Creole marginalisation – taboo subject faced head on in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 August 2017 

This article was first published by the Sierra Leone Telegraph exactly five years ago, on the 16th of August 2012 to be precise. Here we are on the 18th of August 2017, mourning the death of over 350 people after a massive landslide on the Sugar Loaf Mountain, caused by heavy rainfall in the capital Freetown.

There is no denying the fact that the roots of this disaster can be traced to the uncontrolled migration of people from the hinterland into the capital since the 1970s, and the pressure posed by overpopulation on the city.

Freetown is the only region in Sierra Leone the creoles have known as their homeland, since the abolition of slave trade.

But since Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961, many creoles believe that their power base and political strength in Freetown – the capital city, have systematically been eroded and taken away by politicians, whose sole objective was to change the balance of power in the capital, as they embark on the path to social and political engineering.

The marginalisation and disenfranchisement of the creoles in Sierra Leone by successive governments, is an issue most politicians in the country are fully aware of, but few are prepared and willing to openly discuss.

There is widespread perception among many in Sierra Leone that the uncontrolled urban sprawl, overcrowding, deforestation, environmental blight and economic decline that have grotesquely changed the character of the city today, is a product of a failed migration policy that is designed to marginalise and disenfranchise the creoles in the last 50 years.

Freetown is a city designed to house a population of no more than 100,000. Today it is grossly over-populated with a population of over 2 million and counting. The city’s infrastructures – water supply, roads, electricity, drainage, housing, education, healthcare, have experienced massive decline that is not fitting of a modern city. To what extent has the marginalisation of the creoles contributed to this catastrophic decline?

A debate – a real and honest debate has begun. Questions are being asked as to how the city got to the appalling condition it is today, and how this unsustainable trend can be reversed.

On Saturday, 4th of August, 2012, a meeting organised by the former Mayor of Freetown – Winstanley Bankole-Johnson and other concerned citizens, was held in Freetown to discuss the way forward.

Speaking at the meeting, social and economic policy analyst and Freetown socialite – Paul Conton, presented a paper – titled; ‘Freetown and the Provinces’. This is what he said:

I know that most of you, probably all, are very concerned about rampant street trading in Freetown, squatting on public land and encroachment on to private land, with all the attendant ills of litter, filth, poor sanitation, unhealthy and unsafe environments, etc.

Looking at Sierra Leone as a whole, the national consequences of overcrowding in Freetown are huge; importation of foodstuffs and other items, large trade deficits and weakness in the national currency. Why are all these people moving to Freetown?

What drives them to uproot themselves only to come and settle in squalid conditions in an unfamiliar environment?

The underlying problem, in my view, is the dual land tenure system. All these petty traders you see roaming the streets of Freetown with scanty trays of trifles on their heads, these are landless people.

The market women, crowding onto Freetown’s streets, obstructing traffic and spreading litter, 95% of provincial origin, these are landless people.

The slum dwellers; in Kroo bay, Mabella and all the others – 95% of provincial origin, these are landless people. The ‘dreg man dem’, waiting in the streets for opportunity of any kind – 95% of provincial origin, these are landless people.

We hear about the provincials based in Freetown, who when they die are given a memorial service here in Freetown before being conveyed to their home towns for burial. These are the well-to-dos, the exceptions.

All these others, all of provincial origin, are simply given a quiet funeral in Freetown and their offspring try to pick up the pieces of their lives here in Freetown, without the benefit of inheriting that small patch of land that they can call their own, a benefit that many of us have enjoyed. It’s not that there is no land where they come from.

There is abundant land, but the system is such that this land is collectivized, not individualized.

Nobody is prepared to sacrifice to develop the land, because ultimately it does not belong to one individual. It cannot be ‘monetized’. Banks would not lend money against it. Its value cannot be maximized.

Ultimately, underneath all the other problems, this is what is driving people to Freetown. These landless people are as much victims of the system as we the people of Freetown are.

The solution to Freetown’s problems lies within our grasp. And fortuitously, the solution to Freetown’s problems is also the solution to the national problem. The national interest coincides with our own interest as Freetonians and Creoles.

If government were to fully sanction and enforce the freehold of land in the provinces, requiring, not just allowing banks to accept conveyances as collateral for credit, the entire national economic equation would change.

Ultimately, billions of Leones would be injected through the banking system into the provinces. People always follow money and thousands, tens of thousands would follow this money trail back to the provinces or be persuaded by it to stay in the provinces.

Freetown would get some relief from its ever-growing problem of overcrowding. If the investment is properly channelled, agricultural production would rise and once more Sierra Leone might be able to feed itself.

From day one, Freetown’s founding fathers understood and respected the principle of the private ownership of land. When Thomas Peters and his group of Nova Scotians made plans to come to Africa, they were promised at least 30 acres of land per family (20 for a man, 10 for his wife and 5 for each child).

These were poor ex-slaves, who had not owned anything of consequence in their entire lives. Indeed they themselves had been ‘owned’ by their masters. Even their children were the property of their masters.

So this promise of acres of land, which they could call their own, must have been irresistible. Sadly the promise was never fulfilled in its entirety, and this caused much bitterness among the early settlers.

The larger point, however, is that Freetown, from its very founding, was predicated on the premise of private ownership of property. This was the rock upon which Freetown grew and prospered, outshining all the other communities in Sierra Leone and West Africa.

And then, at Independence, this economic system was joined with a system in which private ownership of property was virtually forbidden. Wise heads at the time warned that it would never work.

When Bankole Bright said, “Freetown is Freetown and the Protectorate is the Protectorate and never the twain shall meet”, it was this issue as much as any other that he was referring to.

Experience, common sense and economic theory all tell us that when you operate two economic systems within one country, migration will occur to the more successful economic system.

The greater the disparity between the two systems, the greater will be the migration. This is exactly what is happening in Sierra Leone. We see the problem in Freetown because we are based in Freetown. But what we see is a consequence, a symptom and a reflection of the real problem.

The real problem lies up in the provinces and in the socio-economic situation that exists up there. It is an age-old problem encountered at some point by peoples all over the world.

The peasants, the serfs, the campesinos, the proletariat – use whatever name from whatever part of the world – all faced the same problem and had to struggle against entrenched power structures and economic interests.

Compare the 30 acres Thomas Peters and his Nova Scotians, ex-slaves, were promised with the average size of a subsistence farmer’s patch of land in Sierra Leone today and the picture becomes clear.

The Creoles could be in the vanguard of a peaceful revolution to change the system. We must battle to change the land tenure system to a freehold system all over the country. In this battle we need allies.

Even the mighty US needs allies when it goes to war. Fortunately there are natural allies for this cause, which we perhaps have not made use of before. Perhaps now is the time we can rally them.

Our less privileged brothers in the provinces are natural allies in this cause. They are the ones who supposedly have ‘family’ or ‘community’ lands in their home areas, but feel compelled to come to Freetown and eventually, years later, discover they no longer have any land to which to return.

So these are natural allies and our strategy in this battle should be to reach out for their support. We also have other potential allies in our donor partners, even including China, whose systems are of course very much based on free market, free hold principles.

Since Independence, creoles have looked inwards at Freetown only, instead of looking outwards, at the rest of Sierra Leone and analyzing what’s going wrong there.

We have kept silent and withdrawn to our own little corner – Freetown, whilst the rest of Sierra Leone has crowded in on us. It’s time to look outwards again, as our forefathers did, and find out what’s going wrong in the rest of Sierra Leone.


  1. Mr Sahr Matturi, I certainly agree with you here, Freetown should be the pride of the Creoles. It should always be remembered as the piece of land – containing the famous Cotton Tree and other important relics – that our chiefs dished out to welcome their now free brothers returning from the Americas and Europe after the end of slavery.

    This history should be preserved forever, and if possible enriched by encouraging more of our African-American brothers, including Jamaicans, to come home and help us develop Africa, and in particular West Africa.

    The above objective can be easily accomplished by designating or renaming one of the islands (say Banana Island) to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. What a winner – since this will provide an interface between the country’s economy and the world at large, and as well as safeguard and consolidate Black History. Not to mention the vast opportunities for tourism that such a move would provide.

    As for Makeni, I also definitely agree with you as the perfect place to relocate the administrative capital; leaving Freetown as the industrial and commercial hub of the country. Makeni is a pivotal city where you can find large groups of Fullahs, Madingos, Creoles, Kurankos, Limbas, Lokos, Konos, susus, Temnes, and others, coexisting peacefully together.

    If you are driving towards Makeni, the picturesque is reminiscent of the ‘Lion Mountain’ phenomenon as depicted by the Portuguese explorer, Pedro da Cintra, in naming the country as Sierra Lyoa. The two prominent hills – Wusum and Mena – diverging gradually as you penetrate into the city. Between the hills, there is a stream running from Teko river down towards Kunsho river – dividing the city into two. This natural landscape has great potential for development into a beautiful and strategic capital.

    Nigeria overcame their tribal differences – among the Yorubas, Hausas and Igbos – and relocated their capital from Lagos to a central region, called Abuja. Today, they are reaping the benefits in terms of political stability and the inherent logistical scale economies. Why can’t Sierra Leone stand up to this challenge?

  2. When Siaka Steven was importing Limba’s into Freetown for electoral reasons, the Creoles as usual were praise singing him. Before Siaki came to power, Dwazak Farm, Ginger Hall and Brookfield were Mende and Krio dominated settlements. By the time Siaka left, the Mende Church at Campbell Street was the only heirloom to remind people that that vicinity was once a Mende dominated settlement.

    As of today, Brookfields is a Limba dominated settlement with little or no presence of other ethnic groups including Creoles residing within their mist. As their population increased in the Western area, the Limbas using the corrupt lease system at the Ministry of Lands acquired many of the lands around Tengbeh Town, Mountain Rural, Adonkia, Ogoo Farm (places previously populated by Sherbros). Currently the only land owning families in these areas are Limbas and few Creoles.

    I bought my land at Ogoo Farm from a Limba man. He said that his family (the Banguara) owned all the land at Fogbo. When I asked him where he was from originally he said that his family came from Safrako in the Bombali District but that they were farming at Fogbo for several years when the relocated to Freetown and so the place was leased to them. Fortunately, the former corrupt Director of Land Sylvanus Luseni helped them acquire free hold of all the portion of land that stretched from Ogoo Farm to beyond Lakka.

    I think that the lease and subsequent freehold system of land acquisition in the Western area should be revisited. Let the government sell government land at competitive rate instead of allowing people to acquire for Le50, 0000 (fifty thousand Leone), and turn around and sell the same portion of land for over $15,000 (fifteen thousand dollars). That is corruption to the highest or it encourages corruption to the highest proportion.

    If the owner and administrator of this forum was not a Creole himself, I would have dare to ask as to where or from whom did the Creoles acquire the large portion of land in the Western area? But my post will likely not be posted. So I am sorry in advance brother ART.

  3. I believe the problems faced by the country is to be solved by everybody – especially the politicians representing the people. If Freetown is overcrowded, relocate the capital to another part of the country that can accommodate it; distribute government activities to the districts; improve public transportation to and from these districts to make it easier for everyone.
    We are all Sierra Leoneans, and we should accommodate each other, irrespective of where you live or originate in the country.

    • Do you think our politicians will listen? Making MAKENI which is of course the best and most strategic in location as the NEW CAPITAL of Sierra Leone has been suggested by some of us many times in the past. Such suggestions were made as far back as the late President Joseph Momoh era. But nobody listened. Our politicians simply don’t care.

      Just make MAKENI the POLITICAL CAPITAL and FREETOWN remains ECONOMIC CAPITAL. Another suggestion was that BONTHE ISLAND should be developed into a TRANS-SHIPMENT and container handling harbour. The OVERCROWDING of FREETOWN has resulted in this recent unfortunate LAND GRABBING issue. LAND is scarce. Can you imagine? E NOR GO BEE. PEOPLES LANDS are PEOPLES LANDS. PERIOD.

      But will the tribal and ethnic divide give way and allow such projects to happen? I am glad that people like you have started voicing your IDEAS on such issues. Who cares whether someone is KONO, MENDE, TEMENE, LIMBA, etc. After all, we are all SIERRA LEONEANS. Just take the projects to the areas they are fit for. Thank you very much Dr. Sesay for your insight. GOD BLESS YOU.

  4. The reason Freetown is so overcrowded is not only because of education, trade and lack of initiative, but in the main political reason.You see if a party loses in Freetown and the surrounding areas, the government manifesto would be audited and thereby reduce corruption.

    So to allow mass migration would be to their benefit. Most of the migrants are illiterates and their voting pattern is based on symbol. Any munkoo knows the picture of the sun and or the palm tree thereby voting on the basis of “nar we broder or sister disyah”.

    When there was a Governor General (Head of State) there was a difference in government administration. Leaders were devoted to the cause. Today the road to immense wealth without sweat is parliament and/or false churches that only commercialise the Lord.

    The average Sierra Leonean is lazy. Everything should be given to them for free. The country needs enforced discipline and laws that are enforced regardless of connections.

  5. I feel sympathy for the Creoles. However, the current situation was compounded by the war. As we all know, Freetown was the last place to be invaded by the rebels. Everyone came seeking refuge. People thought it would be a temporary respite. After the war most people could not return either because they had no homes to return to or felt safer in Freetown despite all their hardships.

    I remember as a child how clean and beautiful Freetown was when I would visit with my family. Yet I never wished to live in Freetown. I felt more comfortable in my community in the provinces.

    I believe the only way to stop the migration from the provinces is to decentralise all public services. How silly that people have to come to Freetown to collect pensions, apply for passports etc. Create better job opportunities in the provinces. You will see how quickly the migration will reverse. Also, provide low cost housing.

    Lastly, paramount chiefs must be held accountable and not allowed to reign with impunity. The majority of the people in the provinces are either illiterate or semi illiterate. It is the responsibility of all of who are enlighten to empower them. There will be no change without empowerment.

  6. The problem of creole marginalisation needs to be converted to multiple challenges. As I understand things, all lands outside of Freetown are communally owned – banks in their correct wisdom disrespect such assets as credible and legally tenable collateral. Any citizen of Sierra Leone must be able to buy and own land anywhere in Sierra Leone without the barriers of having to go through headmen, local chiefs, and other obstructive impediments.

    The Land Tenure Act needs revisiting. Unfortunately, both our SLPP and APC political parties lack national interests, ethics in their vocabulary, strategies, policies, and practices; their value judgement and sense of priorities in Sierra Leone’s best interests continue to confirm ineptitude and incompetence.


  7. I think all Sierra Leone people should come together. As for me I would have loved to buy a piece of land in Bo, but unfortunately I’m not qualified. So will somebody tell me how I get qualified?

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