Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, thank you very much for accepting my invitation to attend this press conference.
I have called this briefing to convey to the governmental authorities, the general public and the officers and members of the governing Sierra Leone People Party respectively, certain matters of public and party interests.
I will speak on three topics and then take your questions from the floor. These topics deal with the Public Health, the administration of the SLPP and my very deep interest in holding publicoffice. But before I begin, I wish to express my appreciation for the great strides the media in our country has made in promoting responsible, democratic governance in our country by reporting the news and by publishing numerous Op-Ed articles on matters of national importance.
Without a free press, there can be no genuine democracy. I therefore urge you all, Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, to diligently press ahead with your work and to act m good faith at all times. Although mistakes have been made and will continue to be made, your work as radio and print journalists have been very beneficial to our country and will continue to be helpful to our country’s development.
Although mistakes have been made, I believe that no mistake made so far warranted the extremely severe sentencing of imposed upon journalist Paul Kamara. I therefore start this press briefing by asking the Government of Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to set Mr. Paul Kamara free forthwith.
1. PUBLIC HEATH ISSUES
The first public health issue I’d like to discuss is the scary pestilence ravaging the people of the Sella Limba Chiefdom in and around their capital, Kamakwie (Kamakuyea). The pestilence is known in the locality as BIG FOOT. Public Health experts call it Elephantiasis. By whatever name it is called the pestilence has taken away happiness from the people of Sella Limba Chiefdom. When I visited Kamakwie recently, I observed that a major dark cloud of fear and worry has enveloped the area.
From the traditional rulers to the lowliest resident, the Sella Limba people in Kamakwie are deeply concerned about their plight and there is absolute justification for such a state of mind. Our fellow citizens need help urgently to arrest the disease and eliminate their fears. I urge the 50-50 Group to come to their sisters’ rescue and also that of their children.
As of September 2003, 585 cases have been diagnosed. Dr. L. A Conteh of the WesleyanHospital in Kamakwie has the records. 77% of the victims are women. A number of children have also contacted the disease. Most of the cases are located in communities closest to the Little Scarcies River. The two most devasted sections are Magbonkeni I and Magbonkeni II, each approximately 7 miles from the Little Scarcies.
The worst part of the disease is that the victims develop not only grotesquely enlarged feet, hands, breasts and scrotums but are ostracized by some in the community, isolated at homes in their villages and then blamed for witchcraft and dealing with devils. Consequently, wives are divorced, once-eligible brides are discarded, infected pupils are withdrawn from school and the victims become virtual untouchables in their isolated homes.
In fact, the disease is caused by the AEDES Mosquito breeding and plying the area. WHO used to spray vulnerable areas in the chiefdom but the war intervened, terminating the spraying.
It is time to resume the spraying and initiate studies and/or arrangements for a long-term solution to the pestilence. The Ministry of Health should now do whatever its personnel can to contain the problem ? including psychological counseling of the entire population to get rid of superstitious beliefs that cast blame on innocent victims – while searching for international assistance as necessary.
I myself will also take up the matter privately when I return to the States. I am willing to help whosoever wishes to address this major health problem.
Please also note that pockets of elephantiasis are also said to be in Mbanta and Masimra in the Makarie-Gbanti Chiefdom, Bombali District and in the Moyamba District at Mahara, Mokeleh and Mombet in the Kagboro Chiefdom.
HEAPS OF GARBAGE
The garbage situation in our nation’s capital appears to many people ? aside from its ugliness – as a serious threat to the health and safety of the inhabitants of our nation’s capital; not to mention its impact in discouraging investments and tourism.
Heaps of rotting or smoking garbage can be seen daily in public streets within the city. Rotting garbage provided a sanctuary for disease-breeding insects and rodents. Burning garbage disperses carcinogens in the air we breath. Small wonder, therefore, that life expectancy in our country is so low, with the frequent occurrence of untimely deaths in this town.
The Central Government and the new elected Mayor and City Council should put their political differences aside and work with each other to put the public interest first above their respective political interests and thus free our capital of the sickness and unsightliness in our streets.
THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SIERRA LEONE PEOPLES PARTY
I respectfully call on all responsible officials of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party to devise an effective way to regularly communicate to the entire Party membership so that dues- paying patrons and the rank and file members are properly informed of all important Party activities on a systematic basis.
No reason has yet been given for the failure of the National Executive Committee and other party organs to meet and deliberate on Party matters since before the 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections. Or if they have met, we are not aware of the decisions taken or which group conducted the intra-party district elections that produced so much bitterness within our party. Many complaints exist.
I respectfully ask our party officials: where can a serious-minded party member go to review minutes of NEC Meetings?
What is the date of the next Convention? Why was the Mini-Convention required by the Party Constitution to be held in 2004 not yet held?
When and where will the 2006 Nominating Convention be held?
Rumors have it that the forthcoming Convention will be held in Freetowri rather than at Makeni as required in the interest of fairness. This switch is purportedly because there is insufficient accommodation in Makeni. The fact is accommodation is plenty in Makeni.
The traditional SLPP practice of rotating convention locales between Freetown, Makeni, Kenema and Bo should not now be changed arbitrarily and suddenly. Makeni wants and deserves to host the said Convention and has the ability to host 2,000 delegates, according to the SLPP Secretary-General of Bombali District.
The current Executive Council is operating on borrowed time and should stop keeping the membership in the dark regarding party activities.
MY iNTEREST iN HOLDING PUBLIC OFFICE
I am very much interested in becoming our country’s next president in succession to President Tejan Kabbah. However, I am not yet ready to make any definitive declaration at this time to seek the leadership of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, as I have a lot of homework to do.
For example, I am still consulting with Party members around the country and with known friends of Sierra Leone around the world. I am also trying to put a campaign organization in place and to work out arrangements to provide for my American family upon my relocation toSierra Leone.
Please allow me to make it clear that no one is pressurizing me. No one can pressure me to run. My candidacy will be the product of my own free will. Hopefully, I will be able to make an announcement shortly.
I am likely to participate in the contest for the next SLPP Leader because none of the announced or unannounced candidate is a qualified as I am for the position. In fact, everyone of them is substantially less qualified for the leadership than I. Most of them are local lawyers, members of a profession notorious in our country for delaying the peaceful and objective resolution of matters before our Courts. Most come to SLPP merely looking for opportunities for their own advancement and are laden with notorious political baggage. Some have political degrees such as NDP, APC, NUP or NPRC.
Suffice it to say that after the completion of my homework, I will seek the indulgence of the membership to consider my application for Party Leader. Until then, I ask everyone to keep an open mind.
In my view, the contest ought to be decided on who is the most qualified candidate that will do the most good for the people of Sierra Leone and not on the basis of who announced first or who throws large sums of money around or is a descendant of particular persons.
With this, I will now take your questions. Thank you for your attention.