Conference Proceedings of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists (SLAALIS) Tenth Annual Conference in 2007
This document covers the tenth annual conference of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists (SLAALIS) on the the "The right to know access to information on elections and democracy". It was held at the British Council Auditorium, Tower Hill in Freetown on Wednesday 27th to Thursday 28th June 2007. The association could not have chosen a better theme since the crucial democratic elections of Sierra Leone were scheduled for August 2007.SIERRA LEONE ASSOCIATION OF ARCHIVISTS, LIBRARIANS AND INFORMATION SCIENTISTS
TENTH (10TH) ANNUAL CONFERENCE
VENUE: The British Council Auditorium, Tower Hill, Freetown
DATE: Wednesday 27th ? Thursday 28th June, 2007
THEME: "The right to know: access to information on elections and democracy"
EDITED BY OLIVER L.T.HARDING
TABLE OF CONTENTS
From the Editor
Brief historical background of SLAALIS
Welcome address by the President of SLAALIS, Mr. Nathaniel Williams
National Commission for Democracy ? Sierra Leone
Statement by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Honourable Pascal Egbenda
Statement by the Chairman of Political Parties Registration
Commission (PPRC), Justice Sydney Warne
Statement by the Cultural Chancellor of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, H.E.M.R. Ghexel Sofla
Statement by Mr. Donald Davies, Head of Cataloguing Department/Librarian I, Fourah Bay College Library
Statement by Tangella Quee, Peace & Conflict Studies Student, Fourah Bay College, Representing Coalition of Civil Society and Human Rights Activists, Sierra Leone (CCSHRA-SL)
The role of youths in ensuring peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections by Dr. Dennis Bright, Minister of Youths and Sports
Equal opportunities for all political parties: myth or reality: - Position of Sierra Leone Labour Congress represented by F.K. Morray
2007 (10th) Annual Conference Committee of SLAALIS
Tribute to the late Mrs. Deanna E. Thomas (Past
President of SLAALIS) by Oliver Harding
FROM THE EDITOR
Although keeping a lid on military strategies, personal data, and trade secrets is crucial to the protection of public interest, excessive secrecy corrodes democracy, facilitates corruption, and undermines good public policymaking. The theme for the 10th Annual Conference of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists (SLAALIS), "the right to know: access to information on election and democracy" is timely for a nation that would be conducting presidential and parliamentary elections on 11th August 2007.
All human beings have the fundamental right to have access to expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity, and to express their thoughts in public. The right to know and the freedom to express are two aspects of the same principle. The freedom of expression is realized by the preservations of the right to know. The right to know is related inherently to the freedom of thoughtful and conscience and all other fundamental human rights. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression are necessary conditions for the freedom of access to information.
According to Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".
The right to access of information and ideas is vital for any society. If citizens are to participate and make informed choices on 11th August 2007, they must have access to political, social, scientific and economic information and cultural expressions. They need access to the widest range of ideas, information and images. Freedom, prosperity and the development of society depend on education as well as on unrestricted access to knowledge, thought, culture and information.
The opening session of the 10th annual conference at the British Council on Wednesday 27th and Thursday 28th June 2007 was impressively chaired by the Ombudsman, Mr. Francis Gabbidon. This session witnessed the delivery of a brilliant welcome address by the President of SLAALIS, Mr. Nathaniel Williams, and thought provoking statements by the Chairman, Political Parties Registration, Justice Sydney Warne; Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Pascal Egbenda and the Iranian Cultural Consul, H.E.M.R. Ghezel Sofla.
A panel discussion which punctuated the first day was chaired by the Chairman of the National Commission for Democracy, Mr. George Coleridge-Taylor, Representatives of Coalition of Civil Society and Human Rights Activists, Sierra Leone (CCSHRA-SL), the Sierra Leone Labour Congress and SLAALIS members (Messrs. Donald Davies, Abdul Aziz Kamara and Frederick Kamara) participated in the informative session. Mr. Muniru Kawa, Records Management Consultant, chaired the first session on the second day of the conference during which the Minister of Youths and Sports, Dr. Dennis Bright presented a paper on the topic, "The role of the youths in ensuring peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections" in which he realistically analyzed the reasons for the culture of violence among youths and aptly concluded on this note, "the next elections will constitute the final test for Sierra Leone at the end of which the world will know whether we are sober and progressive or doomed. This will be an opportunity for the young people to impress the world that in politics they know how to speak through the ballot box and not with a gun or machete. Make peace not war".
The debate which followed was chaired by Mr. Ransford Wright, Director of Believers'' Broadcast Network. Although all registered political parties as at the date of the conference were invited, three parties joined the Sierra Leone Labour Congress in this sensitive debate. These included the Sierra Leone Peoples'' Party (SLPP), All Peoples'' Congress (APC) and Peoples'' Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC).
Prof. Magnus John of the Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS) and Open University formally closed the 10th Annual Conference. The National Democracy (NEC) provided very useful material that should be assimilated by all. A Death snatched one of our Past Presidents from us. Mrs. Deanna Thomas Happy reading!
Oliver L.T. Harding
Senior & Acting College Librarian, Fourah Bay College
Vice President, SLAALIS
SLAALIS EXECUTIVE 2006-2008
PRESIDENT Mr. Nathaniel Williams
VICE PRESIDENT Mr. Oliver Harding
GENERAL SECRETARY Mr. Andrew Aruna
ASSISTANT GENERAL SECRETARY Mr. Joseph Sandy
SOCIAL SECRETARY Miss Suzanette Mangay
ASSISTANT SOCIAL SECRETARY Miss Veronica Bull
TREASURER Mrs. Hectora Pyne-Bailey
EX-OFFICIO Mrs. Alice Malamah-Thomas
Mrs. Mary Gorvie
BRIEF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF SLAALIS
SLAALIS is acronym for the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists. Almost forty-eight years ago, on 11th June 1959, the Sierra Leone Library Board was established. The first Chief Librarian (1960-1964), John Strickland, was a Briton. He was formerly Deputy Director of Library Services, Ghana Library Board. Nevertheless, it was during the tenure of office of his successor, M.B. Jones, the first Sierra Leonean Chief Librarian (1964-1978) that an association was inaugurated on 10th June 1970 as the Sierra Leone Library Association. It was formally launched on 20th June 1970. Mrs. Gladys Jusu-Sheriff and Mr. Reginald Clarke served as the first President and General Secretary respectively.
As can be deduced from the designation, this was basically an association of librarians and paraprofessionals. With the increasing awareness of the importance and value of libraries and, indeed, librarians, it became imperative to increase the number of libraries and to even distribute them countrywide. Accordingly, there was a corresponding interest in the profession and the number of librarians increased. Some seventeen years later, it was considered prudent to incorporate other paraprofessional in related fields in order to develop, promote and maintain our individual as well as collective interests and to foster more effective collaboration.
Thus, archivists, curators and others involved in the collection, processing, production and distribution of information in various formats were brought on board and the association was accordingly renamed Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists with the acronym SLAALIS in 1987.
Aims and objectives
The aims and objectives of the association include the following:
(a) To unite all persons and institutions interested in libraries, archives, museums and information services and to promote their further development and improvement
(b) To promote professional education and to safeguard and promote professional standards and interests
(c) To provide a forum for the exchange of professional ideas and views by holding conferences and meetings, by issuing publications and by any other means
(d) To watch any legislation affecting libraries, archives, museums and the information services and to assist in the promotion of such legislation as may be considered necessary for the regulation and management or extension of libraries, archives, museums and the information services in Sierra Leone
(e) To promote and encourage bibliographical study, research and co-operation among libraries, archives and information services
(f) To establish and maintain the association''s library, resource centre and secretariat
(g) To take all necessary action as would be appropriate for the attainment of the said aims and objectives
Membership of our association is in the following categories:
Professional members, Associate members, Student members and other institutions. The number of paraprofessionals far outnumbers the professionals. The situation is further affected by the retirement of professional staff.
SLAALIS has remained active in the endeavour to carry out its aims and objectives. In this regard, we have not limited our activities to only matters directly related to affecting our membership. The following are some of the activities which we have carried out, even in pursuit of the wider interest of our diverse society:
1. Workshop on preservation and conservation of information resources at Fourah Bay College
2. Drama and Quiz competitions for primary schools at the Sierra Leone Library Board
3. Exhibition of children''s books from around to world to mark the International Children''s Book Day.
4. Conference on the theme, "Libraries, museums and archives: a collaborative venture for promoting literacy in post war Sierra Leone"
5. Conference on the theme, "Publishing: creating an enabling environment in 21st century Sierra Leone"
6. Seminar on the theme, "Libraries: tools for education and development''
7. Visit to secondary schools to sensitize their staff and the pupils on how to make qualitative use of an organized library
8. Conference on the theme, "The right to read: access to information for the blind, partially sighted and other print disabled persons"
9. Invitation to the Police to give a talk on the topic, "Lawlessness, drug abuse and the effort of the Police to reduce the crime rate" followed by an interactive session
Apart from the type of activities aforesaid, we organize Christian and Muslim services annually as part of our celebrations.
Members who are not in the SLAALIS executive can become members of various other committees which address concerns and interests of the association. The designations of these committees speak eloquently about the issues they are designed to address. They are:
1. Constitution Committee
2. Visitation/Outreach Constitution Committee
3. Fund raising Constitution Committee
4. Finance Committee
5. Public Relations Constitution Committee
6. Organizing Constitution Committee
7. Editorial Constitution Committee
Ordinary members are asked to nominate people for the committees aforesaid and others are encouraged to volunteer to serve. Members are appointed to act as chair persons and secretaries for our general meetings in order to give them the opportunity to prepare themselves for future leadership roles.
Our professionals are responsible for the organization, management and production of information on any subject under the sun and to ensure that such information is current and reflecting the reality of today''s world.
We also deal with information in many formats including books, magazines, newspapers, audio recordings, video recordings, maps, photographs and other graphic materials as well as bibliographic data-bases and the internet globally.
In the area of activities, we are responsible to access, collect, organize, preserve, maintain control over and provide access to information which have enduring value as reliable memories of the past and help people to find and understand the information they need in those records.
Our professionals are also responsible to organize exhibitions, promotional events, advertisements and even media coverage on aspects of our indigenous culture.
As museum curators, we are responsible for collecting objects, that is, art work, collectibles or historic items, making provision for their effective preservation, interpretation, documentation, research and displaying the collection, making them accessible to the public.
We can write scripts for advertisements on both radio and television and even voice and dramatise them.
Welcome address by Mr. Nathaniel Williams, President of SLAALIS
Your Excellencies, My Lords Spiritual and Temporal, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues and other members of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists (SLAALIS), it is my great pleasure to be given the duty to welcome you to our tenth annual conference. Giving a welcome address can be very easy and compatible with the time management. I can simply look at you all with all the sincerity I can muster and say, "Fellow citizens, welcome!" and take my seat. However, bearing in mind that you had to put aside your other multifarious duties and commitments in order to be with us I would endeavour to use the next three couple of minutes to say, "welcome" if that will leave you more gratified. SLAALIS was born in 1970 and simply named the Sierra Leone Library Association. As can readily be deduced from the designation, it was an association of professional librarians and other paraprofessionals engaged in library administration. Some seventeen years later, as rapid developments took place in the world of information, it was considered prudent to incorporate other professionals in related fields in order to develop, promote and maintain our individual as well as collective interests and to foster more effective collaboration. Thus, archivists, museum curators and others involved in the collection, processing, production and distribution of information in various formats were brought on board and the association was accordingly renamed the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists in 1987 with the acronym SLAALIS.
Over the years, SLAALIS has been addressing the interests of its membership. More recently, however, the association has become more productive and has been addressing the wider needs, concerns and interests of wider communities and society at large.
This year, the whole world will be focused on our dear country, Sierra Leone, as we have our presidential and parliamentary elections in August. We in SLAALIS have no doubt that all well meaning, true and loyal Sierra Leoneans would hope and pray that we have an election that will be free, fair, peaceful and putting in place in president and government that truly reflects the aspirations of the people of this country.
Accordingly, the need arises for meaningful and sustained voter education, effective transmission of information to all stakeholders and establishing a level playing field with fixed goalposts ? all the prerequisites for the actualization of our common dream!
As an association of archivists, librarians and information professionals, we have taken the initiative to organize this two-day conference on the theme "the right to know: access to information on election and democracy" as our own modest contribution to this all important national issue. Some of you might be tempted to say "wouldn''t you go ahead and mind your business and leave the elections with the politicians?". To do so would be tantamount to disloyalty and unpatriotism. Do you question our authority to take the initiative? If you do, then I will reply that "information is power" ,"knowledge is power".
We are the only professionals who handle information and knowledge from conception to resurrection! Therefore we handle power from conception to resurrection! Others use them up to a point and virtually dump them afterwards.
There is a huge difference between election and democracy. An election is a one-time act. Democracy is continuous participation in public affairs. Elections are sometimes based on manipulated television pictures and thirty second sound bites; the essence of democracy is information and concern for the public good.
There have been regular elections in the most undemocratic countries in the world! (You know them, so don''t ask me to name them). Confucian China was practicing almost equal access to public offices for 2,500 years without ever holding any elections.
Democracy is much more than elections. It is the self-government of informed and concerned citizens. Democracy is impossible without continuous active participation at all levels. Democracy is only possible in highly cultured free societies where people respect each other, respect the public institutions and the rule of law. It is based on peaceful negotiations, co-operation and compromise. It also includes wide ranging consultations and public criticism of both elected and appointed officials.
Geane Kirkpatrick, scholar and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. says and I quote:
Democratic elections are not merely symbolic. They are competitive, periodic, inclusive, definitive elections in which the chief decision makers in a government are selected by citizens who enjoy broad freedom to criticize government, to publish their criticism and to present alternatives.
We in SLAALIS recognize that political competitors don''t have to like each other, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each has a legitimate and important role to play. Democratic elections, after all, are not a fight for survival but a competition to serve.
We make mention of these points because we are disposed to accept the views of the 15th century German poet, dramatist, novelist and scientist Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe (1749-1832) who asserts that "there is nothing more terrible than ignorance in action". In this two-day conference, we shall be bringing representatives of the relevant institutions, political parties, NGOs and a cross section of the Sierra Leone public to make representations and participate in frank, yet brotherly, discussions that will make the election process earlier.
In conclusion, therefore, I take this opportunity to welcome you to two days of informative and rewarding deliberations and to wish the party that would have worked the hardest victory in the forthcoming elections. That''s my party and, probably, yours too! Thanks for your attention!
Statement by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Honourable Pascal Egbenda
Mr. Chairman, Chief Electoral Commissioner, Chairman Political Parties Registration Commission, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me start by first commending the organizers of this conference, who belong to the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists. The theme for the Conference, "The right to know: access to information on elections and democracy" is very appropriate at a time like this in Sierra Leone, when we are about to conduct presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, it is often said that "information is power". In democratic processes such as elections, ''power'' relates to the ability for individuals (the electorate) to make informed decisions as to who and/for which political party to vote for. Such informed decisions can only be made possible through voter and civic education.
But why educate voters?
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, in every election, voter and civic education are necessary in order to ensure that all constituents ? men and women alike understand their rights, their political system, the contests they are being asked to decide, and how and where to vote. For an election to be successful and democratic, voters must understand their rights and responsibilities and must be sufficiently knowledgeable and well informed to cast ballots that are legally valid and to participate willingly, open mindedly and meaningfully in the voting process. In post-conflict countries, like ours where elections may have an unprecedented impact on the country''s future, voter and civic education are even more critical.
Voter education and civic education
Mr. Chairman, voter education describes the dissemination of information, materials and programmes designed to inform voters about the specifics and mechanics of the voting process for a particular election.
Voter education involves providing information on who is eligible to vote; where and how to register; how electors can check the voter lists to ensure they have been duly included; what type of elections are being held; where, and how to vote; who the candidates are; and how to file complaints.
Voter education campaigns should seek to achieve universal coverage of the electorate and to do this effectively requires reaching out to disadvantaged groups as well as mainstream voters. This must take into account factors such as high rates of illiteracy or the use of different languages in a country even if there is only one official language. Minority groups, internally displaced persons and other marginalized segments of society should be specially targeted.
The national election management body, which is our case, the National Electoral Commission (NEC), is primarily responsible for voter education. However, the public and private media, political parties and non-governmental and international organizations can also play a vital role in spreading the message. Methods, that have have been adopted in voter education includes: posters, activities such as street theatre, role playing, radio spots, jingles, songs, comic strips, political rallies to ensure that all voters have access to the information they need to participate intelligently in the voting process.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, civic education, on the other hand, puts the election into context for voters and provides an explanation of the election''s purpose, the surrounding issues and their significance. Thus a key objective to civic education is to motivate all voters to participate in the elections.
In an ideal situation, civic education should be built into the country''s educational system so that when children reach voting age, they will already understand the basis of the national and local political and electoral systems. The governing authorities of a country are primarily responsible for civic education. However, as elections are highly political, it is important that government-sponsored civic education be neutral and accurate and that it should not be seen as favouring any party or candidate. Other promoters of civic education include the media, civil society groups, women''s associations and non-governmental organizations.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, enlightening the electorate to make informed judgement during elections is a delicate process and must be handled with care and in a responsible manner in order to avoid mis-information that may lead to making regrettable decisions by voters.
During campaigning, political parties and their candidates, try as much as possible to position themselves in the minds of the electorate in such a manner that they are preferred to other parties and candidates.
In the process of winning over voters, some people indulge in calculated mis-information as well as character assassination. This type of voter education must not be tolerated. This is where civil society groups, women''s groups and the media have a role to play in avoiding voter acting on wrong information. In so doing, the media, for example, must be neutral and at the same time responsible.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, as I had mentioned earlier, both civic and voter education aim, among other things, at motivating the electorate to go out and vote on polling day. However, as it has been happening in Sierra Leone in recent times, dissemination of information on the coming 2007 elections is being done by certain desperate people in a way to instill fear in the electorate. These calculated mis-information are normally in various forms of rumours such as: claims of assassination attempts, insecurity, plans of vote rigging etc.
Disappointingly though, these fearful rumours appear as newspaper headlines, all geared towards creating panic in the electorate and displacing the confidence they have already built in the election process. Some may even give up participation in the election process. The police must trace sources of some rumours and who so ever is found disseminating them must be made to face the law.
Editors of newspapers that carry rumours that are threats to national security must be interrogated by the Police to give proof of truth and origin of their stories in the absence of which they also would be made to face the law. I would call on the general public for their full co-operation in this.
Let me conclude by again commending the organizers of their conference and to wish the participants fruitful deliberations.
Statement by the Chairman, Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC)
Justice Sydney Warne
I wish to thank the executive for this invitation to make a statement on this all important theme. It is not the first time that I have so honoured by this association. several years ago, I was the preacher at the Thanksgiving Service at the Ebenezer Church, Circular Road. The theme for this conference is appropriate at this time in our democratic process. My last appointment as Justice of the Supreme Court was revoked in January 2007 after serving on the inferior and superior benches for forty two years. I was looking forward to a happy retirement when I was invited by His Excellency to assume the Chairmanship of the PPRC.
Since my assumption of office in February, it has been a grueling and exacting task. The Commission was conceived in 1991 by the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No. 6 by virtue of Sections 34 and 35. Due to the civil unrest in the country, the gestation period was eleven years. The Commission was born in 2002 pursuant to the Political Parties Act 2002. There are four members of the Commission, Master Caesar representing the Bar Association, Mr. Muctarr Williams representation the Trade Union Movement, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Chairman NEC and your humble servant. We are fully conscious of the fact that we have got to bring the work of the Commission to the people to enable them to make proper choice of those who represent them in Parliament.
We therefore embarked on a sensitization mission of travelling the length and breath of Sierra Leone to inform the Paramount Chiefs and local authorities that the political parties should be given an opportunity to campaign freely in the provinces provided they give the local authorities a week''s notice of their intention and the Local Unit Commander (LUC), that is the police. Four teams traversed the country, the north, south and east and the riverain areas. The teams were made up of PPRC, NCD, Civil Society, Political Parties and the Police.
The Commission has promulgated a Code of Conduct to which the nine approved registered political parties have subscribed. To this end, we have set up Code Monitoring Committees in all the fourteen districts in the country. We have been having regular meetings with the leaders of the political parties. We hold workshops ever so often to let the people know their responsibility and their rights. What we have said is not exhaustive but it will suffice for this conference.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you a successful conference.
Statement delivered by the Cultural Chancellor of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran H.E.M.R. Ghexel Sofla
In the name of Allah, Mr. Chairman, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, ladies and gentlemen, I begin my statement by remembrance of Allah of his noble Prophets. I salute you all with the best of salutations Assalam Alaikum Wa Ramatoo Lilah Wa Barakatoo. May I take the opportunity to congratulate the organizers of this 10th Annual Conference and for selecting this strategically enviable and thought provoking theme, "The right to know: access to information on elections and democracy". I must congratulate all Sierra Leoneans for sustaining peace and democracy since the end of the rebel war in 2002. It is a general belief that the only hope of a nation to sustain any upheaval or civil strife is the assurance that there will be free, fair and transparent elections, where the people could exercise their franchise and choose their leaders. As the theme of the conference dictates, the Cultural Consulate of the Embassy of the I.R. Iran in Freetown established a library with free facilities to the public to access information in various fields of study including elections and democracy. The consulate in collaboration with NEC recently organized a workshop for over 50 Imams in the western area on voter education with officials of the National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone in attendance. Many posters on election sensitization and voter education produced by NEC have been displayed in my library to complement the efforts of NEC.
Mr. Chairman, according to Islamic precepts, there is no doubt for the acceptance of selecting leaders on behalf of society through the voting system. Experiences of voting system in Islamic Republic of Iran: as you know Iranian nation was more than 2,500 years under the non-democratic monarchy. With the leadership of Imam Khomeini and the efforts of the Iranian nation from 1979, a new government was established based on Islamic and democratic principles, named Islamic Republic of Iran as a new political model system called Religious Democracy. Within the twenty eight years past from the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the nation almost had one elections every year in all ranks of the governors including presidential, parliamentary, local council etc.
We can be sure that through fair elections and democracy, the richest and greatest cultural treasure of justice, peace, development, progress and elevations of human values will be achieved and God Almighty will bestow His great bounty of blessings upon us. The success in this process is not possible unless we believe in our ability to conduct free, fair and transparent elections. Each nation should decide to change its condition and destiny and establish a democratic system according to the pure divine values and morals as Almighty God never changes the condition of a nation unless the people make an attempt to change themselves.
Meanwhile, we must also rely on God, seek His help, spread divine values and give direction to the tremendous power of the people so that we can be able to destroy all bases of dependency and godlessness.
Mr. Chairman, I pray that this young democracy which has been built at the price of sincere sacrifices and efforts of the great people of Sierra Leone will promote truth and justice and sustain peace and moral values. I sincerely hope that the elections will pave the way to meet the numerous democratic challenges ahead. I hope that this will be a time of reviving moral values and a basis for a true ethnic society. Long live the great nation of Sierra Leone.
I thank you.
Information and the democratic process by Mr. Donald Davies
Librarian I/Head of the Cataloguing Department, Fourah Bay College Library
Information is defined as an assemblage of data in a comprehensible form recorded on paper or some other medium capable of communication. As librarians, our main task is to handle information by storing, processing and retrieving from acquisition to user.
However, a major problem faced by Fourah Bay College library is that, it does not stock information from key institutions such as National Electoral Commission (NEC) or Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC). Hence, the library staff are embarrassed when such information is demanded by their clientele. In an academic work, a researcher needs a tangible copy of, for example, The National Electoral Act to reference his/her work. The staff is not expected to give verbal information. As such, I implore most of you present here to send copies of news item that relate to your institutions to the library.
The interrelationship between democracy and information is seen in the fact that latter is responsible for the smooth functioning of the former. There has been constant talk about the democratic process and the forth coming election. The main issue is how effective is the electronic and print media in the dissemination of information to the people? This is of significant concern because, people are expected to make an informed decision on the democratic process based on the information at their disposal. This discussion would have been much more rewarding had the original panelists invited been here. Notwithstanding, this panel comprising the Coalition of Civil Society, Labour Congress and librarians could only look at this topic from their various professional perspectives.
As a librarian, I am looking at this topic Information and the democratic process with some issues in mind. In the first place, the dissemination of information tends to target the urban rather than the rural areas where the bulk of the people live. Added to this is the fact that 70% of Sierra Leoneans are illiterate. This means that the dissemination of information via books, newspapers, radio, television, internet etc., are less effective as most of the people are left out of the terms of coverage.
Furthermore, even in the urban areas such as Freetown, radio and television signals are obstructed by the hills and other obstacles. Fourah Bay College (FBC) is a typical example of a location in Freetown that finds it difficult to access Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service Television (SLBS TV). Consequently, I see it as a waste of time for panelists to discuss voter sensitization on television when very little is received in terms of coverage by the people.
Although some will argue that there are FM stations in provincial areas, the problem is that the radius of such stations is short. There is a marginalization of rural areas in information dissemination. There are times when one eagerly awaits the answers to questions directed by the public to a NEC panelist in a radio discussion programme only to be told by the moderator that the NEC panelist was not present.
This is frustrating; it means NEC is not doing proper sensitization on the democratic/electoral process. The solution to this problem is for NEC to be more effective in its responsibilities and for the government to consider using medium and short wave radio broadcast. This would target the entire country with information on the democratic process.
There is even a greater problem with newspapers because, not only is the reading culture among Sierra Leoneans low but there is also the problem of illiteracy. Newspapers are expected to write objectively on issues and leave the public to draw a conclusion. Most of our newspapers are not only partisan but even those who claim to be independent verge on character assassination. Consequently, the public is unable to get credible information in the democratic process based on the shortcomings of our newspapers.
We cannot even talk about books or the internet because they are very expensive. On the other hand, libraries which should be better alternatives now heavily rely on donations rather than purchasing to upgrade their stock. This means that the public would find it difficult to access information on the democratic process in our libraries. This problem can be solved by the government resuming its book subsidy to the library at Fourah Bay College as it used to do in the past.
Faced with these challenges that I have raised, it is my opinion that the public is not adequately informed about the democratic process. This was clearly revealed when I raised the question of where do we draw the line between sensitization and actual campaigning? I could not get a response because the officials of the PPRC and NEC who could have cleared the issue have already left. Alternatively, lawyers who should fill in the gap do not even bother to sensitize the public on such issues. I can conclude that the public is left in the dark on this crucial topic selected by SLAALIS, Information and the democratic process.
Information and the democratic process by Tangella Quee, Peace & Conflict Studies Student, Fourah Bay College, representative of the Civil Society and Human Rights Activists, Sierra Leone (CCSHRA-SL)
Civil society groups serve as a buffer between the state and its people. They are pressure groups and help to articulate the views of the people. Therefore, civil society groups have enormous roles to play in disseminating information to the masses, especially in the democratic process.
Information is power, and every citizen should have access to it to make informed decision. Civil society attempts to translate this into a reality through radio programmes, publicities, workshops, interactive meetings, not only in the urban but also in the rural areas, cutting across all works of life. Women are particularly encouraged to increase their participation in the democratic process. When information is being transmitted, it should be done in a way that even the illiterate will be able to understand, which enables him/her to make wise decisions.
The democratic process is a very long one. It starts long before voting day, and throughout this period the people rely on qualitative and not necessarily quantitative information to enable them to participate. None should be excluded from the process and the citizens would only have a sense of belonging when they are adequately informed. In a democracy, the will and rights of the people should be upheld. Civil society plays a crucial role in influencing government policy in this direction.
Although everyone needs information, the means of acquisition could be different. However, information must be cross checked to ascertain its reliability before dissemination.
I would like to assure you about the commitment of civil society in ensuring that correct information is being made accessible to enable the electorate to actively participate in the election process. Since information and the democratic process are intertwined, there would be no lasting democracy without correct information.
I thank you.
The role of youths in ensuring peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Dr. Dennis Bright
Mr. Chairman, etc. my first duty is to thank the executive and general membership of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Scientists (SLAALIS) for giving me this pleasant opportunity to contribute to the on-going discussions and debates relating to the forthcoming crucial presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone.
I have been asked to talk on the role of the youths in ensuring peaceful elections. There are three operative words that have captured my attention here: "ensuring", "role" and of course "youths". The topic puts squarely on the shoulder of young people especially those entitled to vote a share of the huge responsibility of making sure that the elections go on without violence. There is also the implication that if there is violence youths are likely to be the most active perpetrators.
Why are we discussing the issue anyway? The other day, the U.N. brought in the captain of the captain of the national football team of France as a goodwill ambassador to talk to our young people here on peaceful elections, and I got bangles with the inscription, "Say no to violent elections". And quite a few NGOs here have picked up the tune too. The point is that there is something in the air that tells of the likelihood of an outbreak of violent confrontations before, during or after elections. The radical utterances of some highly placed politicians, a few incidents or clashes involving politically opposed groups (Bo, C.K.C and Arie Wuteteh) all combine to give the impression of rehearsals before the great event. And I hear that already some Sierra Leoneans who can afford it have started booking flights to leave the country before 11th August. They did so, if you can remember, when UNAMSIL was to hoard over security to the Sierra Leone security system and they then feared that the country would return to violence and lawlessness. But we must look at the deeper, historical reasons why people are worried about the prospect of violence in the next elections.
During my youth, as a student at Fourah Bay College (FBC) and even afterwards, I never witnessed peaceful elections except in 2002. I never witnessed peaceful elections. Young, dangerous things became household names (Karug, Abu Omole, Sima Panke, Power and Sinneh) and rose to prominence in those days for the terror they brought especially at election time when they virtually put their service on hire to politicians. I still remember the B.B.C. reporter, Anne Bolsover, who witnessed one of our elections, saying that Sierra Leone could be likened then to the Wild West but that instead of cowboys on horseback you had campaigning politicians in four-wheel drive vehicles. The irony is that there was only one party at the time. Now we have several and also unprecedented freedom of expression and association.
In addition to the currency of violence in those days of political innocence, we also need to consider the reservations of the violent experiences of our civil war. The war has left us a legacy of anger, frustration, impatience, pain but also awareness of the depths to which we can descend in harming each other. On the plus side, the war could have taught us the road not to be taken; it could have given to every man and woman, young and old an awareness of his/her responsibility in preserving the integrity and permanence of the state, through respect for the law among other things.
In short, the past can influence the present either way and we all have a duty to ensure that it does so positively and in the interest of the stability of our country. I am giving all this background to usher in the youth into the scene. But let us first of all find out the identity of the youths we are talking about.
The National Youth Policy definition of youth is young men and women aged between 15 and 35 years. This is a very dangerous definition by international standards but if we were to call a meeting of youth today, you are more likely to see sixty-year-old men sitting in the front row. Some of them may have been the thugs on hire in the days of political innocence, but who still cling to the title of youth because somehow they stopped growing socially and mentally. The co-mingling of the old youth and the young youth is an interesting phenomenon that causes a mixture of different types of frustration and the fermentation of the spirit of rebellion.
However, the most active youths that we are likely to see in moods of violence at political rallies may either be unemployed or employed but dissatisfied, educated or uneducated. They do not belong to any particular ethnic group or religion. Some of them may be school going children and slum children mainly from poor background. Those that you are not likely to see are the children, nephews and nieces of the candidates/politicians. Since time immemorial those ones have not been allowed to expose themselves to danger. But that''s another matter. The point I am making is that all types of youth can be drawn into violence at elections, which is quite different from the days when you had specialist ''raray boys'' called ''thugs''. This point is significant. Quite often we hear the common refrain that ''youths'' have been or are being misused, sued and abused etc. The implication here is that they are innocent vessels open to the corruption of experience. I do not think so. The eyes of our youth are wide open; their tongues are loose; they know what they want and they do not want it tomorrow; they want it now. There is an acuteness in their awareness and an urgency in their demand that should make us all think hard and listen well. The reality that we must face is that they do not really think much of political parties and their statement. They say that they have lost hope in what they call ''the system''. What they are in fact doing is to use the political wagon for their own purposes, as a vehicle to express their frustration and interest. Therefore, and the danger is, a political leader bent on gaining power and who may not exclude the logic of violence and does not mind his language may be providing the right environment for frustrated youth who have their axe to grind. It is worse if the political leader himself is frustrated and disgruntled. It was very much the same scenario during the war. Foday Sankoh, angry, disgruntled not so much about the country as about a personal score with the regime, jumped outside society and his rebellion attracted many young frustrated people and here we are today.
The youths can use any vehicle, any avenue, school, sports, football matches, political parties etc. for violent expression of their demands. Elections have the potential of being the perfect theatre for such expression. Having said all that, I believe we are in agreement that it is not our interest to slide back into violence and lose the peace in our country and the goodwill of those who have helped us gain it. This is why I salute this initiative of bringing us together at this material time to discuss such an important issue.
It is correct that the young people can do a lot to prevent violence during the elections by not taking part in acts of violence. One brilliant initiative that has been taken is the campaign against violence at elections. This campaign must be intensified and should focus on youths especially with messages and language that they use and understand. The meetings should not be held at the British Council or Atlantic Hall but where the potential participants usually hang out, street-corners, internet cafes, campuses etc. The pressure must be sustained even as election fever mounts.
Furthermore, today more than ever youths are organized. We at the Ministry of Youths and Sports encourage youths to form groups, clubs etc. according to their interests, inclinations and affinities. We are building a database of youth organizations in the country and to date have recorded thousands; sports, music, development, community organizations, young women, environment, skill based etc. These youth groups, associations and coalitions can be extremely useful for peer education on the issue.
Special mention must be made of the musicians who in recent times have become part and parcel of our political process. Many of our young musicians, I believe, are satisfied with their role in sharpening the consciousness of the populace through protests, songs and social commentary. If they have been so effective in doing that, they can equally be effective in educating the people against violence, by joining the campaign. Some gullible and malleable minds may easily interpret or accommodate their lyrics as an invitation to yet another round of violence in our country. However, the youths may be potential participants but they are not the only group that can ensure non-violence at elections. The campaign should be all-inclusive and there is room for participation by institutions such as schools, colleges, congregations and jammat, NGOs and CBOs.
But most importantly, when youths embark on acts of political violence they invariably have some