Sierra Leone: The Last Word for a Dear Colleague

23 January 2007 at 01:39 | 1381 views

By Alpha Rashid Jalloh,Freetown.

I was walking along Garrison Street in the centre of the capital Freetown on January 20 when I bumped into a colleague, Christian Williams, who asked me if I knew that Donald John was dead. I was shocked. He said it was on the newspapers, but rather unfortunately, my engagements nowadays have even deprived me of having ample time to even read newspapers.

Those who know me know that I am a voracious reader because I believe that the ideal life is a life of intellectual contemplation. But I am one man who has felt disillusioned with the Sierra Leonean media because of its retrogressive nature and malevolent characterisation. Nevertheless, that does not mean that I do not feel proud to be associated with it, even with the Octopus Guys around who, it seems,are still clutching the destiny of the profession,holding it hostage. God damn me if I am optimistic that the media would pay its last respect to Donald. To journalists today, it is not something that has to do with them. Their private interest is much more important than the professional interest and the nurturing of solidarity.

Back to my friend, Donald. We have known each other for so many years. He was always cheerful and very gregarious. Being gregarious is part of human nature, but Donald’s gregariousness became notable through his much fondness for public places, so much so that his active participation in the media became less noticed.

I could still remember as if it were today when I met him at The Diplomat magazine. He became my mentor on the beat for scoops and news. He was a man who regarded being a journalist as a fulfilment of his dream . I remember him recounting how he developed a passion for the profession. His first attempt was at For Di People , but like all experienced journalists, the editor Paul Kamara in dealing with "raw" reporters, would look at Donald’s stories and shake his head because they contained so many inadequacies.

Donald’s stories ended up being killed. But that did not make him relent or be dejected. He stuck to the profession and attempted elsewhere. He ended at The Diplomat Magazine, where he was employed as are reporter. Those were days when Donald was driven by ambition. Cognisant of the fact that to be a professional journalist, you need to be refined so as to adjust with the ever-changing trends, he pursued a course at The London School of Journalism (through Distant Learning) and acquired a Diploma in Journalism and News Writing. He regarded it as a big achievement. It was like an unarmed soldier going to war and finding arms and ammunition in the forest. Few months later, he gained employment as editor at The New Breed newspaper, which was the most widely circulated newspaper at the time. That was in 1993.

But like in all Third World countries, he came to realise that no matter how careful you are you, will one day step on a booby trap in the rugged media landscape. And he stepped on one that sent him to Pademba Road Prison for some time. Those where the days when the "Khaki Boys" of the National Provisional Ruling Council headed by Capt. Valentine Esegrabo Melvin Strasser were described as "raw", because they were uncouth, violent and had no respect for human rights.

A story culled from a Swedish newspaper, Expressen, alleging that Strasser was involved in a $43 million diamond deal jeopardised his safety. Had it not been for the involvement of the German ambassador to Sierra Leone, Carl Prinz, who was later declared persona non grata, God knows what would have happened. But even Carl Prinz’s behind the scene intervention did not prevent the junta from showing the extent of their power. Donald and others were charged to court and after a snail-pace trial, he was convicted and fined. The charge was seditious libel, which was —and is till—a very serious offence in a Banana Republic like Sierra Leone.

But by the time the case ended, the paper had been closed. Donald became jobless and that was when many observed that he had allowed the situation to overcome him and push him off the track. Was it frustration? I never asked him, but there were times when he expressed his disillusionment about the media. But that was how things were and that is how they are.

Ours is a profession driven by individualism, covetousness, unmitigated rapacity and malevolence. And these were things that were an anathema to Donald, who had a lofty impression of the profession-like me— before he joined it. Today, it is common to see a journalist insulting his colleague because he has been given a mere fifty thousand Leones or because his colleague had criticised something which makes his own "pot to boil". And they proudly call the exhibition of such sheepish mentality or disposition " press war".

And there are those who think the profession is their personal property because they perceive themselves superior to others. By virtue of their conceitedness and their craftiness to use the profession and the opportunities available as an opportunity for personal aggrandisement at the expense of others, manipulating situations and facilities to strangle the businesses of others, they think they have the moral and perhaps even the legal right to determine the fate of others. And worst of all, they have been discovered to be the anti-progress elements in the media because they stifle any progressive opportunity that would benefit the media as a whole so that they would continue to be one-eyed kings among the blind.

These are issues on which Donald— in his lifetime —had expressed his concern. But even though he has left us for an everlasting journey, it is hoped that those of us who are alive would one day get the desired cooperation to give the media a new face that would be admirable.

He is sadly lost. He is gone but his memory will linger in the minds of those who know him for many years to come. He was a man with so many friends because he dad an amicable disposition. If he had enemies they were very few and perhaps he did not even know them. He was a man that I knew that would always apologise when he offended any one.

May your soul rest in perfect peace, Donald. You came into this profession because you loved it and was disappointed, but God who created you will not disappoint you in the next world. He who gave you life has taken it. We love you but God loves you most. Sleep on, dear friend, till we all meet again in the Day of Judgement.