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A blessing, not a curse

Making the work of Sierra Leone’s EITI known is Josephine’s contribution to strengthening the country.

This profile is based on an interview with Josephine while she was on a staff exchange to the International Secretariat in Oslo in August 2014 and was written by Christina Berger. You can find more pictures from her stay here. Our thoughts are with her and her fellow citizens during their country’s Ebola epidemic.

In 2007 the newly elected president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, called Sierra Leoneans from all over the world to return and help rebuild the country after two decades of instability and civil war. Josephine Saidu heard this call, and it struck a chord with her.

Following the call

It was 2007, she was 28 years old, and had been leading an interesting life in England for the past eight years. Her dream to study in the UK had brought her there and she had obtained a degree in marketing and broadcasting at the University of London. She had a job and was the driving force behind setting up six TV programmes aimed at Sierra Leoneans living in the UK.

But when signs started pointing to a new departure in her home country, she set out to find a job that would allow her to go back. She wanted to contribute to advancing Sierra Leone. How exactly, she did not know yet.

Diving into mining

Her first job upon returning placed her right into the heart of the mining industry. Josephine joined the communications team at London Mining and it was there that she learned about the diverse mining activities in Sierra Leone and visited different mining sites.

After almost two years in a position of great responsibility, she read an advert from Sierra Leone EITI (SLEITI) seeking to recruit a communications officer. From a career perspective, applying for an officer position in the government meant a step down. She was ready to make this sacrifice as she felt she could apply her skills in this job to improve the lives of her fellow citizens.

In her own words, “If I can be the face of an institution that shows that Sierra Leone’s natural resources are blessing, not a curse, that alone can be satisfactory”.

Using unconventional methods to spread the message

She started out conducting a field survey to evaluate the current level of awareness of SLEITI to build her communications strategy on survey results. She is conscious of including also citizens with disabilities in her outreach, for example by producing reports in braille, text that can be read by the blind. In fact, it was a group of blind people that composed the SLEITI song. She engaged well-known comedians to explain what SLEITI does and what the results of the latest reports are to citizens all over the country. Comedians have the gift of transferring information like no one else, she says, and their popularity attracts people to the events where findings from the EITI report are presented.

Communication of the EITI will always be challenging. Josephine feels that the importance of communicating the EITI is sometimes not appreciated and she has to fight for almost every outreach project she wants to do. Funds are allocated for producing the report, but not enough is put aside for the communication of the findings. She works with development partners such as the German development agency GIZ to make some of them happen.

Finding alternatives

The latest project that she was going to launch this September was the e-Club (extractives club), inspired by neighbouring Liberia’s EITI. These clubs are run in high schools and enable participating schools and students to gain knowledge about their country’s natural resources through extra-curricular activities, such as peer-to-peer discussions, lecture series, mentoring, and field trips to mining sites.

But Ebola has brought the country to a halt, keeping people indoors; Josephine and her team must now consider alternatives. She is brewing up a quiz show on extractives for the radio – the most widely spread communication technology in the country. We hope to tune in to the show soon.

Looking ahead

Josephine’s personal ambitions reflect her determination to help her fellow citizens. With her husband, she organises charity events in her free time, for example the “Thank a Teacher Day”, which was held in October last year. Teachers are essential to fulfil her seven-year-old daughter’s dream of becoming a medical doctor.

In the future, Josephine hopes to continue her education with a Masters in natural resource management. “If you know how to manage well, you know how to be transparent”.

Without a doubt, Sierra Leone was lucky to have Josephine heed the call.