Hate speech in northern Sierra Leone – a dangerous trend and height of folly

PUAWUI   DR SAMA BANYA: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 September 2019:

Most readers of Social media must have seen the video by now. It is reported to be events at a political campaign meeting in the Falaba and Koinadugu districts of Northern Sierra Leone.

I do not recognize the speaker at the time of the recording, but according to the footage on the video the meeting was being addressed by two prominent sons of the soil, Momoh Konteh and Kelfala Marrah.

Both are of the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) political party; and as far as I am concerned and more importantly, citizens of Sierra Leone.

I have met and spoken to Kelfala Marrah (Photo) only once, when his wife who was a staff member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation when I was Minister there, introduced him to me.

He was then Chief of Staff, the first appointee of the newly created post in the office of President Ernest Bai Koroma. He had gone to see his wife off at Government wharf after what she described as a short visit. It was dusk and with the poor lighting in the area I could not discern the gentleman’s face. In short I would not recognise him were we to meet again.

Readers may recall the time when routine postings were published in the ministry. Mrs Marrah was one of those affected, as she  was recalled after more than two tours in her London post. Her husband was already in Sierra Leone, but orders came from above to cancel her posting. Obviously she was a privileged staff member and had to stay at post not necessarily in the government’s interest, but so that she would continue to look after their children.

In the APC, like in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, some comrades are more important than others. The decision itself was an embarrassment to J B Dauda who was Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time.

I have never met Momoh Konteh (Photo) and would pass him without recognising him. In the video recording both men were preaching naked and vicious tribalism. Up to this moment only one national newspaper has criticised the offenders without naming them.

In 1965 the then APC opposition leader Siaka Stevens the founder and leader of the All People’s Party and later President of Sierra Leone, was campaigning in the Ginger Hall area to be the Mayor of the Freetown municipality. Ginger hall was the home of the Mende Tribal chief in the Western area – Madam Koroma; it also carried a very large Mende population.

The bank of Sierra Leone had introduced the new national currency – the Leone, whose denominations carried the portraits of three prominent Sierra Leonean professionals – Doctors MCF Easmon, Davidson Nicol and Claude Nelson-Williams. Cynics referred to the notes as well as the bank of Sierra Leone as “The Blood Bank” because all three directors were registered Medical Practitioners.

Mr. Siaka Stevens (Photo) waved the bank notes to his audience, and told the crowd: “wuna see den korpor ya?” (Do you see these bank notes?) He read out the names of the three directors on the notes, and  asked his audience weather any of them was Mende?

And he concluding with utter contempt, he added: “and yet wuna say dis na mende government? You are being deceived when people say that your SLPP government is a Mende government.  This SLPP government has neither the interest nor the care of Mende people but a Creole one.”

That to many people  was the beginning of the introduction of tribalism in the Sierra Leone body politic.

In the 1967 general elections the anti-Mende propaganda was very prominent among APC leaders and supporters. Unfortunately the trend has only got worse and reached its climax since the APC lost the Presidency to Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.

In the first place, the APC has still refused to accept the reality that it has lost power to the SLPP to which it refers in the most derogatory terms, including – Junta government, Mendecrat etc. Their action continues to be divisive, with no effort or interest on their part to bring about cohesiveness in either their campaign speeches or in any kind of situation. They continue to be deliberately divisive.

Take a look at President Bio’s present cabinet and, forgetting any comparison with President Ernest Bai Koroma’s Cabinet decide that it is a Mende cabinet. But this aspect of their behaviour should not surprise anyone because it had been repeated several times.

Even before Christiana Thorpe handed the Presidential run-off to their leader, Mr Koroma had declared that he would make the country ungovernable were the SLPP to be victorious.

People like Kelfala Marrah and Momoh Konteh have taken up the tribal cry and introduced it in the most vicious and hateful manner into the current campaign speeches in Falaba and Koinadugu.

I was minister of Interior and Local government in the one party government of President Siaka Stevens during the 1982 general elections. I was confined to the Koinadugu District where tribal conflict between the Fullahs and the Yalunka’s were so intense that the election process had to be cancelled.

The story was the same in the Bombali constituency of late Thaimu Bangura, between the Temne ethnic group and the Fullahs and other tribal ethnic groups. There again the election process was abandoned because of violence.

Because of those events, citizens of the constituencies remained unrepresented in Parliament for the next five years.

The danger with the Marrah and Konteh diatribe is that they are the accumulation of all that is being said by their party. And unless it is nipped in the bud, it will have dire consequences for the peace and stability of our country.

Even if the APC describes it as a witch hunt, because of the inherent danger of the situation, the development must be nipped with immediate effect. Beyond that, the law enforcement officers must follow the matter up with appropriate , so that those irresponsible people are brought to justice.

Delay or failure to do this can only encourage the disgusting trend. It may spark a conflagration, when other people would have thought that enough was enough and be tempted to take the law into their own hands. Is that what we want, at a time when our country is in the lime light and for the right reasons?

4 Comments

  1. If this article was indeed written by Dr Sama Banya from kailahun District then shame on him. Perhaps age is telling on him to the point that his knowledge about Sierra Leone political history is fast fading and blind to political reality or call it ‘real politik’.

    As previous commentators have mentioned before my comment, in summary that sierra Leoneans are not divided by ethnicity but by political associations and noteably the sLPP is predominantly mende dominated and by comparism to the APC which is made up of all ethnic backgrounds including ethnic minority and attract all young, old, men, women, poor and rich.

    Dr Sam Banya to attack Dr kaifala marah and momoh konteh of tribalism without knowing them in person and make a thorough assessment of these persons is an indication of deficit in thinking. First of all the two are from different tribes. I will not labour much now to educate him who these people are, better left for a thorough response to this article at a later date.

    Leema or the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs to describe the content of the article as a worrying development shows how short sighted he is and with an additional problem of deficit in thinking. Personally each time I hear him speak on TV or radio interviews I get sick for a week. His discription of the article will not go without response. I end my comments with this: the author of the article is a mende and a strong SLPP man.

  2. I do not think it is a matter of tribalism but politics. Sierra Leoneans are intertwined in their cultures from different region. The politicians are the ones preaching tribalism and showing this out by their actions. They want to divide us.

  3. This article is somewhat complex in nature. Apart from the dangerous message or environment it is advocating, it is seemingly immersed in an atmosphere of ironies and paradoxes. In the first instance, even though the writer is strenuously trying to denounce hate speech in Sierra Leone’s politics, he failed to come up with concrete solutions (or remedies) to the problem.

    The writer is quite aware of the existence of hate or tribal speech in the country’s polity, as far back as to the colonial times, and also conscious of the magnitude at which this divisive element of tribalism has been propagated and polarised across the country by the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), albeit looking for achaic and ill thought draconian measures that would only stoke the flames of an already tense situation.

    In a way, the writer seems to cunningly create a conflict or division between the Fullahs and “other tribal ethnic groups”, including the largest group, the Temnes. It also sounds ominous that the writer seems to advocate for remedies that would DISENFRANCHISE certain groups or sections of the society at the advantage of his party, the SLPP. Dr Banya is still not convinced that his party would ever win a free and fair election, although he believes they should cling to power ‘at all cost’ – paopa.

    The usual jab at the All Peoples Congress (APC) party is not uncommon by this writer. The continuous blackmail of the APC as a violent party, and the finger pointing at former President Earnest Bai Koroma as the catalyst to the failures of the present SLPP government. All in all, the article is badly written, confusing and contradictory. Was Siaka Stevens campaigning as a Mende candidate against the Creoles or as an APC candidate against a Mende dominated SLPP government between 1965 and 1967?

  4. Andrew Kaikai;

    Its unfortunate that you think one tribe in Salone is the only one practicing tribalism. My best friend who is from Kenema and a die-hard SLPP supporter subscribes to the same unsubstantiated claim, although he also has issues with the Krios.

    The fact of the matter is, our local people are known to be very friendly/hospitable to strangers. Irrespective of tribe/region, there is no area a stranger can visit without being accommodated with open hands. By all indications, tribalism mainly exists in politics, used as a tool by greedy politicians for their personal gains. This notion of the absence of a predominant population of the Mende people residing in North makes the Themnes tribalistic, can be described by all indications as absurd.

    The fact is, over 70% of the tribes in Sierra Leone call the Northern province their home, with Temnes being the majority. So if the Temnes are tribalistic, why are they sharing space with a majority of our other local tribes? It makes no sense for the Temnes to hate only one particular tribe while accommodating 99%. Besides, I have never heard of any tribal issues or discrimination in the provinces, even during our civil war, Sierra Leoneans from all tribes live in harmony.

    Now, inter-tribal marriages is very common in our culture, one thing we should all be proud of. I mentioned in this platform before, my wife is a Mende. My best friend from Kenema wife’s is a Mandingo; while my other friend, a Mende by tribe but born in Kono is currently married to a Temne woman.

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