Sierra Leone | When Science, the Environment, Politics and Journalism Meet

Shek Gibril Sesay was born in Magburaka, Tonkolili District—the educational center of Sierra Leone's Northern Province. An agricultural scientist with 20 years of experience teaching and practicing science in educational institutions around the globe, he's also a contributor on one of the oldest electronic mailing lists focused on discussing Sierra Leonean issues. In Shek's Earth Day message, he hinted at how much things environmental, political and journalistic interact.

We in the professions labeled "Workshop under nature" are very much appreciative of Earth day. On the other hand when investigative journalism [and] an unsuspecting documentary hero, with a view to uncovering timbergate, turns out to be ... aimed at settling scores due to contract reallocation, a keen observer has to speak out.

In case you're wondering what Shek is talking about there, as part of its Africa Investigates series, Al Jazeera broadcast "Sierra Leone: Timber!" in Nov. 2011. The controversial documentary about  illegal logging laying waste to the country's endangered forests was led by Sorious Samura. One of the  scenes in the television documentary was shot undercover in the office of Sierra Leone's Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana. The local press dubbed the ensuing scandal as "Timbergate." The Anti-Corruption Commission continues its inquiry into the allegations.

Below are excerpts from Sewa News Stream's interview with Shek G. Sesay on science, the environment,  global policy and what he feels really happened in that Timbergate case.

Sewa News: What do you do for a living?

Shek G. Sesay: I am a professor-a university teacher. I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture in Sierra Leone before I registered to read a bachelor  of science in agriculture at the then Njala University College, University of Sierra Leone. I went on to research for a master’s and a Ph.D. in agricultural sciences (agronomy major) at [Poland's] Warsaw Agricultural University.  The good fact about Science, I usually lecture, is the indifference where it comes from; East, West, South or North.

Sewa News: What are your thoughts on global environmental problems?

Shek G. Sesay: When I teach science or supervise a research project that is environmental in bias, I remind my students that we have been here before. It means problems that are to do with environmental degradation are not only man-made, also called anthropogenic, but they can be otherwise.

The extinction events, including those of the Permian-Triassic periods 251 million years ago, were due to methane gas emission from calthrate compounds, which caused the Greenhouse effect. The said greenhouse effect in turn caused temperature increase. The extinctions were not due to anthropogenic causes; man was not there. Man came after the extinction of the dinosaurs. They in turn came after the aforementioned extinctions, according to the Geological Time Scale. Man could not live together with the dinosaurs.

I am simply pointing to the bigger picture, in so far as environmental problems are concerned. I am not trying to trivialize the participation of man in environmental problems. Of course, it is the contrary.

My doing this interview seeks to underline my vested interest in a sound environment as someone in a profession considered “Workshop under nature”: Agriculture. I was encouraged to do this interview on the environment, when I repeated my apprehension, in my e-mail article on Leonenet, with respect to the Al Jazeera investigation in Sierra Leone. I should state here again that I still have my apprehension with regards to the said investigative journalism.

You see, when I teach research writing I tell my students that honesty is the most important virtue; the same goes for investigative journalism.

Going on an investigation with a hidden, flawed agenda will not augur well for the achievement of meaningful results. Topics to do with the global endeavor to mitigate, combat, environmental degradation are too important to be used or misused if you like, and toyed with under a hidden agenda--that of targeting individuals with a view to settling scores due to a reallocation of contract.

At the global arena, the Kyoto Protocol has failed, woefully to produce any meaningful evidence that it was set up in good faith as an extension of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The United States, that has not ratified the said treaty, as well as Australia, have criticized the framers of Kyoto for having a hidden agenda. Non-US support and criticism by others said Annex I (developed) countries, has rendered the global coalition to combat global warming weak. This weakness is still on-going notwithstanding the fact that the last twelve years have produced the hottest temperatures on Earth--a condition that has been directly linked to anthropogenic causes.

Many participants from 200 countries at the Doha conference agreed that the protocol was set up on a weak premise. It was thought that decreasing fossil fuel availability in the 21st century will reduce greenhouse gasses; it is still to happen.

However the most important flaw of Kyoto is what I will say is analogous to the failed environmental investigation in Sierra Leone.

The flaw is based on the financial obligation developed (Annex 1) countries were made to shoulder, in controlling greenhouse gas emission, while developing (Non-Annexed) countries simply had to report their emissions. China, Brazil and India, are no “Super” Powers but they are “Super” polluters. Their greenhouse emissions are projected to surpass the U.S. in twenty to thirty years. Indeed I encourage my students, in brain storming, to proffer any plausible reasons why China, Brazil and India, should not be required to control greenhouse emission. Is it that greenhouse gases from developing countries do not cause floods, deplete the ozone layer or cause other negative environmental impacts? I usually ask students, this question, but of course the answer is anybody’s guess.
Sewa News: What can we do to leave a better world for the next generation?

Shek G. Sesay: Any human endeavor meant to impact posterity in a positive way, be it a protocol or investigation, has to have trust and no hidden agenda. Anywhere you go trust is of utmost importance.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) proffers policy-relevant assessments of the existing worldwide literature on the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change. Its earlier assessment reports helped to inspire governments to adopt and implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. The current report will also be highly relevant as Governments consider their options for moving forward together to address the challenge of climate change.

"Climate Change 2007 – the Physical Science Basis" is the first volume of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. The second volume considers climate change impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation options, while the third volume assesses the opportunities for and the costs of mitigation. A fourth volume provides a synthesis of the IPCC’s overall findings.

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is now underway. It will consist of three Working Group (WG) Reports and a Synthesis Report, to be completed in 2013/2014:

WG I: The Physical Science Basis - mid September 2013
WG II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - mid March 2014
WG III: Mitigation of Climate Change - early April 2014
AR5 Synthesis Report (SYR) - October 2014

If the trust reposed on the above-outlined endeavors and timeline by the IPCC, as well as other international organizations, comes to fruition posterity will witness anticipated control over the negative impact on the environment due to causes that are mainly anthropogenic.

Shek G. Sesay with younger daughter Kadi G. Sesay

Shek's elder daughter Tity G. Sesay 

With two daughters, Shek says he has a vested interest in making sure posterity inherits a sound environment.


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