Sierra Leone – Cry, the divided country: where does the buck stop?

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 03 September 2022:

Sierra Leone politicians were divided even at independence. Independence festivities were overshadowed by the state of emergency, declared ten days earlier following a campaign of sabotage by the opposition All People’s Congress Party (APC).

The APC had been urging that independence should be postponed until free elections were held. Its leader, Siaka Stevens, was arrested about a week to independence along with his right-hand man, Wallace Johnston, and 16 other party members. They had been planning a general strike to coincide with the independence celebrations, and it was feared riots would break out if the strike went ahead. It would seem we went into independence with many problems simmering beneath the surface, some of which are with us to this day.

If there is one thing nearly everyone agrees upon, it would be that Sierra Leone is a divided country and the division is even more acute now. It is not my intention to analyse the reasons for the division; I will merely state the facts. Let us take a look at some of the things that divide us. We are:

Divided by Political colours

Red and green, the colours of the APC and SLPP respectively divide us. Ardent loyalists of these political parties could not be seen dead in the colour of the “enemy”. This has been extended to other areas of our national life to the extent that there have been fights over these colours at school sporting functions, ensuring that the colour division is etched in the minds of our younger folks.

Divided over how we are counted-the census division

There is little doubt that the SLPP prefers the use of the 2021 mid-term census results for delineating boundaries and constituencies. The APC prefers the 2015 census results. The census conducted during the tenure in governance of each party tends to give it an advantage in number of people in party strongholds and accusations of “census fixing” have now become the norm. We don’t seem to agree on how we should be counted and on our numbers.

Divided by ethnicity and region

The ethno-regional divide of the country is evident from election results. The APC is predominantly a North-western Party and the SLPP South Eastern, each region composed of dominant major tribes. There are accusations that the “majoritisation” of our governance system means that this gets translated into plum jobs and greater resources for the areas with predominant support for the governing party.

Divided over the type of electoral system to adopt

Proponents of the current constituency electoral system and the proportional representation system have been very forceful in making their case for their preferred electoral system. To date, we are unsure about the electoral system we will adopt at the next General elections.

Divided over reasons for recent riots

The government and its supporters say that underlying the recent deadly protests was an insurrection meant to destabilise the state and result in a forceful take-over of power and that this was instigated by the opposition APC. The opposition APC says they had no hand in this and that several issues relating to the general discontent of the populace led to this situation.

Divided over suitability of members of the investigative committee for the recent riots

The government says the investigating committee set up is an unbiased committee, representing apt major stakeholder groupings. The opposition thinks not and says there are many members who have already aired their views on who was responsible for the riots, who should not have been on the committee.

Divided over government Achievements

Each of APC and SLPP party claims it has done better than the other, especially in the area of infrastructure. Each claims that it finished what its predecessor messed up. Meanwhile nobody mentions the role played by donors.

Divided over which party is more corrupt

Each of the two major parties claims the other is more corrupt and they are only cleaning up the egregious mess caused by its predecessor, usually setting up a commission of inquiry to prove this.

Divided over who has a better Human rights records

Each party rubbishes the human rights record of the other. Independent assessments are however not flattering and it’s more like six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Divided over cause of hardship

SLPP claims the current hardship is a global phenomenon. APC says yes to a certain extent but it is also considerably self-inflicted because of the government’s profligate spending.

Divided over perception of international community on issues

Each of the two major parties claims the International community supports their stance on various issues. The SLPP claims in particular that this support is because of its commendable performance in governance. The APC claims this is happening in spite of the government’s poor performance only because they want to prevent Sierra Leone from being a failed state.

Divided over our perception of the judiciary’s independence

Each of the major parties, when in opposition claims the judiciary is not independent, gives spurious judgments and meddles into its affairs. Each party when in governance does not agree.

Divided between Central vs local government

Each major party claims when they are in opposition that major local government councils in opposition strongholds are interfered with but when in governance claims that these councils have a proclivity to sabotage the sitting government.

Divided into various factions within parties

The division within parties is accentuated when a party is in opposition, with the flagbearer issue often dominating the fight. The division often results in court cases, with accusations of the governing party meddling into the affairs of the opposition.

This is quite a handful and perhaps wanting a uniformity of views may be utopian. The divisions that lead to outrage and violence sparks, threatening peace and security in the country should especially be kept in view.

There are admittedly a few areas in which we find unity. The areas of religion and sports by our national team-especially football come to mind.

But who should sort out this mess? Chapter 11 of the 1991 constitution on “Fundamental principles of state policy” sheds some light on this. Whereas sovereignty belongs to the people of Sierra Leone from whom Government through the Constitution derives all its powers, authority and legitimacy, the security, peace and welfare of the people of Sierra Leone is the primary purpose and responsibility of Government. A political objective is that the State “shall promote national integration and unity and discourage discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, circumstance of birth, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties”. Added to this are social, educational and other objectives.

The principles contained therein are fundamental in the governance of the State, and it is the duty of Parliament to apply these principles in making laws. The President who is head of state acts as a symbol of national identity and helps promote unity and pride and also acts as the symbol of the nation for the international community. He is also the head of government, overseeing the operation of the civil service and government agencies and appoints members of the government.

So, Parliament and the President have a yeoman’s role to play. In our present predicament, the buck stops with the President who should use all levers at his disposal to stem the huge division, irrespective of who is at fault. He has all levers at his disposal- both ”carrot levers” and “stick levers” and is expected to use them circumspectly. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” is an apt description of his predicament as he grapples with advice from all quarters-some genuine and prudent and others not, on which levers to use to address the acute divide in the country.

The sign “The Buck Stops Here” was on President Truman’s desk in his White House office. On more than one occasion he referred to the desk sign in public statements. In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, “The President–whoever he is–has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”

History will not be kind to any President under whose watch the nation disintegrates, irrespective of who is at fault. The buck stops with the President!

Ponder my thoughts.



  1. This is an excellent and well-thought out article. It is a detailed anatomy of a failed state, that is, a clinical assessment of everything that is wrong with us as a country. Mr Keili charts quite remarkably the history of the sins of political dysfunction and disunity besetting our nation, zeroing in in particular on their current manifestations. And it does not take a genuis to see that these sins, which date back as Mr Keili shows, to the very dawn of our existence as an independent and sovereign nation, may live with us for decades to come if immediate and radical steps are not taken to stop the ugly reality that they are dead in its tracks.

    The dispiriting political failings Mr Keili diagnoses should leave no right-thinking and welll-meaning Sierra Leonean in any doubt as to what we must do as a nation to create a political culture in which the funereal colours of red and green and the ethnic and regional divisions and antagonisms they breed time after time will cease to have a firm and stifling purchase on our individual and collective lives. The two toxic, oppressive, life-denying political colours need to be quite simply ditched and replaced by new and life-giving ones. For this to happen, we need to choose politicians who once in governance and no matter their ethnic backgrounds and regional provenances, are prepared to rise above the fray of party politics, having as their sole focus and commitment the job of keeping the disparate, centrifugal forces tearing us apart under firm and permanent control.

    If any ruler loses sight for whatever reason of the crucial mission of promoting national unity and cohesion, he and his administration deserve to be ejected from power either automatically or at the earliest opportunity. The occupant of our State House at any given point is duty bound to take his party-political, ethnic and regional hat off in his role as national leader – a healer of the self-inflicted wounds of a divided and traumatised nation. As the author of the article rightly concludes, the buck certainly stops with the holder of the highest political office in the land. He should be blamed fairly and squarely if by omission or commission he allows things to fall further and further apart; if he does not stop our core as a nation from being completely atomised or pulverised, from collapsing and evaporating into nothingness. Woe betides a leader who presides over the disintegration of our country; a leader who makes a pact with the demons of national divisibility, turning as it were his back on the imperatives of national wholeness and indivisibility. He may not live to tell the story as the forces of division and disunity may claim him and deservingly so as their first victim.

  2. The most common causes of States in permanent state of conflicts within their borders and the general population at large is driven by religion differences ,Nigeria and India are perfect examples .Land tenure disputes , who owes what, the Israeli /Palestinian conflict .Corruption , Sierra leone ,and the unequal distribution of natural resources , the DRC , South Sudan ,ethnic conflicts ,Myanmar , and who have the right to determined who is a citizen within that state, Ivory Coast .Populist politics and conspiracy theories , the United States , Red States versus Blue states .And been one of the worlds largest economy , and seemingly one of the oldest constitution and well respected pieces of legislation that guranteered the right to free speech or say anything and everything as written by their laws , it doesn’t take a genius to work out why the country is so divided on party , religious and social life . The Disunited States of America .So in our case ,we know our communities up and down the country are not divided on religious grounds , which for the most part is the driving force of political and social division in vast majority of countries across Africa .

    Sierra leoenans are naturally accomodating of each other .Muslims which makes up two third of the populations , and they celebrate the Christmas season every year , so does the Christians celebrate Eid the Musilm religious festival .So the question for every Sierra Leonean is :Why are we divided on party political affiliation? After all , none of this two major parties APC/SLPP have done anything that promote unity , peace and justice in our country. The seeds of division was sowed from the very inception of our country .The political assassinations and excecutions of so-called coup plotters condemned our country to where we found ourselves today .There is no redemption of our nation on the grounds of working together for the common good until the government , regardless of which party is in power acknowledges and apologies to the families of those people that suffered the ultimate politically driven killings .Dr MO Bash Taqi, Cornrad Inise , Vice President, FM Minah , Dr Jim Fornah .Brigedia John Amadu Bangura , Hon Bambay Kamara , Gibriel Mohamed Tennyson Kai Kai and many others that fell foul of State sponsored terror in the hands of their own government that is supposedly meant to protect their human rights .

    Even after the RUf Wars ,we have never had a true national reconciliation . National reconciliation yes , but compensation of families of the war victims of victims of so called coup plots should have been enacted and acted upon by the sitting government of the day .As a result the leadership of this two major parties have played the ethinic divisions to seek and gain power and maintained it to stay in power with out offering any altetnatives to the national development we all want for our country .And the only way they are able to play this game is by by extending their corrupt ways to the youths .By ensuring the leadership of the youths are in their pay roll .Many experts on conflict studies said the RUF wars , was the only conflict in Africa that was fought not on Tribal or Religious grounds .The RUF wars are a template of the future wars fought between the haves and have nots.

  3. Right you are, sir! Salone is not a settled territorial and/or political nation state. The native populations of the North-west and South-east are yet to “agree” the land. Hence, the ‘schizophrenia’ which plagues our governing classes!

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