This morning (with no prior notice) I went with my colleague to the Sierra Leone port to cover a visit by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was pouring, and we and lots of other journalists basically spent the morning chasing after his “entourage” trying to snap pictures, not get soaked, and overhear while he talked to people from his charity, all without knowing what they were talking about or what exactly the visit was about. Finally he gave a two minute press conference (my colleague asked the first question!), and it was over.
Googling it later, I found this article about his charity the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), which does a lot of work in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa. Like this article says, people seemed really happy he was there — people took selfies “with” him even though he was just barely in the frame. I remembered that while he was PM, Sierra Leone was going through a horrible period in its civil war, and Britain staged a successful military intervention that went a long way toward ending the war. It’s so interesting how leaders are perceived differently around the world — it’s undeniable that Sierra Leoneans have good reason to like him, even if there are so many reasons to, well, not like him (the Bush years, Iraq etc)…
Here are the main quotes from the two-minute press conference:
“I’ve had a connection to Sierra Leone obviously for many, many years. It goes back to my childhood but also the time I was Prime Minister. I believe in the country, I know it’s been through really difficult times with the Ebola, but we’re recovering, we’re getting back on our feet again, and I’m very optimistic.”
“Our contribution is really working with the government delivering its priorities, whether it’s in roads or power generation or health care…For many years we’ve been discussing the importance of the port and the importance of getting a really first-class port for the country, because that makes the economy move. So what it very exciting is to see today that things are really happening here and the investment that’s being made.”