Early History of Awoko Newspaper
Awoko Newspaper was born out of the desire to present accurate and up to date news to the people of Sierra Leone.
It began with the realisation that during the war, most newspaper and radio journalists were picking up the news from international radio and websites when the news was happening in their backyard.
These news stories had been supplied by a small band of local journalists working for international news agencies like Reuters, Associated Press (AP), Agence France Presse (AFP), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA), Radio France International (RFI) and others.
The journalists working for local news outlets were thus not going out to find the news from the source like their counterparts working for the international agencies, rather they sat back and copied what had been investigated and put out by the international agencies.
The Political Climate
This was a period when Sierra Leone had come out of military rule by the NPRC and had gone through a successful transition to civilian rule in March 1996. However, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) led rebel war was still raging. The military has just capitulated with a coupe on the democratically elected government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabba, which had been forced into exile on 25th May 1997. The military had joined forces with the RUF rebels to form the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).
In February 1998 ECOMOG forces evicted the AFRC from State House in an intervention led by then Colonel Mitikishe Maxwell Khobe of the Nigerian Army.
On 10th March 1998, the democratically elected government was re-instated by Nigeria’s President Sani Abacha at the national stadium. The war was not yet over, but the rebels had been pushed outside of the capital Freetown.
This was an eventful period and the absence of this commitment to go out and search for credible first-hand news by local journalists forced the formation of Awoko Newspaper.
Three friends, David Tam-Baryoh, Joseph Rahall and Kelvin Lewis came together to form Awoko Newspaper. All three had practised as journalists, and Kelvin Lewis was actively working for VOA, English service of Rfi and Radio Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) by then.
David Tam-Baryoh was operating a media NGO dealing with training and capacitating the media and had temporarily closed his newspaper The Punch.
Joe Rahall still had leanings with For Di People newspaper and had worked together with Kelvin Lewis as his Deputy in setting up and establishing The Quill newspaper during the reign of the NPRC military regime.
The three put together two million Leones (Le2,000,000.00) each and registered the newspaper as a partnership.
Kelvin was to be the Editor and David would be the Deputy Editor and act in the absence of Kelvin while Joe Rahall would handle the finances.
Later that year (1998) both Joe Rahall and David Tam-Baryoh expressed their desire to pull out of the partnership because of growing financial problems and having to put in monies for just about each and every publication. By mutual consent, they were both bought out by Kelvin Lewis who remained the sole proprietor.
Several names were considered for the newspaper, including a lot of English related names live Daily Times, Sentinel and Observer etc. However, with the desire to go international one day it was decided we go for a local name, which would not clash with an international newspapers name.
We were pressured into making this decision by the late Tom Caurray. He became one of our very regular columnists. A fiery character and an uncompromising African, he was a forthright critic and an unwavering campaigner for the Rights of People.
Again several local names were considered, but the lot fell on Awoko because of its meaning. In Yoruba, it was thought to mean a bird, which predicts. In local Sierra Leone, it is a masked devil, which comes out and walks alone, dressed in black, and goes around revealing all the dark secrets in the village, like for example who has been sleeping with whose wife etc. It also meant someone who talks a lot.
The name Awoko was popular largely because of an individual Alhaji Unisa Alim Sesay who had been nicknamed Awoko. He was known to be a mercurial character, wearing many hats and involved in a lot of activities including football. He was an official of East End Lions football club which was one of two widely supported football clubs in Sierra Leone with the other being Mighty Blackpool.
Finally, Awoko Newspaper was launched on Sunday 10th August 1998 with the first one-room office at no.11 Lamina Sankoh Street. Prayers were offered by Flaming Pastor Eranus Thompson at the one-room offices at Lamina Sankoh Street – which other door opened into a small landing with a step leading into the NP Petrol station on the Cotton tree.
The staff then was Editor, Kelvin X. Lewis, reporters Dorothy Awoonor-Gordon, Zeena Thorpe, Sao-man Conteh, Austin Thomas (Sports) Efua Streeter (Graphic Artist) Victor Shanu (Office Assistant) Emmanuel Awotelli-Cole aka Stone (Cartoonist) Pa Herbert Johnson (Copy Editor/ Proof Reader)
“Our Mission is to attack the Sierra Leonean psyche to stimulate constructive activity to enable real and meaningful development to take place in the social, political, economic and cultural spheres of the country.
We shall at all times strive to be fair in our reportage while being guided by our conscience and our religious faith in the truth; that we shall find out the truth and let people know it, with the supreme belief, that it shall lead us to a better life.
We are determined to give voice to the voiceless, with priority to the underprivileged, the downtrodden, the women and children.
We stand by the maxim that criticism is the motivating force of progress. In this light no one shall be too high or too low, to warrant our attention. Respect shall, however, be granted to all on an ethical and moral basis except such individuals or institutions demonstrate that they are unworthy of such a virtue.
No one shall be allowed to use Awoko to further any tribal, sectional or political interest, or to be used as a tool against any individual, institution, political party or interest group.
Our duty shall, therefore, be to please God, our conscience and our country.
We are going forward, we must go forward
No one can stop us”
Copyright Awoko Newspaper August 1998
Editorial Policy of Awoko Newspaper
Awoko Publications is a privately owned media organisation, that shall operate as an independent news organ with the Managing Editor as the highest-ranking official on the Editorial staff. It is the wish of the publisher that all Editorial members, contributors, columnists and reporters shall perform their literary duties with the following guidelines as Editorial policy:
- That Awoko is non-partisan and therefore cannot be used as a weapon of any one political party
- That we shall be objective and impartial to all shades of opinions
- As a non-sectional and independent medium, space shall be given to various religious views as and when necessary.
- To uphold the national constitution and coverage of issues that enhance peace, unity, freedom and the development of Sierra Leone shall form the core of our reportage.
- We shall be a medium to educate the reading public on the traditional and cultural values of Sierra Leone
- Priority will be given to advocacy on behalf of children, women and minority groups
This Editorial Policy is subject to review as and when necessary
Copyright August 1998