From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

COMMENTS & OPINIONS
Mr President Please Protect My Citizenship Rights
By Rodney Edmond Michael
Jul 2, 2010, 17:06

In the last several months, those of us that are Sierra Leoneans of Caucasian (white) Skin have been shocked, embarrassed and discouraged by an Immigration Policy demanding we seek clearance as Sierra Leoneans before traveling with our Passports.


I have been forced to write this article by virtue of the embarrassment I faced on my way to South Africa to watch the World Cup matches in the company of Mr Sanusi Bruski Kargbo, Lions Vice Chairman, on Sunday 20th June 2010. I was asked to produce my clearance from the Immigration Department that I am a Sierra Leonean and even my reference to the last three Passports all clipped together, were not immediately considered sufficient. It was suggested that I may have to go back to Freetown for clearance but thank God some Airport employees were quick to explain the history of The Michael Family and The Immigration officer present realized it would have been catastrophic for him to adhere to the instructions of the said release.


Mr Kargbo on the other hand has dual Citizenship, and so with his American Passport was given first class treatment at home and throughout the journey to South Africa. Others who received complimentary treatment on the same day were Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Dr Richard Conteh, Mr Siray Timbo and the Minister of Energy and Power. Everyone went through conveniently except me because I was a “White Man” with a Sierra Leonean Passport and so I should go through an investigation. Is this not discrimination Mr President? Why are we condemning history and what are our human rights organizations and Civil Society doing about such discrimination? Like those mentioned inter alia, I am also serving this wonderful country albeit in the field of sports, but yet my colour was a cause for concern. Reflection on what history taught us about Apartheid in South Africa and racism in America came to mind. Should I be the “White Mandela or Martin Luther King” I pondered? I don’t believe we have yet reached that level but if necessary and if we need a sacrificial lamb, then it is one I will not hesitate to provide the lead role.


In fact it is confusing as to whether the release says White Sierra Leoneans or Lebanese and when I argued that if it said Lebanese nationals with Sierra Leonean Passport, it did not refer to me because I was not a Lebanese and have never been  the said officer immediately changed it to White Sierra Leoneans. I then argued that if it said white then no problem, I would love to see how the diplomats in Sierra Leone, in particular the U.N. would interpret such a racist policy. The Immigration officer then realized the embarrassing consequences and with logical reasoning chose to hand over my Passport after the huge embarrassment already caused.


In brief, let me explain (for better understanding) that the Michael Family was one of the first of Lebanese Origin to migrate to Sierra Leone in the 1890’s (ref: SAWPIT BOY by Farid Anthony). Our original family name was AKL but because our Great, Great Grandfather wanted to break links with Lebanon, he decided to change the surname to Michael and so we became a household name and have been in the Bo District since and subsequently Freetown. He established in Mongerrey then and his two children later moved to Mandu (both villages in the Valunia Chiefdom) before finally settling in Bo Town in 1952.


My grandfather established the famous garage Michaels Stores in Bo, with a loan and land from the Paramount Chief, which later expanded to John Michael Motors in Freetown.


In the 70’s, my father, the revered and highly respected Barrister and Solicitor, the late Edmond Labib Michael Esq. who practiced Law with excellence and extreme Professionalism for 30 or so years before he answered to The Almighty’s call in 1995, was forced to Naturalize then in order to be entitled to Sierra Leonean Citizenship. Others like him chose to apply for British Oversees Citizenship, and today enjoy First Class British Citizenship. My father thought it was morally wrong as a true Sierra Leonean, at least that’s what he thought he was, or sincerely wanted to be and probably wanted all of us to be, to opt for a more recognizable Citizenship of a Country he did not owe allegiance, and therefore believed in Patriotism and opted for Sierra Leonean Citizenship instead. Was he naïve?  


It was by virtue of his Naturalization that entitled us to Sierra Leonean Citizenship and my brothers and I acquired our first Sierra Leonean Passport in 1981 when we were treated to holidays in England and America, and my elder brother Martin, the lawyer was accepted at a Catholic School in Old Windsor, England called St. John’s Beaumont. I followed him in 1992.


Ever since we have been nothing but Sierra Leoneans with my younger brother representing this country in Tennis and Golf, and we have never had nor entitled to any other Citizenship and have always traveled proudly as Sierra Leoneans.


Our National Contributions as a family has been second to none, and mine in particular in the field of sports could be attested to by thousands throughout the Country and even when interviewed by Soccer Africa, I was described as a Sierra Leonean and not any other Nationality.


It is for this reason that I have chosen to publicly declare that No One can take my Citizenship from me as a Sierra Leonean and so call on His Excellency to protect me and all like me from further embarrassment. It’s my only Nationality and I challenge everyone to prove otherwise. I am more patriotic and done more for Sierra Leone than a vast majority of others, and my contributions have been sincere because I believe it is my moral and National Obligation to Serve my Country and help in National Development.


I will not shy away from this sensitive issue and will not allow anyone to deprive me of my Citizenship rights. If it implies a legal battle then so be it. It will not be the first time. In 1998 when the Kabba Government returned from Guinea, The EU introduced a mining policy that said only blacks can acquire diamond dealers’ licenses as Sierra Leoneans and it was recommended by the Ministry of Mines that we apply as British Nationals etc. I rejected and went on a long campaign and battle that lasted one year making enemies and fighting with so many on the way.

I had the last laugh when in April 1999, The Attorney General, Solomon Berewa in his wisdom and honesty advised Cabinet of serious negative repercussions and the policy was overturned and I was the first to be issued a License as a Sierra Leonean that year.


I am appealing to His Excellency through the media to order the withdrawal of this release and immediately act on The Proposed Law Reform Commission’s recommendations on Citizenship and instruct the Attorney General to send it to Parliament for deliberations. This is one human right campaign I will fight against and I am willing to go through the embarrassment, stress and difficulties but will be spurred on by my mentor, Martin Luther King, whose dream eventually came to reality with Obama’s victory. I know that there will be some journalists, politicians and others  who will decide to write negatively but I appeal to them to be fair and answer this question honestly; “will anyone dare to say that all black British Nationals or American Nationals must seek clearance before traveling with their documents? And what will be the reaction?”


I am a Sierra Leonean and No One Can Take My Citizenship Away so Please Mr President protect my rights and act now to avoid a potentially embarrassing scenario in the future.


Martin Luther King: “Your Life Begins to End When you keep quiet about things that are important”.


I will not stop talking!



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