Political tribalism is a chronic disease that must be cured in Sierra Leone 

Oswald Hanciles – The Guru: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 November 2020:

Political Tribalism in Sierra Leone has been like this:. When it is about a year or so to parliamentary and presidential elections, political leaders would organize themselves – or, align themselves –  into tribal and regional parties:  largely, Temne-speaking peoples of the Northern Province under the banner of the APC, with massive support from Northerners (in 1996, political parties led by Northerners won most of the Northern Province votes; Dr. John Karefa-Smart’s UNPP got 27% of total  votes, almost from the North; and Thaimu Bangura of PDP won 17% of the vote, apparently by Northerners); and  Mende-speaking peoples of the Southeast fanatically  supporting the SLPP.

The leadership of both the SLPP and APC would always convince Mende-speaking or Temne-speaking peoples that they are fighting for them. Apart from brief military rule after Independence in 1961 (NRC – 1967 to 1968; NPRC – 1992 to 1996; AFRC – May, 1997 to February  1998), the SLPP and APC have governed Sierra Leone. (SLPP  – 1961 to 1967 and  1996 to 2007; APC  – 1968 to 1992; 2007 to April, 2018; and SLPP again, from April, 2018 to present…). What has been the source of  wonderment after the rule of these two political parties?

Poverty!! Increasing poverty!!  Falling standards in education. Some of the worst health statistics and health facilities in the world are in our country.  Brain drain of alarming levels  – with over 90 percent of our medical doctors migrating to the West. All of this in a country which has had some of the best jewelry diamonds in the world.  The best grade of titanium (rutile) on earth.  Quality iron ore.  Territorial ocean space with some of the best fisheries and marine resources on earth. Idyllic beaches which are comparable to the top 5% of beaches in the world.  In the 20th century, quality human resources which were some of the best in the developing world.  How come Sierra Leone has been over the past 50 years or so among the top ten poorest countries in the world? Political Tribalism!

Politics that is democratic is all about political parties that form governments, or, are  engaged in constructive opposition, harnessing a country’s human and physical resources to improve on the livelihoods of its peoples.  This logic has been turned on its head in Sierra Leone.  In our country, people have been fooled to believe that politics is all about Mende-speaking Southeast peoples capturing the presidency to prevent the Temne-speaking peoples gaining the presidency – and the Temne-speaking peoples have also been fooled to believe the same mad logic.

After about fifty years, Sierra Leoneans keep dancing and fighting each other and voting for SLPP to APC to SLPP to APC to SLPP… Yet, poverty has remained constant. That’s why recently super star musician Emerson sang “kononat hade” – that it is not brains Sierra Leoneans have in their heads, but coconut pulp and juice. No human beings with brains can behave like Sierra Leoneans have been behaving.  Think on the following hypothetical scenario if you don’t have ‘kokonat hade’.

How can thieves  come to your house every month. The thieves steal your television and cooking pots. The thieves steal your children’s school books and the money your husband  has saved from riding okada all day; and they don’t spare the money you are saving sitting down all day under the sun and rain at Sani Abacha Street engaged in petty trading. The thieves steal the medicines you bought for your children  – and your children die. But, these same thieves come and tell you to vote for them as president; as parliamentarians; as councillors… and you jump on the streets and dance all day for them; and you vote for these same thieves.  Surely, even the seriously mad people who are locked up at Kissy mental hospital in Freetown won’t behave this way.

How can any Sierra Leonean call himself or herself as educated and continue singing this same mad songs of Political Tribalism, and inducing Mende-speaking Southeast peoples and Temne-speaking Northern Province peoples to dance the same mad dance?  The same antics that led Sierra Leone into the nasty and brutal civil war of the 1990s….

Stop!! The enlightened people must bond together to end this sheer displays of madness that has been passing off as competitive democratic politics. Radio.  Television.  Video documentaries.  Intensity. Relentlessness.  We are fooling ourselves that we are fighting corruption if we don’t confront and neutralize this warped thinking of Political Tribalism.  All talk of sustainable development is a sham except we stop this madness of Political Tribalism.

In the four-part serial I wrote in 2014 in  THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN titled “The Tribal Card: Not a Wise Option for Any Governing Party”… I traced the historicity of the Big Lie that ethnic politics would reward  political parties in power.  The APC party led by H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma held the reins of the presidency then. They didn’t listen to me. The SLPP Leader, Retired Brigadier Maada Bio, is President today. If he fails to listen to me, this record is there.


  1. The problem is not with tribal politics, per se. As one of the commentators pointed out, it is inherent in a dem9cratic system. The issue is corruption. When the SLPP/APC vie for power, the issue is what difference does it make to their communities or strongholds.

    Looking at the north and the west or the east and south, there is not much to write home about. In places like Kenya, the politics is tribal, however, there is an obligation to facilitate development in their respective areas.

  2. Tribalism is cultural. Tribe, simply put in lay perspective, means every soul of Adam belongs to a group and speaks in tongues. But, like the New York University Business professor, Jonathan Haidt said ” A funny thing happens when you take young human beings and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions”. ‘You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle”. This statement is redolent of the politics of the late sixties elections, between SLPP, led by Prime Minister Albert Margai and the opposition APC party, led by Siaka P. Stevens, which era heralded the birth to the mentality of “US v. THEM’. This set in motion the splitting of the tribes, poles apart, the making of one side to feel threatened and be hostile to the other side and the turning of people to political objects and pawns, a completely strange development and a big contrast to the tribal unity demonstrated in the dawn of our independence.

    Ever since then, political tribalism has been rooted from the lazy political elites who, in order to gain political victory, would resort to turning Vamboi against Sorie; instead of promoting an understanding on the issues important to both citizens through dialogue, would exploit the minor differences; persistently, would tell the Mende that the Themne “Other” is an enemy. Sara, Sorie, Vamboi, kothor Galleh, Tamba, Kaba all of them have been miseducated by politicians into believing that this is the way things work for donkey years. They tell people that politics is tribal and their tribal loyalties are measured by fanatically voting their own party, one party, their tribal party. This tribal group in-thinking mentality infused in the brains chemistry by the politicians and reinforced to this day, has been a great setback for the country.

    It is not without reason. It’s meant to break down the people, to prevent people from having any meaningful national dialogue. People are constantly being reminded by politicians of their tribal identity, to vote Mende or Themne during election and they know no better way. This tribal takeover of the political system perpetuated by the elites affects ordinary people’s logic and it is bad for national cohesion. Let me be very clear, the political elites are responsible for funding and fuelling tribal identity politics and they should be blamed for turning the people into coconut heads by destroying their schools. This is exactly the outcome they want, to make people subservient to them. Emerson is right. If you need a country to be full of coconut heads, withdraw the light of Education from its people and see what happens. Putting it better, the late Maya Angelou said in paraphrase, if you think education is not important, try ignorance.

  3. For more than forty-five years–from the time I was a lecturer in Economics at Fourah Bay College (1969-74)–I have been saying that “tribalism” and “corruption” will keep Sierra Leone backward for a long time. The plain truth is that the two “problems” also interact. So, what should we do? “Mende” and “Temne” are the two dominant tribes. Hence, they should take the leadership in the fight against both tribalism and corruption; they are the two tribes that dominate the governorship of the country. We are stuck with that reality.

  4. Mr Hanciles, you’re spot on. However, it has always been my argument that much of our political problem is bound in the eternal arrogance, thieving culture and heartlessness of our intellectuals/elites who have always occupied the seats of our mis-governance.
    The North-South divide on tribal lines is deliberate and fraudulent in every account. It was during the Pa Shaki One party State that we affirmed our belief as a misled nation in thieving and walking-free so long, we share the loot amongst those that matter in our society.

    The V.J.V. Mambu and co cabinet composition had more PHDs that any in our world then. In short, the elites need to own up to their malfeasance and lead the struggle out of this scourge. The Temne and Mende divide is a myth, but our dishonest and unpatriotic politicians think that is the only way to get what they want from this gullible and lazy public. These guys haven’t got any plan or message and we never compel them for a living manifesto, neither to showcase their constituency developments. Harping on the Mende /Temne façade is the most attractive bait which the compromising public continue to swallow without a wink. Unfortunately, the public itself is fully embedded in the corruption scourge and seemed to have fallen into eternal love for this design mostly for personal advantage.

    It’s no hidden secret that the Temnes do not control the levers of power in the APC, but the Ekutay wing uses the tribe to barricade itself in that position. In fact, the Temnes and Mendes are more intertwined than any other northern tribe, the Loko/Limba elites just cannot live without the Temne support. So, stoking this fallacy, is all our leaders have got in their mindless pursuit of personal aggrandizement from this willing public.

    • Good analysis! Spot on. It is the so called elite that play the tribal game with the unsuspecting semi and illiterate majority

  5. Identity politics is part of God’s creation and is a gift to mother nature. “BIRD OF THE SAME FEATHER FOLKS TOGETHER”. In the interest of clarity, since the beginning of times, tribes and communities have always live side by side, sometimes peacefully, or on some occasions, resorting to war to establish supremacy or control over the other. Hence that’s how the slave trade started before the white man came to our shores. But one fact that remains the same is, the LAND BORDERS YOU SHARE REMAINS THE Same. Matter of fact, no amount of vitriol or hate that unfortunately exists between the warring tribes, Temne and Mende in Sierra Leone will change that. Maybe demographics will change the calculation when other tribes catch up in terms of birth rates, to create a balance in the population, so no one or two tribes or three tribes can hold the country as a hostage.

    Mr Hanciles is making a point, the majority of Sierra Leoneans will deny about its existence. You have more chance of squeezing blood out of a stone than to get our corrupt politicians and Sierra Leoneans generally to admit tribal politics has bought us nothing but, war, corruption, North/South divide, military governments, fake coup plots in which prominent Sierra Leoneans suffer the ultimate punishment pf death by the State, poverty and want, low life expectancy, us versus them mentality and all the ills you can think of about Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone and it’s people can only be defined as a country full of contradictions. Religiously we are a tolerant nation, but tribally, we can’t extend that to our fellow tribes men. Why? May God Grant us more room in our heat for our fellow country men. Shame on the APC and SLPP leadership. May God bless Sierra Leone.

  6. Unfortunately, this is one of the flaws of what we call democracy. Humans by nature tend to have affinity for what is common to and among them. If it is not tribe, it is clan, if it is not clan, it is religion and if it is not religion, it is race, colour, class etc. etc., you name it. Tell me where in the world that this is not obvious. The world most democratic country, the USA which has diverse set of people or ethnicity has been embroiled in this. The GOP is supported mostly by Evangelical Christians, whites and upper class Americans (capitalist). The Democratic Party is supported mostly by minority groups, blacks Latinos, foreigners, Liberals and Middle and lower class people.In Western Europe, where we have mostly mono ethnic countries, people still practice politics based on whatever it is that differentiate them. In the UK, Labour is supported mostly by middle class and the Tories by upper class.

    This is what nature has ingrained in us. If you read the old Testament, sometimes you would wonder why God would favour one group over the other, even instructing that favoured group to annihilate the others from the land they met them. Tanzania which had the unique opportunity to bloat out its more than 130 tribal groups into a single Kiswahili speaking country still practice politics on tribal lines. Surprising, the main opposition group, Chadama is supported by people from the Chaga that come from Kilimanjaro area including Moshi and Arusha districts and also Muslims from Zanzibar. The CCM party of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had ruled Tanzania since independence. The CCM is mostly dominated by people from Mwanza and the Lake Victoria area. This is the area where the late Nyerere and current president John Magufuli come from. All of Tanzania 60+ million people speak only Kiswahili and yet this sad reality.

    The problem is not tribal. It is the Rule of law that is absent in Sierra Leone. And those who do not want the rule of law to prevail are the same people making it look as if tribal politics is our problem. When President Kabba’s Government left power, we all knew that they left with baggage of corruption against them. What happened? The Rule of law was buried with them. President Koroma government was expecting the same thing. Because this has not happened, all of a sudden the country has been made to look as if it is in security crisis. Those who do not know that there are laws against abuse of authority, corruption and malfeasance have interpreted the current reality as Tribal Politics. People would vote for Kandeh Yumkella in the mostly Susu areas of Kambia and Kafuu Bullom. People will vote for Samsumana in the mostly Kono areas of the East, people would vote for Maada Bio in mostly the Mende and Shebro areas of the south and people would vote for Samura Kamara in mostly the Themne and Limba dominated areas of the north and western areas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.