John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Sierra Leone: Change You Can (Not) Believe In

by John Campbell
November 30, 2011

This is a guest post by Mohamed Jallow. He is an interdepartmental associate at the Council on Foreign Relations and graduate of the CUNY Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies. Mohamed came to the United States as a refugee from Sierra Leone in 2003.

Sierra Leone is in the middle of a corruption firestorm after a damaging al-Jazeera investigative report uncovered what appears to be corruption at the highest levels of government, including the vice president. Sorious Samura, the country’s celebrated investigative journalist, broke the story for al-Jazeera after he infiltrated government offices. For two thousand dollars, undercover reporters were granted access to the vice president and other senior government officials who hinted at the possibility delaying the official ban on timber exports and allow the so-called investors to engage in what is clearly an illegal activity. You can watch the entire video here.

Corruption is not new in Sierra Leone, and some might say it is a normal part of conducting business there. The report has generated considerable public interest, both in Sierra Leone and in its influential diaspora communities. Many are calling for the resignation of the vice president, Sam Sumana, who is featured in the video apparently talking to the undercover reporters and appears to indicate that he could arrange for a delay in implementing the moratorium on timber exports. Though he personally denied any involvement, two of his close associates where offered money.

In a rather bizarre attempt at damage control, Sylvia Blyden, a well-known newspaper proprietor and government insider, released her own documentary, attempting to absolve the vice president of corruption and pinning the blame on his associates. She alleged that the original report is a witch-hunt aimed at bringing the vice president down. In a hastily produced video, she goes to great lengths trying to claim entrapment and accuses al-Jazeera of fabrication.

Sierra Leoneans nevertheless are outraged about the entire scandal, and for what they see as graft within a government that made fighting corruption its top priority. The question now is not whether someone should be fired and held accountable, but whether cronyism will once again trump accountability—as it has in the past. There have been similar outcries over the past two years, following a slew of large mining and land deals that were signed without proper vetting or transparency. These concerns are justifiable because the country remains one of the most corrupt in Africa, a fact that is impeding its recovery from the decade long civil war that ended in 2002. To its credit, the government has stepped up efforts to combat corruption, though it will be a difficult battle against entrenched interests.

In fact, thanks to an avalanche of reactions from the country’s growing and influential social media community, the government and its anti-corruption agency are now vowing to investigate the matter and bring all those involved to account. For the first time, Sierra Leoneans are foregoing their normal ambivalence toward corruption and want this government, despite its rhetoric, to go after its sacred cows. Failure to do anything about this scandal will spell doom for an otherwise popular president as the 2012 general elections approach.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by SYLVIA BLYDEN

    I am OUTRAGED and SURPRISED that this piece of crappy work passed the editorial standards of a man like John Campbell.

    Sylvia Blyden is a Government insider? WOW!

    The rest of the piece is just as pathetic as the claim I am a Government insider.

    Sorious Samura’s documentary on Al Jazeera is so flawed, it is unbelievable!! Please click on the URL web-link I provide to listen to Sorious contradicting himself and making a mockery of people like Mohamed Jalloh whose gullibility or partisan leanings helped to blind him to the sad reality that what is bizarre is not my attempt to correct the lies against Sierra Leone but what is truly bizarre is that there are Sierra Leoneans like himslef peddling lies about their country to the outside world.

    Is Sierra Leone a country where it takes weeks and weeks to register a business? Of course not! According to World Bank statistics, NO. But according to Sorious on his Al Jazeera documentary, it takes several weeks to register a business. This is the type of person whom John Campbel is glorying on his Blog. Pretty sad.

    Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.

  • Posted by James Turay

    Sylvia Blyden is known for defending the corrupt class in salone. She defended the former thieving minister called Afsatu Kabbah till the end. She ridiculed the tenacity of the then head of the ACC Abdul Tejan Cole because he had the audacity to go after Afsatu Kabbah.

    Blyden is a complete joke, and whatever cause she supports ends in complete disaster. She firmly supported Berewa in 2007, and we all know what happened to Solo B. She firmly supported Afsatu Kabbah, and gave her readers the impression that Kabbah will go scot free.

    At the end of the trial, Afsatu Kabbah was disgraced and embarassed, as she is now a convict.

    Blyden does not mean well for salone. She is very comfortable defending the corrupt class in that tiny country.

    She is a walking disaster.

  • Posted by Amie

    My thanks to Mr. Campbell.

    Regardless of what folks like Sylvia Blyden are doing, working so hard to tarnish the image of Mr. Samura and Aljazeera. It does not change the fact that…

    VP Sam-Sumana entertained the subject of logging timber in the country instead of immediately referring the investors to where they should’ve been in the first place. He knows that they’ve been cutting down trees in that country and not replanting any and that it’s dangerously affecting the land and its people.

    He offered to speak to the Minister of Agriculture on behalf of the investors instead of making it clear to them that his office does not handle that type of requests. Being knowledgeable of the process, I can foresee him explaining the process to them but refer them to the Ministry of Agriculture and walk away.

    VP Sam-Sumana was a close associate to Alex and Momoh. He knew what those guys were capable of; he knew what they were doing and he did not do anything to stop them or bring them to justice.

    My take is that, the Vice President is supposed to help build a better Sierra Leone, and do his part to bring changes that will help future generations thrive. He has failed me and every voiceless Sierra Leoneans.

    This is not just about VP, Alex Mansaray, or Momoh Konte. This is about all government officials and Sierra Leoneans out there that are encouraging and consistently practicing corruption and/or not doing anything to stop it. It’s a disappointment and it hurts badly knowing that all level of government’s offices in that country has no ethics; but what’s painful the most, is knowing that some Sierra Leoneans are out there justifying the immoral acts of what was aired on Aljazeera. The media is an absolute source to impact changes; but the way Sierra Leonean based journalists and some individuals ran with this story makes me sick to my stomach. I am hurting knowing that our country is doomed.

    If people don’t allow to thoroughly do their jobs; or we don’t acknowledge the fact of the corrupted leaders running that country and support exposures like this to weed them out. The future generations will be deprived the ability to thrive ethically.

    I applaud Mr. Samura for his perseverance in using the media to change help change Sierra Leone. Unlike most of the journalists based in Sierra Leone or out there trying to tarnish his character; he has done enormously to send honest and sincere messages to the world about Africa through the media. Kudos to Sorious Samura, Aljazeera, and every media that are promoting those messages…

  • Posted by sattia naomi guberman

    Ilove my country Sierra Leone so much
    but this idea of corruption has become a fashion in the country ,down to babies yet unborn. Immediately you step your feet in the airport from uniform men to civilians harass the poor traveller. Nobody is a pacesetter for the young generation,that is why the youths in sierra leone are in limbo. Despite all the wealth and education , we have a very long way to go .Because everybody wants to be rich overnight. Even the richest nations have middle class and the poor.That is natural,but sierra leoneans cry about poverty , but they are living the most flambouyant life style , you can ever think of,they know every designer by name , every expensive by name and they want all these goodies without earnesly working for them. The anti corruption really has a very high mountain to climb. Because dealing with Sierra Leoneans everywhere in the world is like carrying a heavy mountain ,on your shoulder.They have destructive criticisms and they are putting anything into the system , just waiting to come to America or london
    People who are in these countries work so hard,yet stiil it is difficult to le ends meet.

  • Posted by Folusho Dolire

    This is a hallmark of the African society, from Nigerian to Sierra Leone, the story is all about fraud. May the citizens of this troubled nations be liberated from this kind of disturbing revelations. Government on her part will condemn this kind of expose, but the fact is that these beleaguered nations are retrogressing, which is an indication that corruption is pervasive.

  • Posted by SYLVIA BLYDEN

    Thanks for posting my response to this article.

    I have no other comments in reaction to any other naive, insulting or gullible poster.

    Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.

  • Posted by Amie

    I’m commenting again based on other articles that are being posted out there in ref. to this story… I pray that people will actually get this and Mr. Samura, InsightTV, and Aljazeera doesn’t quit on Sierra Leone because of the ignorance of Sierra Leoneans and Sylvia Blyden’s malicious attacks on Mr. Samura.

    I hope Sierra Leoneans will give H.E Earnest Koroma the credit and faith that he will handle the situation fairly as he has always done. However, I hope and pray that we (as in Sierra Leoneans & the Government) do not turn a blindside to what the video exposed. As everyone is entitled to their opinions, I can understand people having discrepancies about how the documentary was shot and not what it revealed. We are talking about the upcoming generation of Sierra Leone. We are talking about helping them thrive ethically not to bring them up in a society where we believe that immoral acts are normal. We have to understand that NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW. I hope and pray that if that was any of my family members that were caught on that tape; he/she be dealt with accordingly.

    Our perception shouldn’t be because we like President Koroma, we shouldn’t face the fact of what Aljazeera and Sorious Samura exposed. If that had happened in the United States the rest of the media (Networks & Journalists) will run with that and either help Sorious to answer the unanswered questions rather than we use the unanswered questions to judge him and attacking him personally to the extent that some failed medical doctor who couldn’t passed her medical exam and decided to switch gear into her cheap journalism skims for personal vendetta against Sorious Samura.

    My questions are:

    When will corrupt government officials and civilians in Sierra Leone start taking responsibilities for their solecisms?

    When will we the people understand that these people regardless of their status face the consequences of their actions?

    When will we put that country first and do right by the people? For future generations, our children, the poor, the voiceless with no opportunity or no one to turn to for support; no one to fight for them; not even their parents and definitely not those in power.

    When will there be honest and sincere change in Sierra Leone just because it’s the right thing to do?

    When, When, When??? When will we stop aching because there’s nothing we can do except to stand by and watch?

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