Both men have spent more than a decade practicing journalism in Sierra Leone, haven rose through the ranks to establish themselves as major moguls in the media industry.
Character wise, they are wide apart. Kelvin is soft spoken, calm, shrewd and very reserved. In fact many people were surprised when he decided to announce his candidacy for the SLAJ job three years ago. Fast forward three years to now, this job has changed him a bit. Today, he is battling fiercely to keep his job for the next three years.
Stanley is the opposite; outspoken, more open and he is the grass root kind of politician you could point at.
Their manifestoes are not widely open yet; more of it is set to be known in next week’s presidential debate.
Every year, the Sierra Leone Reporters Union (SLRU) has cleverly used this debate, which it organizes, to get their case across to the contenders.
SLRU President Lamarana Bah told Politico that the traditional SLAJ Presidential debate had been set for next Tuesday, 31 May at the Miatta Conference Center.
What the reporters want?
The union has a lot of issues on its mind, which hinge on this triennial meeting. Lamrana said they would want to see an issue like ‘reporters welfare’ discussed in the conference.
“This issue has been constantly dodged by senior colleagues who are media owners,” he said in an interview.
Interestingly, both presidential candidates are among the biggest employers in the Sierra Leone media industry which is awash with complaints of gross underpayment and poor working condition. Many journalists work without pay. This may explain the silence of the media on the thorny issue of minimum wage.
Last year the Sierra Leone government passed a law requiring all employers to pay their employees a minimum wage of Le500, 000. Some employers, including some media owners, have argued that they were not making enough to be able to pay their staff such amount of money.
If the issue is pressed, some reporters may lose their jobs, because media owners would be forced to cut down on their staff number to meet the cost of paying the rest. Whether the entire membership of SLRU is willing to go down that road is not clear. It is delicate, Lamrana himself acknowledged.
For him and his executive, they even want more. In the future they plan to advocate for paid leave and other facilities that reporters must get.
Training opportunities for reporters is another thing SLRU is going to lobby for. “We want more opportunities to be given to reporters to attend trainings. Most of the time, the editors grab all the opportunities that comes in the office,” he said.
Both Presidential candidates have promised a package that prominently features training. Kelvin has said he’d already started it. He told Politico that a lot of his successes in providing training for reporters was focused on specialization on areas like health, environment and gender in his first term.
Stanley, who is part of Kelvin’s current executive, said training would be among his top priorities when he wins next month’s election.
Both candidates agree that constant training for journalists would ensure high standard of professionalism.
Between the two aspirants
Apart from issues directly tied to the SLRU, Kelvin and Stanley have other broader goals, some of which they agree on.
Like every other political contest, this campaign has been brutal. To some extent it has been marred by allegations of corruption and maladministration thrown from both ends.
Perhaps the most striking accusation is against Stanley. He has been accused by critics that he will deliver SLAJ on a silver platter to the government, because of his close ties with them. He has however denied this accusation and insisted that his connection cuts across the political divide.
One man whose comment about this allegation is nail biting is the editor of the opposition newspaper, Unity.
“Who [among journalists] is more SLPP than me? I am the editor of the mouthpiece of the SLPP and I believe in the leadership of Stanley,” Abubakarr Joe Sesay told Politico.
His comment echoes tolerance. And he said the contest is far more important than politics, noting that was even unfortunate for people to start politicizing the election.
A major difference between the two presidential candidates is on management of the association’s finance.
Kelvin wants the association to have one central account where moneys could be deposited on behalf of the organization, including from all regional SLAJ branches. For him this will increase transparency.
But for Stanley this will increase dependency.
“So if regional bodies need a chalk should they call to Freetown before they get it?” Stanley said. He appears to be propagating the idea of giving more powers to regional bodies by letting them manage their own finances.
Some analysts have warned that Stanley is skating on a slippery slope. If he gets it right then he could stand tall and be cheered. But if he falls, then every chance to minimize ‘corruption’ among regional bodies could evaporate.
Heading in to the future
This election is not just about Kelvin and Stanley; it is about SLAJ, its future and the future of the country by extension. The association should not allow bigotry and post election malice rid it off its important role ahead. It must focus on common goals like ensuring professionalism and probably finally getting rid of the Seditious Libel Law.
Whoever becomes the president must focus on the bigger picture, because he is coming in at a crucial time.
With 2018 general elections on the horizon, there will be a lot of cash flowing around and journalists would be tempted to follow the tide. SLAJ members fondly refer to the association as the ‘last man standing’, in reference to its incorruptible tendency.
Lamarana emphasized on this: “The association has resisted political infiltration for so long,” he said.
The next SLAJ President must be firm in leading journalists through the tide. Whether it is Kelvin or Stanley, the person would be around to see out the 1991 constitution and welcome a new one.
These are crucial moments coming up for Sierra Leone and now more than ever the masses are going to count on journalists to pull them through this news storm.
Journalists must get it right in Bo. There is no margin for error.