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Sierra Leone News: Mobile Phones: Conversations and Relationships

This guy had lived abroad for twenty years without contacting his relatives back home. In the 21st year, when his colleague was going back home on vacation, he arranged for his mother to travel to the city to call him. The woman was so excited that for three days she could not eat or sleep well. In the city she went to a tele center and the son’s number was dialed. When she heard her son’s voice she nearly collapsed. She put the phone down and started dancing while the money freely burned. I wonder how many people experienced the arrival of the mobile phone into Sierra Leone. I think it was around 2000, 2001 or so. I can’t quite remember but it looks like the first foreign phone company that started operations in Sierra Leone was Mobitel, then Celtel which later changed its name to Zain and now called Airtel. We understand Orange will soon buy it over. Later we had Africel and Commium. These two appeared to be rivals in chasing Airtel. Then Tigo came. Commium and Tigo went bankrupt or so and Africel took over their numbers.
All this might not be interesting to you, but what is compellingly interesting is how we Sierra Leoneans are faring with this amazing technological advancement. Let me tell you how I got into buying my first phone. I was a senior management staff at a humanitarian organization at the time Airtel started in Freetown. We arranged a trip upcountry on a particular day. Since I lived in the Middle East (Up Gun), I told my colleagues I will wait at the roundabout at up Gun. That day I was there one hour earlier. The trip was scheduled for 10:00 am. I waited till 12 and they did not arrive. So I decided to send my son to the Office to find out. The trip had been called off and it was communicated to all those having cell phones. I did not have one, so no communication. I got so embarrassed that that very day I bought a cell phone. At the time Nokia and Siemens phones were the most expensive. We had Nokia 3210, which resembled a tadpole and then Nokia 3310. Nokia 3310 was at the time very expensive and only rich and people with good jobs dared buy it. It was a class phone. At first Siemens was the Ladies choice, small and sexy looking. Of all those phones which were first brought to Sierra Leone, it is Nokia that has survived till today in various shapes and forms though not the poshest and most expensive. Remember the use of the cell phone started in the Freetown City and slowly over the years crawled to the regional cities, district Headquarter towns and the peripheries, thanks to Celtel that progressively mounted its poles across the country to ensure coverage.
Now let me give you a missing link in this phone/ communication business.  There were no cell phones, but we had land phone communication in Freetown and the main regional towns. I can remember as far back as 1969 when our teachers at good old Bo School were talking on the telephone and we kids stood dumbfounded. Now about Sierratel. We used to have the Sierra Leone External Telecommunications Limited (SLET). Then there was the other Phone agency called Sierra Leone National Telecommunications Company (SLNTC). These two Parastatals were later merged in the late 90s or so into what is now known as Sierratel. In 2002 when Celtel business was booming and gradually covering the entire country, Sierratel jumped up with a bang and started a big public relations campaign that they were planning to launch their own brand of the Cell phone communication which they called Sierracel. They were all over the place for over a month and we heard no more until some two or three years back when they launched their own product. If Sierratel had launched their product in 2002 as promised, it could have saved the average Sierra Leonean the undue fleecing we have suffered over the years. We still thank the company for coming on board all the same.
Do you know that when the cell phones started in Sierra Leone in 2001 or so the phone cost up to 150 US Dollars, the least.  They were sold in Dollars and even the sim card was sold for 30 US Dollars! Can you imagine? Well all that is now history, de phone doe portor now!
Coming forward, today phones are available on the streets for as reasonable a price. However this proliferation has come with a lot of negativism. Among many other purposes, the cell phone is supposed to make life easy and reduce stress. However it is now very clear that the misuse or abuse of the phone is causing a lot of challenges. Let us start with the main function, which is to communicate. Let us now look at the poor phone communications that are evident in our society today. The first one is poor listening. Good listening helps a lot in communication. A lot of people do not listen keenly to what people say. They had made up what to say and even when you call them, they will not listen, they will just go right ahead and talk like a parrot while your money burns. Normally if someone calls you up, it means that person has something to say, although sometimes one can call just to find out how the other person is doing. The other hindrance is calling in a noisy environment. It is always frustration when you cannot hear what the other person is saying. Another bad habit on phone is talking to someone else around you while still engaged on phone without asking the other person on phone to excuse you. It is confusing because the person on the other side of the line will be confused thinking you are talking to him but what you are saying is out of tune with the conversation. People who do this are normally those who receive the call…a way of wasting the other person’s money.
My greatest quarrel is with people who go on a date, but hardly talk to their partner. They keep glued to their apps phone either answering messages or browsing photos on their screens while the partner is left quiet and alone .If that partner excuses himself and goes out and never returns, who do you blame?. Why is it so difficult for especially our womenfolk to know that when in company, you cannot let your phone replace your partner? You can actually send relationships to the rocks when you value your phone more than your partner or the people you are in company with. For a lonely person, it is understandable. Indeed phones are very good gap fillers while you are waiting for somebody. That way you can avoid catching another person’s eyes and start a conversation that may jeopardize your awaited partner. What is really wrong to put your phone away and talk to the person you are in company with? Well phone or no phone, most Sierra Leoneans are very poor communicators. Again many are limited in analytical thinking, so they do as much to avoid conversations that will expose their ignorance. What a shame! Of course when there is the combination of illiteracy and ignorance, the mobile phone will suffer great trauma. There is this new expression: “blind screen” meaning you cannot see anything on your screen although the phone somehow works. Thank God it is better to have a blind screen than the one that is not blind but you cannot call on it. We will continue to have many inconveniences with the use of phones especially as many of our compatriots use phones as part of their makeup. They can cherish having up to five very expensive apps phones and using all at the same time! Well as they say, a patient cured is a customer lost.
By Beny SAM.
Tuesday September 20, 2016

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