By Anthony Kamara, Winnipeg, Canada.
How the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) of Sir Milton and Sir Albert Margai missed the golden opportunity of uniting the people and regions of this country into “one country, one people”.
Anthony Karim Kamara Sr re-visits the politics of the SLPP since 1952.
As I write this article, I realise how much knowledge Sierra Leoneans will get from it. As a politically polarised nation without any pretence, polarised along ethnic lines as well as regional lines: not everybody may want to know about yesterday in Sierra Leone politics, but the fact is I have a moral duty to share with Sierra Leonean people what I have been able to exhume from my research on Sierra Leone politics, more so as the majority of Parliamentarians today are under age 50, and so there is no doubt that they know very little or nothing about Sierra Leone politics. This is the purpose of education. Knowledge becomes useless if we cannot share it with the ignorant masses.
There are very many who may describe me a Tribalist or even regionally biased. Now I want to affirm that I am a Temne and a Northerner, and if being a member of an ethnic group is tribalistic, then, I am just as tribalist like P.K Muana the Mende ‘Professor’ who told Maada Bio not to concede defeat, Lans Gberie, Sir Milton Margai, Sir Albert Margai, Maada Bio, John Benjamin, the defeated Tamba Charles of Pujehun and all Mende people are tribalists as are Limba, Sherbro, Kissi etc. What are we trying to conceal about tribalism? Are we only open about tribalism at election time when tempers openly flare up and friendships put aside? If we feel proud in being patriots, What’s wrong in being tribal? Our problems in Africa are all about loyalty to the tribe that everyone belongs to and there is no doubt about it as there is no way to conceal this fact. So I am a tribalist just like the examples I have mentioned above. Sierra Leoneans do not have to pretend to be otherwise, as everyone is tribalistic. The Krio is tribalistic, just like the Fulla, Limba, Sherbro, the Kono etc. Any man not proud of belonging to a tribe, when in fact he belongs to one has to have his head examined by a competent psychiatrist. Why are marriages between regions so uncommon especially between the Major ethnic groups? Because there is too much antipathy and acrimony on both sides: and until we change our thinking if we can, towards one another irrespective of the region of origin, this small nation will continue with the same old problems. Why are Northerners rejecting a Mende Bishop in Makeni? Because the Mende rejected the photo of President Koroma when mounted in the Bo clock tower five years ago and led to serious rioting and clashes which led the Mayor Wusu Sannoh, an old friend of mine at FBC being molested by police. We all saw the incident as provocation to display such a photo in the SLPP heartland. President Koroma is the nation’s President though and not President for Freetown or Makeni and his picture is found in all government offices in the country. Some of us agreed the photo display was at the time a deliberate provocative act by overzealous APC party faithfuls, and therefore led to serious violence and clashes by the SLPP especially after losing an election. Similarly, the Catholic bishops all Mende are trying to provoke Northerners with the imposition of a Mende Bishop in Makeni. Why do preachers of the Gospel not do what the Gospels say? “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”. Fr. Aruna’s choice is deliberate provocation of Northern Catholics. How can people be so myopic or even thick-headed in decision-making? Why would people expect Northerners to accept what they would never have accepted?
It was the tribalism of the founder of the SLPP Sir Milton Margai and his brother Sir Albert that has permanently polarised this nation at both ethnic and regional lines, and this forms the subject of this article. I have read much of the History of Sierra Leone Politics and got to share the results of my research findings. Sir Milton Margai unfortunately, founded the SLPP, but also became the bane of the same party. By the time readers have gone through this posting, they will realize the truth of the article.
So where did the our GOP go wrong about unity especially between the major ethnic groups in the country?
The story goes back to the early 1940s when a progressive Paramount Chief of Kaiyamba Chiefdom Moyamba District Julius Gulama, out of his own free will and in his ardent desire to unite the major ethnic groups of this nation, decided to give the hand of his eldest daughter Princess Ella Gulama to a very young and equally powerful and well educated Paramount chief of Lunsar in the Marampa Chiefdom, PC Bai Koblo Pathbana 11. Both PC Julius Gulama and Koblo had met at the former Protectorate Assembly in Bo and were both members of the Protectorate Educational Progressive Union PEPU later to merge with the Sierra Leone Organization Society (SOS) to give birth to today’s SLPP. This was undoubtedly a classic example of a honest and genuine attempt at national cohesion of the peoples of this nation. The marriage took place in Moyamba in 1944 and from that year until 1952 Madam Ella Koblo Gulama lived as chief Consort among the people of Lunsar. This union was blessed with four boys, Francis O’Bai , Dr Sokor , Didi and Sheku Kabia all born in Lunsar and three others to follow in Moyamba. The couple were very loving and passionate about their relationship. What a grand union of chiefdoms Marampa / Kaiyamba and the major ethnic groups! Should this not have been an important step forward towards national cohesion? Madam Ella Koblo had a commanding knowledge of both Mendi her native tongue, Temne and Sherbro, three languages which she spoke interchangeably. PC Bai Koblo too was a fluent Mende Speaker as a result of his primary schooling days in the Bo School from where he went to attend St. Edward’s Secondary School in Freetown. Ella did not learn Temne in Lunsar, she went to Lunsar a fluent Temne speaker. All persons born and bred in Moyamba district to this day fluently speak up to four languages including the three mentioned. Moyamba district has been inhabited by Temne since the mid 19th century and because of the linguistic diversity, is generally described as Sierra Leone’s melting pot. There is even a Makeni street in Moyamba town just as there is a Mende street in Lunsar. But first the question is, How did the Temne come to settle in Moyamba district in substantial numbers?
In the early 1800s the Fulani, a pastoral ethnic group originally from the hills of Futa Jallon had spread all over west Africa notably in Northern Nigeria where they rose up against the native Hausa kings in a jihad under their immigrant leader Usuman dan Fodio, a Fulani of the Toronkawa clan. It was almost a simultaneous revolt by Fulani in all the states of the central Sudan. In Sierra Leone, the Fulani entered through the mountains of Falaba in Koinadugu defeating the Yalunka, forcing them to convert to Islam, but after a while the Yalunka reverted to their traditional religion. By the mid 1860s, a Fulani Mansa (Fula Mansa) invaded the Yoni country in today’s Tonkolili district and imposed himself as ruler. Many Temne of the Upper Yoni chiefdom would not submit to Fulla rule , and so fled to Banta country in what is today Moyamba between the Bagu and Jong rivers where they became known as the Mabanta Temne. Banta Chiefdom is in fact the birth place of both Sir Milton and Albert Margai. The Temne are found in substantial numbers in the entire district from Rotifunk to Moyamba and Taiama, but their main base is Banta Chiefdom. Many later returned to the North to settle but preferred not to return to Yoni where the Fula Mansa still ruled and founded their new settlement outside Makeni and named it Mbanta, a name by which they were identified while in exile in Moyamba an indication that they were returnees from Moyamba. Mbanta is today a small village just outside Makeni.
If this country was lucky to have just two other like minded Southern Paramount chiefs like PC Julius Gulama who could think beyond Mende ethnic or provincial lines, this country would not have been politically turned upside down as it is today. Julius Gulama saw nothing wrong in living a life of peaceful co-existence with northern people and live as one family in this small nation of ours. But his Southern people did not share his thinking. Nor did he even suspect that there was silent opposition in giving the hand of his daughter to a Northern Temne Chief. The death of Chief Gulama and the coronation of his daughter in Moyamba seemed to provide the opportunity they had been looking for, to destroy the marriage: in this they were easily successful. There were now two Paramount chiefs, the husband and his spouse ruling two different chiefdoms in the North and South of the country, making occasional exchange visits. PC Koblo and PC Ella Koblo-Gulama never had a divorce but the bonds began to weaken due to distance and political interference by Sir Milton and later his brother Albert Margai. Sir Milton always gave the impression of a National father, but in fact he was the greatest saboteur of national unity and was a very sly political leader contrary to what this nation knew of the Father of the nation. By destroying this North / South marital union, Sir Milton lost a great opportunity to unite the North-West and South-East and also lost the recognition of a political father-law. PC Ella Koblo Gulama was a loving wife and never imagined the shape of things to come after the death of her father Chief Julius Gulama. Their marriage was therefore the greatest union to have taken place in Sierra Leone in the last 72 years. It was only after the breakdown of this union that Northerners came to understand the true meaning of ONE COUNTRY ONE PEOPLE. To Northerners, the motto means, One Country but with only one ethnic group to always lead politically.
Elections: In the 60 years of the SLPP’s existence, the party won clean only two Elections, the 1957 election because it was a fight between the only Protectorate party and the small Creole parties in Freetown. By the time of the election of 1962, the APC had been formed and was strong enough to challenge the SLPP leadership. The SLPP won narrowly without an absolute majority to easily pass laws. This slim majority led to inducements to APC members to start crossing Carpet which weakened the APC in parliament.
Then came the 1962 General Election, the first since Independence. The APC was barely two years old. But the Leader of the new APC Siaka Stevens was an old friend of both PC Bai Koblo and Madam Ella Koblo Gulama during his years of service at the SLDC (Delco ) mines in Lunsar. The SLPP won the Election but lost the 1962 election in Port Loko East which included the town of Lunsar, Chief Bai Koblo’s Headquarter town. Sir Milton blamed the SLPP’s loss on PC Bai Koblo whom he came to view as SLPP political enemy. The next thing the Prime Minister did was to trump up allegations of subversive activity, suspend from office and banish Chief Bai Koblo to a village in Pujehun for four years and was not allowed a visit from his family. Simultaneously, the wife Madam Ella Koblo Gulama was promoted Minister without Portfolio as if to console her for what Chief Koblo went through. When he was released, he was not allowed to set foot on his chiefdom in Lunsar and the chief had to stay for some years at his Howe street residence in Freetown. And did Chief Ella Koblo Gulama fight for the release of her estranged husband while in exile? Not in the records! Is this act friendly and a step in the right direction by Sir Milton’s SLPP towards national unity?
Sir Milton deliberately ruined the marriage of a famous Mende woman Paramount Chief with her Temne spouse, simply because he and his Southern tribesmen did not support it in the first place, and in this, they were successful. This negative ‘success’ destroyed any prospects or chances of ever bringing together the major ethnic groups as members of one national family.
The Gulama / Koblo union was aimed at national unity, but Southerners did not see it that way. To this day, the Mende man would prefer an immigrant Guinean Mandingo Marabout or Fulla migrant arriving with their mats to do marabout work, marrying his daughter or sister to giving her to a Temne man: and so too are the Temne. Today we see in the South-eastern regions, persons calling themselves, Mende-Mandingo, Mende-Fulla, Mende-Sussu, but never Temne-Mende. In all Mende districts, the Temne have always lived with Temne wives. Sierra Leoneans often take pride in branding themselves as children of immigrant fathers. One wonders what made them roll their marabout mats to travel to this country.
The birth of the PNP: Again after the May 19, 1957 parliamentary Party caucus in which Albert Margai defeated his brother for the party leadership, but prevailed upon by party elders to give up out of respect for the older Margai, his friend Siaka Stevens persuaded him to quit the SLPP to form his own party. This he did and took with him many of the young men of the SLPP. But the Peoples’ National Party’s (PNP) first Executive, like the SLPP which he quit, was an almost all Mende affair. This executive included the following: Albert Margai (Mende) Leader, Siaka Stevens (Limba) Union organizer and General Secretary, Maigore Kallon (Mende) Organizing Secretary, S.T Navo (Mende), H.I.Kamara (Temne), M.S Turay (Mende), T.J. Ganda (Mende), Gershon Collier (Creole), Berthan Macauley (Creole), Dr Claude Nelson-Williams (Creole Doctor),Abu Aiah Koroma (Kono), Ken During (Creole), A.J. Massally (Mende). The most conspicuous weakness of this executive in ethnic terms, was the lack of Northerners. It had only two, a Limba Siaka Stevens and one Temne H.I Kamara. Like the SLPP before it, the PNP feared a large number of Northern membership in the executive. But this party was to dissolve itself and return to the SLPP in 1960 on the eve of the London Constitutional talks for Independence. Siaka Stevens never went back to the SLPP, and instead formed his own APC drawn mainly from Northerners, which was to give serious headache to the SLPP. The PNP like the SLPP before it was a predominantly Mende led party and its dissolution and return of Albert Margai to the old SLPP was seen as an act of betrayal by a former political ally. This was the genesis of the political malice between Albert and Stevens and was to go on till the 1962 Election.
PC Bai Koblo was only the first victim of banishment by Sir Milton’s SLPP. In October1962 the APC chose as a candidate in the Freetown City council elections the Bassa Tribal Headman in Freetown, J.T. Reffel. On October 16, Sir Milton’s government revoked its recognition of Reffel as Tribal headman, a post he held since 1957. On October 30, it ordered him deported to Liberia, alleging that he was a citizen of that country. (Daily Mail October 18,1962). Is this act considered friendly and positive step towards achieving National cohesion?
In early 1963 Paramount Chief Mbriwa of Kono, the deposed Sierra Leone People’s Independence Movement (SLPIM) leader, was banished to Kamakwie in Bombali District after a commission of Inquiry had found him guilty of holding meetings in other chiefdoms without the permission of the paramount chiefs concerned. Is this also a positive step to achieving national unity?
Several prominent APC members were banished in the same period: for instance a businessman from Magburaka Abu Larkoh was banished to a village in Eastern province after Sanfa Adams a hotel proprietor had reported him to Sir Milton for anti-SLPP activities in Magburaka: next a whole family in Kambia district Yolla Bangura of Samu chiefdom opposed to the rule of PC Yumkella (Daily Mail January 1,1963) were banished at the instigation of the chief amidst allegations that so long as Yola Bangura was around there would always be unrest in Samu. Yola Bangura has never recognized the legitimacy of the Yumkella-Suma right to chieftaincy in any way. Is this a fitting way to treat family members of the same “One country, One people” just for supporting another party?
Next, by the Public Order Act of 1965, the APC was already severely handicapped in its attempts to reach the electorate and an amendment to it in 1966. Under the 1965 Act, each Paramount Chief had the absolute discretion to allow or forbid any meeting of twelve or more persons within his chiefdom. An amendment to it in 1966 gave the Prime Minister the power to proclaim for a three month period the right of police officers to disperse or threatening a breach of peace. Such provisions could be used to prevent any overt activity by the opposition party.
In January 1967, the government served a sharp warning to the Northern Paramount Chiefs, some of whom were becoming apprehensive about their positions if they failed to swing over to the APC. The SLPP member of Koinadugu North Alusine H. Kande, held a meeting in the chiefdom of his father-jn-law, Paramount Chief Gbawuru Mansaray. As a result of the meeting, an argument arose between the two men, the result of which was a summons to the chief to attend the District Officer’s headquarters. Several hundreds of the chief’s people accompanied him, and when the D.O. insisted on seeing the chief alone, the people began to stone the office. The government promptly suspended the chief, and few weeks later, deposed and banished him to a village in Kailahun. It was generally believed that the chief had been pro-APC and that this deposition was to be an object lesson for any other chiefs who might be tempted to resist the government in any way.
In February, Sir Albert told a crowd at a meeting in Bonthe that all those wishing to vote APC, must “go back to the North, the land of the Timenees”. Can all this lead to national unity?
The 1967 General Election: The defeat of the SLPP was imminent, The governing party lost without even winning any single seat in the Western Area and the North. In short the SLPP lost the Election but Sir Albert did not concede. As the Governor-General was about to swear in Stevens, his army chief, Brigadier David Lansana who doubled as brother-law to the PM (Lansana was the elder brother of Lady Esther Margai, nee Lansana) decided to interrupt the swearing in ceremony , staged a military coup and detained Siaka Stevens. This incident could have led to the first civil war in this country. Fortunately two days later, Lansana was in turn overthrown by Sergeant Emadu Rogers and Col. Joseph Francis Blake from Bonthe to prevent the possibility of a civil war and the ‘Marshall Law Brigadier found himself at the Pademba prison. These two officers came to be seen as the traitors of the Mende people and Lansana was later executed when Siaka Stevens later came to power.
Banishment, suspension from office and deposition were the SLPP methods of terrorizing its political opponents during the two Margai administrations. But no single Mende or southern Paramount chief or politician is ever on record to have suffered this sort of internal deportation and humiliation as punishment from the SLPP. I keep asking, Is this another positive step towards national unity?
If Sir Milton had played well his game of politics, there would have been no APC today. The Mende man has never compromised their dislike of Northerners. Northerners have always made an effort to effect marital unions across regional boundaries to ensure the peace and stability of this nation. President Ernest Koroma is another example of a national Leader to choose to go all the way to Kono District to get a wife leaving all the belles in the North as an example for others to emulate. Presdent Koroma’s wife is the daughter of an open opponent of the APC who in fact went on to form his own political party the Democratic Centre Party (DCP) which contested the election of 2002 but lost. In spite of this, President Koroma married the woman of her heart in Sia Nyama Koroma regardless of the political opposition of his father-law. President Koroma has thus cemented a political and marital union between Kono and Temne people. When will this nation see a prominent Southerner or Easterner coming for a wife in Northern Sierra Leone?
Until this anti-North mentality changes in Southern and Eastern Sierra Leone in particular, the SLPP will remain a permanent opposition in this country. What SLPP leaders did not suspect up till now, was that Sir Milton Margai intended the SLPP to be a family party made up of his tribesmen from Moyamba District and the party leadership was to pass from one Margai to another, that is, from Sir Milton, to Sir Albert, and then to Charles Margai and Charles’ son if he has any. For leadership to go to the Far East in Kailahun, a district like the two Margai administrations had always neglected is a stab in the back of the Margai family. This explains why Charles Margai refused to work with today’s SLPP.
The fear and Northern hatred came to a peak with President Tejan Kabba’s execution of 29 Sierra Leoneans including 23 Northerners under the watchful eyes of Maada Bio, was meant to scare Northerners to keep off the politics of this country. In this they misjudged the situation as Northerners and APC are ever more determined to wrest power from the SLPP, and this they have done winning not only the North-Western areas as was in 1967, but were also able to penetrate the SLPP ancestral regions of Southern and Eastern Sierra Leone.
Final question: did the SLPP do a good job to bring about true national unity of the peoples of this nation?
In conclusion, I call upon the political leaders of this country to organize a debate on these thorny and divisive issues of tribalism and regionalism. Why Mende women are never encouraged to marry Northerners, instead are given to migrant Guinean Marabout men, why the Fulla refused to integrate, and like the Mende, refused to marry from other ethnic groups other than theirs. Marital unions weaken hatred and malice, and greatly diminish the violence we have been seeing since 1967, then 1992 and 2012 during political campaigns. I also challenge a prominent South-Eastern politician to go and look for a wife from the North, and emulate President Ernest Koroma. Trust me President Koroma will only be too welcoming to help those hard core Southern politicians get wives from anywhere in Northern Sierra Leone. Northerners have made two efforts to marry across borders, but the first was destroyed by the enemies of progress. Today they are all dead and leave behind permanent hate among the one country and one people of this sweet nation.
Thanks for your patience.