By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)
It is now trending on social media, especially on Facebook amongst Sierra Leoneans abroad. And this trend has shown, or is showing, that many Sierra Leoneans have starting looking at their country not as a nation-state anymore but as tribal and regional blocks patched together by the inconveniences of national symbols.
Even the Krios or Creoles (delete where applicable), who have been known to be the only detribalized group in Sierra Leone, have now subtly boarded the tribal “Chinese buses”. A recent article by Titus Boye-Thompson, titled “Disunity Has Hindered Growth Of The Creoles In Sierra Leone” (published by The Nationalist newspaper of Wednesday 29 July 2015), shows that even the Creoles are now seeking for the Western Area to be a sort of ‘Creoledom’. The gravy or meat of Mr Boye-Thompson’s argument is that: “…A Creole Mayor of Freetown should be a matter of constancy and of legitimacy…” as Creoles “…remain the most powerful force in the economics of Freetown. [Because] They hold sway to some of the most valuable real estate in the city and are a better educated and skilled workforce as a group. Their voices are beginning to regain their tincture and a collective realization of their heritage is the basis for the emergence of [the] Krio Descendants’ Unions (KDUs) of every hue across the world…”
Although the excerpt, above, is littered with many fallacious statements such as the Creoles “…remain the most powerful force in the economics of Freetown” and that they “…hold sway to some of the most valuable real estate in the city and are a better educated and skilled workforce as a group”; it just shows that the national thinking is now being skewed towards tribal and regional thought-dropping if you like. And when one counts the countless tribal and regional organizations or associations, both at home and abroad, and the sentimental attachments and energy put into them by some of my compatriots; then it logically follows that the nation-state called Sierra Leone is at present waltzing on a two-legged rickety table!
Had it been a federal republic, one might have been tempted not to pay heed to such tribal and regional rumblings. But in a tiny country like Sierra Leone, with a population of about six million, one should be very alarmed when its youthful citizens begin to put tribal and regional interests above the nation-state. And Facebook seems to be the oasis where these hydra-headed monstrosities are being guinea-pigged. Now some Sierra Leoneans have mothered and fathered new lexicons on Facebook such as “Mende woman from Jerehun”, “Bonthe Lady”, “Temne Suit”, “Limbaman from Binkolo” et al. And you should not be surprised if you start seeing Temne-ish, Bombali-ish, Tonkolili-ish, Bo-ish, Kenema-ish, Limba-ish, Kroo-ish, Fullah-ish, and other billion-and-one “ishes” associated with tribes and regions in, and, of Sierra Leone.
Though these might look like trivialities. But these are some of the little things which begin to smoulder in a nation’s foundation and later erupt into political volcanoes. From many postings on Facebook by some of my compatriots, any trained eye could see that most Sierra Leoneans take sides on national issues not because they believe in the argument (s) on the floor (or should I say—sorry, write—on their screens be they computers, Ipads or mobile phones) but because of either tribal or regional prejudices. The question now is: Are most Sierra Leoneans now having more faith in their tribes than their country? Is tribalism now in vogue or is “it cool” (to borrow an American phrase) to be unabashedly practised?
This reminds me of what Robert S. Jordan notes in his book “Government & Power in West Africa” that, “Tribalism is merely another way of saying that men trust those of their fellows who appear to be most like them; and distrust those who seem most different” (page 262). But after 54 years of Independence, do some Sierra Leoneans want to tell me that they are still harbouring deep-rooted fear and distrust for those who are not their tribesmen (or tribefolks for the sake of gender parity)?
Such deep-rooted fear and distrust are being echoed by Titus Boye-Thompson, in his article under review, when he notes that, “…the management of Freetown [by the Creoles] as a local authority should be made a constitutional issue, just the same way as it is clear that a Temne cannot be made Chief over Mendes in Mende Land and even as was so forcefully determined that a Mende Bishop cannot hold church in Makeni, a Temne enclave…” What this means in essence is that all the talk about Sierra Leone being tribally-friendly and accommodating is just a charade as there are still deep-rooted fear and distrust amongst the tribes.
Even the religious tolerance thread that used to knit Sierra Leoneans together seems to be weakening now. This is because if the Temnes, in one of the Temne-dominated districts, could reject a Bishop who was appointed by the Vatican simply because he is a Mendeman shows you some of the clouded distrust and hegemonic duel between the Temnes and Mendes. What makes this case notable is the fact that the Vatican, with all its ecclesiastical clairvoyance and power, had to recant its earlier decision and redeployed the Bishop to one of the Mende-dominated regions of Kenema! The matter might have been settled for now. But who knows when it might resurrect in the pulpits, lecterns and pews in, and of, the north and south of the country?
But innately, I believe Sierra Leone will never tread on such a path because as Sierra Leoneans we “share deeply significant elements of a common heritage and [have] a common destiny for the future (to quote Robert S. Jordan again)”. Are the common Krio language and inter-marriages amongst the tribes not some of the unifying things for Sierra Leoneans generally? As Sierra Leoneans, we should look more at the things that bind us together and strive to build on them than pay heed to the things that show our individualities.