There has been a lot of talk about the existence of the Akutay Limba Friendly Association; and a lot of negative labels being stitched on the same Akutay over the years. I would therefore like to draw attention to what I would call the Akutay Factor. Akutay, as you may recall, is a Limba grouping, which was created under the leadership of the late President Siaka Probyn Stevens in the All Peoples Congress (APC) party back in the early 70s. The name itself translates in French as “Listen”; in Limba, it translates as “Have you Seen” or “Have you gotten“, or “Have you received”! But before I delve into the Akutay itself, let me first state that the Right to form Social Groupings that do not threaten the peace and security of a State is a fundamental right that must not be denied the people of any nation or democracy.
It is a right that must be enjoyed freely and unconditionally as long as it falls within the limits of the laws of the land. If this is so, I must therefore say that the existence of the Akutay as either a political or ethic grouping, dominated by the Limba tribe, should not be categorized as an act of tribalism; because, The fact of the matter is that, every ethnic group in this country was represented in the APC party and consequently in the AKUTAY at the time of its inception right through to the early 90s. Therefore, APC and AKUTAY were more or less like a marriage between a man and a woman, which usually cuts across political, ethnic and other considerations. But because Limba was the dominant tribe in the APC and the AKUTAY, it was very easy for people to see it as a Limba grouping; in much the same way as we see Tegloma as a mende grouping because the Mendes are dominant in its membership composition.
But then one would like to ask the question: Why would it always seem like a crime whenever the Limbas decide to come together to promote their social and or cultural heritage? Ironically, it is never viewed as a crime for the existence of groups like Tegloma – a predominantly Mende grouping; the Fula Progressive Union, which is predominantly Fula in composition; or the Kono Descendant Union, which is predominantly Kono in composition; or the Temne dominated Tamaraneh and Tawopaneh Unions; and many other ethnic groupings in Sierra Leone and in the Diaspora.
Many people today associate the name Akutay with tribalism, nepotism, favoritism and many other nomenclatures; in much the same way as they view Tegloma under the same lenses. And this is all as a result of the dictates of our politics. People blame the Akutay for many bad things that the APC did in this country. So, today, the name Akutay is said to have carried with it some kind of a stigma! But let us face the facts and say, what is stigmatizing about Akutay that is not equally stigmatizing about Tegloma which has existed and operated for over 40 years trying to uproot, first, the APC regime of President Stevens, and subsequently any other regime of the APC after Siaka Stevens? But the name Tegloma still remains melodious in the ears of many people while Akutay sounds irritating in the ears and minds of not only non-Limbas; but even to some Limba people.
The Mendes are very proud to belong to a vibrant group like Tegloma and they enjoy a sense of fulfillment for participating actively in promoting the ideals of this great organization. Why should the Limbas not feel the same? Those who are raising eyebrows and crying “Tribalism’ whenever the Limbas attempt to come together may probably have a reason that is strong and hidden; and part of that reason, by way of deductive reasoning, is that they see power and stability of purpose whenever the Limbas come together. They see steadfastness in an unshakable ethnic pillar. My emphasis on Tegloma as a group is done consciously and deliberately because I have witnessed their ability to make significant changes to our political dynamism. I have seen how committed and loyal they can be on matters that affect their Mende tribe and the region where they are known to have been very predominant. I therefore see no reason why Limbas should not do the same. We have 12 distinct groups within the Limba tribe and our history and heritage, like all other ethnic groups, is profoundly very rich. We are very peaceful and have the capacity to work with all other ethnic group; and do so with a clear conscience and a real sense of patriotism.
Let me therefore just say that the AKUTAY cannot apologize for wrong doings in its history anymore than the APC party has already done when, on behalf of that same APC, President Koroma, before he became president, apologized to everyone for all the wrong things that the APC did, or may have done, in the past. He also said he was going to run a new APC under a new leadership and with a new political mentality. The Akutay; and by association, the APC, did what they had to do in a political atmosphere that left them with no other option but to act tough and vigilant. Siaka Stevens, after rallying the nation in 1967, particularly the Limbas, as part of what one should do to win an election, and when he eventually won that very election, he was denied the opportunity to assume the mantle of power through a coup that was cleverly machinated by Sir Albert Margia and facilitated by then head of the army, Brigadier David Lansana, supported by then Captain Hinga Norman. Stevens, upon his return from exile in Guinea after Junior members of the Army took over power from David Lansana, decided to consolidate his hold unto power and had very little or no confidence in any electoral process. He therefore became very sensitive to any form of opposition, and would go the length and breathe of his authority to stop anyone from attempting to do what they did to him in 1967.
President Ernest Bai Koroma, with the maternal side of his family being Limba because his mom is Limba, is one of three people who have led this country and who have demonstrated the humility of the Limba people to apologize to this nation for wrongdoings. No other leader from any of the other ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, and around the world, has ever stood in front of his or her people and openly admitted that he or she has done wrong. The late Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, as President of Sierra Leone, did stand before Sierra Leoneans and admitted that “He has failed the nation”. Some described his admission as a weakness, while others see it as one of the most honourable things that a leader could do. Major Johnny Paul Koroma did the same and abandoned power for the peace of this nation. And now we have President Koroma, with the Limba attribute by virtue of his mom’s heritage, openly apologizing to all Sierra Leoneans on behalf of the APC of yester years. What amount of humility and honesty can equal to that? All three of them have Limba affiliation by birth. If this is not something that the Limbas should be proud of, then I don’t know what else they would be proud of! We are yet to see anyone apologize for the willful slaughter of prominent Limbas like James Bambay Kamara; Brigadier Hassan Conteh; Colonel SFY Koroma; Colonel Kahota Dumbuya and many others. If President Koroma promised to run a new APC and was able to convince the people of Sierra Leone to accept the new APC and vote him into office, I believe the same people must have nurtured the same acceptance of the Akutay, which is more or less a rubberstamp of the APC party.
As Limbas, we are not asking for favours or special treatment because we, like all other ethnic groups, have a right to exist as a tribe and to associate freely in pursuit of our cultural heritage and dynamism. We are only asking for a chance to do that which many other people from the other ethnic groups have done and continue to do in peace and solidarity without bashings and condemnations.
Akutay and the Politics of the Land:
Now, let me comment on the participation of the Limbas in the politics of the land. It was no mistake when the late Siaka Probyn Stevens decided to identify with, and rally the Limba people around him in pursuit of political power. He knew the Limbas were steadfast, unassuming, dedicated and loyal to any cause that they set their minds to pursue. From that moment on, the Limbas became associated with the All Peoples Congress Party. The Limbas saw the invitation into the APC as redemption and a clear signal for inclusion and an attempt by Siaka Stevens to showcase their relevance in grass root politics. So to this day, the Limbas are known as the most stable Constituents in the APC party. But this does not mean that the Limbas own the APC. It only meant that if everyone else is to leave the APC, the Limbas may probably be the only ones that would remain with it. This is the reason why when you ask a typical Limba man what political party he belongs to, he would simply say to you “I am a Limba”! Deductively, you would know he is telling you that you need not ask the question. As it is, the APC is to Limba people as Limba people are to the APC by virtue of the politics of association in Sierra Leone.
If this is true, considering all other factors, then the Limbas must have a stake in deciding who become their Leader and eventually the President of this country under the APC party. I think it is not fair for the Limbas to allow themselves to be seen as just mere participants or spectators in a political game that would not be won without their individual and collective endeavours. The politics of the 21st century can best be described as the politics of negotiation. One has to clearly know what is in it for him or her. Tegloma, as a viable Mende group, played a very active role in financing the return of the SLPP from exile after the Johnny Paul saga. They did so because they cared; and it was not criminal at all. They were not condemned as a result of that action; even though spurred and punctuated by their love for tribe and party. If the Limbas are so relevant in the APC, as every action has suggested over the years, they must be allowed to function freely and peacefully because if we lose them, we would have lost a very significant component of the APC party.
So by and large, the Limbas will not continue to sing and dance “Gbondoghali” and “Mathorman” during political campaigns; and at the end of the day they are still struggling to keep their children in colleges because they don’t have the means to pay for them! They will no longer continue to rally behind aspirants who only need them because of their loyalty to the APC party! They will no longer continue to be the Kingmakers while they are left to pick and chew the crumbs under the table at the end of the political dinner! It is not fair for them to continue to add value to any politics if that particular politics does not seem to recognize their individual and collective value as a group! They will no longer continue to follow blindly in the name of solidarity in a game where some players are selected not based on their merit but on their ability to play one another in a “Divide and Rule” game! They will no longer be silent over any neglect of their welfare as a group just because they are loyal and consistent!
They must send a very clear message that they have a right to exist as a people; as a tribe and as Kingmakers in the politics of this nation; and in the social and economic development of the Land that We all Love, Our Sierra Leone! The Limbas salute and embrace all other tribes and would like to say that the “New Akutay” is open and inclusive and nonviolent. Therefore, you are welcome to come and join!
Brima Michael Turay