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“Politics Of Ethnicity”


“Politics Of Ethnicity”

By Sorie Fofana.

(First published on 16th May, 2012)

By 1983, Siaka Stevens had started showing signs of tiredness. The stress and strains of high office were beginning to take their toll on his health. He embarked on a series of consultations on a possible successor when he shall have stepped down from State House. It was very clear, from all indications that, Siaka Stevens never wanted his Vice President, S.I. Koroma to succeed him. Siaka Stevens’ fear was that, SI (as he was fondly called) would never adequately protect him in retirement.

Siaka Stevens was a Mende who hailed from the South of the country. Even though he portrayed himself as a Limba, Siaka Stevens never spoke a word of Limba. It was C.A. Kamara-Taylor who encouraged Siaka Stevens to adopt Tonko Limba in the Kambia district as his political base. The Limbas enthusiastically embraced Siaka Stevens as one of them.

S.I. Koroma, on the other hand, was a Madingo but he never spoke a word of it. He portrayed himself as a Temne and adopted Port Loko as his political base. The Temnes considered S.I. Koroma as their leader.

Someone stated recently in a written article that the Temnes do not follow political parties, they follow political leaders. We saw that in the case of Thaimu Bangura who, in 1996, was seen as the leader of the Temnes. His PDP (Sorbeh) Party was, more or less a rallying point for Temnes.

Fatal Mistake

S.I. Koroma made the greatest mistake of his political life when, for the first time in his political career, he declared openly in the Madingo town of Karina, in the Biriwa Chiefdom, Bombali district that he was a Madingo. That open declaration stunned even the Temne political elites within the APC.

S.I. had gone to Karina to attend the Forthtieth Day ceremony of the uncle of the late Jamil Sahid Mohamed in his capacity as Acting President. Siaka Stevens was out of the country attending an international conference. When he returned from overseas, Siaka Stevens broadened his consultation on a possible successor by even consulting S.I. Koroma to nominate someone that would succeed him (Siaka Stevens) as President of Sierra Leone.

Joseph Saidu Momoh, a Limba from Biriwa Chiefdom was shockingly hand-picked by Siaka Stevens as his successor. Momoh surrounded himself with a coterie of his tribe’s men who succeeded in convincing him to be his own man and stop consulting or even taking advice from Siaka Stevens, who had, by then fallen ill. Siaka Stevens died a very frustrated and bitter man. It has to be said that, even up to date, people are still arguing over Siaka Stevens’ true ethnicity.

Tejan Kabbah

When Ahmad Tejan Kabbah contested for the flag bearership of the SLPP in 1995, controversy erupted over his true ethnicity. Many people thought that Kabbah is a Susu, Madingo, Creole and others even said that Kabbah is a Mende. Kabbah never made any open declaration about his true ethnicity. He left people to continue to guess, as to what his actual tribe was.

Pres. Kabbah

Pres. Kabbah

I know for a fact that, Kabbah speaks Susu and Mende fluently than Madingo, even though he is a Madingo. When Kabbah was seeking re-election in 2002, I was almost always with him during his campaign tours across the country. I remember that when he went to campaign at Lungi, in the Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom, he spoke in Susu throughout. I asked him why he chose to address his audience in Susu and Kabbah said it was because it was a Susu dominated settlement.

At the Gondama Displaced Camp in Bo, Kabbah spoke in Mende. In Manjoro, he greeted his audience in Madingo but addressed them in Krio.

Whenever Tejan Kabbah met with the ailing Guinean strongman, Lansana Conte they spoke in Susu. Conte was a Susu. Kabbah never openly said that he is a Madingo. He thought that as President he could not promote the interest of a smaller tribe (Madingo) over the interests of bigger tribes like Temne and Mende.

Ernest Koroma

I woke up one morning to the stunning news that President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma had openly declared at the Miatta Conference Centre that he is a Loko. I couldn’t believe what I heard until I read it in the “Torchlight” Newspaper, a State House/APC mouthpiece. I thought that was a monumental blunder by the President.

along, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma had been known across this country as a Temne leader. The Temnes decided to support him in 2007 because they thought he was one of them.

President Koroma

President Koroma

Very recently, a prominent Temne traditional leader, Chief Somano Kapen of the SLPP granted a newspaper interview in which he noted that President Koroma rode on the back of Temnes to State House because he had portrayed himself as one of them. He said the Temnes have realized that they were used in 2007 for selfish reasons. According to him, the APC of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma does not recognize Temnes because the current Cabinet is dominated by Limbas and Lokos.

Way Forward

The UDM Chairman/Leader, Mohamed Bangura (himself a Temne and a Presidential candidate) recently embarked on a damage control exercise by stating on radio/TV that the President’s statement at Miatta Conference Centre “was merely a political statement”.

I think the President should identify some prominent Temnes, especially traditional leaders and send them out to the Temnes, stating clearly that his statement at Miatta Conference Center was merely to appease the Lokos. In that way, the Temnes (or at least some of them) will realize that the President was merely   playing politics. Until that is done, the Temnes will not easily forgive the President and some of them will decide to punish him in the ballot box in November 2012.

Temne is the largest tribe in Sierra Leone. No leader or politician can afford to hurt them (Temnes) this way, especially in an election year, and expect to get away with it.

As the Father of the Nation, President Koroma should avoid promoting the interest of one tribe above other tribes especially, in an election year.

One of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s pen merchants recently asked. “After all, what is in a tribe?”

We shall see what is in a tribe on 17th November, 2012.

Thank you so very much!


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