Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr – beyond those utterances

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 March 2021:

It would have made life much easier for Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr if she had not made those statements captured on audio that seem to have got her into hot waters. On the face of it, many have considered her tribe-related references inappropriate.

Her statement about “playing dead” to the SLPP initially so she could achieve success by stealth for APC is unsurprisingly viewed with disdain by ardent SLPP supporters.

The Mayor has ignited debate on this issue with many coming down hard on her for what they consider as a misguided, tribally sensitive statement. Hardliners within the SLPP who have never taken a liking to her, reiterated their justification for their continued hate for someone who they thought was always bent on undermining them.

Perhaps the reaction of hardliners is predictable. What is however disconcerting for the Mayor is the disappointment amongst many neutrals and her ardent supporters who have looked up to her as a disciplined, hardworking and nationalistic breath of fresh air to listen to what they considered a tribal rant. One said: “She seems to have done some admirable work as Mayor. Nevertheless, if she has an iota of honour, she should now hit the road”.

Notwithstanding the hullaballoo, one needs to take a closer look at the rhetoric itself and beyond it. The offensive statement goes: “Dem wan kam with Kemokai na ya, so when are say do dis e tell me say buwa biseh (Mende greeting), there’s no way we go accept dem na ya.”

At first glance this appears like a general reference to a typical Mende name, Kemokai, signalling that Mendes pejoratively identified by the “buwa biseh” greeting would be booted out. However, further explanations by the Mayor prompted one to look even closer at the circumstances surrounding the edited audio.

Apparently, this incident happened some time ago and the Mayor had subsequently written a letter on 24th March, 2021 to the Executive Secretary of the Local Government Service Commission (LGSC) complaining about the conduct of some recruited staff, including one (actual) Kemokai.

The Local councils as a group had not been pleased with the “unmandated and unprocedural” recruitment and allocation of staff to them by the LGSC and had made their displeasure known to the LGSC. They claimed they were recruiting staff without following the procedures in the Local Government Act of 2004 and HR guidelines of 2014. They had asked the LGSC recruited staff not to assume these positions until this matter was resolved.

Two people were posted to the FCC, a Mr Peter Koroma as Deputy Chief Administrator and Mr Mustapha Kemokai as Environmental and Sanitation officer. They took up their positions flouting the Mayor’s instructions and appear to have been supported by the Chief Administrator.

The Mayor and Councilors removed furniture from their offices but they kept coming to work, spending their time between the Chief Administrator’s office and that of the Chief Engineer and doing normal work.

Mr Koroma, according to the Mayor had even started signing documents on behalf of the council. To date, apparently, these gentlemen who refused to acknowledge the Mayor’s authority are working at the FCC and given tasks by the Chief Administrator.

For the “unauthorised” Mr Kemokai to work on the Mayor’s flagship sanitation interventions seems to have been particularly irksome to the Mayor.

On another note, I had always wondered that if she typically wanted to refer to a Mende man, Kemokai was not exactly typical – a Vamboi or Sandy would have been more identified as a Mende name. Now we know that indeed there was a Mr Kemokai, who the Mayor wanted out of the Council because of acts of insubordination.

The “Buwa bisie” bit is unfortunate as there is a danger that without the background, people might misconstrue it as a tribal slur. This “tribal slur” business in Sierra Leone can however be condescending or humorous depending on the intent.

The comedian Ernest Brewah aka Vamboi refers to himself in self-deprecating fashion as “the only Mende man with dignity and “quarity”. Kindo Amano and other comedians make constant reference to East end weddings in a derogatory but humorous manner that would not offend anyone.

We live in a country in which people would still refer to “Da Fullah man” or “Kortor” or “Neneh” without even bothering to learn the names of the people concerned. The Fullahs can however now claim to have the last laugh – with a Vice President and countless professionals and graduates and leaders in commerce, they indeed have had the last laugh.

The Limbas they referred to as “Sorie” are now employing those that made those remarks in jest. Every tribe it would seem has got some misconception about others, borne mainly out of ignorance. Even my uncles in Kailahun referred to Krio people as “tangalula mebla” – literally meaning “eaters of rotten cassava”- referring to Krios and foofoo. Nowadays some Mende people l know eat more foofoo than the typical Krio.

It is not however what is said but the intent that matters. Questions to asks now that we know “Kemokai” is not a general name for Mende people are:  a) “Did the Mayor mean to disparage all Mendes by saying “Buwa bisie”? b) Was the Mayor being critical of the government because of what she considers unfair imposition of their supporters (most of whom would logically come from the South East) on her? Was it what you would colloquially refer to as “over-rap”?  I would venture to say, probably the latter two.

The real accusation here seems to be that the Mayor is portrayed as a Mende hating tribalist. The matter of intent and character references have to be considered. I hate being personal but in times of crisis when someone’s reputation is on the line, one has to say what the truth is.

I am a proud Mende man and a friend of the Morgan family. They are very passionate about the development of Sierra Leone – from Yvonne’s Dad, Professor Hector Morgan to her ever-smiling mum, Aunty Marion who has always been active in Church and women’s emancipation issues (especially disadvantaged girls), to my buddy Trudy, who is head of the Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers.

Yvonne and husband Keith have been involved in working on projects for Sierra Leone even before she became Mayor. Professor Morgan attended Bo School and her mother is of Mende heritage. I haven’t seen a fibre of bigotry in her.

Impatience to get things done right and timeously and commitment to accomplishing results even if it means she becomes a slave driver – yes! I also know some of the top staff of FCC. Nine of the top twelve have South Eastern roots. She is associated closely in her work with many other South Easterners.

I have never seen her as one who would discriminate against people because of tribe. I have also had some professional relationship with her and can attest to her professionalism, being more concerned about performance in the job.

In many ways, I could also understand that tribal sensitivities in the current poisoned atmosphere where most things are viewed with a tribal and/ or political lens may compel people to be condemnatory of such statements. We have however also heard utterances more recently from top guns within this government about giving work only to party supporters.

We have had several utterances before by top people (both during the tenure of this government and the previous one) whipping up tribal frenzy. This perhaps has muddied the water and as the Mayor has undoubtedly learnt, one has to watch what you say and to whom.

I would suspect that she is probably going to find the cooperation of Ministries much harder that she has already been having over the past year. Her falling out over so many issues with her parent Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and Ministry of Lands and condemnation in SLPP circles, have sometimes been the stuff of public spectacles.

The matter of foisting staff on Local councils is a germane issue that needs investigating further as is the issue of the lack of cooperation between the Mayor and Chief Administrator. This seems to have been the spark behind this outburst.

Going forward, one only hopes that a way can be found for the Mayor and Government to work together to improve this capital city. Successfully addressing the myriad problems of the city have been the hallmark of the Mayor’s work. In my view it will be a win-win situation for both the Mayor and government – the current rancorous situation certainly does not help. Ponder my thoughts.

Editor’s note:

This was Mayor Aki-Sawyerr speaking on AYV’s “This Day” last week, discussing the response to the Susan Bay fire disaster, as well as responding to critics referring to her as tribalist and demanding she goes. Click on this link:.


  1. The Mayor of Freetown calling things as they really are; If the Criminal SLPP want to take her words out of context for their own self-centered political purposes that’s entirely up to them. No levelheaded person would give a rat’s ass about what they think or do. For what reasons exactly should we wave aside all forms of sincerity and truths that expose rampant abuse of power? What’s the point of striving to be always politically correct in a fragile demoralized country that is firmly under the tight grips of authoritarian rule? Who the hell cares if some knuckleheads are offended at our progressive innovative Mayor because of her open-minded,candid utterances?

    An inept SLPP government overcrowded with silly people promoting their minuscule ideas that cannot see the forest from the trees,that’s who they really are.(lol) Desperate amateurs that sadly do not understand that little drops of water would eventually make a mighty rushing ocean. Geez! A totally washed up criminal old soldier without a credible mission or even a progressive vision has started playing his petty games again; SLPP buffoons with huge unhealthy, hopeless, pathetic tummies and potbellies – criminals wrapped up and entangled in solid knots of their own trivialities, rampant thefts and incompetence no one can loosen; Broad daylight thieves and freeloading imposters without a single spine of sincerity or solid bone of honesty in their bodies they can boast of. (lol) Goodness gracious!

    Our Sierra Leone does not belong to you Old soldier; Even though we all know that you once used terror,mayhem the barrel of a loaded gun to grab Power from our gentle, trusting, peace-loving hands once before, Our Sierra Leone does not belong to you and your criminal Cabal; “HANDS OFF THE MAYOR OF FREETOWN”..Ya heard?(lol)

  2. While we may all advocate for peace to reign, one cannot dismiss the utterance of the Mayor flimsily because of personal relation with her and or her family. While Ernest Brewah is a comedian, the mayor is head of policy for Freetown which house all ethnic groups including Mendes. So comparing the two is a disservice to all peace loving Sierra Leoneans. The Mayor’s unfortunate diatribe was uttered in February 2021 as per her own admission on AYV Television. All the letters she wrote thereafter came after that unfortunate utterance. And in real sense, the letters and protest she made for Mr. Kemokai not to work at the FCC was in furtherance of what she had uttered on the very day she heard that a Mr. Kemokai has been sent to the FCC.

    Both Mr. Kemokai and Mr. Peter Koroma were posted to the FCC on the same day. Both reported to the Chief of Admin as per their letter of appointment. Mr. Peter Koroma is not a Mende. But the Mayor chose to derogate the Mende speaker among the two. Why? History has taught us that during the Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict that resulted to genocide, Hutus with Tutsi mothers and wives champion the elimination of Tutsis before and during the genocide. The same was true in Bosnia and Herzegovina where Serbs in mix marriages or with mix parents committed so many crimes against Bosnians (or muslim as they were called then). So it does not matter as to whether or not Mayor Aki Sawyer’s maternal grandmother was a Mende or not. This is what toxic politics does to people.

    In law, there are two things to establish a prima facie evidence beyond reasonable doubt. That is, the intent (mens rea) and the action (actus rea). From the way things have unfolded coupled with the Mayor’s explanation on the AYV television, both elements for a prima facie evidence have been established to support her disdain for Mende people. The Mayor said (intent) that she would not allow anyone who speaks the language of “Biwa Bisee” to work at the FCC. She went further to instruct the Chief Admin (who is not a Mende either) to not allocate office space to Mr. Kemokai and Koroma. When she heard that the chief admin did, instead of taking it up with the chief admin, she ordered her security to remove all the furniture and office equipment in the rooms allocated (actus rea) thereby preventing Mr. Kemokai a job and his source of living.

  3. Mr Andrew Keili raised interesting points. To be honest I don’t know why people should feel so exercised about a statement made by our hard working Mayor, that is taken out of context and used to besmirch her name by accusing her of every thing under the sun. That they feel entitled to attack her personally. Now lets be clear, she is the elected Mayor of Freetown. And constitutionally, it is within her prerogative to work with competent and qualified people that she think will deliver for tbe people of Freetown. You don’t want Bio to parachute into tbe Mayor’s office people that are unqualified for the job, and full of egos, telling her how to do her job. That is the definition of nepotism. That power should be left in the hands of the voters of Freetown.They should tally her scorecard.

    I certainly harbour no illusions, if Mr Kemokai, or anyone of her arm chair critics that wants to take revenge as disgruntled employee, or otherwise, feel so worked up and wants to challenged her for future Mayoral election contest, they will attract enough vote to unseat her. Not if we go by the record of Bio’s government. So for those arm chair critics next time is her name tbat is on the ballot for any future mayoral elections not you. She is answerable to tbe voters of Freetown thank you very much. This is not the first time the Mayor of Freetown has ran into hot waters with the central government.There was a similar incident with a member of the then APC government regarding the Saturday monthly sanitation cleaning exircise. Back in the 80s, as Fulanis came under fire from Men like Hon. Thaimu Bangura, that raised the prospect of introducing the “Worreh Tax” they had to rely on networking to fight the onslaught.

    Men like Hon. Kawusu Conteh, Brigedia Toronkah, Major Jumu Jalloh. Hon ABM Kamara and Hon SB Marah. In those days Fulanis made up 2% of the population.Today, that figure has risen to 10%. Which is a suprise to me given how many wives we are allowed to have. And if we look at the demographics today, Mende people make up 33% of the population. So why suddenly some tiny minority, or bone heads of the majority of the country’s population is crying wolf. We need to move away from this nonsense. It will get us no where. Or better still spare a thought for minorities like Yalunkas, Fulas, Gola, Sherbro, Mandingo, Loko Limbas, Lebanese and many more tribes that put their heads down and are just getting on with their lives. Please lets try and find something else to talk about – maybe how to tackle corruption in our country. That is something worth talking about.

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