By Othman Sheriff, Editor, CEN
The above documentary film was screened few days ago by the Sierra Leonean award winning journalist, Sorious Samura aided by the Arab news outlet – Al-Jazeera. This film has attracted endless debates among many concerned Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. While the office of the president has vowed to investigate and prosecute the matter without any political hindrance or compassion, some local journalists have already started publishing their individual analysis on the documentary – some for and some against.
We at Critique Echo decided to keep silent about it till we read or hear the various opinions of some key players. We knew that it was too early to voice out our opinions about the documentary without properly investigating it. After carefully studying the recorded video and all commentaries from various news outlets, we think it necessary now to express our independent views and opinions on the entire saga as follows:
Al-Jazeera is said to be an “independent” broadcaster owned by the Arab State of Qatar and it has it headquarters in Doha – Qatar. Al-Jazeera station gained worldwide attention following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when it was the only channel to cover the war in Afghanistan live from its office in Doha, and the publication of clandestine video tapes recorded by the Al-Qaida leadership. It has also recently been acclaimed for its in-depth coverage of the Arab spring protests and revolutions.
However, when critically looked at it location and origin, Al-Jazeera lack the credence to conduct any investigative documentary in any country outside the Middle East region about corruption, human-right, democracy and gender discrimination. Because even the Al-Jazeera’s headquarters is undemocratic, less sensitive about gender equality, human-right and corruption. Al-Jazeera should first and foremost bring to the world the barbaric human-right abuses, racism and corruption practices that are taking place in the Middle East region before going beyond the border. So Al-Jazeera’s quest to expose corruption in Africa should be welcomed at any rate hence the motive is to help the continent, but some of us who have lived and worked in the Middle East region where Al-Jazeera is located would like to know how many women are allowed to drive a car in the Middle East? How many women are allowed to marry their favorite men in the Middle East? When is the next election in the Middle East? How many citizens are allowed access to the oil revenue in the Middle East? How many ordinary citizens are allowed to see a parliamentarian in the Middle East talk less of a Minister or Vice President? We at Critique Echo believe that the Al-Jazeera’s documentaries on bad governance in Africa can be more appropriate if “charity could begin at home first”.
Characters in the documentary
It’s nothing unusual or illegal for a documentary reporter to preset some of the scenarios reported as long as such scenario depicts the reality of the situation. So when carefully looked at the screen shots of the Al-Jazeera’s documentary, it’s quite clear that some characters were trained to perform their roles. For example, the civil servant from the Ministry of Agriculture who made the appointment with Sorious outside the city. Every Sierra Leonean knows that a single woman can date several men in Freetown and continue to maintain them for years without them knowing each other. So why is this woman going to meet Sorious in a bush when she was able to do so in the city? If this woman was truly afraid of losing her job why is Al-Jazeera exposing her face on the screen? All of us know that Al-Jazeera is renowned for its secrecy as it was able to maintain contacts with Osama Ben Laden`s underground mail carriers who delivered recorded messages from the Al-Qaida leadership for almost a decade without exposing them to the Americans.
Another example is the logger who spoke to Sorious in the bush. This man was very quick to refer Sorious to the chief and other loggers in the surrounding. The logger is earning his daily bread through the logging activities. He is aware of the fact that there was an official government ban on the business and that he and his colleagues are being chased by the police on daily basis. It’s therefore unusual for him to refer a strange businessman to other loggers in the bush without really knowing who he was dealing with. This part was created to show the world that there are too many people involved in the process without any control by the central government, which is quite true.
As for the chief, if he wasn’t pre-mentored by anyone to say the self-indictment words he uttered, then it was really foolhardy of him to expose himself in such a stupid manner. His response: “we started the last time when the government stopped it” after Sorious asked him: “how long have you been doing this?” sounds very prematured and unrealistic.
If this man is the legitimate Paramount Chief of the forested region and he knows that timber business was a get-rich-quick scheme, why he never logged timber when it was permissible and only started logging when it was prohibited by the central government? This part was created to tell the world that the central government is working very hard to stop the felling but some people in the hierarchy are betraying the system.
The implication of VP Sam Sumana
Before writing for or against any element of the allegations against the VP, I think a patriotic journalist should first of all ask him/herself too many questions: what is the sacred mandate and responsibility of the VP’s office? Is the VP’s office responsible for business registrations in Sierra Leone? Are Messers Alex Mansaray and Momoh Konteh true associates of the PV? If no, who made it possible for the journalists to see the VP and under what condition did the VP allow them to see him? If those journalists had made similar attempts to implicate other government Ministers, for example, Ministers of Trade, Mineral Resources or Agriculture, would they have sticked to the rule of law and then ignored the $ 50,000 offer from a potential Arab investor?
Of course I can understand the position of some news outlets like the Exclusive and Awareness Times who are trying their damndest to quench down the devastating flame of this documentary.
However, as a patriotic citizen of that beautiful land, I view the entire scenario as a real disgrace for every Sierra Leonean including Sorious Samura himself. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t let the spade be called a spade. Whether the VP is guilty or not, this is not the way I expect the second gentleman of our republic to behave in office. If he wasn’t ready to abuse his power why should he allow the purported investors to meet him in the first place? Is he the one in charged business registrations? Many Western investors are registering their business ventures in that country without meeting the VP, why were he and his associates so “cheap” to encourage a fake Arab investor to bribe them if this has not been business as usual? Whether the dollars were paid in an office located at Waterloo or Bo, whether Messers Alex and Momoh were government functionaries or not, the fact is that they fulfilled their promises by making it possible for the fake investors to meet the VP which clearly tells that they had some amount of influence in the VP’s office. Moreover, they categorically referred to the location where they welcomed the fake investors as the VP’s office: “you have touched the right buttons between Momoh and myself; we are very popular, we are very known in this country; anywhere we take you, you get protection. Look at you; you are in the Vice President’s office”. This statement makes the entire allegation undeniable.
“I will be meeting with the minister of agriculture today” was one of the sentences VP Sam Sumana uttered instead of categorically telling the fake inventors the current government ban on timber business. What was he going to discuss with the Minister of Agriculture? That the ban shouldn’t affect any Arab investor from the Middle East?
The most insulting part of the meeting with the VP is where the fake investor said: “we are going to be looking up to you as a bigger father to give us your blessings in the business; ban or no ban…we hope we will be able to…ha ha ha… do it”. Instead of instructing his guards to frog-match the fake investors out of his esteemed office for molesting him, the VP was actually sitting behind his desk smiling and said: “no, it will be postponed for a while”. What was going to be postponed? The business registration plan or the government ban on timber export? I wish VP could tell me.
The way Forward
Whether guilty or not, the most honorable thing VP Sam Sumana can do at the moment in order to repair his dented image and save the country as a whole is to tender an immediate resignation. And other major characters in the documentary including Alex Mansaray, Momoh Konteh and the Paramount Chief should be brought to justice without delay.
The top-ranking officials of the management of the sea port should be also investigated for illegal exporting.
I rest my case…
Your predisposition about the implications of the VP in the Sorious Samura bungled investigative documentary is so vile, weak and another distortion of facts on the ground. The so called Arab business men whether by wit or deed went through security clearance at the VP’s office before they met with him? At this point like you said, do you expect the VP to frog march these guys out of his office or give them audience? The VP did exactly like any decent and honesty leader will do. Give them audience and refer them to the appropriate authorities in charge of forestry – Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Not stopping there, he made clear the ban on timber and that it is only the president that can lift the ban. (Hon. Victor Foh, APC Secretary General in an interview in the Cocorioko daily news)
If the VP had asked the presumed businessmen to leave his office without asking them why they are in his office and by fluke these people happened to be genuine businessmen who truly wanted to invest in our country what would have been your respond? I believe you would have accused the VP of being ill equipped for the job and unprofessional. Let’s be honest here, it is not a crime to give audience to someone you do not know especially when such a person had gone through necessary security clearance. And it is not a crime to refer people to the right authorities like the VP did with the fake Arab businessmen.
You have been in the media for some time now; you should know that people can do anything for survival these days. Therefore, I am not surprise to see the likes of Alex and Momoh using the VP’s name to make a living.
Writing from a different direction is a learning process for us all, but what I do agree with is that majority of the media outlet both nationally and internationally cannot be wrong in pointing out the flaws in the documentary and coming to the aid of the VP.