The Mystery (and Challenge) of Kelvin Doe


July 1, 2015 By Oswald Hanciles

Almost ‘everybody’ in Sierra Leone knows about ‘Kelvin Doe’ now!! He is the teenage national icon. Kelvin Doe is that genius kid who at 16 invented a broadcast radio machine that amazed and thrilled his neighbors in Dwarzark, one of the slums that are blighting some of the most beautiful mountains in the world – close to tantalizing yellow and white beaches – which the Freetown peninsular is blessed with. When irregular electricity in the city stymied Kelvin Doe’s broadcast machine, he invented an electricity generator – from scraps he would scavenge from dustbins in Freetown. For that, Kelvin Doe has  earned global renown; has been hailed on the global stage by some of the most famous  and powerful names and institutions  in the world – like Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of  former US President, Bill Clinton (2013); like being speaker at Google Conference in Tel Aviv, Israel; like being a speaker at USAID Powering Agriculture in Washington D.C. (June 12, 2013)., like participating in Young Maker Fair, New York Hall of Science, (September, 2012), etc.

Over the past one month, Kelvin Doe gave me a little bit of his jam-packed time. (Kelvin is  today pre-occupied with taking special lessons to take a Scholastic Aptitude Test [SAT] to qualify him to enter the United States’  Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] – always ranked among the three top universities in the world!! – which has sent a form for him to apply to gain entrance there; or, in a tired voice, Kelvin Doe would tell me almost daily that he was coming from  the Chapel of Peace church).

I have also been to interview Kelvin Doe’s mother, 52 year old ‘Sister’ Adjua Daniels in the three-room house built for ‘Sister’ Adjua by her own biological mother at Dwarzark.

Kelvin Doe’s ‘Guardian Angels’

I also had a telephone interview with Naasu Fofanah (until about a month ago, the Gender Adviser to the President), one of the ‘guardian angels’ that have appeared in Kelvin Doe’s life after he rose to national prominence. The first among these ‘guardian angels’ who discovered Kelvin Doe when he was a nobody, housed him briefly with other boys in a single room, and gave him exposure on his T.V. show, Joe Abass Bangura (now famous for his televised ‘Life-By-Design’ television shows), has yet to respond to my text messages on Kelvin Doe. The ‘guardian angel’ that granted me a full interview, and gave me a copy of a contract he had signed with Kelvin Doe, was Canadian, Anthony Melhem. 

Born in Ottawa, Canada, on December 12, 1977, Anthony Melhem was drawn to Africa to seek “spiritual fulfillment”, after he had made – in his own words – “a lot of money” in a money-lending business he was co-owner of in Ottawa, ‘Cellucash’. Melhem first landed in Dakar, Senegal; then, moved to Guinea to work on a telecommunications venture; before being lured to Sierra Leone by a former APC senior brass, Dr. Bangura. Anthony Melhem told me he has “fallen in love with Sierra Leone” – and, apparently, Kelvin Doe appears to be a focal point of the ‘mission’ of this man of the Maronite Christian faith.

On the 23rd May, 2013, Anthony Melhem, at a public ceremony at the highbrow Country Lodge resort in Freetown, attended by the local press and dignitaries that included Senior Adviser to the President, Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, signed a $100,000 contractbetween Sierra WiFi (SL), subsidiary of World Affinity Telcom Incorporated” and Kelvin Doe (a contract in which Kelvin Doe’s mother; and grandfather, also appended their signatures): for Kelvin Doe to construct solar panels for Sierra-WiFi. This contract was aborted before it started being executed through the intrusion of ‘government bureaucrats’ – in circumstances, and with unsavory language, which unnerved Anthony Melhem.

Another ‘guardian angel’ could be said to be the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) – which awarded the Order of Rokel to Kelvin Doe on April 27, 2012. He was the youngest Sierra Leone to receive such an award in our country’s history.  GoSL, I learned from Kelvin Doe’s mother, has given over Le10,000,000 in cash for  Kelvin Doe’s welfare, and,  had acknowledged the ‘guardianship’ of a senior government official  in Kelvin Doe’s life. Apparently, for the first time in the history of this country, government has recognized, rewarded, and, tried to nurture the unique and rare intellectual power of a youthful Sierra Leonean. New sensitivity and media savvy of government?

Kelvin Doe: A key re-brander of Sierra Leone’s Image

This 2013 release from Joe Abass Bangura’s group could explain GoSL’s vested interest in Kelvin Doe: “Kelvin Doe from GMin’s Innovate Salone and Life-by-Design Innovation Lab speaking at TEDxTeen this weekend……’The Audacity of Why’ is the theme of this year’s TEDxTeen (in the United States) and Kelvin will be joining about 12 other Young Pioneers from across the Globe… The Host of the event, Hillary Clinton……. Rising up from the tattered brand of the Sierra Leone story…Kelvin has, in only the past few months, completely turned that brand upside down and he continues to transform the Sierra Leone image across the globe, among the best and brightest…”

“After all the exposure….”; “…It is different here…”

“Where are you now?”, was the question I posed to Kelvin Doe when I met him two weeks ago. The 19 years old Kelvin Doe expressed optimism, and the spiritual equanimity of a 60 year old monk…at the twists and turns of his life. But…!! Kelvin Doe, barely able to disguise his disillusionment and growing bitterness, in a brewing baritone that commands respect, said, “When I go to the US, I get driven about in a limousine; I stay in Five Star hotels; I get asked for my autograph….But, here at home, it is different…”. When I’d interviewed Kelvin Doe’s mother in the living room of her three-room house – sitting in a living room so small… a master BED would NOT fit in – that has only two white plastic chairs, yellow plastic water containers, pots and pans, and baby nappies and tattered clothes hanging on clothes (all the visible signs of obvious abject poverty), I sensed what could be gnawing Kelvin Doe. I choked back tears as Kelvin Doe’s mother told me she would wake up at 3am and see Kelvin Doe’s on the living room floor with all sort of wires and irons, leaving her to wonder often, “What sort of child is this God has given me?”  Kelvin Doe would refuse her mother’s pleas to return to the bed he shared with her in a tiny room. I nearly shed tears as she said, “It was Kelvin who first got me to enter State House; Kelvin who got me to sit in a plane and go to America…”. The ramifications of Kelvin Doe’s story are significant for all Africans – hence, I start to do a serial on him.

Kelvin Doe in 2012 caught the eye of Sierra Leone native David Sengeh, a doctoral student at the Ivy League university, MIT. Sengeh facilitated Kelvin Doe being the youngest Visiting Practitioner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s International Development ‘lab’.

In a December 14, 2013, posting in ‘HUMAN-NEEDS’ webpage, we learn this:  “In the week Doe spent at MIT, he enjoyed teaching students at least two years older than himself. “It’s fun for me,” he (Doe) said. ‘Also it’s part of learning, those people are inspirational people. For me, it’s an honor and also a privilege. I’m representing my country as a whole, my family, and myself.’ But when he graduates from the prestigious school, he’ll return to Sierra Leone and see what he can do to solve his country’s problems. Unless, that is, he solves them all in the remaining two years of high school…”

“We learned a lot from (Doe). We were able to get from his experience — how he uses the resources he uses…”, Sengeh enthuses about Kelvin Doe.

Kelvin Doe, who Sengeh describes as a “natural leader and innovator”,  epitomize the ‘dream’ of Sengeh: “I think my dream is that this generation of young people coming up are the ones who will solve any problem (present) in their communities..”

Kelvin Doe has to eat; to ride on okada….

After four trips to the US, and one to Dubai, in which he would be regaled for his genius, luxuriated in monarchial opulence, Kelvin Doe would return home to Sierra Leone, where he has to daily struggle to have his meals; climb down his rocky hillside slum home and sit on a dangerous okada…to and from his Prince of Wales school at Kingtom. The Canadian ‘dream builder’, Anthony Melhem, is cognizant of these ‘human needs’ of the now 19 year old Kelvin Doe, and he said he is ready to address them. A powerful Sierra Leonean lady who has gotten to know Kelvin Doe asked that I don’t even write this article on Kelvin Doe at this point in time, citing “over-exposure” of Kelvin Doe; and, his ‘transition phase’ which could be getting Kelvin Doe intoxicated with fame, not performing well in school, and being “difficult”, even with his mother – and she would want Kelvin Doe “to be grounded”. I listened to her patiently. Silently, I disagreed with her.

I wonder whether the problem is Kelvin Doe; or, there is a burning need for the ‘emancipation’ of Kelvin Doe in the Sierra Leonean society that is steeped in what I term as the Tyranny of Conformity – even with a National award, a ‘presidential delegated watchful eye’; a country still grappling with the novel complexities of managing a genius like Kelvin Doe. The challenge for all Sierra Leoneans is how to nurture Kelvin Doe and sustain his meteoric achievements – only 19 years old, with regular international engagements: i.e. – a Speaker at the Abu Dhabi Eco Summit in 2014; Speaker at Nelson Mandela Opus in South Africa, 2015, Speaker at SAPPHIRE NOW conference, Orlando, US, June, 2014, etc. – so that we can identify and encourage   other precocious children and youth like him. In the 2013 US TEDxTeen programme evocatively themed, “The Audacity of Why”, President Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, introduced Kelvin Doe as symbolizing “nothing but a repudiation of the status quo” – indeed, the global  status quo and Sierra Leone’s  status quo repudiated. And, challenged!!