In 2003 a hip-hop artist in Sierra Leone recorded an upbeat dance groove with some unlikely lyrics. The English translation of the Krio is something like "mismanagement, bankruptcy, unaccountability" and "no electricity, bad sanitation."
The song, called "Corruption e do so" ("Corruption: Enough Is Enough"), became a pan-African hit, and the album became the most popular in the history of Sierra Leone.
The singer/songwriter of "Corruption" is Daddy Saj, aka Joseph Gerald Adolphus Cole. Since last fall, Saj has been living in Utah, in the little town of Providence, after marrying Cache County native Ann Norman. It was the battle against corruption, and a shared tendency to say what they think, that brought Saj and Norman together.
Norman is a farm girl from Paradise who went on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Paris, graduated from
Utah State University, got a job in public relations in New York and ended up raising private money for United Nations microloan programs for the world's poorest countries. In the summer of 2005 she made a quick stop in Sierra Leone, the West African country that by U.N. ranking is the poorest of the poor.
A few months later, back in New York, Norman got a phone call from the U.N. office in Sierra Leone. The president of the country, she was told, was starting a new program to combat media corruption following a devastating decadelong war, and he wanted her help.
"I said, 'I don't know the first thing about any of that, but I'll see if I can find someone else who does,"' Norman remembers telling the U.N. officer. "No," he told her "they want you."
Later, after Norman did, indeed, move to Sierra Leone to help President Tejan Kabbah with his communications campaign, she discovered why she had made such a favorable first impression. "They said, 'You weren't afraid of us and you're bossy. ... You were bold enough to say what you thought."'
"A blabbermouth," is how Norman describes herself. "My M.O.," she says, "is 'when bad stuff happens, tell someone."'
Meanwhile, Daddy Saj already had established himself as the boldest singer in Sierra Leone.
His song "Corruption" was "the talk of the town," remembers Chukwu Adeyemi Paul, a journalist for Sierra Express Media. "People thought he would be locked up. It was risky for his life and his family, to come out and slam (the government)." The song encouraged other people to talk publicly about corruption, Paul says, and other singers followed with similar songs.
Especially right after the war, Saj says, "corruption was the order of the day. It was a way to survive." The corruption extended to government workers, the police, teachers and shopkeepers. He offers this everyday example: You go to buy some rice from a street vendor, and she puts rocks in the bottom of the measuring cup.
Corrupt journalists in Sierra Leone are bribed by politicians to write unfavorable stories about rival politicians, Norman adds. She met Saj when she enlisted his help in the campaign to restructure the media. By then he was a goodwill ambassador for the country's new Anti-Corruption Commission.
But fighting corruption in a country as poor and intractable as Sierra Leone isn't easy. Contacted by phone from his home in Sierra Leone, former President Kabbah explained it this way: "To be frank, if she had gotten the cooperation of the journalists here, she would have made a big impact." But journalists in Sierra Leone, he says, are "very difficult."
Norman left her U.N. position in 2006 but returns every two or three months to help Kabbah write his autobiography. The country is still trying to recover from the chaos and atrocities of the civil war years, when rebels routinely enlisted child soldiers and chopped off the hands and feet of women and children.
In her New York days, before she fell in love with Sierra Leone and one Sierra Leonean, Norman says she thought nothing of spending $1,200 for a handbag. But in Sierra Leone her co-workers were constantly hungry, and in her LDS ward in Freetown people routinely died for lack of medical care. The contrast hit her hard during a business trip to London, surrounded all of a sudden by the amenities of the Trafalgar Hilton.
"I was among all white people, and I felt shamefully out of place. It was so strange: all that opulence. And there weren't any Africans. And nobody was going to die."
In Sierra Leone, she says, she's been nicknamed "the white African." It's partly because of her personality, she says. But also it's, well, as she says, "my big butt." One day, while she was living in Sierra Leone, she got a call from a professor at the local university informing her that the students had voted her "the most beautiful white woman to ever come to Sierra Leone."
Norman laughs at the thought but is pleased. "Because I came from a really skinny place, from this place where everyone has to be skinny. And I'm not, and I'm never going to be. And I love my body now."
Norman expects that she and Saj will be moving this summer, perhaps to Los Angeles, so Saj can be closer to entertainment opportunities. He is recording a new CD with Gudda Music; the CD will include songs about child soldiers and "blood diamonds" (the illicit gems that have helped fund African conflicts). Eventually, Norman says, she and Saj will move back to Sierra Leone.In the meantime, the Daddy Saj Street Children Foundation collects toys, clothes and food for the tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean children left parentless by the civil war.
E-mail: [email protected]