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Citizens call for preservation of old Sierratel booths

…for monument and research purposes

October 6, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai

Citizens of Sierra Leone have called on the Monuments and Relics Commission to preserve some of the former Sierratel booths for future research and monument purposes.

It could be recalled that the Sierra Leone Telecommunication Company (Sierratel) was a viable institution which provided the sole means of making and receiving phones calls from friends and relatives at home and abroad before the advent of the war. But after the war, there was a meteoric advancement in telecommunication which saw the emergence of mobile telecommunication companies like Celtel (now Airtel), Millicom, Tigo (both defunct) and Africell, thus effectively rendering SiERRATEL redundant. As a result, people used mobile phones to communicate instead of standing in queues for hours to make and receive calls from the Sierratel booths.

In an interview with Concord Times yesterday, Michael Jackson, a teacher in one of the secondary schools in Freetown, recommended that the former SiERRATEL booths must be preserved for both monument and research purposes. He added that the booths are of importance to children and future researchers in and out of Sierra Leone.

“It is not only good to explain to our kids about the booths in tales but there should be visible things that these kids will see and learn from. I remember those days when we had to stand in queues to make and receive calls from others in and out of the country, but things have really changed. In spite of the fact that we are happy for the change, but we must do something to protect the booths so as to backup our tales with evidence to our kids,” he said.

He called on the Monument and Relics Commission to protect the Sierratel booths so that unscrupulous individuals will not destroy all of them.

A retired civil servant, Mrs. Abioseh King, said the booths must be protected from destruction as they could be of relevance for tourism and education purposes.

She observed that most of the booths have been converted to business places while some have been stolen and destroyed, adding that the remaining ones should be protected for future researchers.

She recalled that before the war, Sierratel booths accommodated people who rushed to make and receive calls. She noted that stories about their challenges to make and receive calls inside those booths would be interesting to future researchers, thus the reason they should be preserved.

Marketing Director of Sierratel, Albert Bangura-Will, said that before the war, Sierratel was the only telecommunications provider in the country but that it suffered adversely during the war as most of its networks and booths were destroyed.

“After the war, the government liberalised the telecommunications sector which led to the emergence of many other network operators. And Sierratel went out of business at that time,” he said and added that most of the booths have been stolen by thieves.

He said since the advent of mobile phones, which enable users to utilise social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc, the booths were no longer deemed relevant.

When asked if they would have to re-introduce the booths, he said he could not tell as no one foretells the future. He added though that there are no immediate plans to revive them.

He disclosed that if Sierratel has nothing to do with them they would hand them over for heritage purposes.

However, Research Officer at the Monuments and Relics Commission, Tommy E. Kain, said the obsolete Sierratel booths have little historical value because they phased out in recent years.

“There is every tendency that the authorities at Sierratel will have to revive the booths. If they don’t need them anymore then we would intervene to preserve them. We have done the same to the Sierra Leone Postal Services letter boxes which are of importance to us because they have phased out. We have preserved the letter box at Campbell Street-Pademba Road junction,” he said, adding that they are colonial artifacts which should be preserved.