Ernest J. Wilson, Esq: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 March 2023:
For an impoverished donor-dependent country that needs all the help it can get, Sierra Leone is astonishingly unkind to its diaspora nationals whose remittances contribute over 6 percent to the country’s measly Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to the World Bank and other sources, Sierra Leone’s diaspora remitted over $232 million dollars home in 2021 alone – a quite hefty and significant sum in the economy of the foreign currency starved country.
A country’s diaspora is an invaluable asset to its national interests and aspirations. The state of Israel, for example, accord its diaspora a preeminent place in national affairs. However, unlike other African countries such as Senegal, Cape Verde, and Botswana, that love, embrace, and enable their diaspora to vote from abroad and participate in other critical national affairs, Sierra Leone offers its diaspora nothing in return for their sacrifices and contributions to that country – nothing, nada, zilch!
Not even the short-lived and ineffective “Office of Diaspora Affairs” under Ernest Koroma could whitewash the fact that Sierra Leone is unkind to its diaspora, unlike other African countries.
In addition to monetary remittances, many members of the Sierra Leonean diaspora also contribute their invaluable technical, educational, professional, and other expertise when they choose to return home to give back to their country and work in some capacity rather than continuing to live comparatively far more comfortable lives overseas.
This is what someone like Professor Jimmy Kandeh chose to do when he returned home to serve in the department of Political Science at the University of Sierra Leone – Fourah Bay College after retiring from the prestigious University of Richmond in the United States where he rose to the rank of full professor of Political Science.
Professor Kandeh could have opted and afforded to do a million other far more personally rewarding and gratifying things after leaving the University of Richmond, but he loves Sierra Leone and wanted to give back to the country of his birth. This fact compelled him to return from the diaspora and accept a faculty position in the Department of Political Science at FBC where the students appreciated his vast experience, commitment to excellence, and his dedication and commitment to educating them.
The Department of Political Science at FBC, like most other academic departments at FBC, is frightfully and sadly understaffed. Class sizes in the department frequently go over 100 students and many courses have not been taught for many years for lack of trained, qualified personnel to teach them.
In a word, the learning environment at FBC and most institutions of higher learning in Sierra Leone is not conducive to modern education.
There are not enough offices for faculty to meet with students, labs and classrooms are in dismal conditions, etc. On any given day of the week, one can find long trails of students behind their lecturers traversing the campus at Mount Aureol looking for empty classrooms to hold classes.
The deplorable situation at FBC, and in the country, is exactly what motivated Professor Kandeh, like some well-meaning diaspora, to return to help and give back to Salone.
Thus, it came as a shock to the students and the campus community at FBC when news broke last week via an undated and sloppily written “news release” signed by one “James Tamba Lebbie” allegedly of “The Directorate of Public Relations, Alumni & International Affairs” of the University of Sierra Leone to the effect that Professor Kandeh has been summarily dismissed from the college because his “contract was not renewed in December 2022,” although he was still teaching at the same university in March and his salary was fully paid for the most recent month of February 2023, two months after his contract was allegedly not “renewed.”
Clearly, the news release was a badly managed PR hack job that smirked of the typical “orders from above.” The real reason had more to do with the dissatisfactions in powerful quarters in Sierra Leone over comments Professor Kandeh had contributed to a panel discussion on AYV news two weeks ago.
Where in the world are people still subjected to losing their jobs for contributing their opinion to a panel discussion? Is Sierra Leone the new North Korea, Afghanistan, or Venezuela where free speech is muzzled, and the rule of law is non-existent? Whatever happened to academic freedom?
Sadly, Professor Kandeh fell victim to a country that does not truly appreciate its diaspora. His predicament is arguably also something of the good professor’s own making because he was warned and strongly advised about the dangers of life in Sierra Leone.
Numerous friends and family tried to prevail on Professor Kandeh not to return to live and work in Sierra Leone, but his overwhelming love for his motherland made him believe he could make a much bigger difference in the lives of numerous people in Sierra Leone than the alternative of remaining in his comfortable surroundings and life in America.
On the day he participated in the panel discussion at AYV, Professor Kandeh thought he was doing exactly what was expected of academics everywhere in civilized societies in the free world…especially political scientists who are trained to be the “gadflies of society” by always speaking out, unapologetically pointing out bad governance, and offering national course corrections by speaking truth to power.
In anywhere else but Sierra Leone, Professor Kandeh would have been hailed and lauded by the powers that be for the things he said on the panel discussion at AYV. Those in power would have appreciated the things he pointed out in good faith and incorporated his ideas to improve upon governance for the benefit of the country.
One could cite numerous other examples, such as the “2 SIM” saga and the APC’s relentless hounding of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella and APC diaspora aspirants heading into the 2018 elections, to support the claim that Sierra Leone does not love its diaspora.
Weak contract enforcement and insecure property rights across the country means that members of the diaspora are also frequent victims of fraud and theft when they attempt to enter land transactions or invest in other businesses in Sierra Leone.
Unless a returning member of the diaspora is part of the government of the day, he or she is at the mercy of a proliferation of con artists and other crooks who are now found everywhere across Sierra Leone ripping innocent people off with impunity.
There is no discernible reason why diasporans such as Professor Kandeh and others are treated so badly upon returning to work, live, or do business in Sierra Leone other than “bad at,” or “bad heart,” as the former president of Sierra Leone, Pa Kabbah of blessed memory put it in his advice to Sierra Leoneans to love each other and desist from specializing in “PH.D” – “Pull Her/Him Down” syndrome.
Over the past two decades, Senegal, Ghana, and many other African countries discovered and made use of the technical and other expertise of their diaspora. They are now yielding the development benefits of such collaboration as an alternative to foreign expatriates and overreliance on “donor funding.”
Sierra Leone must find ways to cure itself off its extreme case of “diaspora envy.” Otherwise, it will be difficult for the country to achieve its development goals and catch up with other African countries.