SLAJ President Calls for Strategic & Sustained Ties with China

Remarks by SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, at the Symposium organised by the Chinese Embassy, SLAJ, and the Parliament of Sierra Leone.

Topic: Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy and 50 years of China-Sierra Leone Cooperation
Date: 30th April, 2021
Venue: Bintumani Hotel
Time: 9:00am to 11:30am

The high table: from l-r: President of SLAJ Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, Hon Speaker of Parliament Dr. Chernor Abass Bundu, Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone His Excellency Hu Zhangliang, and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hon Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo

Salutations.

I have not been to China yet, but I know how to say ‘Nimen Hao’.

Let me start on a personal note. I fell in love with China in the late 80s and early 90s when I was in secondary school. We used to escape school to watch Chinese movies at Globe Cinema, and on weekends we looked forward to Matinee shows at Strand, Roxy, and Starco cinemas. Remotely, I fell in love with big-screen actors like Jackie Chan, Wong Chong Li (aka ‘Golden Fox’), Jet Li, Dragon Lee, the Shaw Brothers, and more. I also fell in love with China’s dynamic culture and its respect for nature.

We were so fascinated by the art of Kungfu so much that we started training martial arts. And we (proud products of the Freetown Gladiators Karate School) would move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood across Freetown sparring with other trainees. I got so engrossed in the art that I started behaving like a Shaolin Monk; I shaved the hair on my head and that’s how I came to have the nickname ‘De Monk’.

Sadly, with the disappearance of the cinema that aspect of Chinese diplomacy and cultural export has diminished. Or rather it has taken new forms in this digital age. I hope one day I will have the opportunity to visit that great country and be exposed to the laudable things that are happening there.

I have followed the evolution of China, albeit from a distance, but what has struck me most is their deep thinking, the original ideology, and the concentration on what is good for China.
I am looking forward today to learn a few things about the vision of President Xi Jinping, with the hope that somehow I can pick a few lessons which I can use to further help in the transformation of SLAJ into a more productive Association just like China is almost topping the world now.

Mr. Ambassador, just a few years ago China was a third-world country. But even though 60 years ago Sierra Leone was influential enough to recommend China for a seat at the United Nations, today China is amongst the first three nations in the world while Sierra Leone continues to struggle.

In terms of the relationship between China and Sierra Leone, this should be a period of reflection. We need to see how in the next 60 years we can be at par with China.

This is why this symposium is important because we at SLAJ are looking forward to hearing the history, and learning about the strategy that China has used.

So SLAJ is very pleased and honoured to partner with the Chinese Embassy and the Parliament of Sierra Leone to organize this symposium on ‘President Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy and 50 Years of China-Sierra Leone Cooperation’.

As China and Sierra Leone celebrate 50 years of friendship this year 2021, SLAJ is also celebrating 50 years of existence as a professional umbrella body for the media in Sierra Leone dedicated to promoting and protecting free speech and freedom of the media. And this event is part of our Golden Jubilee activities.
On behalf of the national and regional Executives, and the entire membership of SLAJ, let me take this opportunity to congratulate the China-Sierra Leone Cooperation.

We are inspired that since 1971 the Sino-Sierra Leone friendship has grown from strength to strength and it has been one of mutual understanding, respect, and benefit. China’s bilateral support to Sierra Leone can be seen in the many infrastructural landmarks across the country; from roads to public office buildings, health, agriculture, and mining sectors.

Similarly, SLAJ and the media generally have enjoyed a very good relationship with the Embassy of China, and this symposium is an indication of how this relationship is growing.

Many journalists have benefitted (and continue to benefit) from study scholarships to China, short-term courses, and visitations.
SLAJ and its affiliate bodies have also received logistical support from the Chinese Embassy in the form of office and media equipment.

About 10 journalists have been supported to do Masters and PhD programs in China. Over 40 journalists have been supported to do short courses; 4 journalists have been given the opportunity to train with Chinese media for one year including the young man who is now our Assistant Secretary-General.

Nevertheless, what we have observed is that most of the training opportunities given to our journalists (apart from the Masters and PhD programs) focus mainly on Chinese development. Beneficiaries are usually taken on a conducted tour of China’s imposing infrastructural cityscape, and moreover, the same journalists continue to enjoy this privilege. We need to review such a program to ensure journalists acquire the right skills and knowledge to enhance their professionalism when they return home. SLAJ and the Embassy might also consider doing a survey to assess the impact of such training on the media in Sierra Leone.

Furthermore, the Chinese Embassy has also supported SLAJ in several projects, our AGMs and other related matters, and former Amb. Kuang Weilin a few years ago was at SLAJ HQ to deliver a talk on the China-Sierra Leone relationship.

So as we celebrate 50 years, we look forward to a more strategic and sustained relationship at the institutional level of China’s support. We encouraged the Embassy to deal directly with SLAJ when it comes to training and scholarship opportunities for media practitioners. We also look forward to the intervention of the Embassy in our effort to construct a befitting SLAJ headquarters in the capital city.

SLAJ believes that any bilateral tie between China and Sierra Leone must have a component for media development. More than ever before our country needs independent and professional media to hold this nation together.

With these few words let me thank the Ambassador for this event and hope that this is just the beginning of a long, sustained, and mutually beneficial relationship between the Chinese Embassy and SLAJ.

I thank you.

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