By Yanguba Kai-Samba
The hard thing to say: Mendes and Temenes are losing out in Sierra Leone because they are fighting each other for political dominance more than other tribes.
This opinion is by no means intended to accuse any tribe of tribalism, but we in Europe and America as well as other none- predominantly black race countries, we discuss racism and it is a current pandemic topical issue across the world.
In Africa, ethnicity and tribalism is the comparator of racism we experience in Europe.
So today, I offer my very first opinion on Sierra Leone– vis a vis the changing political and economic dynamics in contemporary Sierra Leone. The aim is to provoke a wider and honest discussion without raucous or prejudice.
I would like to start with the proposition that Sierra Leoneans are not tribalistic but there is political tribalism.
This is when politicians from different ethnic groups exploits their tribal and clans associations to further their aims.
The Mendes and Temenes makes the loudest noises in politics and side by side they claim ownership of SLPP and APC respectively.
But these two largest tribes have been systemically losing out to other tribes in terms of political leadership, power and commerce.
No true mende man, to borrow that phrase from the first lady Fatima Jabbi -Bio, who said that she believe that every true Sierra Leoneans is SLPP, has prospered in the political leadership and commerce in Sierra Leone. Her husband, Bio, is not a mende but a Sherbro. She is a tribe on Sierra Leone.But whatever he does wrong, it is the mendes who are blamed.
Likewise, no true Temene man has also prospered in the political leadership and commerce of Sierra Leone. S I Koroma was half mandingo and half Temene. For years,he gave the impression that he was a temene, protecting and advancing the interests of his people. What he did wrong was blamed on the Temene people.
Both these tribes are losing out to the other tribes ,who like all other tribes, have at some historical times, migrated from somewhere else to settled in Sierra Leone. I stand to be corrected on this.
But it goes without saying that the Fullas, who traditionally concentrated on commerce have now extended their influence in national politics.
Few may be surprised to hear that beside commerce, the people of fulla descents have been controling immigration for a very long time, since president Siaka Stevens appointed Frank Jalloh as chief immigration officer.
Frank Jalloh organised massive human trafficking of Guineans in to Sierra Leone to dig diamond for him.
He rented the back house from my paternal aunt, who raised me up in Kenema.
Frank trafficked these Guineans in batches of dozens. They arrived on a weekly basis and he used my aunt’s house as a staging post to take them to the diamond towns of Kono. He was deeply involved in mining as the chief immigration officer. He had an agent, also a Guinean, who lived in one of the room in the house ,but he himself travelled from Freetown frequently to visit the newly arrived who were lodged in my aunt’s house.
Those in Kono, again I borrow the frist lady’s phrase–true Konos, should tell us if they have prospered in commerce and politics, let alone from their diamonds.
In Sierra Leone today, political parties fall over themselves chasing the strong fula ethic votes. So much so that the two major parties , APC and SLPP simultaneously adopted a member of the fula community as their vice presidential candidates. Previous to that ,Charles Margai PMDC running mate was Tejan Jalloh.
The fullas are also strong in the judiciary.Umu Tejan Jalloh, a fula was appointed chief justice, by president koroma. The current chief justice ,is of a fula descent, I believe. The only mende man who has held the position of chief justice was justice S M F Kutubu from Pendembu .
President Stevens first offered that position to my late brother K I Kai-Samba RIP,who was the first qualified barrister in Eastern province, with S M F Kutubu been the second. K I declined because accepting the position of chief justice, he was faced with painful moral and ethical dilemma of supervising the treason trial of his friends : Sorie Fofana and Tagi who were going to be hanged.
Again, to borrow our first lady’s phrase of truism
, K I Kai-Samba was not a true mende. His mother was a mandingo.
Again to borrow our first lady’s phrase , I don’t fit in to her perception of truism or absolutism. I am not a true mende. I only became a mende and call myself a Sierra Leonean because of one mandingo man, who had crossed over ,apparently illegally, from Kanka –Guinea to Sierra Leone over centuries ago and settled in Mobai–Kailahun district.
My mother , hasn’t got a single mende vein, but she call herself a mende.Her albino mother was from the gola tribes in Liberia, brought to Sierra Leone by her paramount chief father, who descended from the mandingo tribe in Guinea.
Today, those who call themselves mendes couldn’t fit in to the perception of truism or absolutism, according to our first lady, because the mendes have been infiltrated through marriages by mandingos and other tribes for century.
Like the fulas, mandingos are traders ,in the context of Sierra Leone, like the fulas,they are also miners.
The richest people in my own home town kenema are fulas and mandingos. In fact I can go as far as saying that the richest man in Kenema is a fula, who I met during my campaign for the chieftaincy. He donated to my campaign.
The minister for energy, Kanja Sesay, has benefited enormously in Sierra Leone politics. 10 years as the blue eye boy of president Kabba , now championing the course of paopanism ,the mandingo community recently elected him as their national chief and presented him to president Bio at statehouse.
In the mende south , there is no elected mende tribal chief at a national level so is the Temene. They have chiefdom paramount chiefs but no elected person as chief for the whole of the mendes and Temenes at national level.
Kanja has become so powerful and influential because of his stature in the paopa administration that all three of his brothers from the same mother, are holding highly paid positions in the paopa Bio administration.
Alpha Wurrie is a fulla who has prospered in politics and power. Like Kanja Sesay, Alpha Wurrie was the blue eye boy in the Kabba administration. 11 years as education minister, he is now the paopa health minister.
It is time for those who consider themselves as true mende and true Temene,to borrow Fatima’s phrase to tell us what leverage they have in the emerging power dynamics and economic structure in Sierra Leone.
Hard Truth:Mendes and Temenes,the 2 largest tribes makes the most noises in politics.But they have lost out. Mende or Temene don’t prosper in commerce and politics.