The govt is losing the social media debate of using a visible chimp on Sierra Leone’s new passport

Chimp on Sierra Leone's passport

“It pains me when I think I hold a passport from S. Leone. How do you put this chimp on our passport” Naasu

By Alpha Kamara in Washington DC

I saw this new passport design through a post made by Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a body that protects chimps in Freetown for the love of the environment and making some money out of them. Their post praised the ministry of internal affairs and the Sierra Leone Immigration for “using our national symbol, the chimpanzee on the new Sierra Leone passports”. The post said that due to their efforts, the government declared the chimpanzee as the national animal in 2019. Good news yes in the name od biodiversity.

That shows, making the chimp the national animal of Sierra Leone was a decision taken by few government officials (as usual) through the advocacy of Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary which love chimps because of their love for the environment and for some other personal benefits. Hence, the public was not involved in making that decision.

So, when the new passport with photos a visible chimp surfaced online, citizens on social media are coming hard on the government for this decision. They are questioning the price, the quality, the use of the chimp and lack of information to the public on why the chimp.

We all love the environment, I get it. But I have never seen a passport with an animal as visible as this chimp on the Sierra Leone passport which makes it odd in a world of many truths.

We don’t need to be reminded how Blacks all over the world have been ridiculed and associated with chimps. Its an issue that has raised international concerns from Asia to Europe, America to Africa, yes including South Africa. In sports, in offices, airports and so on. Imagine a tired racist immigration officer somewhere abroad who has issues with Africans. Seeing the chimp on your passport will ‘excite’ him/her more, I guess.  To be clear, I applaud the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary for promoting biodiversity and giving more value to the chimps. But i believe there are more ways to promote the chimp without making it visible on the national passport.

Here are some of the comments on Facebook from educated and some influential Sierra Leoneans online:

May Kargbo Activist- Yes, we passport always get a chimp, that’s true. But this new passport, when you open it, the chimp’s face greets you like he owns the passport.

Naasu Fofanah-Activist– The pain I feel when I remember I hold a passport from Sierra Leone is heavy. How do you put this sort of photo on our passport. We are already blacks, and they already call us Apes and monkeys and some clown in high office does this to us? The visa pages on your passport looks like this. Is there a legal way to petition this ugly chimp passport? Is this chimp even Sierra Leonean? Ministry of Internal Affairs you need to tell us how you arrived at this decision.

Amara Bangura-Communications Person-The new Sierra Leone passport has the face of a chimp. Now imagine yourself appearing before an exhausted immigration officer who somehow opens your passport and finds a chimp staring at him/her. Good luck with that.

Jaime Yayah Barrie-Journalist– When I first saw the chimp’s face on the new passport, I thought the Pa was mocking us in black and white. Until I put on my glasses and zoomed the picture before realizing it’s a chimp. This will hurt a lot of people in some countries abroad where racism is still normal.

However, communication persons and some journalists close to the government think it’s the best decision in the name of showcasing tourism. Adding salt to injury, some are even proposing, if those criticizing the visible chimp on the passport should not use it if they like. Do we need to remind them that every citizen deserves a national passport? No, we don’t need to may be because they are equally educated.

For some of us who have faced or are still faced with one form of racism, or another knows how far it can go. It might be different for someone who has never travelled out of Africa.  

Let us now look at the quality of the chimp. Yes, other countries have different animals on their passports. But the designs are different. The picture does not look like the animal owns the passport. But ours, the chimp is very visible like he owns the passport. By the way how much is the chimp business contributing to the national revenue? May be if we answer that we will come back to the chimp.

If I should take sides on this, I will take the side of those questioning the idea of making the chimp our national animal and adding its visible picture on the national passport. We have other beautiful national symbols which can be included on our passports. The blue sea, the green vegetation, the diamonds, gold, the cotton tree, the mountains and so on. Why the chimp?

As the government loses the social media debate on this chimp passport, those defending it should accept the fact that its our right as citizens to criticize their action because most of are not in favor. But saying those expressing our opinions publicly against the decision should stop using the passports is ‘a gbagbati way of trying to win an argument they have lost online’. May be they needed to convince the majority questioning the use of the chimp to see their own side rather than dismissing us to stop using the passport. Or may be its another way of saying we are living in a chimp state where questions should not be asked any more? To be continued. Read more about the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary here.

The writer: Alpha Kamara in a media, communications and public affairs person based in Wasgington DC. He has a bachelors and a masters degree in media and communications. For more of his writings, click https://muckrack.com/alpha-kamara

The govt is losing the social media debate of using a visible chimp on Sierra Leone’s new passport
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