PUBLIC REVIEW ARTICLE

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THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN

Sierra Leone’s Heroes/Heroines: Andrew Keili  (1)

Australia-based Sierra Leonean, Mohamed Bangura, your thought-provoking words in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN WhatsApp forum has catalyzed my starting (or, maybe, restarting)  a serial I have been thinking on  -  writing on the heroes/heroines of Sierra Leone; as you wrote: “(one) of the biggest problems in Sierra Leone is what I would always refer to as incidence of misplaced priorities. By this, I am inferring that we have too many academicians in politics…”.

My first candidate as hero/heroine of Sierra Leone, Engineer Andrew Keili,  is not an “academician”; he is a well-rounded and  well-educated man who could rank among the top one percent of achieving professionals not only in Sierra Leone, but in Africa. Rather than Engineer Andrew Keili being one of those Sierra Leoneans who you wrote on October 28, 2020  “should never have gone into politics in the first place”… I think that Engineer Andrew Keili belong to  just one of  the knowledgeable  professionally  successful citizens of Sierra Leone  with highest integrity who must be actively sought by the electorate  and empowered  as political leaders at all levels of our political ladder  – as councilors; MPs; president.  We need in politics seasoned professionals like Andrew Keili with about forty years post-university experience; not hustlers with just academic degrees and less than five years post- professional experience.

You wrote that “(our engineer) should have employed his exemplary engineering knowledge to improve the infrastructural problems of our country. This would have made him a well sought-after expert and would have allowed him to work with all governments”. There are truths in your words, but not truths in understanding the life of Engineer Andrew Keili so far. For indeed, Andrew Keili has performed with professional soundness and has been sought-after by successive governments  in Sierra Leone since 1995 -  to help develop private sector projects.  Please excuse me,  I do get unrepentantly unabashed when writing about Engineer Andrew Keili – a truly admirable guy who I class as one of my living heroes.

Andrew Keili is one of the sons of late Bishop Keili, the first non-Krio bishop of the most conservative and elitist Krio Anglican church. (Andrew Keili is one of seven surviving children of their bishop father; all of them are tertiary-level qualified and successful professionals; and to me, the one the late bishop would likely  hail as the best among his children, would be  late Christian Keili, who was  co-owner with Andrew Keili, of Salone Times newspaper, which Christian Keili edited in Freetown in  the early 2000s; Andrew Keili’s junior brother,  Christian Keili,  displayed  unparallel

Courage and unimpeachable integrity as a journalist).

Andrew Keili in his 20s qualified as a mining engineer for the diamond industry in Sierra Leone. He did not stay in the West. He haf returned home almost immediately after graduating in the West; and he has NOT been one of those you wrote about: “Most of these elites were educated in Western countries. They know very well how those countries operate that made them successful. Upon returning to Sierra Leone expecting them to utilize what they have learned in the West, they intentionally forgot and focussed on what they can rip-off from the

Country”.  Andrew Keili returned home to serve his country and has achieved soaring success as a professional, proving that towering professional and financial success can be earned within Sierra Leone in the private sector.

No one would fault the little-bit-over- teenage Andrew Keili for indulging in the ‘Forgivable Sin’ of promiscuity as he and his engineering peers were sought-after by the opposite sex and not they necessarily doing the sexual-preying,  but that did not dim his excellent professional performance in the highly competitive diamond mining company  managed by draconian white South African, and white British, managers in the Kono District.  Andrew Keili later moved to the titanium mining industry of Sierra Rutile in the southern districts of Moyamba and Bonthe, where he was one of the non-white Sierra Leoneans who moved into the managerial class in a company dominated by whites.

Then the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels attacked and sacked the Sierra Rutile mining concession in 1995, forcing it to close down. Several of the engineers left the country, seeking engineering jobs from the Middle East (like Engineer Kobi Jackson) to the United States (like Engineer Chernor Davies).   Other Class A staff from Sierra Rutile found it difficult to cope in the financially-and- literally-hot-climate of Freetown, after the office and home air-conditioned ambience they had lived in at the Sierra Rutile mining site.  Andrew Keili dynamically adjusted – teaming up with two other elitist mining engineers, Tani Pratt and Alex Kamara, to establish the CEMMATS consultancy.

Over the past twenty years, CEMMATS has grown into becoming the most successful engineering consultancy ever in Sierra Leone’s history; and could rank among the top such engineering consultancy firms in Africa. CEMMATS was contracted to manage the rotten National Power Authority (NPA) by the SLPP government led by President Tejan Kabbah, which they helped to stabilize; and Andrew Keili  later served as Chairman of President  Tejan Kabbah’s advisory council in the early 2000s, and could be credited for being one of the brains that help to concoct the Spring season-like dramatic post-war development in Sierra Leone. Even with the APC government of former President Ernest Bai Koroma in power between 2007 and 2018,  CEMMATS got enviable engineering contracts from government – like in the upgrade and expansion  of the Sierra Leone Ports Authority (SLPA) quay in Freetown.  CEMMATS has evolved into a successfully diverse engineering consultancy, clinching   engineering contracts in other African countries, and as far away as Asia.

As Executive Director of CEMMATS, Andrew Keili and his co-founders have nurtured CEMMATS from two floors at Delco Building in downtown Freetown to a three storey solid building at Cantonment Road in the West End of Freetown, ferrying their growing staff in company buses to projects around the country. CEMMATS is a shining example that other Sierra Leonean professionals ought to ‘fallamakata’ – pooling their human  resources together.  (While media adviser to former President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House between January, 2012 to March, 2018, a project  I initiated and started developing, which  I  called “FALLAMAKATA” – it hinged on identifying high Sierra Leonean  achievers in all fields of human endeavour, and promoting them so children and youth who  would fallamakata them. One of the articles I wrote for that project was titled “Monty Jones: The Rice Pope”. [Monty Jones, the creator of the hybrid NERICA rice earned the 2004 World Food Prize  – the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in agriculture  – and is certainly the most globally-recognized scientist in Sierra Leone’s history).

Yes, though with a science, and engineering,  background in his formal education, Andrew Keili over the past ten years has turned out to be among the top 1% of prolific and incisively-analytical  newspaper columnists; and, probably, the No 1 writer in Sierra Leone in terms of the FACTS his articles are laden with.  He writes with rare wit; and in private discussion with Andrew Keili, his jocularity would get you convulsing with laughter with his every sentence – displaying that  emotional maturity which could be behind their successful CEMMATS company  holding together over the past 25 years or so.

Living for 13 years in the same house at No 14 Fort Street at  Sojatong in Freetown with my late maternal uncle, Engineer  Milton Momoh,   after the civil war years of the 1990s (a hyper-critical man who would speak with awe about the brilliance of Andrew Keili, and Sahr Wonday, the executive head of the National Minerals Agency,  both of whom late Engineer Milton Momoh worked with at Sierra Rutile for about sixteen years), I concluded that engineers think with uncanny rationality, and can easily diagnose and proffer solutions to problems in nearly all spheres of human endeavours   – just the sort of professionals Sierra Leone urgently need to grapple with its daunting national  problems.

I am still hopeful that the President of Sierra Leone, Retired Brigadier Maada Bio, who has made harnessing the human resources of Sierra Leone one of the major goals of his administration, would take advantage of the absolutely rare knowledge and experience of Andrew Keili; knowledge earned on the ground, tackling real problems on the tough African terrain where there are psychological and political landmines all over the place.  

Andrew Keili may not take credit for this, but the gloss would not do him harm: his wife, Helen Keili, since 1995, has developed one of the most successful private educational institutions ever in Sierra Leone’s history: Modern Elementary School and Modern High School (my children attended both Helen Keili’s primary and secondary schools for over 12 years, and I can attest to their high quality). Both schools are now housed in huge four-storey edifices constructed by Helen Keili  at Jomo Kenyatta Road, off   New England Road, next door to the Ministry of Water Resources in the Westend of Freetown – with hundreds of pupils who are always among the top 5 of high performing pupils in all public exams in Sierra Leone.

Andrew Keili is antithetical of those professionals who you wrote would return home to “rip-off from the country”; and absolutely Andrew Keili certainly does

Not fit into those you described as “educated…elites (who) are more dangerous to Sierra Leone than the uneducated ones. Most of these elites aren’t using their skills for the collective benefits of the country; instead they are more bent into personal benefits, irrespective of the implications of the masses”.

I agree with one part of your postulate on what “we need for Sierra Leone to become a developed country”: “selfless individuals”; but vehemently disagree with you that top-notch professionals who go into politics should be “ready to die poor”. You have touched there on one of the Orwellian Big Lies of the entire governance systems in Sierra Leone – that is, if professionals in public sector-dominated system of Sierra Leone don’t STEAL government money, they would die poor. That’s a Big Lie with a bubble that has been burst in Singapore, whose prime minister earns FOUR MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR, and ministers earn over one million dollars yearly.  Retired Brigadier Maada Bio is now challenged to harness researchers and thinkers, and communications experts, to develop a society where top-notch professionals would serve in government and not steal government money, and earn wages to live comfortably

One of the greatest challenges facing the Ben Kaifala-led Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is to help forge a country where Grand Corruption by the bureaucratic elite and political elite would be annihilated and professionals would earn wages that would make them comfortable, and retire not in poverty, like it is in Singapore, and even in African countries like Botswana. Every country need its governing class being well-educated and professionally sound; but not being poor -  for poor professionals would NEVER provide leadership to develop any modern country! That is another debate which would touch on the festering “slave mentality” of Sierra Leone’s governing elite, that which undergirds Grand Corruption in our country.  Andrew Keili would hopefully contribute in such a debate.  I have written this piece based on what I know of Andrew Keili. I hope he will grant me an interview to enrich my story on his laudable professional feat.

I pause,

Oswald Hanciles, The Guru. 

Founder and CEO of the SLAVE SHIP-FREEDOM SHIP Movement

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