In this edition of Media Watch, we bring you an interview with Kasho Holland-Cole, one of two people vying for the Vice Presidency of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists.
Mohamed Jaward Nyallay caught up with Kasho and they discussed a number of issues around his candidacy in the contest that’s scheduled for this week in the southern city of Bo.
This interview was an attempt to give him an opportunity to respond to several issues that were published in last week’s special edition of Politico on the SLAJ election. He talks about his plans for the umbrella journalist body and answers to concerns over his current status as a football administrator.
Politico: For a start tell me about your career as a journalist.
Cole: Well my career as a journalist started ten years ago. I have worked for different radio stations. Off course I now own my own radio station, Radio Lion Mountain in Waterloo and also have a newspaper. I am a multimedia owner who has worked for ten years, from a cub reporter and now you would say Chief Executive Officer.
Politico: which position you are running for in the upcoming SLAJ elections?
Cole: well, I am running to be the vice president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists.
Politico: with regards to that, what is the focus of your campaign? What do you think have been missing in the office of the vice president?
Cole: one is collaboration, I have not seen for many years now where the vice president and the president are working on a collaborative platform in making sure that they achieve their goals. You would agree with me that months back we have had about confusion, separation, division in the current executive. For this reason the elders have led an investigation to come out with a report. So I have seen that there is no collaboration. Secondly, my main focus for contesting the election is to see SLAJ becomes an inclusive organization where all journalists would feel belonged. As long as you have gone through the credential committee and you’ve been accepted as a member, definitely your welfare must be the priority of SLAJ and not working on a cabala where a few people will feel marginalized.
Politico: So do you think there is an ongoing cabal in the association?
Cole: Off course, there is a cabal. You would agree with me, even you yourself as a journalist you know that SLAJ is completely divided and that is why am contesting to bring everybody on board; the old, the middle age, the young seeing themselves as colleagues, seeing themselves as people who are aiming at a particular goal.
Politico: With all those divisions, are you not on any side of them?
Cole: No, no, no, am not. I do not belong to any camp. I am a journalist; I have respect for all the old, the middle age, the young. I have respect for everybody. Secondly I see SLAJ as a religion. Many times when I say SLAJ is a religion people say what you mean Kasho. Because when you talk about religion it means you have a belief, you have trust, you have confidence, and you have respect for it. So for me I see SLAJ as a religion, I believe in SLAJ and I have so much respect and love for SLAJ. So, me coming in as a vice president, by the grace of God, I will make sure that people have that same respect, same love and that same passion for SLAJ wherein we will bring everybody on the same path. It will not be based on tribal bases or regional bases. Inclusiveness, I believe democracy is about inclusiveness, so that everyone will be able to participate.
Politico: You are a football administrator and a journalist, of the two jobs which one are you more of?
Cole: Well, I am a journalist
Politico: So you are a journalist more than a football administrator?
Cole: well off course. Football is because I have the passion for football. But my job, what I have passion for is journalism, because, what journalism has done for me, no other job has done that for me. I have been a police officer for fourteen years and I retired honorably. But respect I have earned from being a journalist for the last ten years cannot be compared to none. So for me my love and my passion is for journalism, what I do in football is just to help people.
Politico: You are running for the upcoming WAFA election and you are running for the Vice Presidency of SLAJ. How do you plan to manage these jobs together if you get elected for both?
Cole: well fortunately because God knows that I love journalism so much that election for the football has been cancelled.
Politico: Suppose the election holds later, are you going to run for the Vice Presidency of WAFA?
Cole: well I think I have already reconsidered. As far as that election has been cancelled or put on hold I now focus my attention to SLAJ. So if I win definately I will give all my attention to SLAJ.
Politico: So does it mean that you are not contesting the WAFA election?
Cole: I will not go back, because the reason is that, I already went through the nomination before SLAJ announced vacancies, that was the problem. So automatically, when I came for the vice presidency of SLAJ people said ahhh double vice president, so in the end it is going to be a problem. But thank God now it has been cancelled and my focus for now is SLAJ. When it comes to football we will talk about football but for now it is SLAJ.
Politico: Ok what about the future?
Cole: well when we get to that bridge we will cross it.
Politico: But as intending vice president we must know your goals clearly.
Cole: my goal is to make SLAJ very enviable where young journalists will become members as far as they have fulfilled the criteria, where young journalists will have the opportunity to attend trainings and seminars equally as other people have been doing and where journalists will benefit from the association. Where journalists will have respect, where journalists will be seen as people that are very important in the development of a country, so basically that is my focus. As I said before, when it comes to football we will talk about that.
Politico: a lot of your talk on this interview has been about equality, how exactly are you going to do that? Do you have road map or a work plan to achieve this?
Cole: yes. Firstly, I told guys in Kenema yesterday (Thursday) that NEC, the National Electoral Commission, they brought in what they called INIS, that they did a course on election management. Because they know that everyone will not be opportune to go to Fourah Bay College, Njala or Milton Margai. So what I intend to do, I will rally around the membership. The key reason for that is to capacitate journalists, by having our own institution, like what NEC is doing now. We can have our own institution, for example you say let’s go to the east end region, we do a six month course where journalists will attend six month for those in the east. At the end of the day they graduate and they can be given certificates in journalism. We can do the same thing in the south; we can do it in the north and in the west. By capacitating ourselves we can be equal, because when you have your paper and I have my paper also we can talk from the same platform.
Politico: as you are talking are you considering the issue of resources, in doing all of this?
Cole: Yes off course, I am good at lobbying. We can put a pen and paper together, do a very nice project. And I believe with my experience in project management, project design and implementation we can be able to have a very nice project where in we can have donors to come in and help us, that is how NEC started and today they have gone a long way.
Politico: there are two people who are running for the office of the presidency, the incumbent President, Kelvin Lewis and vice president Stanley Bangura Jnr. Who will you prefer to work with?
Cole: well I want to leave that question to the membership. Who the members decide that will be the president I will work with.
Politico: you are running to be the vice president. If you are talking about all these plans you must have thought of whom you will better accomplish them with.
Cole: SLAJ is a one hundred percent literate organization. Membership knows what is good for them and what is not good for them. So let them decide on the fourth and whoever becomes our president I believe I have enough absorbers to work with anybody. I am a team player, I am a mixer, I know how to get results, so basically I will not determine for the membership. Let the membership just be mindful of who they vote in, because the value of their vote is important after ballot.
Politico: SLAJ know what they want. What do you want?
Cole: what I want is to see SLAJ grow, moving SLAJ forward. Taking SLAJ to enabling every other organization will admire SLAJ, every other person will feel like they want to become a journalists. That is what I want SLAJ to be.
Politico: You are contesting against Haffner. What do you think is the stand out quality that you have that he does not have?
Cole: Well Samuel Haffner is my friend; even yesterday I paid him a visit. I visited him in his house and we spoke. I asked him to stand down because I think I have the quality that people are looking for. I know he is a very fine journalist like me but I think I can represent people better. In representing journalists you need to have the charisma. When we are talking about the characteristics of journalist you should be able to know how to handle issues diplomatically, radically, because there are times if you want to get the result you have to be radical. Radical in this sense does not mean that you should misbehave, no. you have to persevere. You have to be aggressive; aggressive in journalism means you do it continuously in making sure you get your result. Off course I am honest, God fearing and above all I am a very good leader.
Politico: so you are sure that Haffner does not have all these qualities?
Cole: well Haffner is a very fine journalist but like said I can represent SLAJ more than him. I can break the check point.
Politico: you are coming in to this race with a lot of heat on your back, particularly from the angle of you being a football administrator. A lot of people think that you are taking this moment as an opportunity to challenge for the vice presidency why you are more of a football guy than being a journalist.
Cole: well people may think because so because for few years now football has been in to serious problem and me being the man who stand out for justice, people hear me all the time, see me on TV talking or defending or arguing just because of the truth. That makes me a very fine journalist, when I know that this is what is being prescribed in the books, for example the constitution and somebody wants to bend it or to break it. I will not seat down and allow that to happen, that is what is happening in football. I have been in the game for quite a long time and we all know the impact, we all know the falsification, we all know what is going on. So Kasho Cole has said no, I will not yield to that because that is not correct. So being a journalist also, SLAJ has its own constitution and I will make sure that we go by the constitution. When people respect the constitution, they will have no problem with Kasho, trust me.
Politico: but coming in with such a baggage to the SLAJ job, don’t you think it will affect your job?
Cole: no, no, no. that is not a baggage. What happened in football has nothing to do with Kasho. I kick against the voting pattern. I kicked against the abuse of the constitution and I did nothing wrong. In fact people will tell you that Kasho is the man to reckon with because he has been against the system that is not correct from 2012 to 2016. So I have no baggage, nobody will tell you that Kasho is involved in malpractice. For example, the election that took place in 2013, I did not take part. All I did was to quit myself from the place because I cannot go and vote for somebody that I do not believe in. I have no baggage from the Sierra Leone Football Association, no baggage from WAFA, am coming with, a clean hand to render my experience, my support, my love and my leadership qualities I have for SLAJ.
Politico: there are issues concerning embezzlement. What do you have to say to that?
Cole: Well that is completely false. That allegation was made against me by somebody else; a journalist who thinks now is the time to get at the back of people. I have never been asked, or police have never invited me for any offence like embezzlement or siphoning football money. If you look at the letter, the letter was sent to me. The executive was dissolved by the membership. The membership cannot dissolve the secretariat, I am the secretary general, I am not an executive member. Therefore when you want to dissolve the executive you write through the secretary general, the letter was sent to me for me to take action. I have all the letters, if you want I can make the letters available to you. And nobody mentioned my name that Kasho had been dissolved or Kasho had been sacked or Kasho used money without giving account. There was nothing about that, so I was surprised to read it on paper that there was embezzlement and that. That is not correct.
Politico: Let us talk about a possible conflict of interest that might arise in the future. You are still involved in WAFA, what if there are controversial issues around WAFA that journalists should cover. How will you respond to that?
Cole: well as I have told you earlier on, I see SLAJ as a religion; therefore I will not stand in any way when journalists wan to do their job. I am the current secretary general for WAFA and I told you the tenure of the executive ended since December. We are supposed to have new elections, we cancelled the first one. When they will be having their election, what I will do is that they need to find somebody else to serve as their secretary general. Definitely I will be in football till I die, because in my community at Waterloo we have the community football team. I am a strong supporter and one of the financiers, so I will be around football because I love football so much. But that will not stop me, and I will not stop journalists from doing their job.
Politico: Back to the elections. How optimistic are you about winning?
Cole: oh I will win, definitely. The delegates know. You know many people ask, if Kasho is a journalist? And some people say yes he is a journalist. And they will say we have not been seeing him. And I say yes because I don’t do coasting. I don’t do what they call ‘laybelleh’. I don’t go around
Politico: With all the journalists around, should they really be asking that question in the first place?
Cole: Yes, some people ask because. People who know me would not ask. I don’t want to name names here, but senior journalists, junior journalists, they know me. But there are some people who always ask, because I said I will not go with you. I will not go to politicians to go and find money. I will not go and harass people because I am a journalist. Ok! I stay at my corner and do my job. If there is information that I want I go out there and get it.
Politico: Are you currently practicing as a journalist? I know you are the CEO of Radio Lion Mountain.
Cole: Oh, I am practicing everyday at my radio station. I cast news, I do my programs. I have a program called Octopus; I think that is the biggest program for me in Sierra Leone. It comes up every Friday from 9 to 12 and every other listener can tell you how professional it is. You can go to the IMC, they will tell you that they have complained that program several times. They have gone to Waterloo, listened for themselves, they assessed and said what I do there is professional. So basically I am still practicing, even if I become the vice president of SLAJ I will continue to practice.
Politico: Where is your strongest delegate base?
Cole: All over Sierra Leone.
Politico: off late we have heard that you have spent a lot of time in the provinces, because you are more known in the Western Area than in the provinces.
Cole: Well I tell you that I am more known in the provinces than in the Western Area.
Politico: the other contestant is from the southern region.
Cole: I have worked in the Southern region for eight years and people know me there. I have worked in the eastern region; I have worked in the northern region. I have worked everywhere; there is no district in Sierra Leone that I have not worked.
Politico: As a journalist?
Cole: As a journalist, as a police officer, as an election officer, as an observer, as a teacher for so many years. I have worked in all of the districts, people know me everywhere. I travelled, I was in Bo and Kenema yesterday, if you see what happened. I was in the stronghold of my colleague and he knew tht oh Kasho has come.
Politico: for the undecided voters, what is your message to them?
Cole: I want to tell them to vote for Kasho. Because Kasho will give them the leadership they want. Kasho will give them proper representation. Kasho will let them have their respect again, the respect that we’ve lost. In recent times we have seen journalists been arrested, journalists are molested for reasons we cannot tell. I will give them strong leadership. When I get elected as the vice president I won’t say they will arrest journalists or journalists would not be detained but it is not going to be easy. Because I have the skills, I have that lobbying pattern. I know how to cajole people. We will cajole the powers that be to see reason, because a doctor can operate a patient and that will lead for him to die but that doctor would not be arrested. A lawyer will lose a case in court, but is he going to be paid more money. But when a journalist makes a mistake they say it is criminal and we are not criminals. But it takes a man o tell a man or to tell the powers at be that we are not criminals. What I am saying is that, vote me and see. I told journalists in Bo and Kenema, 90 days you asses my leadership. I will work with the president; I will work with the executive members and I will work with the membership to take SLAJ to how it was.
Politico: One last question, you are contesting for the vice presidency which is just one step away from the presidency. Are you contemplating on running for that office in the future?
Cole: Well, I am a man of God. I believe God talks to me. If that time comes and God says go for it I will go, but for now I am going for the vice presidency.
Politico: Ok, thank you very much for your time.
Cole: Thank you.
(C) Politico 01/06/16