November 3, 2021
Tanu Jalloh harvesting rice at his farm located some 22 miles off Makeni in Bombali district, Northern Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: T. Jalloh
In this exclusive interview with Concord Times, Tanu Jalloh, Director of Communications, State House, Republic of Sierra Leone speaks on how he combines his role as a government official with farming, and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
CT: Tell us about yourself and what do you do.
My name is Tanu Jalloh, a journalist, media and communications professional interested in corporate, digital, strategic, behavioural change communications and now government relations. I am also an entrepreneur with interests in a few startups operating in the multimedia, tech and in service industry in Sierra Leone. I also continue to volunteer my expert service as a part-time lecturer to the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone for over 9 years now, pro bono.
CT: As a young man, people generally believe that you have achieved a lot in life, having mentored several young Sierra Leoneans in the field of journalism and many more, what would be your messages for young Sierra Leoneans?
I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to start my career in journalism just after high school, that was almost two decades ago. I rose through the ranks and worked with what I think was the intergenerational crop of journalists that today combine academic qualifications and practice. Because I became the youngest to have edited Concord Times, which was and still is one of the biggest selling newspapers, I endeared many older colleague journalists who created the dais upon which I sprung to carve my own niche.
Yes, it might not have been deliberate initially, but I eventually came to mentor a lot of young journalists both in practice and in academia. I still get engagements with young people now on a range of many different kinds of career pursuit, mostly marketing, leadership, social entrepreneurship, advocacy and personal growth.
To young Sierra Leoneans, I’ll say the Tanu you see today also had challenges in life, temptations and of course opportunities. Like it is with me, they can combine knowledge gained from reading and talking to the right people; the patience to learn different things; be critical but respectful of others, and luck that is born out of a duty of care for society and your parents.
CT: Recently, you shared a photo of yourself at your farm harvesting rice. When did you venture into farming?
Venture! I was raised by a farmer. Interestingly, I know many people thought I was raised with proceeds from cattle sales. Much as my father, of blessed memory, was from the Fullah tribe known for herding, we grew up knowing him as a farmer and not a cattle rarer. When in 1991 we came to Kalangba, then in the Gbendembu Ngowahun Chiefdom, in the Bombali District, after we fled the war from Koidu Town, Kono District, where I was born and trained through primary school at the Christ the King College on Yardu Road, we joined our dad to farm. We were actually involved with the day-to-day tilling of the soil, to birds scaring, to building and staying in farmhouses, hunting bush meat and digging up wild edible tubers, and to eventually harvesting the rice. We had a large number of goats and sheep; I still do have some, and also grew cassava, groundnuts, okra, vegetables, corn, millet and sorghum. Those were yearly routines, of course for the average subsistent farmer that my dad was. I am just returning to the farm again.
CT: Currently, you are the Director of Communications at State House. Were you influenced by President Bio’s pronouncement for all government officials to farm?
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If not so, what might have been the underlining reason(s) you may want to share with the public?
Yes, I was inspired and, if you like, encouraged by President Julius Maada Bio after his call for every Sierra Leonean to farm. I always had plans to farm. I have started small, with just 6 hectares. But almost always the President would tell of how self-sufficient we could become as a people if we had our farms – eat what grow and grow what we eat. He believes that while he continues to invest in the human resource base of the country, aside from education and healthcare, the people can join his clarion call by starting their own farms. He has provided over 400 tractors and machinery to boost farming across the country. Like many people in the private sector that I know, I am a beneficiary of that investment which continues to help cooperatives and small businesses to transition into mechanised farming.
Also, almost immediately after I started the process of contracting the tractor operators, I realised that other people around the same village, Mayoko, where I farmed wanted the service but had no idea on ways to access it. So, the same contractor who went to till and plough my land also had to help other farmers in the area who couldn’t afford to bring them in because they had smaller combined farms and limited resources. They are still thanking me.
After 6 months we started harvesting in late October. Four days of harvesting for over 140 of my people providing communal labour and coming in in batches. Communal labour has been one of the best opportunities for social interaction of people from villages as far away from one another as 7 miles. It is probably the first big meeting of young people since the farming season started each year. It is where they connect and network and make friends in the lead-up to the festive seasons in November and December – post-harvest festivities, circumcision of young boys, initiating young girls into rites of womanhood, marriages, inductions and coronations of local chiefs.
My elder brother, who manages the farm, recalled that they hadn’t had that large number of workers on a single farm in that area for a very long time now. This satisfaction and the fact that I was answering the call of the President are two of the many reasons I will continue to farm for the longest time.
CT: What are some of the challenges so far and the possible gains you made out of farming?
As with many other start-ups in all sectors, farming too has its own teething problems and recurring challenges. I had the resources to start a farm. I procured the services of a tractor, hired moto bikes for long hours of shuttling, employed people to look after the farm, got people to weed in time and realised a bumper harvest at the end of the day. For many people, this would be a monumental challenge. But for the community banks or arrangements of some sort that provide limited loan facilities, our people might have start-up capital and cannot.
The opportunities and gains are many. I was able not only to employ the services of my people, but I also made them feel like they were working for themselves. I got them involved right through the activities. My farming or business model, for a start, is to save enough seed rice to farm like 20 hectares next year and we keep the excess until when farmers need seeds to plant but cannot afford them due to seasonal demand-induced price increase or scarcity. Then I will get them again to farm with me because I can guarantee that they will have seeds to farm their own small plots.
CT: You are multifaceted, dealing in digital technology and so and so forth, how do you manage your schedule, especially taking into consideration the burden to respond to government communication needs?
I have learned a lot in the over three years working in public office, especially at the Presidency. My job in the Office of the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone requires me to directly support the overall efforts by the government to tell the stories around the everyday activities of President Julius Maada Bio with the care they deserve. It’s a tough job in that I cannot afford to make mistakes in the communications I put out because they might affect the image of the presidency. As for my schedule, I enjoy the division of labour at the State House Media and Communications Unit because everyone has their role to play in the every news releases we put out. Using digital technology is an integral part of my work. I do bulk email marketing, manage the website and other social media platforms, making sure releases and statements by the President are uploaded at the earliest possible time after the event or delivery. The government has many capable people to respond to government’s communication needs, depending on the nature of the requests being made of them.
CT: Lastly, do you enjoy your job, and how do you unwind?
Oh yes, I enjoy my job. In any administrative setting if as an employee your CEO, in this case, the President is aware of the little contributions you are making and he is satisfied with the feedback, please enjoy your job no matter the obvious workplace stress and hazards. I will forever be grateful to President Julius Maada Bio and his government for entrusting me with such a huge responsibility over the years. It was my first public office job and my patience to learn the fine intricacies of politics and governance is gradually paying off. I am far more knowledgeable now about working with people from diverse backgrounds and orientations than I was when I was appointed by the President over three years ago. I am living proof that even journalists with the most critical views about life can learn to work in a controlled environment if they believe in their employers, in this case, the President and his vision.
”I rose through the ranks and worked with what I think was the intergenerational crop of journalists that today combine academic qualifications and practice. Because I became the youngest to have edited Concord Times, which was and still is one of the biggest selling newspapers, I endeared many older colleague journalists who created the dais upon which I sprung to carve my own niche.’’