Gaddafi arrived into F/town late into the night and the radio station voice of Islam was proudly broadcasting every bit of his procession. Calls came in from listeners in areas like Wellington, Grafton, and Kissy to indicate that he was in their area. According to one caller, Gaddafi got out of his car and started walking on foot shaking hands of locals. Ah propaganda!!!! Its amazing how easily we believe. Of course now, knowing some Salone Man Dem they will say “Gaddafi da man wondaful, im even comot na im motoca fo cam shake pipul dem an”. If there’s one reason why I respect Gaddafi, it’s that he knows how to present himself as the people’s man. He can appeal to the masses.
Anyway back to his visit. Besides causing a 3 day traffic jam in F/town, Gaddafi held a huge rally at the National Stadium with President Kabbah. I didn’t listen to the radio broadcast neither did I attend but the following day a rumor began circulating about an incident that supposedly occurred during the rally and cause president Kabbah some embarrassment.
The story I heard went something like this: “Gaddafi announced at the stadium that he had given 2 ships of rice to Kabbah for the people and asked him what he did with the rice. Kabbah then for the first time had to come to the mic and explain that he had indeed used the rice aid to invest in a social security safety scheme under NASSIT”.
As the rumor circulated, many SLPP supporters and skeptics alike were disappointed. Even I used this story to discredit Kabbah’s regime in an argument with friends that evening.
The following day on a personal visit to the Presidential Lodge to visit an uncle who works at the presidential lodge, I realized the rumor had shaken the government to the core. The president was furious at the story. I turned to my uncle and asked “so this rumor with the rice is it true”? My uncle’s response “No, its not…”
It was at the Lodge that I found out the source of the rumor was actually a newspaper article written by Phillip Neville in the Standard Times Paper. It was Neville who claimed that Gaddafi had asked about the rice at the stadium and that Kabbah had never informed the public of the rice. The article hinted at corruption and lack of transparency.
Refusing to just take “no” for an answer I asked for any documents that could be produced that indicated that the president had indeed informed the public of the rice aid and its use.
In a document titled: “Statement by his Excellency the President, Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah on the occasion of the launching of the social safety net (social assistance) scheme”, dated June 29th 2006 the president did indeed state and I quote:
“When we were setting up NASSIT, we realized that it needed to be complemented by a social safety net scheme. However, we encountered severe resource constraints to finance this scheme…when we received ship loads of rice from Chinese, French, Libyan, and Italian governments as commodity aid in 2001 and 2002, we sold it at concessionary rates to our people, with the following amounts realized:
Libyan Food Aid—Le. 2,027,684,370 Italian Food Aid—Le. 579,260,100 French Food Aid—Le. 558,364,154 Chinese Food Aid—Le. 961,599,184. The funds were invested, yielding an interest of Le. 345,487,497.24…part of the funds from these sources was later utilized as seed money to set up NASSIT…today NASSIT being in good financial standing, had been able to pay back over Le 5.3 billions towards the establishment of the Social Safety Net Scheme”
This document shows that contrary to the allegations of Phillip Neville in the article “BOMBSHELL-Colonel Gaddaffi exposes government—June 27’ 07 that the president did in fact inform the public of the utilization of the ship loads of rice from Libya and elsewhere.
The president’s office had a press conference on Thursday and released a document and one Sorie Fofanah written a special commentary with title “Kabbah-A victim of Transparency”.
I hate to admit it but I was eager to believe the rumor as I was suffering from a quick bout of a contagious disease commonly known in Sierra Leone as P.H.D- Pull Him Down Syndrome. This is a condition that causes one to believe and say negative things about other Sierra Leoneans. Not being a supporter of the SLPP regime, it was incredibly easy for me to believe the rumor was true.
In actuality selling food aid at reduced prices to the people and investing the profits in a long term scheme is amazing. I am happy to give kudos where it is due. If the rice had been given to people for free the whole story would have ended there. Plus I’m from the school of Sembene Ousmane’s Guelwaar, I don’t believe in giving a nation of people free food….commodity aid turns the people into beggars. That is dependency of the worst kind.
Back to Phillip Neville—As of yesterday, he has been arrested and will most likely spend the next couple months in jail. I doubt he will be out before the elections. The truth is his paper is usually quite good adding necessary critique where it is due. I enjoyed an article he wrote recently linking Gaddafi to the RUF though I would not have reprinted those horrific pictures of amputee victims. Rice is to Sierra Leone as Oil is to America. It is a very serious matter, and you don’t play with a hungry man’s rice. Because of the article (rumor) a lot of people thought that the SLPP govt had misused or confiscated rice that rightly belonged to them it’s sometimes a challenge to get people who need to eat today to invest their food in the bambais of tomorrow.
Anyhow, I think it was a horrid mistake to arrest Phillip Neville. Even if the man may have fabricated the story about the rice the government should not have arrested him. The govt should have sued him in civil court or found some other legitimate way to discredit him as a journalist. Instead what they have done is arrested him and possibly charge with criminal libel. By arresting the man has been martyred. Some in the international community and the Salone Diaspora will eat it all up…outgoing SLPP govt arrests journalist to curb dissent and win elections.
I guess the lesson to all of us if we didn’t already know is don’t believe everything negative you hear or read, or positive for that matter, and resist the PHD—Pull Him Down Syndrome. I will be on a panel for a radio discussion reflecting on Gaddafi’s visit later on today on radio democracy 98.1. I hope I can gain more insight on this rice affair.
Look out for the post on the radio show with me ( as an independent observer), Septimus Kai Kai (minister of information), Alpha Kanu (former MP & Speaker for Earnest Bai Koroma)