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THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN : Creoles in ĎFreedom Combatí in Freetown (?)
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May 1, 2013, 17:00
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On the white marble floor and brownish smoked-glass verandah of his¬† house on Wilberforce hill¬† last week - literally Ďlooking downí on the roof tops of other homes of the very affluent in Freetown, Sierra Leone -¬† within breathtaking¬† sight of the main tourist hotel/entertainment¬† district on¬† the idyllic beachfront¬† of Lumley, I did¬† extensive video and print media interview with former Vice Chancellor and Principal of Njala University, Prof.¬† Aliyageen Mohamed Alghali.¬† It was¬† the continuation of my quest to find, and expose,¬† the deeper meanings in the profound speech made by President Ernest Bai Koroma during his Second Term inauguration ceremony at the National Stadium in Freetown, Sierra Leone, this year.¬† Here is an excerpt of the Presidentís speech : ďWe are on the threshold of a new era. We all can, individually and collectively, ensure that whatever corners of endeavours we find ourselves, we shine forth with the glory of our dedication, discipline and resilience. We must march forward with tenacity of purpose and strength of character until we reach the desired destination of prosperity.......This country has always been a haven for those fleeing turmoil and deprivations ....We have citizens claiming ancestry to migrants from as far north as the Maghreb; we have brethren whose ancestors came from all over the Upper Guinea Coast and the Sahel, as well as Nigeria and Ghana. From the founders of Congo Town to those of Angola Town; from the Hausa roast beef sellers to the Marakas, people from all over Africa and even beyond our continent have made this country a home and a haven. There are other citizens born in this land whose forbearers came as far off as the Indian sub-continent and the Mounts and Valleys of Lebanon and Syria, and many of whom have been part and parcel of the low and high points of our history.....Ē.¬†¬†

Prof. Alghaliís Forefather was a Slave; a ĎRe-captiveí

Prof.¬† Alghaliís forefather was a Ďre-captiveí.¬†¬† That is, during the ebbing years of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the 18th¬†Century, his forefather was captured by slave raiders, sold, chained in a ship hold; and was being shipped to the ĎNew Worldí of America....¬† The British had outlawed slavery then.¬† The British had war ships patrolling the West African coastline to stop the heinous trade in slaves.¬† The British¬† war ships would capture the slave ships, and, bring them to Sierra Leone Ė setting the slaves free.¬† So, Prof. Alghaliís great great grandfather was a slave for only a brief period.¬† (But, was that ephemeral slave period still having a¬†¬† socially enervating¬† effect on his descendants today - even a super highly educated one like Prof. Alghali?). ¬†¬†¬†Prof.¬† Alghaliís¬† can today trace where his father was captured and enslaved from -¬† a place now called Kwara State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.¬† After settling in Freetown, Prof. Alghaliís forefather moved on to Guinea, where he became a renowned Islamic Imam;¬† acquiring enormous wealth as business man; marrying four women.¬†¬† His grandfather moved from Guinea to Senegal, selling kola nuts, but, not as successful in business as his own father.¬†¬† Prof. Alghaliís¬† biological father - Mohamed¬† Omar Alghali¬† -¬† was born in Senegal.¬†¬† He later moved to Freetown.¬† After taking his school leaving ĎCambridge examsí, he became a nurse in the Connaught, and, Hill Station, hospitals.¬†¬† Like it was for ambitious men in that era, Prof. Alghaliís father¬† went to England to study electrical engineering.¬† He returned home in 1961 Ė the 3rd¬†qualified electrical engineer in Sierra Leoneís history.¬†¬† On 29th February 1948, at No 31 Abbot Street, the man who morphed into¬† becoming one of Sierra Leoneís most brilliant scientists/administrators,¬† Prof.¬† Aliyageen Mohamed Alghali, entered this world.¬†

 

¬†At his hilltop mountain three-storey house in¬† Freetown a couple of weeks ago, Prof. Alghali, in front of two¬† video cameras manned by two¬† Sierra Leonean youth I am mentoring (Melvin Yankuba Caulker, and Jaime Yaya Barry) gave me details about his personal and professional life.¬† It has been¬† a life a long long way from the one his forefather had as an illiterate slave freed in Freetown.¬†¬† Yet, though Prof. Alghali told me that he is ďvery happyĒ¬† today doing sedate consultancy work, doing public¬† reading¬† of Quranic verses, nurturing a school, he articulated a lingering bitterness at the way he was jettisoned as Principal and Vice Chancellor of Njala University in 2008.¬†¬†¬†

 

His words made him a perfect candidate for what I have conceptualized as that ĎConstructive Controversyí that, wisely harnessed, could be a fulcrum for intellectual agility and rapid development in our country.¬†¬† Prof. Alghali is the quintessence of intellectual prowess.

 

Prof. Alghali: a quintessence of intellectual vigour

Between March, 2005 to July, 2008,  he was Vice Chancellor of University of Sierra Leone (USL).  

 

September  2000 to July 2005:   he was a  Pro Vice-Chancellor in the same USL.   After serving between January 1999 to 2005, he was appointed Professor, Department of Crop Protection, Njala University College (NUC), USL.   It was a long and accomplished intellectual journey to get to that peak.

 

Between 1970 and 1973, then post graduate¬† student Alghali earned his first degree Ė a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Chemistry from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.¬† A brief stint as teacher of Chemistry and Physics¬† in the Bishop Johnson Memorial Secondary School in the Eastend of Freetown was followed by service at the Rokupr Rice Research Station as Research Assistant.¬†¬† His excellent performance earned him a¬† scholarship to study at then¬† sub Saharan Africaís premier science tertiary institution, the University of Ibadan.¬† Today, he proudly states that he earned his ďMasters degree in one calendar yearĒ (1997 to 1978).¬†¬† Again, his towering performance was rewarded with an invitation for him to pursue his doctorate degree at the same university, which he bagged in 1981.¬†

 

Wearing the ultimate academic cloak of a doctorate degree, there followed enviable¬†¬† professional postings for Dr. Algali:¬†¬† In 1981, Dr. Alghali was a Research Fellow in the International Institute of¬† Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, one of the foremost tropical research institutes in the world.¬†¬† He catapulted himself from the plains of Ibadan to the academic peak of the country¬† that Mount Kilimanjaro straddles, Kenya: where he was a Post Doctoral Fellow in the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) Ė between¬† January 1982 and 1984.¬†¬† In 1984, he was posted to IITA as ICIPEís ĎLiaison Scientist/Team Leader Ė developing Cowpea Integrated Pest Management Strategiesí.¬† When he returned to Kenya in 1987 after his¬† typically¬†¬† excellent performance, he was promoted to Senior Research Scientist in ICIPE.¬†¬† Dr. Algali was the only Sierra Leone ever to be employed at the most¬† top rated East African science institution at that time; and, just about a handful of¬† West Africans Ė almost entirely Nigerians -¬† ever to get a position there.¬†¬†¬† Earning the princely sum of $2,500 a month (which in real value¬† should be multiplied five times to get its purchasing power equivalent today), Prof. Alghali resigned his position in Kenya and returned home to Sierra Leone in 1991.¬†

 

ďLingering Slave Mentality....Ē (??!!)

In 1992, he started lecturing at Njala University College (NUC) in Serra Leone¬† - for a salary of Le65,000 (which was about $50!!) a month.¬†¬† How can professional¬† leave a¬† monthly salary of¬† $2,500¬† in an internationally-sponsored research institution to work in academic institution for a salary of¬† $50!!?¬†¬† Dr. Alghali said he was just tired of being out of the country, and he ached for home Ė for¬† that affableness and love that flows so naturally from Sierra Leoneans; for his Ďfoofoo and bitter leaf soupí;¬† for the pleasant and Godly ambience of home: things which money cannot buy.¬† Dr. Alghaliís spoke glowingly and passionately about his¬† achievement as head of the second university in our country Ė that he ďcreated most of the academic programmes...Ē¬† that are now being utilized there; that he¬† met¬† the university with a¬† budget of a meagre¬† Le53,000,000, and in less than a decade, he took the universityís expenditure to about¬† Le13,400,000,000 ( Le13.4 billion leones!!); that only 400 students were enrolled in NUC when he got started as head, but, he left them with about¬† 4,000 students.... Ė yet,¬† ďwhat did I get for itĒ (he said that repeatedly with¬† Hellish bitterness in his tone); as he was ďforced to retireĒ in 2008.¬† I asked him to speculate on what¬† stimulated his forced retirement.¬† It couldnít be for political reasons: Prof. Alghali was vehement that he had ...Ēnever been a politicianĒ.¬†

 

I asked him why he¬† didnít (or, doesnít) ďfightĒ?¬† He said that¬† ďCreoles would maintain their dignity and integrity if they feel trampled on...Ē.... ¬†I told him that his attitude to his apparent maltreatment typifies the ďlingering slave mentalityĒ of Sierra Leonean Creoles.¬† Prof Alghaliís words should not be glossed over.¬† They provide Ďintellectual ammunitioní for engagement in what I term as ĎConstructive ControversyĒ.¬† .¬† More than our gold and diamonds, our best grade of rutile in the world, our largest deposit of iron ore in Africa....the best and most enduring wealth of Sierra Leone¬† are experienced and seasoned quality minds like Prof. Alghali.¬† Successive civilian and military governments in Sierra Leone have largely marginalized, or, emasculated, quality Creole minds like Prof. Alghali Ė forcing significant numbers of such Creole brains¬†¬† to go into self exile in U.K., U.S., Europe, Nigeria, etc.¬†¬†¬† Then,¬† at five times the cost, we import into Sierra Leone¬† American, British, Chinese, Nigerian...brains to do work that such Creole brains could have done.¬†¬†¬† If we are to take our place again as the Athens of Africa, as one of the countries with speediest developmental pace, then, we must unshackle the likes of Dr. Alghali.¬†

 

Importantly, as a ĎCreoleí, the likes of Prof. Alghali can mobilize some of the most qualitative African minds in the Diaspora, and, can be in the vanguard of Sierra Leone taking advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of having today¬† a genetic African (Kenyan) as President of the United States (Barack Obama), and a genetic ĎSierra Leoneaní as First Lady of the United States (Michelle Obama).¬† TO BE CONTINUED


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