August 19, 2019
BY Andrew Keili
PONDER MY BOOKS
I have been asked how “Ponder my thoughts” started. My late brother Christian, of blessed memory was an exemplary journalist who loved his profession and was fearless, with a penchant for speaking truth to power. He got me involved into the running of his newspaper, Salone Times almost by happenstance – he, the journalist and I, the businessman. I got to know a lot of his journalist friends and the staff of his newspaper, including his contributors. Mainly because of the shortage of good articles, I tried my hand at writing a column. Initially I gave various names to the column and finally settled on “Ponder my thoughts”, a subtitle to a hymn I saw in the Anglican Hymnbook. I used this title but had the Latin translation “Verba mea auribus” underneath it. I used the “nom de plume”, “I and I”. Why “I and I” – I don’t know – I just thought it was funky (Rastaman work for no CIA!).
I was an angry man, then and thought I knew the problems of Sierra Leone. My articles were very hard hitting. I thought I could safely hide under the “I and I” name until my friend Oswald Hanciles (Yes, the same Oswald who says I am the second best columnist after him in Sierra Leone – what a modest guy!) incessantly kept calling me in his usual boisterous way in public – “ “I and I”, please read this”. I changed from “Pondering” and “I and I” to thoughts to “Ruminations” under the name “Gbende Wasu”, a name my uncle gave me – He used to call me “Andrew Karmoh Gbende Wasu Gbao Kortor Keili” – Don’t ask me why? Well, all of this was not funky and I was certainly being a “chicken”. I reverted to “Ponder my thoughts” and used my real name.
My interest in the newspaper even grew stronger as Christian passed away as I thought I should maintain it in his legacy. I met a lot of journalists during those days – good ones and bad ones. Some were truly immortal like Pios Foray, Olu Gordon, Oswald Hanciles etc.-Yes Oswald-I will include you. Others were immortal for the wrong reasons-because of their ineffectiveness and unprofessional behaviour. I recall one of the journalists asking me – “Mr. Keili, should it be “food for thought” or “thought for food”. Knowing his limitations and the way he used to assassinate the Queen’s language, I responded diplomatically –“Both are correct – It depends on how hungry you are”. This was the same journalist who brought stories about a Mr. Sesay, a police officer who was doing so well catching customs evaders at the Koindu border. His stories were usually captioned – “Inspector Sesay, the Champion Policeman at Koindu”,”Inspector Sesay does it again”. One day he brought an article titled “Inspector Sesay, the crook should be sacked”. When Christian asked him, how Inspector Sesay had suddenly been transformed, he answered “Bo di man too crabit. Pan all di money way e make, e nor gi me natin”. That was when I knew what journalists mean by “coasting”.
Some people ask me, where I get my stories from? Well, the answer is – from a myriad of sources. But, let me answer about the political and governance stories by quoting from the great American humourist, Will Rogers.
“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts”.
Another quote from him says:
“Congress is so strange, a man goes up to speak, nobody listens and then everybody disagrees.”
All I can say is, use your imagination and ponder whether these quotes apply to our governance system at any point in time. But my articles are not only about governance and politics. In fact, the two new volumes of my book, which unlike the first, have been arranged by thematic areas. The books have articles on politics and governance, the Ebola crisis, infrastructure, social life, human development, the private sector, the economy, Sierra Leonians abroad, personal glimpses etc. Articles range from “Pontius Pilate alive in Sierra Leone” to “APC Bookman ideology’’, “SLPP: Cry the beloved party”, “Ebola is war, frontline troops dying at the battlefront”, “Waragbay steps football match”, “Reminiscing on sweet Bo”, President Kabbah: Cometh the hour, cometh the man”, “The law is an ass”.
The articles are serious but written with a light touch of humour. One almost always gets ideas on the fly as so many happen in our daily lives – and we just have to take note. Taking note of issues like the girl in my neighbourhood who told me she likes the picture on the covers of my book ‘’Wonder my thoughts’’- “A see you hold you chin, you day wonder. Na im a say, no wonder Mr Keili call in book ‘’wonder my thoughts’’ ” or, the lady in Koindu, who said the Lord’s prayer in a few mutilated sentences-Our Father, which at eleven, forgive us , our trespass folivul, forlivul, Amen.
Do I have my fans and critics?-yes, galore. Some of my fans have told me they buy newspaper to read the “ponder” column. Others have been critical. I recall an article I wrote titled, ‘’ Ebola, we survived the lockdown’’ about the 3-days lockdown during the Ebola crisis. I mentioned that I went to the supermarket to buy Lebanese bread my wife had requested and had to buy the last supply off another customer for fear my wife would be livid with me. Two journalists on radio in Bo (obvious political opponents) spent thirty minutes discussing this article- ‘’Nor men Andrew Keili. E wan be flagbearer, e day frade in wef!) At another time some notable person in this country wrote a rejoinder to my article ‘’Sam Sumana: Dead man walking’’. Misunderstanding the meaning of this phrase, his rejoinder dwelt on proving how fit Sam Sumana was and that he was nowhere near death – One page dwelt on this and the other was full of invectives against me.
I do my best not to be offensive and make ad hominem attacks on people as I believe the purpose of my writing is to get people thinking about issues. If in proffering my solutions, however jaundiced these may be, they engender change in this country, all the better.
These two books, which cover my writings in 2014 and 2015 are essentially extensions of the first volume which was published in 2015. As with the original publication each of the books is an anthology of in-depth commentary, news analysis, opinion and essay from newspaper articles I have written in my syndicated column. I have drawn heavily from my wide-ranging experiences in both the public and private sectors and from life experiences in writing these books. You can get a taste of me as a businessman, politician, preacher man, the Engineer, someone who dabbles into policy issues or just plain me as an observer of the idiosyncrasies of the Sierra Leonean.
I am very pleased that Sinead Walsh, European Union Ambassador to Sudan and one-time Irish Ambassador to Sierra Leone could write the foreword to one of the books in which she stated (I am being as modest now as Oswald Hanciles):
“There is simply no comparator to Andrew Keili’s writing in Sierra Leone to the best of my knowledge. ….The reader’s ‘pondering’ of this volume will provide knowledge, insights and entertainment. In my view this book is a must-read for Sierra Leoneans, as well as for non-Sierra Leoneans living and working in the country. “
Thanks also to Most Reverend Tamba Charles, Archbishop of the Catholic Mission who wrote in the foreword to the second book:
“Each of those weekly articles of Ponder My Thoughts that I have read has made me laugh because there is always that characteristic humour of the author, even when he is dealing with very serious and complex issues like politics, corruption, socio-cultural issues (like “Suffer Posh!”), and the ongoing economic crisis and its impact on the lives of many Sierra Leoneans. He would make his reader laugh without trivializing of the issue under discussion.”
I got SLAJ President De Monk to do the book covers and most of the illustrations. Thanks De Monk (This is before you now got so famous as SLAJ President). My God daughter Moya Ndiaye also did an impressive illustration for the book- many thanks Moya. I am not sure people in our legal profession would not frown on De Monk’s illustration of “The Law is an ass” which shows a lawyer in a wig on his head and having the backside of an ass! All of this makes for two impressive books. Sarah, Mbawa (who so ably chaired the Launch programme), Christiana Freeman and the other “Ponder girls and boys” at Cemmats did a swell job at the launch-thanks. And Oh, Mrs Keili (the lady I fear) and Madame Lake and the Modern High school girls and others who read the excerpts were superb.
I am pleased to note that the Mass Communication Department at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone is using my writings as a teaching source. As a Department however, it is hampered in achieving its ambition of becoming a Centre of Excellence for training media and communication practitioners in Sierra Leone and badly needs assistance. I am pleased to be of help. The peripatetic HOD, Williette James, who gave a speech at the launch became the first female Editor of a major newspaper in Sierra Leone-Salone Times.
I must however give plaudits to Professor Osman Sankoh, Statistician General, my publisher who has so selflessly encouraged Sierra Leonean writers as the Publisher of the Sierra Leone writers’ series. He has encouraged so many Sierra Leoneans to put pen to paper and write about issues, of which there are many out there. As he said in launching the book, “Andrew Keili has pondered his thoughts for you. It does not need to be all correct but he has said you should ponder and in pondering you are also invited to ask others to ponder your own thoughts. How I wish more people in Sierra Leone could put their thoughts on paper. My Uncle Dr Sama Banya and I don’t always agree but he is damn good at writing his thoughts. So does my good friend and fellow preacher and former Mayor, Winstanley Bankole Johnson, who usually takes no prisoners. Former VP Solomon Berewa and President Kabbah have also put their version of events when they were in governance in their books. This is good! Lena and Uncle Frank (this will jolt them into action), the challenge is out there for you-lol.
I am not supposed to advertise in a piece like this for the newspapers, so I won’t tell anybody about the books being sold at Le120,000 each at Balmaya, St Mary’s Supermarket, Diocesan Bookshop or Salone Times. I will however tell a few selected friends that if they really do want copies, they could contact me. I could probably do autographed copies for a few choice friends.
Anyway, ponder my thoughts, “wonder my thoughts”, ponder my books (Volumes 2 &3). Happy pondering.
“I and I”