This is an announcement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. British citizens in…” This was a common announcement aired on especially the BBC and the VOA during the height of wars in Africa. Such announcements would advise British and some other European and American nationals on how to get to safety when things went awry. This is clear proof that these countries hold their citizens living abroad with as much interest and compelling obligation as those living in the country. But when governments in Africa busy themselves travelling abroad and looking after the interest of their cronies than looking after the welfare of their citizens living in the country it is easy to imagine the cavalier attitude towards those living abroad.
Which American will not feel proud of their country when former President Bill Clinton travelled to North Korea to secure the release of two of their compatriots, Laura Ling and Euna Lee who were serving jail terms for illegally entering the reclusive state? Or which American will not develop the feeling of feeling untouchable when a US Senator Jim Webb flew to Burma to secure the release of another American man, John Yettaw, who was serving a jail term in that secretive Asian country for swimming across a lake to the house of the detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. All of this raises questions over the legendary statement by John F. Kennedy that, ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. Which American or British citizen will not give their country their all when they feel fought for and protected by it!
Augustine Kanjia is a Sierra Leonean journalist working in The Gambia. During the recent purge against independent journalism in that country, he was arrested and detained for simply taking photographs outside the court compound of the crowds that had gathered to apparently show solidarity with the accused. Augustine spent three days behind bars in June.
In that time and his subsequent appearance in court leading to his release, not a single person from the Sierra Leone embassy in The Gambia went to empathise with him let alone secure his release. Even though Western diplomats showed up in court, no embassy staff showed up during Augustine’s appearance in court, despite knowing about it. Even after his release, no embassy or consular officials made any representation to him. This is not only a shacking of responsibility of the so-called embassy in that country, but it is scandalously shameful. What use our embassy in The Gambia!
And that is not all. During my one-week-long visit to The Gambia about two weeks ago, I met dozens of Sierra Leoneans on the street who narrated harrowing encounters with Gambian security officials almost on a daily basis. They lamented to me about their plight but were quick to appeal to me not write or talk about it. Once bitten twice shy, it is said. Sometime last year, they told me, there was a newspaper article in Freetown about the appalling conditions some of them were living under in The Gambia. No less a person than President Yahyah Jammeh appeared on television threatening them and making reference to the newspaper article. He reportedly warned his people to be “watchful” of “these foreigners”. If that was not insightful against Sierra Leoneans I wonder what else can be! Even a hen would have shaken from on top her eggs at an ant passing. Our embassy staff did not do or say anything in the face of this apparent threat to their nationals. What use our embassy in The Gambia!
I love my compatriots so I am not sure whether I should write about some of these harrowing experiences narrated to me. But they were all frustrated, and didn’t mind me saying it, that when wronged by especially Gambian security officials, they go running to the embassy but that they are pushed away or at best, warned by their embassy officials to “take tem”. Even when what these people go through is no fault of theirs the embassy people ensconce themselves in their seats saying or doing nothing. Meanwhile tax payers’ money back home is being spent on them. The question persists, what for and what use our embassy in The Gambia!
Regardless Gambia being a small country, the embassy in Banjul does not have any idea the number of Sierra Leoneans in the country. I know many people are reluctant registering and not just in that country. But more efforts should be made to get a comprehensive list, or at the very least a realistic estimate, of our compatriots living there. However, my experience travelling around is that our embassies are mostly just to receive Government officials that visit which sometimes leads to the mission closing down or doing little or nothing else at all when such visits happen. These embassies should be in these countries not just as a way of providing jobs for the boys or plotting for the party in power. They should be there looking after the interest of our citizens living there regardless. What use The Gambia!
Like I say I will not say much about the plight my compatriots are going through in The Gambia because the dozens that I met pleaded with me not to go into detail for fear it might have a boomerang effect on them. But they are wiling for the embassy to be held to account for not being responsive to them when they are in need. Our people should be our interest and in our interest, no matter what they do and where they live. By so doing, the John F Kenney saying of paying attention to what we can do for our country and not the other way round, will receive more attention.
If our country did not care about us when our mother was pregnant with us, it was not there for us when we fell sick, it kept bombarding us with narrating problems when solutions were what we needed, it would require extraordinary commitment and patriotism to be there for her; if we survived the abandonment that is. In stead of establishing more foreign missions just for the sake of it, let the existing ones live up first. By Umaru Fofana