Sierra Leone | Mano Vision Revisited

Magazines, says Ronald Taylor-Lewis, will always sell. But tastes have changed so much, glossy magazines that cover gossip, sex, cars, sport, lifestyle and celebrities will always be more popular than magazines that give facts and analysis. In today's world,  media coverage has evolved to make much more use of the internet, he adds.

Ronald was a founding member of Mano Vision magazine, which is no longer in print. "People appear to want instant coverage that print media struggles to cope with. This is something we realized early on, and we tried to focus on coverage of things outside of the mainstream news.” he says.

U.K.-based members of Mano Vision on the 5th anniversary of the magazine in 2002.

Mano Vision was formed in 1997 by a group of Sierra Leonean professionals keen to produce a general interest magazine designed to attract a readership among the west African diaspora, in particular that of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia and Guinea. Their mission: To promote unity that transcended boundaries, to report and analyze African affairs from an African perspective, to raise the profile of African countries in the region, and serve as a forum for nation-building ideas.

Although the magazine was launched in 1997, work actually started over a year before, Ronald explains.

"Arthur Johnson, one of the founders and a director of Links magazine (a Sierra Leonean community magazine) wanted to produce a similar publication after the demise of Links. Ade Daramy, myself, both of whom had worked with Links, and others, jumped at the chance. The format of a new magazine evolved over many months. It was agreed the focus should be broadened to include other neighboring countries, like Guinea, Liberia, etc.

“Looking at what these three countries had in common, we realized that the Mano River Union (MRU)—spearheaded by the heads of state, Sekou Toure, Siaka Stevens, William Tolbert—was created to bring these countries together economically, socially and even politically. I believe I was the one who suggested the title "Mano Vision" to embrace the vision of these three heads of state."

But the events of  May 25, 1997, preempted the launch of the magazine.

"A newsletter was produced to cover the unfolding events that, coincidentally, involved the very same three countries of the MRU." Ronald says. "The newsletter evolved into the magazine (by issue 7) and the rest is history."

“There were many stories that we considered 'big'. The civil war in Sierra Leone was always big news. Others include:

1. The release of the 'Amistad' film in 1997.

We had the fortune of being able to interview Debbie Allen (director) live via internet.  We got a lot of pre-release material from the film producers. The story ran over many issues of the magazine and the topic remained dear to the hearts of all the editors.

2. The re-election of President Tejan Kabbah in 2002.

It seemed at the time that we could not print enough copies of the magazine or fast enough. It is one of my biggest regrets that the magazine was not able to cover the election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. I even have cover designs that never got used.

3. Similarly, the election of John Kufour of Ghana was a big story.

I felt that we did not do the topic justice. The cover photo of him was enough to sell many copies of the magazine.

4. The release of the documentary film "Cry Freetown" by Sorious Samura was another big story for us.

Again despite our best efforts, we were unable to get an interview with Sorious. We did use the opportunity to print many of the horrendous photos from the documentary and from people Sierra Leone (including Minister of Information).

5. The coup and subsequent civil war in Ivory Coast in 2002 was a big story that ran and ran.

We even got new readership from United Kingdom-based Ivorians.

6. The African Women of Substance beauty pageants in the U.S.A. were also very popular.

We were fortunate to be able to cover the very first one. This set the stage for coverage of many more beauty pageants,  in the U.K., U.S.A. and Sierra Leone.

"There were always challenges with advertising, distribution and circulation.  This tended to highlight some of the shortcomings of our organization.  Advertisers were (and probably still are) only interested in well established magazines.

"As we were a new fledgling publication we ended up offering huge discounts to generate interest that always left a deficit when it came to paying for printing and meeting our other financial commitments. Distribution was a problem outside of the greater London area and abroad. We ended up relying on a few heroic friends and interested parties who, at their own expense, helped us distribute the magazine to outlets. Many copies of the magazine found their way abroad in the suitcases of friends traveling on holiday or business. We never seemed to be able to send enough copies of the magazine to Sierra Leone in the whole time that the magazine was in publication. If you were to ask, would we still be in print today if the magazine was better funded? We probably would.  But the format might be quite different to what had preceded it.

A special poster of President Ernest Koroma marking Sierra Leone's 50th Independence Celebrations with a Mano Vision magazine masthead


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