A fresh debate has cropped up over the lip service being given by state authorities to salvaging the ailing Entertainment Industry in the country following another self-entanglement engrossed into by our two-and-a-half-year-old President Julius Maada Bio’s administration past Friday in the president’s state of the nation address in parliament.
Bio was clearly performing his normal executive function to come open with the agenda of his government-what has been achieved so far and what much to do.
And in this fall’s State Opening address to mark the Third Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic, our president went beyond white elephant promises by his predecessors to announce the phantom! Can anybody dream of such a promise? Check this. Former president Ernest Bai Koroma gave the same sugar coated words that sent artists to dream heaven but fell to purgatory!
Is the construction of an “Ultramodern Entertainment Complex” not too much, too farfetched for an industry that is still groping in the dark, lacking basic financial support and political will to forge ahead?
Yes, His Excellency the President has always, as did in that speech, identified tourism as a key sector for increasing national revenue and job creation. So to him, the promise for the construction of “an ultramodern entertainment complex” to showcase the talent of Sierra Leonean artists sounds sweet a music; but can he dance the dance?
This bold promise made by the president has been greeted with enthusiasm to many, but has also been received with mixed feelings by some in the industry, especially those that have seen more days. For those in the latter category, the actualisation of such a project is the contemplation they have. “Is the promise going to remain in words, not translated in deeds as has been the perennial case with successive political administrations?”
Former president Ernest Bai Koroma pledged to support the arts and entertainment industry but the words clanged as mere ceremonial fanfare, a mere dead end.
Well, to sound opinions on the take of various stakeholders in the industry on the latest presidential promise, Salone Jamboree ignored all peeves and caught up with some who asked the critical question as to what has the government done so far to demonstrate its commitment to the entertainment industry; and in the case of the Bio’s promise, how soon would such project be seen in reality?
Salone Jamboree’s first stop was at the godfather’s, Jimmy Bangura aka ‘Jimmy B’. Officially regarded as godfather of Sierra Leone music, Jimmy B is also the current Chairman of the Foundation for Arts, Culture and Entertainment (FACE-Sierra Leone).
He is clearly one of the enthusiasts that want to see it happen now. “This is a long time coming dream and I pray this one will come to pass,” he confides.
But Jimmy B is not short of reservations either: “I call on the government for some seriousness this time. They need to deliver on promises often made. In the last budget the minister said they were going to boost the industry but it remained a stillborn promise.”
He said he was clearly disappointed in the Minister of Finance for reneging on what he said in parliament. “For me it is not just about words but action. I hope that these words will be turned into action as soon as possible.”
The crawling of the Sierra Leone movie industry over the past two decades has left much to be desired. Sierra Leonean film makers are yet to compete with their counterparts in neighbouring Ghana and Nigeria in terms of producing quality content. Both Ghana and Nigeria movie industries have long occupied the top stage in cinematography in Sierra Leone. Worse still, Indian and Philippino series continue to creep in, living the local industry in a doomed era.
For De Megadon, this is too much. One of Sierra Leone’s most popular actors, Mucktarr Tejan Cole says in reaction to the promise made by President Bio that “as a people, our government can push for the restructuring, funding and logistical support that can bring major shift in film production; that can aid the production of high-quality films, as well as to aid proper distribution infrastructure across the country.”
De Megadon says it’s all about commitment. “Nigerian government is committed to boosting the development of the Nollywood industry. This has created a lot of jobs and increased revenue mobilisation.”
He said if the Nigerian government, in conjunction with Ecobank had not launched ‘Project Nollywood’ in 2006, the industry would still be crawling. “But the Project provided N100 million (US$781, 000) to Nigerian filmmakers to produce high-quality films as well as to aid proper distribution infrastructure across the country. The grants have also been used to help more Nigerian filmmakers to go for formal training in Film Schools.”
Dr Julius Spencer, one of the most vocal voices within the Arts and Entertainment industry has described the lack of government support in terms of providing the needed institutional capacity and policy implementation as one of the main reasons why the industry remains far behind our sister countries.
His take is that the lack of institutions in place to carry out these functions and the continual lack of government willingness to provide the needed support for training facilities for artists like the establishment of film schools and introducing performing arts in universities are hindering progress.
“Also, failure to implement and enforce existing policies and laws such as the Cultural Policy of 2007 and the Copyright Act of 2011 means the entertainment industry’s prospect of growth remains fragile. “This leaves much to be desired. The performing Arts in Sierra Leone is in this current state as a result of gross neglect over many years,” Dr. Spencer iterated.
The devastating outbreak of Covid-19 and the hold put on public gathering has immensely affected the entertainment sector, leaving not only thousands of loving fans of the industry in shattered emotions for the many lined-up engagements that have been cancelled as a result of the pandemic but also loss of revenue and livelihood for hundreds of people that are directly and indirectly attached with the sector.
The question now lingering is ‘what does an ultramodern entertainment complex mean for the Sierra Leone arts and entertainment sector without providing the legal, institutional and financial frameworks to revitalise the industry?
Is it where the restructuring and rebranding of the industry start? If so, then the end of struggle and the development of the entertainment industry seem to be a marathon journey, with no end in sight.