I wanted to keep my mouth shut on this year’s Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) elections due to the unpalatable outcomes of the last election but was prompted this time round to express my views bordering on the reactions of journalists during the 10 July 2019 SLAJ Debate at the British Council, organized by the Sierra Leone Reporters Union.
Saturday July 13,2019 is indeed going to be a turning point in the history of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) as the organisation will be holding its Triennial General Meeting during which an election will be held to have in place a New Executive body. Campaigning by the various aspirants vying for different positions has now reached fever pitch as the aspiring candidates and teams are doing so openly since the official period for campaign was announced.
There are three positions which are keenly contested and these include the Presidency, Vice Presidency and that for the Secretary-General. For the SLAJ Presidency the race is between Ahmed Sahid Nasralla alias D-Monk and Mustapha Sesay, Esther K Kargbo and Ahmed Sheriff will be battling for the Vice Presidency while Elias Bangura and Asmieu Bah are locking horns for the Secretary General position. The stage is now set and the battle is getting hotter and hotter.
Indeed, it had been historically justified that human behaviour is tailored by past experiences and this particular trend has featured prominently in this year’s pre-election campaign period. Put into proper perspective, the level of hatred and acrimony that characterised the past SLAJ election was so profound to such an extent that in its wake it led to bitterness, cracks and worst of all victimization by allegedly the winning side leaving some to lose interest in continuing to be members of SLAJ.
It is this fear of victimization from the new Executive that will emerge for not being by their side which has been responsible for some journalists to shy away from openly declaring their support for the aspiring candidates. To make it more appropriate, some are fearing that if they openly show support for D-Monk and it happens that he defeats his opponent then at the end of the day they could be punished any time they are summoned to appear before the Independent Media Commission (IMC) of which Mustapha Sesay is a Commissioner and member of its Complaints Committee. The same thread runs through bordering on if one was not supporting the side that will win he or she will either be left in the cold in times of distress, need of attention or deprived of certain opportunities.
It is no hidden secret that when Stanley Bangura and Kelvin Lewis were battling for the SLAJ Presidential position there was a well-known social group among some journalists known as FFF which was throwing its weight behind Stanley. That election was one of the liveliest elections in the history of SLAJ, full of fun and camaraderie. Guess what! When Kelvin was declared the winner and a new Executive emerged it became noticeable that this vibrant FFF group became dormant and so it is today.
There was also an instance when after the elections some journalists who were members of the SLAJ Whatsapp group were deleted from the group for no obvious reason(s). They never violated any of the rules and regulations only that their only crime was having supported a particular candidate. I was actually a victim of that ugly chapter or episode.
Of course, both of the Presidential aspirants, during the launch of their manifestoes openly said they are in support of peace and unity to move the association forward. Besides, the election is going to be by secret ballot and so some journalists are reserving their choices until polling day. Interestingly, a friend of mine said he will support Mustapha in the open and vote for Monk secretly on polling day.
Some have predicted that this year’s election will be democratic but the crux of the matter is that the usual fanfare, jokes and fun that were marked features of SLAJ elections have all flown out of the window. This year’s is one that has turned out to be a cold electioneering period.
One distinct thing, however, that has so far surfaced is that between the two aspiring Presidential aspirants Mustapha Sesay appears, from his utterances so far, to be very vindictive. He is on record for calling names of journalists whom he referred to as having soiled the association in one way or the other instead of leaving sleeping dogs lie. His approach in trying to woo support, during the debate that was organized by the SLRU, has been lambasted by many saying that he failed to concentrate on the main issues and instead attempted to attack the personality of his opponent. “He did the same when he was interviewed by Radio Democracy FM 98.1 on the same day and had been doing so since he declared his intention to vie for the position,” a colleague seating close to me during the debate intimated.
For his counterpart, he was seemingly very meticulous in the way he responded to the questions that were posed, addressed issues by doing so with maturity and level headedness. According to what was gathered, D-Monk is a cool and calculated fellow who has the clout to head SLAJ and not being that type of person who will hurt a fly whether he wins or not.
This attitude of post-election victimization must be put to an end in order to restore the fun and liveliness of future SLAJ elections. Such an atmosphere will give journalists the free hand to openly declare their support for candidates of their choice instead of living in perpetual fear of being victimized. SLAJ is an elitist group and its members must be seen to be behaving as elites. Anything short of that will be ridiculous.