Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 July 2019:
Well, President Bio should not be unduly worried. He is in good company, as we learn later in this article. The fact is that conspiracy theorists also abound. I, more than most people acknowledge that conspiracy theorists are in our midst.
One of my uncles in my village of Baiima prevailed on my dad to open a shop for him. Unfortunately, he got his two rascally sons to run the shop, which obviously ran at a loss as things kept disappearing. He was made to believe by his sons that his neighbour across the road, another relative had “Indian magic” and made things disappear from the shop with a wave of the hand. This was the story line he had for us when we visited on holidays.
The neighbour had one ear clipped off during an altercation with someone on the train, who chewed off one of his ears and the half ear was very noticeable. My uncle was explaining this “Indian magic” phenomenon to me on one occasion when the neighbour popped up in his front veranda in his “bobani”, yawned and stretched his arms up, obviously out of tiredness.
“You see what I was telling you, Karmoh”, my uncle exclaimed. What?, I asked. He hid behind the door, peeped through a small door opening and touched his ear as if he was going to clip it, obviously calling my attention to the neighbour with the clipped ear.
“Shhhh, he is signalling again. More things are going to disappear soon”, he tried to convince me. No matter what my protestations were, he kept insisting the neighbour had “Indian magic”. The poor neighbour did not even notice he had such powers! The sons emptied the shop in no time and that was the end of the business.
The way some people try to convince others that the President is sick is worrisome. It has been going on for quite a while; and more recently the rumour has got translated to death.
There was a time when the rumour mill was rife with talk that President Kabbah had died when he was in office. President Koroma also endured “many sicknesses” and “near deaths”.
But why do people wish our leaders dead? Why the false news and exaggeration?
In May 1897, the great American humourist, novelist and social critic Mark Twain was in London. It was one of the stops on a round-the-world speaking tour he’d embarked on in 1895. He hoped to use the fees from speaking engagements to pay off the considerable debts he owed in the United States, due to a series of unsuccessful investments and publishing ventures.
While Twain was in London, someone started a rumour that he was gravely ill. It was followed by a rumour that he had died. According to a widely repeated legend, one major American newspaper actually printed his obituary and, when Twain was told about this by a reporter, he quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
The story is also told of Northeastern University political economy professor Barry Bluestone who found himself quickly eating his words after publicly wishing death on President Trump. During a lecture about the rule of law and inequality in the U.S., Bluestone told his students, “Sometimes I want to just see him impeached. Other times, quite honestly — I hope there are no FBI agents here — I wouldn’t mind seeing him dead.” The video was posted on YouTube, causing controversy for the private Massachusetts-based university. Northeastern quickly issued a statement to the Boston Globe condemning the video.
“The university and its leaders steadfastly oppose violence in all its forms,” the statement read. ……As a result, we have decided to take down the video of this event.” Realizing that the university didn’t back him and that his 17-year career at the school may be at risk, Bluestone attempted to conduct some quick damage control, calling his comments “stupid”. “What I should have said is, ‘I would love to see him disappear, I’d like him out of the White House,’”
Poland’s leading Archbishop deplored comments by a senior conservative priest who had wished Pope Francis a quick death if he does not open to “wisdom.” Krakow Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski said he heard about the comments with “great pain and regret”. In his speech, Staniek, who is a prominent theologian, said he was praying for wisdom for Francis and a “heart open to the Holy Spirit, and if he does not do that, for a quick passage to the House of the Father,” meaning death.
He said that Francis has departed from the teaching of Jesus and was wrongly interpreting mercy as opening up to Muslims and allowing communion for divorced Catholics, who, according to the church, live in mortal sin and are not allowed communion.
Nigeria has had its share of Presidential deaths and “exaggerated deaths”. From the reality of death for Sani Abacha and Yar’Adua to the constant rumours about President Buhari, the rumour mill has always churned.
In the case of Abacha, one columnist quipped “Till now, we cannot tell with confirmed certainty if it was liver cirrhosis that killed Abacha or the mysterious “Indian escorts.” In Buhari’s case the President’s spokesmen constantly talked about his “annual vacation” and “medical trip” to the United Kingdom. As rumours swirled about the President’s death, one supporter wrote: “Those who want the President dead are malevolent souls who are still sore Buhari defeated their candidate in the 2015 election”.
Let’s come back to our own President. Seriously, why would anyone want our President dead?
Rumours have swirled a while about him not being well, only to find out that he robustly copes with his punishing schedule. It would seem this time the rumour went from sickness to death. The situation was not helped by the President’s spokesmen keeping mute on his whereabouts.
Rumours were rife that he was in a hospital in London. When nobody could trace our President, the Deputy High Commissioner in the UK muddied the waters, lending credence to the maxim “silence is golden”. No doubt the Press release was puerile and further raised suspicions.
The Release started with- “This is to inform all that our President Julius Maada Bio is very Well and Hearty. He is only relaxing and enjoying a little break from his very hectic schedule in London”. She might as well have said “Our President is chilling!”
It continued – “VP The Honourable Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh is holding the fort and he knows that the President is very well and fit and that there is nothing to worry about”. Why for goodness sake was the VP brought into the equation?
“There is nothing to worry about” reminds one of the Krio statement attributed to a thief -“Una lef me, a nor go run away”. Suspicions were further raised.
Then the press release went for the jugular of detractors: “It is unfortunate that some people are still bent on spreading lies. It is unfortunate that the rumour is said to come from the High Commission. I can authoritatively state that it just a figment of someone’s imagination and nothing else.” Come to think of it, Governor Clarkson’s prayer could have come in handy here.
Non-government commentators like Dr Sylvia Blyden seemed to tell us more about the President’s whereabouts in Kenya, with pictures and all, than any government spokesperson.
Anyway, all is well that ends well. Someone said, “Being a good Catholic, he resurrected from the dead three days later in Kenya”. We were all pleased that our President was vacationing with his family in Kenya and even had time to discuss ways of promoting tourism and boosting trade between Kenya and Sierra Leone with the Kenyan President.
The President’s media team has not covered itself on this issue with glory. There is nothing wrong for the President and family to go on vacation, especially with his recent punishing schedule of local and international travels. Many others have also legitimately questioned his spate of overseas visits with a coterie of government functionaries to a host of countries and wondered about the costs and benefits to the nation. This is always fair comment that his spokesmen have an obligation to address.
A President is not judged by the number of trips he makes to foreign countries. There are legitimate questions to be asked: “Does he bring home the bacon? “Is he running to stay in the same place?”
When there is a news blackout, the rumour mill takes over. Such rumour mongering may be a response to the failures of the government to properly communicate with people. When people cannot get reliable official information, they make up their realities and hawk them around until they acquire some truth value.
One Nigerian columnist writing on such an issue opined: “Until our leaders learn to pre-empt rumours by making their health conditions public information, they will expend themselves putting out fires. In the post-truth world, rumours and fact-free truths travel the world without a visa and debunking them, unfortunately, sometimes assert their validity.”
I wonder the point of rejoicing at someone’s death when none of us is beyond mortality. Death is one of life’s many realities. We must instead pray for our leaders. Nowhere is prayer more needed than for the leaders of our government and nation. Whether your prayer is for the President, Parliament or the Judges of our land, they need prayer support. Even our Policemen.
No matter who is leading our country as President, we offer our prayers on behalf of his/her position. I rather like this prayer I have edited for our President after all this death wish:
“Almighty God, thank You for our President who has pledged his life in service to our country. Give him a true servant spirit. Anoint him with the Holy Spirit’s power, that he might feel Your strength in every situation. Let integrity and honesty guide every decision as he first looks to You for divine help. Turn his heart from distractions and temptations that could bring harm rather than help to his life, his family, and to the people he serves. Make him a leader in every respect, morally and spiritually strong.
“Enlighten his mind with discernment, wisdom, and fairness. When others tempt him to embrace arrogant power rather than humble service, give him an undivided heart. Help him to stand firm, knowing that You will fight his battles with him. As You surround him with godly counselors, give him accountability to them and the people he serves, but first and foremost to You. Bless him with joy when righteousness and goodness prevail. But give him a heart that weeps for the injustices and sorrows around him.
“Guard our President against unfair criticism and unfounded accusations. When he stumbles, give him the courage to admit his mistakes. Strengthen his character, guard him against hurtful compromise, and give him a listening ear for the people he serves. In danger, surround him and our country with Your angel protection. From the time he begins in office until his time is complete, may he serve you and our country as a true leader with an undying love, an unswerving faith, and an unending hope in the only One who can make our country great. Amen”
The death of our President is greatly exaggerated. Let us pray for him that he may lead us with discernment, wisdom and fairness.
Ponder my thoughts