Sierra Leone disappointed by Porter saga
OTTAWA - Arthur Porter proudly flies the green, white and blue tricolour of his native Sierra Leone from the landing of his Bahamian sanctuary. But any warmth that those in Porter's West African homeland once felt for their native son has turned to embarrassment.
Canada wants to extradite Porter from the Bahamas to face allegations of fraud in connection with Quebec's anti-corruption investigation of the $1.3-billion construction of a Montreal mega-hospital. Porter, who has cancer, says he is too ill to travel and denies the allegations.
Porter's spectacular fall from grace comes after vigorously networking his way up to the sensitive post as the head of the watchdog of the Canada's spy service.
Porter's remarkable rise in Canada hit its ceiling in November 2011, when he abruptly resigned as the head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the overseer of CSIS.
Sierra Leone's high commissioner to Canada, Bockari Kortu Stevens, has watched the decline of his fellow countryman, and it clearly makes him uncomfortable.
"It's a disappointment, what is happening now, of all that is coming out. But I think the appointment was done in very good faith and in the interest in Sierra Leone," Stevens said in an interview.
"The Porter family — I refer to his father, his mother — this is a respectable family in Sierra Leone. When we talk of academics we talk of Dr. Porter — his father."
Stevens said he knew Porter's father, Arthur Sr., but never met his son.
"Of course, we suffered from that as well. The Canadian public realized he was a goodwill ambassador for Sierra Leone."
Porter was never formally employed as a diplomat for Sierra Leone. He was a volunteer goodwill ambassador, but he appeared to trumpet the position as something more.
David Pratt, a former Canadian defence minister and a special envoy for the previous Liberal government to Sierra Leone, says he was so troubled by the Porter controversy that he put his name forward to serve the West African country in some capacity.
"When I saw the controversy swirling around Arthur Porter about a year and a half ago or so, I came to the view this was not doing the image or the government of Sierra Leone any good," Pratt said in an interview.
"So I decided to put my name forward to the ambassador as a potential honorary consul."
Pratt was recently appointed Sierra Leone's honorary consul to Canada (Sierra Leone does not have a diplomatic mission in Canada and covers the country from its embassy in Washington, where Stevens is based).
It too is a volunteer post, one that Pratt does in addition to his full-time workload in an Ottawa-based consultancy. He'll liaise with the Harper government and serve as a contact point for the Sierra Leonean diaspora in Canada.
Pratt has travelled regularly to Sierra Leone since the 1980s and has seen it at its worst, lowest and most violent.
"It's important to start changing the image of Sierra Leone from a country that has had difficulties in a post-war period to a country that is really on the cusp of what I would describe as an African renaissance, especially from an economic standpoint."
Sierra Leone is known for its diamonds — descendants of the illicit blood diamond trade that fuelled the country's savage insurgency — but it is rich in other mineral deposits, including titanium, bauxite and gold, said Pratt.
Stevens wants to deepen relations with Canada, and learn from its mining expertise. He's encouraged by the Harper government's economic focus on making inroads in the mining sector in Africa.
Stevens doesn't want the Porter saga to overshadow the economic and social progress that his country has made in the last decade since its bloody civil war — one symbolized by the images of innumerable child amputees, the innocent victims of Sierra Leone's now vanquished machete-wielding rebels.
"Gone are the days when all you know about Sierra Leone is their rebel war — one of the most atrocious rebel conflicts ever on the continent," he said.
"The cutting of hands, the cutting of limbs — this was what Sierra Leone was known for. But today we are able to raise our heads to show we have done something."
Canada, said Stevens, has been instrumental in helping his country recover.
Last month, the Canadian Forces announced the end of their training mission in Sierra Leone, a British-led initiative.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay highlighted the difference that mission has made. In 2009, Sierra Leone made its first contribution of troops to an international peace operation, the United Nations mission in Darfur. Two years later, Sierra Leone sent a battalion of 850 soldiers to the African Union mission in Somalia.
Today, said Stevens, his country's forces are deployed to the AU mission in Mali, something his country wouldn't have been able to do without help from Canada and Britain.
"We are an example to other countries. We have been called upon to send peacekeeping troops to other areas. So we are saying thanks," he said.
"So we are paying back those debts to other countries and we are very proud of that."
Pratt said having a professionally trained army is good for the long-term political stability of Sierra Leone.
"The armies have been some of the cause of some of the problems in Africa over many years," he said.
"So professionalizing the army, bringing them fully under civilian control, is really vital for the governance process in Sierra Leone."
Porter also remains a proud citizen of Sierra Leone, whether people like Pratt or Stevens like that or not.
Recently, an Associated Press reporter knocked on Porter's door in the Bahamas.
In addition to the flag, Porter said he is a citizen of Sierra Leone and travels on the country's passport.
Ever the mover and shaker, Porter made reference to having "other roles in other governments," including, he said, work with Sierra Leone.