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Understanding rationale behind Chimpanzee feature on new Sierra Leonean passport

On Monday, December 5, 2022, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio and Vice President, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, received the first copies of the new securitised national passports from the Chief Immigration Officer, Andrew Jaiah Kaikai.

The new national passport is an upgraded electronic version of the previous one with unique security features to avert forgery and cloning of the country’s passport. The new passport also has a chip embedded in it. According to the Minister of Internal Affairs, David Panda-Noah, the chip makes it electronically readable and can be used at any e-gate.

The new passport, which has an image of a chimpanzee holding a branch embedded in it, has sparked a wave of mixed reactions among Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. Many have called on the government to change the chimpanzee symbol on the country’s passport, asking that the adoption of a chimpanzee for the new passport will create a great contradiction and discolouration of the country’s historical identity and this, according to these critics, affects the country’s legal, political and diplomatic identity. 

Understanding rationale behind Chimpanzee feature on new Sierra Leonean passport

These critics argued that the embedded chimpanzee on the new passport reinforces the idea of humans being superior to animals, a notion that they consider old. Some of these critics also maintained that Chimpanzees are endangered species and that the government should not promote their exploitation. At the same time, some also stressed that Sierra Leoneans would face rapid racist slurs from around the world.

Understanding rationale behind Chimpanzee feature on new Sierra Leonean passport

On the other hand, the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary applauded the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, and the Immigration Department for embedding the chimpanzee on the country’s passport. 

Why has Sierra Leone Introduced the Chimpanzee to its passport?

Recall on February 28, 2019, the government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, granted the chimpanzee the status of “national animal.” Similar to how kangaroos are symbolic in Australia and kiwi in New Zealand, the chimpanzee was considered an emblem of Sierra Leone.

The declaration was followed by Chimpanzee National Animal Awareness and Protection Campaign by the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which was geared towards raising awareness about the country’s National Animal and changing People’s negative perceptions about chimps in the country, where the primate’s fate was becoming worrying. According to primatologists, the chimpanzee Verus has lost more than 80% of its population in three generations.

According to the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr Memunatu Pratt, the use of the Chimpanzee on the country’s new passport is a laudable venture towards the development of tourism in the country, adding that in 2019 the government of Sierra Leone through her ministry declared the Chimpanzee as a national animal.

Understanding rationale behind Chimpanzee feature on new Sierra Leonean passport

She said Sierra Leone, like many other countries, needs a tourism identity like national animals, colours, national icons, etc. She added that it would be challenging to attract tourists to the country without this. 

Dr Memunatu Pratt said that during the visit of Dr Jane Goodall, a British primatologist who has dedicated her life to protecting this species, said that Sierra Leone is the first country to make the chimpanzee its national animal, adding that it’s very exciting because chimpanzees are closest living relatives and that this should be of additional importance to these primates and can help authorities to crack down on illegal poaching and chimpanzee hunting.

Also, according to the minister, Sierra Leone has the second highest population of chimpanzees in the world, stating that in that regard, Sierra Leone can better be represented by the Chimpanzee as a national animal than any other animal.

When we say we want a national animal, we want an animal that identifies itself with Sierra Leone and has its landmark worldwide. Now you look at Rwanda; their national animal is a Gorilla. Because of Gorillas, Rwanda is making so much money on tourism as thousands of people are going to Rwanda to see Gorilla, she maintained.

The Minister further thinks, “it is unfortunate that some people think they will be regarded as monkeys when they present the new passports.”  

As it stands, the Immigration Department in Sierra Leone has started issuing new passports with the Chimpanzee embedded in them, while the old passport remains valid, and the price remains the same at $100, which is equivalent to  Le 1,300,000 per passport.

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