burundi’s opposition party leader – Zedi Feruzi has been shot dead alongside his bodyguard in Bujumbura, a leading opposition figure has confirmed to Al Jazeera.

Feruzi, whose bloodied body was found in the Ngagara district of Bujumbura on Saturday evening, was the head of the opposition party Union for Peace and Development (UPD).

Leading opposition figure, Agathon Rwasa, said there is no information about who is responsible for killing Feruzi, but is on record to have spoken out against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for a third-term in office.

Residents said a third person, believed to be another police officer tasked with protecting Feruzi, was seriously injured in the incident.

“We heard around 20 gunshots, everyone fell to the ground, people saw a Toyota car speeding away,” said a neighbour, who did not witness the shooting himself.

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Ebola – let us call a spade a spade

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 May 2015

minister of health - FofanahThere has been much debate as to why Liberia has successfully got rid of Ebola from its shores, whiles neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea – two political bed fellows, are still struggling to make much headway.

Yesterday, at the 68th session of the World Health Assembly, organised by WHO in Geneva, African Ministers of Health appointed Sierra Leone’s health minister Fofanah (Photo) as the chairman of the proposed Africa Centre for Disease Control (ACDC), instead of the Liberian health minister. This has prompted serious questions about the appointment process.

If the whole point of establishing an African CDC is to pull expertise together, share resources and promote best practise, then one would expect those representing success and best practise to be leading this initiative.

But then, this is the WHO, who to be fair is currently struggling to regain its global credibility, after bungling the handling of the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

And no one is suggesting that Sierra Leone’s health minister Fofana is not a qualified medic – indeed to the contrary. The issue here is that not many would appreciate the rewarding of mediocrity, when it comes to showing leadership in public health crisis management.

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Sierra Leone needs leaders – not looters

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

 Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 May 2015

President koroma and victor foh at APC conference 30 april 2015

One thing is sure, you can suspend, sack or even kill a man, but you can never do the same to truth.

And the truth right now is that the APC stinks, the SLPP reeks and the current political class and climate is diametrically opposed to national aspirations.

Sierra Leone has been going round in circles, because the current political set up and its operators from the three tiers of government have all passed their sell-by date.

Our salvation lies in rebuilding our society, governance and orientation from the grassroots and under a healthier environment.

To some of us, the state of our country creates a deep pain and frustration within our hearts. The future seems clouded by uncertainty, while our blighted realities appear to have loosened the hinges on the trapdoor of our dysfunctional system, which is threatening to burst at its seams.

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Kono delegation express their loyalty to Sierra Leone’s new vice president

John Baimba Sesay-Freetown

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 May 2015

VP Foh receives kono deleation 2

In Sierra Leone politics and of course the country’s economy, Kono District plays an important role. And in the 2007 and 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, which brought President Ernest Bai Koroma and the All People’s Congress (APC) to power, political dynamics in Kono changed drastically in favour of the APC.

There has been a lot of political discussion in and out of the country following the removal of Chief Sam Sumana from the Vice Presidency by His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Whiles the matter is now before the Supreme Court judges, it is business as usual for state governance as members and supporters of the All People’s Congress continue to stand strongly united behind the party chairman and leader – President Ernest Bai Koroma.

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Ebola makes a comeback in Sierra Leone amid fears of another epidemic

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 May 2015

rainy freetown

 

The rainy season in Sierra Leone is just days away. known for ushering in the much dreaded cholera and typhoid diseases with tragic consequences, there are fears now that with the resurgence of Ebola, this year’s rainy season is destined to bring catastrophe to the country, if the government and health agencies do not change their disease control strategy.

After the abrupt ending of almost ten days spell of zero new cases in Sierra Leone last week, Ebola has made a comeback in Port Loko, where communities once ravaged by the virus, had found a renewed sense of hope.

But that hope of Ebola coming to an end, which lasted for several weeks, has now turned into fear. There has been a serious breach of protocol. How could this have happened?

Looking for answers should not be that difficult. After all, in neighbouring Kambia and the capital Freetown, Ebola remains persistent, and the figures tell their story.

Over 3,540 people have been pronounced dead from Ebola in Sierra Leone, since the outbreak began last year. In the last three months alone, more than 650 people have been killed by the virus, and the number continues to rise, though at a much slower pace than 2014.

The total number of new cases has risen in the last few days, adding to the cumulative, which now stands at 8,605. There is an overwhelming feeling of trepidation in the country – especially the capital Freetown, with the rainy season poised to exacerbate this crisis. The number of new cases keeps rising.

Has the government of Sierra Leone been caught napping again by Ebola?

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Is the government of Sierra Leone ready to open itself to real scrutiny?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 May 2015

president koroma sworn-in for second termIn 2011 president Koroma promised to open up his government to real scrutiny through a national website, that will provide access to information about the work of each government department and agency, especially their budgets – spending and programme delivery performance.

But four years on, this promise is yet to materialise.

The need for a national transparency website was loudly articulated at a conference held in 2011 by civil society groups and concerned Sierra Leoneans, who believe that the lack of accountability, openness and transparency in government departments, has created a fertile ground for the propagation of corruption and poor performance.

In response to the recommendation by the national conference, president Koroma promised to establish a national website that will show the public, how government is spending money, what the money is being spent on, and how well departments are performing.

It is estimated that close to $200 million of the $400 million received by the government in foreign aid, is either misappropriated or disappear from the consolidated fund every year.

The knock-on effect of this serious leakage on the country’s development and delivery of basic services – such as health care, education and poverty alleviation, has left millions of Sierra Leoneans in abject poverty.

Hence, the intention of well-meaning Sierra Leoneans was that the proposed national website, would act as a vehicle for delivering the practical provisions, contained in the Freedom of Information Act, that was legislated two years ago.

Is the new Portal reported to have been launched last Friday by the Koroma government, of any substance?

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Diabetes – Sierra Leone’s most deadly enemy

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 May 2015

obesity2There has been a worrying increase in the incidence of diabetes in Sierra Leone.

Doctors are concerned that in addition to Ebola, malaria and other diseases, diabetes is now taking centre stage.

They are right to be worried, as it is a chronic, lifelong disease once acquired and can lead to serious complications.  Diabetes is quite common across the country, but much more prevalent in Freetown.

It is a disease that affects children and young people and commonly referred to as Type 1 diabetes, with Type 2 affecting mostly adults.

Type 1 occurs, due to the inability of the body to produce insulin in the pancreas, which is responsible for breaking down sugars in the body after eating. This defect may be a genetic factor or environmental.

This type of diabetes can only be treated with insulin. Dietary restrictions and regular exercise are also important.

Are the well off in Sierra Leone eating and drinking themselves to preventable early death?

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Elections in Burundi – “A moment of truth”

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 May 2015

Burundi5

The people of Burundi are today staring at the edge of a precipice it once dug itself out of decades ago, when rival tribal factions brought mayhem to the streets, in a civil war that took the lives of over two hundred thousand people.

This week’s coup by an army general, who is leading popular opposition to the perverse ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court’s acceptance of president Nkurunziza’s politically retrogressive decision to contest a third term election, may have been foiled by forces loyal to Nkurunziza, but political uncertainty and the threat of further violence remains.

Yesterday, president Nkurunziza  addressed the nation, calling for calm and the return to order, but thousands of refugees continue to flee Burundi to neighbouring countries, as those alleged to have organised the coup are rounded up.

There are fears the president may now use the attempted coup as a pretext for massive crackdown on political opponents, the media and civil society groups.

Elections are due next month. The question now, is whether president Nkurunziza will respect the will of the people and the churches, who have been calling for him to end his third term crusade.

Nkurunziza may be back at State House, but what is certain is that life at State House will never be same, after this week’s attempted coup.

There is also the grim reality now of a return to the unwanted political culture of military intervention across Africa, in response to the authoritarian dictatorship that is now rearing its ugly head in the continent, as several presidents choose to extend their stay in office.

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Let us grasp the nettle to reform our society and political system

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 May 2015

salone poverty3

Compatriots, following the chequered history of our nation, especially in the last two decades, it is my belief that the sooner we face the fact that we have no cojones as a people, and rise up collectively to do something about it, the sooner our salvation in Sierra Leone.

We cannot continue to constantly put the cart before the horse and expect a transformation of our society. It will amount to a curious paradox.

We must bring to an end the melody of political deception and sing a brand new tune in our collective interests.

How long do we want to continue propping up a system that is no longer fit for purpose – a system that is being abused at will to the detriment of the people, and simply bastardised for the whims of a few?

The reality right now, is that politically, socially and economically, we are systematically and greatly impoverished.

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Vice president Foh awakens the spirits of ruling APC party founders 

John Baimba Sesay – Freetown

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 May 2015

vp foh visitng north4

Sierra Leone’s vice president – Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh, on Sunday, 10th May, ended a three day long visit to the Tonko Limba Chiefdom, in Madina, headquarter town of the chiefdom, in the Kambia District, where he succeeded in politically bringing back the departed souls of the founding fathers of the All People’s Congress.

The visit was aimed at taking Kambia District away from Ebola, rejuvenated fond memories of valuable contributions of the Party’s founding fathers to the nation’s development. It also lifted high the significance of Tonko Limba Chiefdom in Sierra Leone’s political dispensation of the APC.

The climax of the VP’s address was the Ebola virus and government’s efforts to achieve zero cases and staying at zero.

With his strong political lineage to the governing APC, vice president Foh has, since assuming the position of vice president, continued to support president Ernest Bai Koroma’s Agenda in its entirety, and more especially in the area of taking the Party to the people.

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Burundi’s third term seeking president ousted by the military

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 May 2015

Pierre_Nkurunziza

Burundi’s president Nkurunziza has today been overthrown by the country’s military, after weeks of bloodshed and instability in the capital Bujumbura.

The bloodless military coup comes, following the ruling two weeks ago of the country’s Constitutional Court upholding the decision of the president to seek a third term in office, contrary to the constitution and the agreed peace accord.

President Nkurunziza was away in Tanzania where he was taking part in talks with the leaders of neighbouring countries, to find a peaceful resolution to the chaos and violence that had gripped Burundi for several weeks.

Today’s coup must be a warning to other leaders in Africa that are contemplating a third term, contrary to constitution, as well as abusing their office. ‘Do not underestimate the power of the people and the silence of the military’.

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‘We do not entertain sacred cows’ – says government Spokesman Bayraytay

Dennis Kabatto

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 May 2015

Members of APC New York Chapter executives meet with Government of Sierra Leone Spokesperson Mr  Abdulai Bayraytay in Bronx Borough New York  

Government of Sierra Leone Spokesman – Bayraytay, is visiting the United States of America and Canada, where he is meeting Sierra Leoneans across the political divide to explain government policies. (Photo: APC New York Chapter Executives meeting Bayraytay).

Mr. Bayraytay said that the town hall meetings are aimed at promoting accountability and transparency, but most importantly recognises that partnering with the Sierra Leonean Diaspora is vital to the country’s development.

Speaking to Baraytay in a telephone interview last Sunday, he shared details of the government’s newly launched Social Safety Net Program. This is a transcript of the interview:

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SLPP – a party ready for government must be pragmatic

Yusuf Keketoma Sandi

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 May 2015

Victorious Captain Strasser - NPRC

On Thursday 30th April 1992, in a very passionate address to the nation, a young president of Sierra Leone – Captain Valentine Strasser (photo), had this to say about the APC: “Fellow citizens, for over 23 years we have been misruled by an oppressive, corrupt, exploitative and tribalistic bunch of crooks and traitors, under the umbrella of the APC (All people’s Congress) government.

“This regime has perpetuated nepotism, tribalism, gross mismanagement, total collapse of our economy, education, health, transport and communication systems. This regime has brought permanent poverty and a deplorable life for most Sierra Leoneans. This regime has failed us woefully. For Sierra Leone, the past 23 years can only be described as the lost decades. It is all over now!”

In 2015, almost eight years into the Koroma presidency, memories of that same old APC has been brought back to life – oppression, corruption, exploitation, nepotism, gross mismanagement of natural resources, near collapse of our economy, near collapse of our health sector, the falling standards of education, abuse of state institutions and the erosion of human rights.

This sad state of affairs has created an opportunity for the SLPP to at least assure a public that has lost every faith in this present government and ruling party, that Sierra Leone can become a better country.

But this means that the SLPP has to be more pragmatic in the face of challenges. And one of the recent challenges has been the expulsion of Ambassador Allie Bangura.

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Koroma watches with interest as violence erupts in Burundi over presidential third term

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 May 2015

Men queue to vote during presidential elections in Freetown

 

Elections in Sierra Leone may be two or three years away, but there is little doubt president Koroma and his ruling APC party, are closely watching developments in Burundi and DR Congo.

Both president Nkurunziza of Burundi and Kabila of Congo, are poised to tearing up their country’s constitution in order to contest third term presidential election.

The constitutions of all three countries – Sierra Leone, Burundi and DR Congo, limit presidential terms to two.

But with a renewed resurgence of dictatorship now emerging in Africa, it seems the younger generation of African leaders are showing that they are no different from their power hungry predecessors of the 1970s and 1980s.

Recent media sound bites and political overtures by president Koroma of Sierra Leone, continue to give mixed messages both at home and abroad, where anti-Koroma sentiment is rapidly growing.

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Rising up to the challenges of the post Ebola crisis

Zainab Tunkara Clarkson

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 May 2015

ebola-sierra-leone

Now that the worst of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has passed and the spread of the epidemic significantly slowed down, rebuilding shattered and devastated communities is the next big challenge.

In several ways, reconstruction may actually be a bigger task than curtailing the virus, as this involves massive long term financial investment.

Across the West African sub-region, about 10,702 people have died of the virus, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea the worst affected countries.

In Sierra Leone, schools were shut, markets devastated, thousands of children orphaned, commercial enterprises decimated and thousands of hitherto industrious people are now dependent on handouts.

Liberian president Ellen Sirleaf- Johnson, said that the economic impact of Ebola is as much a tragedy and disaster as the deaths caused. She pointed out that in the months just after the outbreak, airlines abandoned her country, markets closed, economic growth stalled, tourism and foreign investment vanished.

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Sierra Leone – request for presidential court injunction denied

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 May 2015

law_court_building

The long awaited Supreme Court ruling into whether an injunction should be granted, preventing Victor Bockarie Foh from continuing to serve as vice president of Sierra Leone was delivered today.

After exactly four weeks of deliberations, the five Judges unanimously decided that it would be unsafe for the highest court in the land to demand the removal of the vice president from office.

The Acting Chief Justice Valesius Thomas, who also chairs the panel of supreme court judges made up of justices Nicholas Browne Marke, Eku Roberts, Patrick Hamilton and Vivian Solomon, said today that he sees “very grave consequences for the whole nation, if the office of the vice president is left vacant.”

This rather surprising conclusion which was also echoed by the other four judges, will no doubt provoke serious debates among constitutional lawyers, in and out of Sierra Leone.

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Political violence in Sierra Leone – Amnesty holds Koroma government accountable

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 May 2015

President koroma and victor foh at APC conference 30 april 2015

Many Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad, who were once  admirers and supporters of president Koroma, are now dumb struck by the alarming ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ manner, with which the president has transformed himself into a brutal dictator.

Today, Amnesty International says politically motivated violence must stop, in the West African nation, crippled by the Ebola virus and a government that itself has become consumed by its own slothfulness, poor governance and corruption.

Last month, campaigners for the reinstatement of the sacked vice president were violently manhandled and arrested in their homes by the police in Freetown.  In March, lawyers campaigning against the unconstitutional actions of president Koroma were violently dispersed and a senior barrister arrested.

In April, a handful of members of the opposition SLPP gathering at the residence of a local party member, were arrested and are believed to be incarcerated at the Pademba Road prison.

Last week in Kenema – an opposition SLPP stronghold, heavily armed police unleashed violence on demonstrators protesting the president’s abuse of power and unconstitutional behaviour. The director of the country’s human rights group was arrested and several people hospitalised by injuries inflicted by the police.

Amnesty International is calling on president Koroma to stop the abusive implementation of the Ebola state of emergency powers as a political weapon.

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