This is Madrid, the capital of Spain. It is dawn on the 24 May 2010. It is just a few hours since the European Champions’ League football final was played here. In what looks like an invasion from Italy and Germany, Madrid’s airport, like its streets, is still filled with thousands of fans of Inter Milan and Bayern Munchen. But it is the blue Pirelli-inscribed t-shirts that dominate the airport and the streets. Boozing and oozing out alcohol. Dancing and singing and sometimes cussing.
Spanish football supporters are a bit disappointed. When Madrid was chosen as venue for this year’s final fans of the one of one of the world’s most successful clubs, Real Madrid, were confident that they would have the special favour of cheering up their team. But that was not to happen. However, many of them have expressed how confident they are that the man who has just done the magic for Inter, Jose Morinho, will do the trick for them next season. But so are fans of English clubs especially Chelsea.
In what reminds me of how fantastic it would be if politics especially in our country were to be like this, Bayern and Inter fans were sharing table and jokingly taunting each other when I show up later at the Madrid airport to catch a flight to the beautiful island of Cadiz.
In Cadiz I arrive. Here, they are celebrating 200 years since the signing of the law to abolish censorship in the media. Effectively a freedom of expression law which gives all citizens the right to express themselves freely and can never be locked up for exercising that right.
Such was their commitment to ensuring freedom of expression that the parliament in Cadiz in 1810 signed the law despite troops loyal to Napoleon knocking on the doors and besieging the town, very small even by today’s standards, to take it over. What a perfect place for a meeting of some 300 leaders of journalists’ unions and associations from some 100 countries around the world which make up the International Federation of Journalists. Coming from Sierra Leone, it is shocking to know how many countries have got rid of criminal libel and how many are making very giant strides to do so.
But coming here was at the very least a headache for me. Getting a Schengen visa from Sierra Leone is not only time-consuming but hugely expensive especially when the trip is urgent. I had to travel to Senegal where I got the visa without a hassle. But what it meant was that I had to spend five extra days on my way and will spend another two on my way back.
Quite a few colleagues such as from Liberia could not make it for the same reason of the difficulty in securing a visa. But just as one may be quick to complain about it, it is also fair to speak about the huge influx of especially immigrants, mostly from Africa, which enters Europe especially through Spain. It is only four hours flight from Senegal and so an easy route.
In Madrid, I saw a lot of African immigrants I suspect mostly illegal ones, doing all sorts of menial jobs I don’t even wish to mention. I have seen a lot of them in UK and in the USA. But here, it is horrendous. Those that I have seen are mostly from Senegal. And they look caged. The sight of a policeman or someone they don’t know scares them off. It is slavery in all but name. And this is why I was pleasantly surprised just a few hours ago when this happened.
At the Palais de Congres here in Cadiz where we are meeting, it was coffee break. But because the Africa Caucus was meeting, I was late to go for the break. Then eventually I did. Lo and behold…whom did I see? Jabati Mambu. He is the goalkeeper of the Sierra Leone amputee football club. We grabbed each other so passionately. And the hundreds of my fellow delegates stared at us incomprehensibly. As I turned to introduce him, I saw the rest of the team. And then they burst into singing and praising me and the service journalists are rendering back home. So did they sing songs of praise for our country. “They are my compatriots” I exclaimed and almost broke down.
Jabati Mambu and the rest of the amputee team are here to do some promotion. But much of that promotion is going towards benefitting Sierra Leone. They have been touring Spain for the last week and have visited the Nou Camp and taken pictures with Messi and many of his Barcelona teammates. They have been telling people about Sierra Leone. A country they either have never heard of or they know for all the wrong reasons.
By the way I am off to see Salif Keita and some other African musicians who are here for a concert organised by an organisation interested in raising awareness about Africa in Spain. But the other night I was a concert hall for Flamenco. Flamenco is probably the height of Spain culture in the performing art. Fantastic dancing and singing that made four hours look very short. But I am not sure I enjoyed the food.
You know Crain Crain and cassava leaves may appear ordinary to us and we often take them for granted. But whenever we leave our shores, then we tend to value them tremendously. Kelvin Lewis, who is in Australia, has just been comparing notes with me regarding how we miss home food. Like him I cannot wait to return home.
Oh…while I have been scripting this piece, the Deputy Prime Minister of Spain has just addressed us and she has announced a project by her government to build a Safe House for people all over the world who are persecuted simply because they expressed their views. And tomorrow the Crown-Prince of Spain will be here with us. Press freedom, can NEVER be suppressed by any Government anywhere. We will fight for it. And we have allies. See you next week. By Umaru Fofana