Monday, August 8, 2016
After the Bo SLAJ triennial
By Kemo Cham
At the end Kelvin Lewis emerged winner of the weekend’s much anticipated Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) presidential race.
The process leading to the elections day on Saturday June 4 had indeed been bruising on the image of the association. The campaigns occasionally assumed an ugly shape and most of the people I had time to talk to had issues mostly with how the supporters’ of Stanley Bangura, Kelvin’s only challenger, carried themselves.
It must however be said that not all of Stanley’s supporters were engaged in the abusive banter. In fact only a fraction of them was. But, obviously, the impact of their actions on his dream to head the association has been far-reaching. I wonder though if Stanley himself sees things this way.
The outgoing SLAJ Vice President had designed his campaign on the premise of empowering the youths. And he had substantial support from among the youthful members of the association. But some of them, clearly overly excited, went overboard. There were reports of abuses rained on his opponent.
“I represent the youths,” Stanley told me in a brief discussion in his hotel room at Musa Street in Bo. We were on our way to the meeting venue at the Haikal Academy at the other end of the city when one of his staunchest supporters, who was giving me a ride, decided I needed to talk to their man. He and some of his colleagues felt I needed some more convincing to vote for Stanley. And I had not said anything about whom I was going to vote for.
Since the election was a secret ballot, I had the right to keep my choice to myself. But it wasn’t easy keeping quiet when the debate was going on around you. I guess my repeated condemnation of the aggressive posture of the Stanley campaign team might have sounded to them as though I was in favor of Kelvin.
Ironically, many in Kelvin’s team had ruled my vote out. I saw the look in the face of one who summoned enough courage to talk to me directly about it. They thought Politico was in support of Stanley. There was even the hugely erroneous perception that Umaru Fofana was leading campaigns for Stanley, which would mean his staff would toe his line. Sorry, Politico IS NOT LIKE THAT.
But even if he did, Umaru had never spoken to me in a way that suggested that he wanted me to vote for anyone. It’s as simple as that.
In his Musa Street Hotel, what had been intended to be an exchange of greetings between me and Stanley became some sort of a speech. The soft-spoken man he is, he spoke emotionally about how he wanted to change SLAJ by giving voice to the up and coming practitioners.
He also spoke about his relationship with Umaru and narrated how he’d been shunned by many people, including those in government today, for his defiance in supporting Umaru when he ran for SLAJ president back in 2008.
When the final results of the voting were eventually announced later Saturday night by the SLAJ chief Electoral Commissioner, James Tamba Lebbie, I struggled to expunge images of Stanley addressing me in that room, surrounded by his boys.
He’d convinced me that he was a good guy; only that this wasn’t the right time for him, I told myself.
In the run up to voting day, this feeling of disrespect by his supporters was so openly expressed that the outcome of the elections, despite his impressive performance, couldn’t have come as a surprise.
Stanley declared his candidature on the last day of nomination. Apparently he’d no plan to run, until someone convinced him to do so. This lack of decisiveness must have contributed partly to his failure.
For his part, much of the grievances directed at Kelvin was about his alleged conversion of SLAJ into a Krio hegemony. Those who hold this view are particularly unhappy with his close association with Dr Julius Spencer whom they believe has benefited exponentially from all SLAJ contracts. This was a subject of my interview with Kelvin prior to the election. He vehemently denied it.
But there were also those who felt unease about his (Kelvin’s) inter personal relationship. This is one of several questions I regretted not asking the SLAJ President. However, for his supporters, it’s just one of the man’s weaknesses as a human being that could be overlooked in the interest of development for the association.
A smaller segment of the SLAJ membership was concerned about unsubstantiated claims of corruption in the association, which they felt Kelvin should be held responsible for.
At the end, the contest boiled down to what became known as a choice between the lesser of two evils. And at the end, the elections had less to do with issues like corruption or reporters’ welfare; it was instead about respect for elders.
However, that Kelvin has won has by no means ended the debate that ensued in the course of the elections. The good thing is that much of the mudslinging was done on social media, mostly on the SLAJ whatsapp group, which meant that not many outside the association saw what really happened. And we need to keep it that way. But in order to succeed it depends largely on how Kelvin runs the association from now on.
Reconciliation is a good place to start. Constant communication with the rest of the membership will also help. At least the new media – Whatsapp, Facebook, etc – has made this very easy.
Kelvin may not be eligible to run again after the next three years, but every leader wants to leave behind a positive legacy.
(C) Politico 07/06/16