By our Freetown Reporters :
Sierra Leone was once again declared a United Nations success story during the UN Peacebuilding Commission Sierra Leone Country Specific Configuration informal meeting at the UN Headquarters on December 14, 2011. The UN described Sierra Leone as a model of post-conflict peace consolidation and national development in Africa. Disclosing this information to avidly-listening Sierra Leoneans in the hit FM 103.5 Discussion program , MONOLOGUE , last Saturday, the Minister Plenipotentiary to the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN , Mr. Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu , said that all Sierra Leoneans should be proud of the manner the UN characterized their nation on December 14. He wasted no time to inform his countrymen and women that Sierra Leone and President Koroma are held in high esteem by the UN.
MONOLOGUE on Star Radio FM 103.5 is the most popular radio talk program in Sierra Leone today. It is not only heard in all the hooks and nooks of Sierra Leone but even in neighbouring Liberia and Guinea.
PRESIDENT ERNEST KOROMA : HE WAS COMMENDED AT THE UN FOR HIS LEADERSHIP
Mr. Kanu was invited to the MONOLOGUE Program by the host, Mr. David Tam-Baryoh , one of the leading journalists in Sierra Leone, to respond to false and erroneous reports in the opposition newspapers, The Global Times, New People Online and Unity that the UN warned the ruling All People’s Congress ( APC ) Government during the PBC Meeting on December 14 for what they described as attacks on the UN Secretary General ‘s Executive Representative in Sierra Leone, Mr. Michael Schullenberg. According to the opposition paper, Global Times , in which it was first published , the report said : “Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, Guillermo Rishchynski, condemned the attacks on Schulenburg as ‘most uncalled for and unfortunate’, adding that they only ‘undermine Sierra Leone’s image.’ …….He regretted that the attacks on the UN and its key representative send the wrong message about the government’s commitment in that respect”.
In his opening remarks to the MONOLOGUE Program, the Host, Mr. Tam-Baryor, said he thought it fit to invite Mr.Kanu, who is also head of the Information Division of the Mission , to clarify whether the report was true because since its publication in the opposition newspapers it has created confusion in the minds of Sierra Leoneans who are worried that their country may have done something bad to have been delivered such a warning by the UN.
In his response, Minister Kanu, who said he attended the meeting as part of the Sierra Leone delegation headed by the Permanent Representative , Ambassador Shekou M. Touray, described the newspaper reports as completely misleading and false and a totally inaccurate and untrue reflection of what happened at the meeting. He stated that Sierra Leone was not given any warning at the meeting .
FACT : The newspapers did not only misquote Mr Guillermo Rishchynski but they placed words in his mouth. Enquiries were only made by one or two participants who wanted to know whether it was true that the media (They did not even say pro-government press ) were attacking Mr. Schullenberg. Mr. Guillermo Rishchynski, who is Chair of the PBC Sierra Leone Configuration , said briefly that such alleged negative press comments emerging during an election year were unfortunate. He did not blame anybody or comment any further.He was only seeking clarification from the Permanent Representative.
Mr. Kanu said that rather than being warned , the country and President Ernest Koroma once again received high commendation from the UN.
He noted that the report was foolish because of the following reasons : The UN is aware that Sierra Leone presently enjoys freedom of the press and the government has no influence or control over the media and was not responsible for the attacks on Mr.Schullenberg. In the atmosphere of press freedom existing in Sierra Leone, he went on, even President Ernest Bai Koroma , his wife First Lady Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, Vice-President Sam Sumana and ministers of the government are constantly attacked by the newspapers and radio stations . “At times, the attacks are very nasty, but President Koroma, who is an exponent of Freedom of The Press has stated many times that he will never interfere with the media. Consequently, for the first time in Sierra Leone, media practitioners are completely free to write what they want and there has been no arrests or harassment of journalists. The government has no hands in the press attacks on Mr.Schullenberg and so the UN would not have said that the attacks were made by the pro-government media.”The government has no control over what is published by the press and as such it would have been a diplomatic absurdity for anybody to have warned the Government over something it has no influence over, asserting that people should also not forget that Sierra Leone is a sovereign country and what the press writes is an internal matter. No organization can control the country about what is published in its media.
Secondly, Mr.Kanu said press freedom is recognized by the UN as one of the ingredients and barometers of sustainable peace -building and peace consolidation in a post-conflict country and the fact that Sierra Leone has such a free press shows that peace is being built and consolidated in the country. It could not have been possible for the UN to warn Sierra Leone for something that the world organization itself promotes.
Thirdly, Mr.Kanu stressed that Sierra Leone has not committed any breach of International Law , nor has she endangered international peace and security. If Sierra Leone had been depositing toxic wastes in other countries or building nuclear weapons that are a clear threat to international peace and security , then the UN would have warned her to abandon the projects . But the UN would not warn any country for the activities of her media personnel when the UN itself cherishes press freedom.
FACT : The purpose of the meeting was to update member states on the developments so far in Sierra Leone in the area of peacebuilding and consolidation , the economic outlook of the country and to receive initial input on the PBC’s program for 2012 ; to report on the pending visit to Tunis of the Chair who will be going there to meet with officials of the ADB and to discuss the scope of the visit the Chair hopes to make to Sierra Leone in January.
Mr.Kanu said that after the member states had been updated, some delegations took the floor to comment during which they commended the country that it has made significant progress in peace consolidation and is a UN Success story in post-conflict peace building and consolidation. Mr. Kanu said that even the country’s economic outlook received positive comments from the IMF and World Bank experts and the IMF predicted that the economy will experience a 50% GDP growth rate in 2012.
Mr.Tam-Baryoh also sought to know whether diplomatic officials in Washington and New York were informed that the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP ) Presidential candidate Mr.Julius Maada Bio and his running mate Dr.Kadi Sesay had entered the UK and the U.S and why their visit was not given the publicity and attention worthy of public officials from the home country. He read out the headlines of some opposition newspapers which stated that Mr. Bio and Dr. Sesay had come to the U.S, contrary to the contention of pro-government newspapers that Mr. Bio would never be granted a visa by the U.S.
In his response, Mr.Kanu said that as a journalist he was not aware that Mr.Bio and Dr.Sesay ever came to the U.S. He stated that usually whenever public officials from Sierra Leone entered the U.S, the Sierra Leone media got wind of it and some published it. He said that he was sure that if Maada Bio and Kadi Sesay had come to the U.S , considering their profile as presidential candidate and running mate respectively , the story would have been hot and it would have been reported by the Sierra Leone media here.
In response to Mr.Baryor’s rhetorical question about whether diplomatic officials would have helped the SLPP candidates if they had encountered problems entering the U.S, Mr.Kanu responded that diplomatic stations in the country would respond , where applicable , to requests for help from visitors from Sierra Leone who encounter problems after entering but he stated that the issue of the issuance of entry visas to immigrants and visitors to the U.S was beyond the control of our diplomats and was at the discretion of U.S. Embassy officials in Freetown. Insisting further to know whether those who enter the country and encounter problems were actually helped by Sierra Leone’s diplomatic missions , Mr. Kanu said that three years ago when Mr. John Benjamin entered the U.S. and was held up for hours at the airport in Washinton DC by U.S.Immigration officers , the Sierra Leone Ambassador to the U.S, H.E. Mr. Bockarie Kortu Stevens , was contacted for help and he provided it , leading to the eventual release of Mr.Benjamin.
FACT : The SLPP Secretary General, Mr.Suliman Banja Tejan-Sie , had in fact told a press conference that the UNITY newspaper made an editorial error and that Bio and Sesay had not come to the U.S. or UK but had only visited some West African countries.
The HOST Mr. Tam-Baryoh asked Mr. Kanu to give his opinion about the Sierra Leone press. In his response, Minister Kanu thanked President Koroma for the freedom of the press in the country and also commended some of the newspapers for the quality of their products and their appreciable level of objectivity, but he outlined the shortcomings of many of the newspapers .He said that many Sierra Leone newspapers do not crosscheck their stories for accuracy before publishing them. He also noted that it has become the habit of some newspapers to concoct stories against the country and private and public officers to defame and malign the character of innocent people. He said that some newspapers have gone overboard with the concept of press freedom and were clearly abusing the freedom of the press.
Mr.Baryor also asked Mr.Kanu to comment on the present attitude of media personnel, who because their party is not in power, write all manners of damaging stories about the country on the internet and the international media , to damage the country’s image abroad . Responding,Mr.Kanu condemned journalists in the habit of concocting false and damaging stories to defame the President , the government and the country for political gain. He described their action as unpatriotic and insensitive to the welfare of the ordinary man in the street. He explained that when these unpatriotic journalists succeed in their plans to damage the country’s image, it is not the President and government officials who will suffer from the effects , but the ordinary man in the street who looks forward to foreign investments, foreign assistance, trade and commerce to help stimulate the economy so that jobs and money would circulate in the country. He pointed out that unpatriotic journalists who think that the only way they can help their political party regain power is to damage the country’s image abroad are only endangering and destroying the welfare of their fellow Sierra Leoneans. “They are only harming their own innocent fellow citizens . ”
Mr.Kanu called on journalists to help rebrand Sierra Leone for the betterment of everybody . He advised all journalists to put their country’s welfare above their political parties and to go all out to project a positive image of the country in the international world so that investors , foreign companies and tourists can come into the country to help develop our economy and our nation and make Sierra Leone a better place.