Welthungerhilfe, Njala University, and partners have on Thursday 6th May 2022 commenced discussions at the Family Kingdom, Aberdeen, Freetown on the introduction of a Certificate Program in Organic Agriculture through the Agri-business Development from Organic Resources (ADORE) SLE 1070 Project supported by the European Union Boosting Agriculture & Food Security.
George Muigai, Head of Project Agri-Business Development from Organic Sources (ADORE) disclosed that the project had identified a lack of expertise in organic agriculture in Sierra Leone.
The project he further disclosed is working towards building technical expertise in training youths and other interested parties in organic agriculture at Njala University with the introduction of a certificate program at the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences.
The project according to him is implemented against the challenges of climate change, fair trade, and the higher demands for these cash crops in the global market.
The project, he went on will solicit more funding to scale up the expertise training to degree and higher degree levels at Njala University in the long term future.
Professor Alieu Mohamed Bah, Dean School of Agriculture told the gathering that Organic Agriculture was practiced by default in Sierra Leone and that the new approach is now rolling out the process by design against the challenges of erratic climatic conditions and the importation of faulty fertilizers into the country which according to him is responsible for many cancer-related problems.
Njala University according to him is proud to associate itself with this development and that it has contributed immensely to research around this area and now is the time for training and rolling out experts and professionals in these areas and also transferring knowledge to farmers as part of the cardinal mandate of the University.
The two-day engagement in Freetown has brought together Chiefdom Authorities, District Councils, Ministries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Sierra Leone Export Promotion Agency (SLEIPA), Produce Monitoring Board (PMB), and Sierra Leone Standards Bureau.
These stakeholders will brainstorm on the inherent gaps and also develop content for the proposed course in the 2022/2023 Academic Year.
Njala University’s School of Agriculture is very pivotal in supporting the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and other private-sector-led agricultural interventions in Sierra Leone with the provision of the requisite expertise over the years.
It is currently playing host to a number of high-profile agricultural projects in the country.
Appeals Court Ruling to Hunt Pres. Bio
The Appeals Court of Sierra Leone unanimously delivered a ruling yesterday that could affect the current president and MPs on the exercise of their powers.
The defence team headed by Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara Esq had argued that their client, former President Ernest Bai Koroma, did not act out of his powers when he instructed payments to be fast-tracked for the construction of Sewa Grounds and therefore cannot be brought before the court by way of litigation for such action. The defence team, therefore, asked the Appeals Court to clarify whether the Supreme Court should be asked for an interpretation of Section 48(4) which deals with presidential immunity.
It took the three-man-judge seven months to decide whether they can handle the issue and when they did, the ramifications seem to be far- reaching.
The question was whether the instruction, emanating from the executive discretion of the President to a state institution to expedite payment to a contractor can be subjected to litigation after that President has left office.
The defence believes that it can lead to a floodgate of litigations on people holding public offices relating to the exercise of their duties.
For many, this ruling has left the door wide open to any citizen to challenge decisions taken by a president, Members of Parliament or any person holding executive positions after they had left office.
“No state will properly function where the exercise of executive function is fettered by the threat of litigation,” said a senior legal practitioner.
According to lead counsel Joseph Kamara Esq, their call for the interpretation of Sec 48 of the 1991 Constitution is not about shielding his client from accountability rather; it was to seek clarification on the provision of the law and how it affects the function of a president.
Money Jagaban Rescues vulnerable groups
By Alhaji Turay
Sheik Mohamed Kamara a Sierra Leonean who is based in the United State of America has continued to render more service to the less privileged within the Freetown and its Environs.
In his passion to extend a helping hand to the less privileged in society he has engaged in Youth empowerment, training widows on micro finance scheme, children living with disabilities and also providing basic amenities in different deprived communities in Freetown and its environs.
Sheik Mohamed Kamara has also been providing financial support to the less privileged at different places of worship with food and non- food items to deprived communities.
In an exclusive interview with this medium sheik Mohamed kamara said that he is doing so in memory of his parents who use to host and provide support to vulnerable children in their community.
Mr Kamara expressed delight that to undertake such a donation for the development of citizens in the country especially children living with disabilities.
He continued that the event itself is an eye- opener for the girl’s guardians to become aware that regardless of the fact that some of them are living with disability they should consider them very important in society.
According to him this is according to the will of God Almighty, as part of his contribution towards the promotion of Islam in Sierra Leone and the world in general.
“Recently I have donated one hundred million Leones towards the completion of Dwazark field masjid, which is in progress”, He explained.
Citizens have also called on other humanitarian organizations and individuals to follow the footsteps of sheik Mohamed Kamara in order to support the less privileged.
The people of Malta Street eastern part of Freetown also joined the Kamara family to extend his heartfelt gratitude to Sheik Mohamed Kamara and all those who supported him and also prayed that more help will come towards the people of Sierra Leone and beyond.
ADVANTAGES OF PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SYSTEM
By Prince Williams From UK
The Proportional Representation (PR) system offers a better hope that decisions will be taken in the public eye and by a more inclusive cross-section of society.
Thus, the strongest arguments for PR derive from the way in which the system avoids the anomalous results of plurality/majority systems and is better able to produce a representative legislature.
For example, in the 1996 parliamentary proportional elections in Sierra Leone, in which 750,858 people voted, Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) got 269,888 (35.94%) United National People’s Party (UNPP) 165,219 (22%) People’s Democratic Party (PDP) 114,429 (15.24) All People’s Congress (APC) 42,467 (5.66%) National Unity Party (NUP) 39,285 (5.23%) Democratic Centre Party (DCP) 35,632 (4.75%) Others 79,282 (10.55%).
Seats were distributed as follows:
SLPP – 27
UNPP – 17
PDP – 12
APC – 5
NUP – 4
DCP – 3
Others – 0
For many new democracies, particularly those which face deep societal divisions, the inclusion of all significant groups in the legislature can be a near-essential condition for democratic consolidation.
Failing to ensure that both minorities and majorities have a stake in developing political systems can have catastrophic consequences, such as seeking power through illegal means.
PR system translates votes cast into seats won and thus avoids some of the more destabilizing and ‘unfair’ results thrown up by plurality/majority electoral systems. ‘Seat bonuses’ for the larger parties are minimized, and small parties can have their voice heard in the legislature.
Reduces wasted votes
When thresholds are low, almost all votes cast in PR elections go towards electing a candidate of choice. This increases the voters’ perception that it is worth making the trip to the polling booth on polling day, as they can be more confident that their vote will make a difference to the election outcome, however small.
Any political party with even a small percentage of the vote can gain representation in the legislature.
This fulfils the principle of inclusion, which can be crucial to stability in divided societies and has benefits for decision-making in established democracies, such as achieving a more balanced representation of minorities in decision-making bodies and providing role models of minorities as elected representatives.
Encourage parties to campaign beyond the districts in which they are strong or where the results are expected to be close. The incentive under PR system is to maximize the overall vote regardless of where those votes might come from.
Every vote, even from areas where a party is electorally weak, goes towards gaining another seat. Restricts the growth of ‘regional fiefdoms’ Because PR system rewards minority parties with a minority of the seats, they are less likely to lead to situations where a single party holds all the seats in a given province or district.
This can be particularly important to minorities in a province which may not have significant regional concentrations or alternative points of access to power.
Makes power-sharing between parties and interest groups more visible
In many new democracies, power-sharing between the numerical majority of the population that holds political power and a small minority that holds economic power is an unavoidable reality.
Where the numerical majority dominates the legislature and a minority sees its interests expressed in the control of the economic sphere, negotiations between different power blocks are less visible, less transparent and less accountable; for example, in Zimbabwe during her first 20 years of independence).
Orders from the above…
SLAJ Pres. Blasts Police for unprofessional work
Since the historic repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law in 2020, Sierra Leone has made commendable progress in the area of freedom of the press.
No journalist has been put in jail in relation to the practice of journalism.
No media house has been closed down for what they print or broadcast, except Justice FM which was days ago banned by the IMC for 10 hours for alleged ‘un-radio-like language’ and ‘threatening remarks…’.
The incidents of arrest and detention of journalists by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) on orders from above or on orders from influential people have reduced considerably since 2020.
In the World Press Freedom Index 2022, Sierra Leone moved 29 places higher from 75h position to 46th out of 180 countries due largely to the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, the passing of the IMC Act 2020 as one big step towards addressing minimum conditions of service of journalists and other media workers, and media pluralism in the country.
And for the first time in the 22 years’ history of the Independent Media Commission (IMC -the statutory body that regulates the media and which was established to support the media’s move toward self-regulation), His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio approved all 7 persons nominated by SLAJ, including the Chairman, to serve in the new IMC Board of 12 professional members.
SLAJ is working with the Security Sector and trying to realize the MoU we signed last November, which is of foundational importance to realizing press freedom.
Moreover, the Government of Sierra Leone has announced an increment in its annual subvention to the media from Le250 million to Le500 million, although it is yet to disburse for the year 2021 and 2022.
Just last month, the Government in partnership with SLAJ and the BBC Media Action, held the first national media viability and investment conference with the aim of positioning the media in Sierra Leone for investment opportunities.
THREATS TO FREE MEDIA AND FREE SPEECH
However, while it is good on a day like this to highlight the progress we have made in the area of press freedom, it is equally necessary to red-flag the emerging threats which have the potential to reverse all the gains we have made since the repeal.
A number of incidents have been recorded by both SLAJ and the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) from 2021 to present which is a cause of concern for us.
Harassment, intimidation and detention of journalists have started happening all over again, including the digital space, and especially from the Sierra Leone Police.
At the close of 2021, a popular Sierra Leone rapper unleashed a scathing video against the personality of the Station Manager of Radio Democracy 98.1FM, simply because the station reported the issuing of a bench warrant for him in a court matter.
A journalist working for the Government of Sierra Leone, Abdul Fonti Kabia, was widely reported dead on social media in an attempt to intimidate him.
The SLP assaulted and detained AYV Media photo journalist, Ransford Wright, when he attempted to cross-check certain information with the Police.
President of the Sierra Leone Reporters Union and Head of Digital Media at the AYV Media, Amadu Lamrana Bah, suffered humiliation and almost missed his flight to the AFCON 2021 in Cameroon after flight officials at the Freetown International Airport attempted to drop him allegedly on orders from above for a critical sports update on his Facebook page.
The SLP sent two officers to Bo city, Southern Sierra Leone, to arrest Journalist Solomon Joe of KISS 104 FM for a broadcast concerning a transaction between two businessmen. A statement was obtained from him in Bo but he was transported to Freetown and spent one night in police custody.
Worse, an apparent assassination attempt on journalist, Gibril Gottor and his family in Kambia town, Northern Sierra Leone, has left the investigative journalist in fear for his life.
Furthermore, a free press goes beyond arrest and detention of journalists but to the political economy of the media; for example, the unfair distribution of Government advertisement and non-payment for such.
But we are not just concerned about threats to free expression for journalists, SLAJ is also worried about the arrest of other citizens, including dissenting teachers and mentally challenged people for freely expressing themselves, as well as the suppression of peaceful protests and certain popular cultural activities.
SLAJ is concerned that the SLP now seems to be using the vague offence of incitement as an excuse to clamp down on free speech and we are worried that the SLP is overreacting to dissenting views expressed by people.
When in 2021, one year after the repeal, and on the occasion of our Golden Jubilee celebration, we recognized His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio as Champion of Free Speech, we did so for good reason and we reminded him that the title carried immense responsibilities. Freedom of the press is freedom of expression for all citizens, not just journalists. President Bio must ensure the fundamental rights of everyone, including those opposed to his government, are respected and protected. As His Excellency prepares to deliver his address at the State Opening of the 6th Parliament, we look forward to hear his strong commitment to provide greater protection of freedom of expression for not only the media and journalists but also the general public.
SLAJ, with support from the European Union Sierra Leone, will mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day with a PRESS FREEDOM WALK (WPD) 2022 under the theme: ‘Protect, Promote & Expand the Space’ to reflect upon the historic repeal of the criminal libel law in 2020, a milestone which set a positive dynamic and an enabling framework for the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, including press freedom, and the civic space in Sierra Leone.
The freedom walk platform will further be an opportunity to encourage the Government of Sierra Leone, all Political parties, the Parliament of Sierra Leone, and the Security Sector (especially the Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces) to strengthen their commitment to respecting and protecting free speech and free media in the country for everybody and at all times.
The Freedom Walk is not an end in itself but the beginning of a long march to free press and free expression in Sierra Leone, the attainment of which will be SLAJ’s main priority in the coming years as we head to the city of Makeni in June 2022 to elect a new executive and renew my mandate as President. We, therefore, look forward to work with the European Union, the British High Commission, the United States Embassy, the Irish Embassy, and other national and international organisations and experts such as our partners at Bournemouth University in the UK, the IMC, the Right to Access Information Commission, the MRCG, the BBC Media Action, the Faculty of Mass Communications, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, the Mass Communications Department at UNIMAK, and the Government of Sierra Leone.
CALL FOR RESPONSIBLE PRACTICE
Meanwhile, SLAJ has received many complaints of alleged reckless practice by certain media houses across the country.
Let me remind colleagues, and all media houses, that media freedom is important to be used responsibly. Journalism is a privilege, a service to the society, not to be wielded irresponsibly, never to be misused. This too is a priority for SLAJ, and we will continue to initiate more training programs to continue to build the capacity of our practitioners.
SLAJ is therefore calling on all journalists and media houses to ensure professional and ethical practice at all times and to put public good ahead of all other interests or considerations.
FREEDOM WALK AND FREE MEDIA: JOURNALISTS CAN NOW CELEBRATE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY IN S/LEONE
By Ishmael Bayoh
This article is an edited version of the one I first published last year on May 3rd, 2021 immediately after President Julius Maada Bio signed into law, the repeal of Part V of the libel provisions contained in the 1965 Public Order Act.
Since the repeal, we have seen steps taken to make the media professional and viable. One significant development so far was the media viability conference geared towards enabling investment in the media.
President Julius Maada Bio made a commitment on October 28th, 2020 when he was appending his signature to the Public Order Act that he would support an investment conference to enhance private sector investment in the media in Sierra Leone.
No wonder SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla did not mince his words during his statement at the viability conference that “Your Excellency, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, never in the history of our country has there been such a political will to transform the media in Sierra Leone, and as President of SLAJ I am taking full advantage of it”
Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, 3 May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing.
The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.
Freedom of Expression is guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and Section 25 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.
Those fundamental freedoms of rights were challenged with the obnoxious criminal and seditious libel provisions in the 1965 Public Order Act. That law infringed on the rights of citizens and placed a hook hanging on the heads of Journalists.
Fifty Five years in our law books, where previous Presidents never ventured; and where the immediate past President continuously promised to repeal it but to no avail, President Julius Maada Bio ventured into that territory and successfully repealed it when parliament amended the 1965 Public Order Act on Thursday 23rd July, 2020. The Country’s National human rights institution, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone from 2007 to 2019 in their annual state of human rights report also recommended for a repeal of that law.
This is one among President Bio’s several commitments on Good Governance by repealing Part V of the libel provisions notwithstanding the fact that he was the most vilified on the political landscape. This shows the commitment of him to create the enabling environment for all irrespective of political leaning. Hear what President Bio said on October 28th 2020 when he was signing the repeal amended law at State House: “I have always argued that the repeal will unshackle free speech, expand democratic spaces, and consolidate our democracy. It will open up the space for the growth of the media industry in the country. Professionalism will be enhanced and the best and brightest and more women, especially, will be encouraged to work their trade,”.
At that very momentous ceremony, the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists- Ahmed Sahid Nasralla did not mince his words when he said “Mr President, as I look at you today, I begin to think of urging my son to become a soldier. This is because I know the other Presidents before you had contemplated repealing the Criminal Libel laws. They say there is no courage without fear. As a politician, I know that you also share in the fear that this repeal might expose you to insults, abuse, and vilification. But the fact that you have mustered the bravery to do it, shows me, that only a man, who enters the military profession, knowing fully well, that he may have to go into battle, face bullets and bombs, and may die, that can have the courage to do this.”
The immediate past President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Kelvin X Lewis was also Frank by stating “Mr. President,
Since I was young I have come to know that politicians make a lot of promises but they don’t keep them. I was surprised this was kept. Mr. President, thank you sir for keeping your promise and I pray that you will continue to deliver on your other promises.”
From the diplomatic front, the former British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Simon Mustard had this to say “We congratulate his Excellency for achieving his manifesto commitment and the dedication of Minister Swaray to reach this milestone. The UK and our partners stand together with Sierra Leone as we continue to build a new media regulatory system which gives protection to the public, as well as those in positions of responsibility, while also defending media freedom”.
Since the historic repeal in 2020, Sierra Leone has made commendable progress in the area of freedom of the press. In the World Press Freedom Index 2022, Sierra Leone moved 29 places higher from 75th to 46th position out of 180 countries due largely to the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law.
Previously on such dates, the media in Sierra Leone have been using such events to protest, advocate for a repeal of Part V. At times such events have been observed with Journalists in detention, on trial and or harassed under that obnoxious law. Today, it is a sigh of relief as the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists will for the second time have a reason to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. No journalist has been put in jail in relation to the practice of journalism. The incidents of arrest and detention of journalists by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) on orders from above or on orders from influential people have reduced considerably since 2020. As I type, no media house has been closed down for what they print or broadcast.
Moreover, for the first time in the 22 years’ history of the Independent Media Commission (IMC -the statutory body that regulates the media), President Julius Maada Bio approved all seven persons nominated by SLAJ, including the Chairman, to serve in the new IMC Board of twelve professional members.
President Bio’s Government has announced an increment in its annual subvention to the media from Le250 million to Le500 million and the passing of the IMC Act 2020 is one big step toward addressing minimum wage conditions of service of journalists and other media workers, and media pluralism in the country.
These reasons and more, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists are doing a freedom walk. A walk of freedom from the shackles of that obnoxious law and a walk of Freedom that President Julius Maada Bio has done more for the media than any other President before him- thus dubbed as ‘the champion of press freedom’.
This year’s theme for 2022 World Press Freedom Day is *’Journalism Under Digital Siege’.* The theme is intended to highlight the multiple ways in which surveillance and digitally mediated attacks endanger journalists and journalism, according to the United Nations (UN) information page on the event. The enacted cyber security law in Sierra Leone seeks to address the impediments of cyber bullying, cyber-attacks and removes the fears of threats that will silence journalists.
MRCG OBSERVES WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
The Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) joins the world to observe the World Press Freedom Day 2022 and welcomes the significant progress that Sierra Leone made in the just released 2022 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders (RSF). Sierra Leone moved up 29 spaces from 75th in 2021 to 46th in 2022 out of 180 countries. The MRCG believes that its numerous media campaigns, publications and alerts greatly contributed to this achievement. The MRCG congratulates the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on its successes in championing media freedom and achieving this great feat.
The MRCG Bi-annual Press Freedom publications also show that Sierra Leone had made much progress as a nation in terms of press freedom following the repeal of criminal and seditious libel laws in Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965, the enactment of the Independent Media Commission Act 2020, the signing and commitment to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom and organizing the first National Media Viability and Investment Conference.
The MRCG continues to call on the government, organisations and individuals to ensure freedom of expression and of the press as its monitoring in 2021 recorded more than 10 cases of violation of freedom of expression and of the press against journalists and citizens. These include attacks, intimidations, assaults, arrests, detentions and prosecutions. Some of the violations were carried by the police, state/public officials, social media vigilantes, artists/entertainers and anonymous individuals. “Such a trend will affect the progress made by the country. At this point there should be no turning back to any act that will negatively affect the country’s media freedom ranking”, says Dr. Francis Sowa, MRCG’s National Coordinator.
The MRCG calls on the Government of Sierra Leone and all individuals to ensure the safety and security of journalists. The MRCG also calls on journalists to be professional and responsible in their practice.
The MRCG seeks to strengthen democratic dialogue and accountability, consolidate peace and ensure development through professional, independent and sustainable media based on the right to freedom of expression and of the press.