In December 2018, President Bio held his maiden and arguably the first ever White House styled Cocktail Dinner between a sitting president and the Press Corps ever in the history of Sierra Leone. In attendance were the Honorable Vice President, Dr. Juldeh Jalloh, First Lady Fatima Bio and the recently awarded ‘best Minister’ Mohamed Rahman Swarray whose constituency will be interacting with the President this evening.
The President’s speech at the maiden event was rated highly especially with the humor he created on media outlets he believed were used by the opposition All People’s Congress (APC). He jokingly toasted the Vice President, Chief Minister and asked about Tam Baryoh’s once popular ‘good governance program’ Monologue. Jonathan Leigh, who was incarcerated several times by the previous government was also mentioned as someone who was appointed as Deputy Ambassador to Germany for rehabilitation purposes.
The 2019 Cocktail
Fast forward to 2019, the President will again engage the media after a very busy year for both his government, the opposition and the country as a whole. The invitation for this year’s event has the same speakers as last year. President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Ahmed Shaid Nasralla, Independent Media Commissioner, George Khoryama, Information Minister Mohamed Rahman Swaray and President Bio the keynote speaker.
While, I applaud the line-up, I must hasten to say that not having women speakers is a missed opportunity for the administration to showcase itself as one that recognizes that the future is women (actually, the future is now). Would it not have been great to have our own Madam Mamdi Gobeh Kamara tell us how she led an unprecedented government-led collaboration with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists in the investigations of the beating of our colleagues Esther Marie and Frances Bernard of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) by Presidential Guards at State House? Why not get the First Lady, who so believed in the power of the media, to use her humor to once again sensitize those ‘Bra dem’ chasing the ‘pekitoes’ to Hands Off our Girls?
Whilst my good friend Yusuf Keketoma Sandy has refused to give me an insight on what will be in the president speech, I will assume some of the issues the president might possibly mention in his address later this evening.
This year, it is expected that the Chief Minister will feature greatly in the president speech following his issue with the publisher of Times Newspaper Sallieu Tejan-Jalloh. The president will possibly refer to that issue as an ‘egregious’ baptizing of the Bradford Professor into governance and national politics.
Possibly, Bio will call for a truce between Professor Francis and Sallieu Tejan-Jalloh as well as some section of the media who just believe the Chief Minister is not accommodating and is disrespectful to the media fraternity.
In a meeting yesterday with mostly journalists at the Conference room of the Ministry of Information and Communications on the repeal of the criminal libel law, Minister Rado Swarray described President Bio as a very resilient and ‘thick skinned’ politician who literally went ‘to hell and back’ in the hands of journalists whilst in opposition.
President Bio should use the evening of the Cocktail where all those journalists that matter will be gathering to induct his Chief Minister on how to resolve an issue with the media rather than running to the Police or Anti-Corruption Commission. Welcome to our world, Professor David Francis.
Finance Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa has made the front pages of most of the Newspapers in the country to an extent that Salone Times Newspaper, New Age, Sierra Express Media and The Times are running out of new quality photos especially when they seem to be repeating the few they have.
Even when he is competing with President Bio for the front page of Global Times Newspaper on his international trips and signing of agreements, the “De Gron Dry” champion is still struggling to convince the media of his successes. I believe he will also likely feature in President Bio’s speech tonight.
The Promise to the Media
President Bio will definitely be bluffing the media tonight on fulfilling some part of his biggest promise, the repeal of the obnoxious part five of the seditious libel law. No President has done what Bio has achieved so far, and that’s not only for Sierra Leone but even the sub-region and Africa as a whole. The passing through Cabinet of the repeal of the libel law is so far the biggest achievement for the government and President Bio’s good governance and rule of law in line with his campaign promise.
The Bill is already in the house of Parliament, engagement into the process of the repeal will continue with the leadership and the media. Even though Rado Swarray warned that there will be challenges with some members but he is quiet sure that they will succeed to repeal the obnoxious law.
The success so far on the repeal will definitely be one of the highlights of the President speech even though the Chief Minister, Professor Francis will want him to emphasise on the responsibility of the media in the post repeal era.
Even when some of our colleagues are already serving the Bio administration as Board Chairmen, a deputy Ambassador, a deputy Minister and strategic communicators, it is generally believed that much has not been fulfilled yet with compensation to especially journalists who in different ways supported the New Direction to win the 2018 elections.
President Bio might surprise everyone with a befitting Christmas gift by announcing the next set of Press Attaches who are almost becoming impatient after a very long wait for something they believe they are entitled to. Mr. President, please save our colleagues and their families with this long wait and announce their names.
If only this was a question and answer session, I could have asked the President how much such a dinner is costing us especially under this harsh economic situation, an event not at the State House Garden that could have cost less but an expensive hotel with plenty to eat and drink when some of our compatriots can’t afford the three square meals a day.
I could have asked him to give us timeline on when his government will fix the economic situation he has been repeatedly reminding us that they inherited.
I could have asked for his opinion again on the action of his Chief Minister against the Publisher of the Times Newspaper who was kidnapped and detained.
Who knows? May be the President will be magnanimous enough to allow us ask some questions. If that happens, please Keketoma know that I have already booked my spot for the question time.
Even thought Dr. Patrick Muana and Tanu Jalloh could have been busy putting the speech of the president together, I will assume that one of President Bio’s very humble, unassuming and funny assistant will be consulted to provide some laughable lines to make it spicier.
As we look forward to how the evening will be, I strongly believe the ever eloquent Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman ‘Rado’ Swarray will not sing the popular campaign song “Maaaadaaa Bioooo….Maadaaa Bio Heyyyy”. No. He wont do what the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Priscillia Schwartz did at the Bar Association Dinner that has received so many negative ratings from some section of their membership.
Least I forget, the Menu on the invitation doesn’t cater for us vegetarians unfortunately.
Either way, lets give a toast to Press Freedom.