From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Saluting Memory of Late President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah = REFLECTION =
By Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, OOR
Aug 17, 2015, 12:10

It was on Sunday 15th August 2004, exactly 11 years ago today that I wrote what I will call 'so long a letter' to the then President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. At the time, I was the Internet & Website Consultant managing and advising on President Kabbah's official State House website. On my way to visit The Gambia, I had suffered a plane crash and Transport authorities of the Sierra Leone government, in a bid to hide the fact that a plane had crashed, had pretended no such incident happened.


Many Sierra Leoneans were in the plane crash and over fifty of us got admitted into hospital. I was discharged on Sunday 15th August 2004 and immediately went into my study and wrote the letter which I copied to the press and sent to Diaspora email discussion groups. At the time, there was so social media like we now have.


Part of my letter read thus: "Your Excellency, I am not sure if you know that on Wednesday 11th August 2004 at around 2:30pm in the afternoon, over 70 of your Sierra Leonean citizens almost lost their lives in a terrible plane crash at the Lungi International Airport involving a Boeing 737 Plane operated by Air Guinea Express"


It continued: "Your Excellency, most disappointingly one of the information I am going to disseminate is that, my government headed by you, is yet to make any official statement on the plane crash that had over 70 Sierra Leonean citizens on board."


And finally, it ended: "Your Excellency, how can you stay silent at a time like this? I am totally disappointed in your government. You have let me down. You have let my fellow passengers down and this is an indication that those who say that your government is neither in touch with its citizenry nor does your government know what its duties are towards your citizens, might be quite right after all."


My Open Letter went viral - and I mean really VIRAL, considering there was nothing like today's social media in existence. It created such an impact that my detractors within the SLPP went ballistic saying because I openly criticised his government, the then President should immediately terminate me from managing the State House website.


The then SLPP Secretary-General Dr. Prince Harding was then Transport Minister and he went on the radio to blast me as an "opposition mole". He vehemently denied that any plane crash had happened. I must note though that Prince Harding was to later go on radio and retract his words and issue an apology to me saying he had been misled about the severity of the plane crash. Prince and I now have huge mutual respect for one another.


It took guts to pen down those words back then in 2004; especially as, inside the letter, I was quite prolific with my praises for the then Opposition APC Leader Ernest Bai Koroma who had gone to visit us in hospital. When I was writing the letter, I knew I was risking the continuation of my work as State House website consultant but I also knew it was a letter that needed to be written to Pa Kabbah to tell him how deeply his government had lost touch with citizenry.


Yes, it was courageous of me but importantly, the outcome of the letter illustrated the tolerance of the late President Kabbah for honest criticisms. It took tolerance on the part of Pa Kabbah to not only continue to retain me as his website & internet consultant but to also tell his Presidential Spokesman, the late Alhaji Kanji Daramy, that Kanji should protect me and on no account should I be removed from handling Kabbah's website. According to Pa Kabbah, I was 'a special breed of patriot that needed to be protected'.


Further, President Kabbah paid very keen attention to whatever I had to say or write. The Old Man took me very seriously and became so enamoured of my writing & activism like the one through journalism on behalf of the late Gloria Newman-Smart, that, in President Kabbah's final annual Honours List on Independence Day 2007, he boldly went on to grant me one of the country's highest National Honours at my then age of only 35 years. I became the youngest citizen to ever be made Officer of the Order of the Rokel.


My honour as an Officer of the Order of the Rokel created an uproar with people saying I was too young and I had only run my newspaper for less than two years but the Old Wise Man was not be swayed in his insistence that he will give me that National Honour for not only my Journalism but for my Information Technology service to the Nation including my pioneering 24 Hours Non-Stop Internet Caf services. President Kabbah said I more than deserved it, closed his ears to the critics and decorated me.

Walking up to be decorated by the late President of Sierra Leone

All Smiles as the late President had smilingly pinned my National Honour medal on my outfit.

Pa Kabbah might have fumbled in his first term in office but during his second term, he was truly a great leader with admirable legacies to point at. I continue to salute his legacy of tolerance for honest criticisms; an attribute that his successor, His Excellency President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has taken to even higher levels.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.