By Isaac Massaquoi
Imagine you are in a reasonably good open-air night entertainment spot packed with young people enjoying some of the greatest and latest hits in town. Then this happens: The music suddenly stops and the beautiful voice of a lady is heard announcing: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry for that break in transmission. I just want to announce that tomorrow there will be a fashion show to which you are all invited…” Then the music continues.
Ok, you were actually at MEM’S Entertainment Centre on the night of Friday 30th March 2012. MEM’S is the new kid on the entertainment block in the northern headquarter town of Makeni. The place is just chock-a-block with young people and you know; it’s a daily thing. This is already having a real impact on the goings-on in other entertainment spots of the city – but sleazy old Flamingo still has its loyal clients and some hungry wolves hanging around, come what may. Push down a few meters along Lady’s Mile and DISCO VIRGEM comes into view. It’s just been given a new lease of life and it promises a lot. We shall see.
So back to Friday night, 30th March and that absolutely stilted way in which the lady DJ addressed dozens of revellers at MEM’S. I was transported to that SLBS continuity studio in the old building near the ministry of labour. It was from that studio that we dished out that sort of apology to listeners every day. On a good day – when we could boast of some electricity at New England – we would apologise about five times in three hours. That was extremely disgraceful. The long-suffering listeners of SLBS had no choice then. Looking back now, I think it was totally unnecessary to have kept telling them ‘stay tuned’. Since I left the place with its epileptic power supply, Iron Age broadcast equipment and destructive political manipulations I vowed never to look back. I’ve been away for about nine years now and things have changed in terms of power and equipment. But when the DJ spoke that night, it was almost as if I was on duty once again. Come on! Don’t spoil my evening.
Makeni City has changed considerably in the last decade. I can vividly remember when I once visited just before the 2002 general elections, the war had just ended and people were picking up the pieces of their shattered lives and you could see that something special had to be done to pull Makeni together again like many other parts of the country, and convince the people that it could be better only if they believed. I was then in the company of the BBC’s Josephine Hazeley and a young Sierra Leonean colleague, Fayia Sellu who now lives in the US. Apart from taking a look around, I also observed how Josephine scrupulously followed her notes from the BBC course in reporting in hazardous terrain. She took no chances.
Today, Makeni appears surprised, metaphorically, by all the interesting things happening to it. I am typing this piece from a part of town that enjoys clean electricity from Bumbuna. I was told that about 20% of the town now enjoys Bumbuna power. Close to the cemetery, I saw electricity workers running power lines late in the evening and they were in haste as if they had some unrealistic deadline to beat. Next day I heard on Radio Maria that ten electricity poles had collapsed along Teko road to the east of the city. Does that confirm my suspicion about something a little rushed about this job? I am inclined to think so.
OK let’s talk a bit about the hotels. A few new ones have sprung up recently but the cost of sleeping in them keeps rising. I feel a bit of pity for owners because the overheads in running huge generators, doing maintenance and so on are just unbelievable. For someone like me who visits these places often and again, I can’t wait for Bumbuna to take over Makeni. Naturally, I will expect the booking rates in all hotels to fall dramatically. Is that asking for too much even at this stage?
Makeni city has been heavily influenced by the many mining and agribusiness entrepreneurships now in place in the general area of the city. All sorts of people have moved from all parts of the country and beyond to those still remote places looking for a job. As anybody should expect, those people have brought along a lot of collateral issues hitherto unknown in what was a sleepy town. The evidence was clear from some of our friends at the breakfast table throughout my stay.
The social consequences of this rather tidal movement will be felt for a long time to come.
In the company of other media colleagues, I was introduced to about a dozen young men who told us they were workers in one of the mines and an agribusiness concern. As soon as they realised we were journalists, they started churning out a long list of complaints against their employers. I suggested to a colleague that we should not treat their complaints with much seriousness because, I thought, they could be lazy and undisciplined workers quarrelling about everything; at least two of them looked like that to me. I challenged them a bit more rigorously and then a thread of commonality began to emerge between their stories and those of a few others we had met about a month ago. These are issues worth exploring. In the next few weeks we shall make an attempt to put them in the public domain.
Wusum Stadium is a nice place to watch football these days. The artificial turf is great. Nahim Khadi’s football administration will be remembered for that but not for the disgusting fact that for more than two years Khadi is hanging out in London pretending to be the SLFA president, collecting some green backs for his troubles while at home, the Premier League Board has had to look for money from all corners to keep the league going. But back to Wusum Stadium. On Saturday 31st, March beleaguered East End Lions came visiting.
This was the day Wusum Stars were going to turn around their premier league fortunes. “Bring down the Lion” shouted some sections of the crowd. As an ardent supporter of East End Lions and having witnessed the mediocre performances they have put up against traditional weaklings of the league at the national stadium since the start of the season, I was resigned to taking a beating yet again in the heart of Bombali. In the event, Wusum Stars were slaughtered in their own abattoir with something like a rusty Swiss army penknife – three goals to one in favour of an out of form East End Lions, it ended. Wusum Stars are well and truly on their way to relegation this year unless something very dramatic happens to their fortunes.
So what do we have here? Bombali district that provided the most fantastic midfielder ever in Sierra Leone football in the shape of Alusine Terry who missed only a couple of penalty shots throughout his long career for club and country; Bombali district that provided Raka Rackson, the tall and resolute Lucas Radebe-kind-of central defender with his powerful headed goals, just can’t win a match in the dying days of the first round of the national league. Let’s face it, the quality of Sierra Leone football has fallen badly all round but things are definitely not looking good for our friends up north. My own Wanjama Stars, even after stealing a few players from Liberia still can’t make it to the Premier League, so what is Isaac talking about, I can hear you asking. Don’t’ mind me. It’s just that I have found myself in my new city and I feel compelled to put a few things on paper.
I’ve spent a few days here working with some young journalists from about twelve community radio stations by courtesy of Cotton Tree News of Fourah Bay College. I find these new media colleagues very enthusiastic and willing to work. I got them to put in extra hours and I heard no grumblings, which doesn’t mean it didn’t go on in the little groups. I can leave with that. Day in day out, I hear very loud ones at FBC.
The media in the northern region have grown beyond recognition not just in terms of the number of radio stations, but also in the quality of their output. There are a few very opinionated presenters in Makeni engaged in nothing but media lynching. But on the whole – great work.
A piece on Makeni is not complete without something about its once thriving Gara industry. The irony is that at a time when one of its own, Ernest Bai Koroma, is President of Sierra Leone, the industry is giving way to cheap Chinese gara-look-alike fabrics which have almost completely taken the hardworking Makeni women at especially Manikala, out of business. Another irony, just three years after President Koroma urged all to wear traditional dress on Fridays. Nothing can be funnier, more ironical and less sensible.