November 10, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
“Seeth thou a man diligent in his works? He shall stand before kings. He shall not stand before mean men.” – Proverbs 22:29 (KJV)
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step,’ so we were told years ago when it became necessary to remind us that great oaks began first as scorns. So it is with the beginning of the man whom this piece is dedicated to; the man whose life is a watershed for hope and rejuvenation; a humble man who began his life convinced about the things that he believed in, and acknowledgeable in the direction he was headed. A man with an outstanding physical beauty (handsomeness) and inner nobility; a man who, early in his life, found the path of destiny, and in trust, he faithfully followed it; a man with an unrelenting patience and an unflinching commitment to excellence; a man thoroughly possessed with the spirit of truth and justice; a man, who in all simplicity and humility, presented himself in response to the call for a daunting national duty when the deadly Ebola virus was on the rampage in the land; a man, who found no alternative to hard work and who, through steadfastness and determination, is now the toast of the land.
Such is the life of this rare gem, this worthy son of the soil, this outstanding Sierra Leonean, this technocrat of international repute, rising from a humble background to the circle of celebrities – the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Ebola Response Center (NERC), Rtd. (Major) Alfred Palo Conteh.
Rtd. (Major) Conteh, transparent and result oriented; revivalist and reconstructive strategist; CEO with a profound missionary vision and regenerative passion – to defeat Ebola and return Sierra Leone back to the path of prosperity; military scholar with a demonstrable will for excellence; dreamer whose dreams will not be short-circuited; voyager sure of his routes and trajectories; incurable optimist who believes that with hard work and a faith in God no dream is unattainable; gentleman with humane family values; practical Christian with a profound zeal for the things of God; man of peace with zero tolerance for violence; judicious utilizer of resources for the common good of all; erudite litigator; keen sprinter and sportsman with over three decades of unbroken record.
Rtd. (Major) Conteh’s rise to stardom began when he enrolled in the Sierra Leone Army as a Cadet Officer in 1976. In 1981, he became one of the Commanding Officers of the Sierra Leone Military Police Unit, a branch of the Sierra Leone Army. He went to law school in the United Kingdom, where he obtained the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of London in 1990. He was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1992. He also obtained a Master of Laws (LLM) from the Holborn School of Law in the United Kingdom.
In October 2007, Rtd. (Major) Conteh was appointed as Defence Minister of Sierra Leone by President Ernest Bai Koroma. Indeed, he cut his teeth in the military, rising through the ranks of a cadet officer to a Major and then, Defence Minister, all this spanning over 31 years.
When the press release from State House was made public on 17th October, 2014 announcing the reconfiguration of the then Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) headed by Steven Gaojia, to the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) to usher in a new dimension in the fight against Ebola, it never came as a surprise to many because the EOC has been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the outbreak. However, myself – like many other Sierra Leoneans – were curious to know who the head of NERC would be. At the end of the release, the doubts were cleared. Rtd. (Major) Alfred Palo Conteh was named the head of NERC.
In an op-ed published on 23rd October, 2014 in the Awoko newspaper, Austin Thomas writes: “I want to congratulate Palo Conteh as the new CEO of [the] National Emergency Response Center (NERC). I believe he has what it takes to end this battle. His personal discipline with the backing of the military, we will see immediate progress in this fight [against Ebola].”
Although the Rtd. Major had no medical background to head the newly created NERC, what he lacked in the medical field, he made-up for with his sheer charisma and an iron steel determination to end the outbreak. His wise decisions – safe and dignified burial, engaging the military, police and the media in the fight against Ebola among others – are today being celebrated by all and sundry; hence the declaration by the World Health Organization over the weekend that Sierra Leone was now Ebola-free.
We are fortunate as a nation to have the caliber of person as Rtd. (Major) Conteh heading NERC. He is a unique breed of administrator. He has offered on the platter of his stewardship the rare qualities of accountability, fineness, prudence, patriotic zeal, decorum, civilized conduct, responsibility, order, integrity and loyalty to the wishes and aspirations of Sierra Leoneans whilst the fight against Ebola lasted.
It is in the abiding faith that good works deserve to be rewarded; that those who do good deeds to man and humanity deserve to be honoured by journalists, at least with our pen, which has compelled me to reel off the intimidating tapestry of Rtd. (Major) Alfred Palo Conteh, an astute campaigner of getting Ebola to zero cases and staying zero +42 days; the executor of key Ebola programs, a monolith of excellence; an exemplar of administrative courage; a beacon of hope and grand rainbow of an Ebola-free Sierra Leone; an irrepressible, indefatigable, forthright, and passionate CEO, a songbird with mouth of songs of rediscovery, regeneration and reformation; a merchant of humility, peace and fairness; a magnificent eagle that will choose no other tree to perch but the Iroko; a charismatic leader of men; a man among men, brewed in the cauldron of doggedness.