This piece is not in defence of Sorious Samoura per se. In fact, it is definitely not! Nor is it pulling the punches on the All People’s Congress party government. Absolutely not! What it is is an attempt to put certain facts right, as I know them, regarding the next documentary by the award-winning Sierra Leonean filmmaker which has received a flack even before editing starts on it, let alone released.
Firstly, I must make it clear that I am not a big admirer of Sorious because of some of his films. While I believe that his celebrated documentary, Cry Freetown, succeeded in drawing attention to the situation in Sierra Leone and with it the huge global intervention that helped save the country, it portrayed in a very negative light the Nigerian peacekeepers who had made the ultimate sacrifice before rebel brutality roared for the world to hear and listen. But even that, there was hardly any untruths. I also do not like his Exodus documentary because, I think, it made Africa look undeservedly bad and some of it was fixed in my opinion. It also had a Eurocentric flavour I found disdainful.
Having said that, I strongly believe Sorious should not be derided based on suspicion or unsubstantiated allegations; worse still alluding to his ethnicity or for that matter perceived political affinity. Literally just a week after Sorious’ departure for the UK, there have popped up some newspaper articles in some local dailies bashing the man for his next documentary film. It has been referred to as a hired job by the APC government to vilify the former SLPP government. This is absolutely not true!
I worked on the documentary as a researcher so I know exactly what I am talking about. It is a film aimed at challenging with a view to changing the notion of foreign aid and why it has not helped rescue the continent from the clutches of poverty and it looks at Uganda and Sierra Leone. It asks the simple question and I am paraphrasing: why, despite the huge amounts of money pumped into the continent, it continues to remain as poor, may be even poorer. It aims to challenge the donor community by asking tough question including those raised by the acclaimed ActionAid report titled Phantom Aid which says the lion’s share of aid money to developing countries ends up with nationals of the donor countries who are employed and paid plenty of money from the said donations.
In fact, part of my research for the filmmakers, which included talking to former SLPP ministers and consultants, as well as current APC ministers and even foreign development partners and UN agencies, was to look at key social indicators. For example, whereas there is admiration that NaCSA was able to build schools in almost all chiefdoms in the country, the question persists as to why is it that some of these schools lack teachers; some even lack pupils in them. And while that may be true, in certain parts of the country, children still learn under tarpaulin-covered structures.
They also asked the questions, and filmed some of it too, as to why some pharmacies sell drugs that are clearly marked “Not for sale”. For example, a visit to an NGO-run health centre in Kono revealed a lot of what can be done if aid money is well delivered.
The filmmakers spoke with the British Department for International Development (DfID) and asked about British government subsidy to Sierra Leone this year and asked how that is being used. If the aim was to paint the former government in a bad light, I wonder what their interest would have been in that. They even challenged the DfID operations to show a clear case of a true success story of an intervention that has changed the life of ordinary people and not the institutional capacity-building they concentrate on.
If anything, I have spoken with a current cabinet minister who called me to complain that his interview with Sorious was gruelling and that for a moment he thought the documentary was aimed at embarrassing the current government. They interviewed President Ernest Bai Koroma both in trying to know how he intends to stop what is happening even currently, and in his capacity as a former minority leader who should know how it was and is still being done.
In fact, I literally gave them telephone numbers for those I found relevant to talk to after my research. They ultimately decided who among them to interview. And it was not based on the political colour of their eyes or on Sorious’ Limba ethnicity and by extension his alleged political bias for the governing APC party.
The company that is doing the documentary is Insight, and it is in partnership with a global power broadcaster. Come to think of it, who needs telling that despite huge injection of cash into our health care delivery system for example our women and children are among those that die the most in the world? And it has been so for several years. The current government is as guilty as the former one. Who needs to be reminded that corruption was and still is rife in our country? But positive steps are being taken to salvage the situation. That step started under the previous government and it is flourishing today.
A filmmaker takes several hours of rushes just to make a one-hour or even 30-minute film. I think the real finger-pointing should be made, if at all, once the documentary is out. Doing so now is an enterprise enmeshed in conjecture. And it is not always that we always read something political in what people do simply because of where they were born. You can determine your in-laws but not your parents. None of us are responsible for our places of birth and should not be judged based on that only. By Umaru Fofana