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Elite Psychological Manipulation & Masses Psychological Manipulators

April 16, 2015 By Oswald Hanciles

He who underestimates his enemy is sure to be caught by him” – Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’

Using a different title for reason of literary variety, I continue here with my thesis on what I have dubbed as ‘The Missing Ingredient’ (I postulate that the lack of emotional discipline among especially Africa’s governing elite is largely responsible for the poverty of the majority of Africans, in spite of Africa’s God-endowed natural wealth). From 1957 to the present, the elite of Sierra Leone would always use ‘Psychological Manipulation’ (Psych-Mani) to gain power.  And the masses would ‘counter-use’ Psych-Mani. What is ‘Psychological Manipulation’ (Psych-Mani)?

What is Psychological Manipulation (Psych-Mani)?

Psych-Mani is a type of social or political influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded or deceptive tactics. The manipulator may appear to be seeking the interests of his ‘victim’ – but, in reality, he would be merely using deception to advance his own interest. In the ‘democracy game’ that we have been playing on and off in Sierra Leone for about six decades, Psych-Mani would be openly done on radio and TV, and intensely, in face-to-face meetings all over the country; put that ‘Psych-Mani’ in context, and we have ‘Political Propaganda’.

Sierra Leone’s Most Potent ‘Political Psychological Manipulation’ Strategy

For the ‘governing elite’ in Sierra Leone the Psych-Mani strategy that has been constant – and most potent!! – in acquiring  political power especially at the center…..has been the use of the ethnic/regional ‘weapon’. For non-Sierra Leoneans, or, ‘babies’, reading this piece, that preceding sentence means this: Sierra Leone has been for six decades sharply divided between the South/East region (comprising of the 30% Mendes, and the about 50% of Mende-speaking people) and the North/West region (which is about 30% of Temnes, and about 50% of Temne-speaking people [And, Krio speakers]). Whenever there would be competitive national elections the country would be heavily polarized between South/East and North/West. The characters of the candidates of political parties; the track record of political parties; the logic of their programmes…..would only matter to about an estimate 10% of the electorate, almost entirely in Freetown. Covertly, or, flagrantly, the political logic that would be disseminated to, and inculcated into, voters….would be like this: ‘Vote for the SLPP, it is ‘our party’, our ‘tokpoi’ (read: “The Mende Party”) so that we would prevent the ‘Temne Party (the APC) from taking power from us’ (Or, getting into power). Or, ‘Ousai Owai….!! Vote for the APC, to prevent the Mende Man from getting into power’. That is all a Big Lie!!. The truth is ‘our party’ really means ‘a very few people from an ethnic/regional block’ creaming off the bulk of the wealth.

Once a party (or, ethnic/regional bloc) gets into power, they could give out the majority of the top government jobs to members of their party (and, ethnic/regional bloc) – and, even some lower level jobs like drivers, messengers. In reality, how many of such jobs? 200…? 500? 1,000? At today’s figures, there are about 6,000,000 people in Sierra Leone. If half of them are Mende-speaking or Temne-speaking, that means if there is bias in one ethnic/region getting the jobs (or, the contracts; or, the scholarships)…it means about 1,000 jobs for the about 3 million people in one ethnic/regional bloc!! There is really not much a government can do to direct disproportionate number of roads, agriculture centers, water works to one ethnic/regional bloc – without a howl of protest from the international community. Once power is gained by one party/ethnic/regional bloc, the predatory mindset of the governing elite sets in – what is now famously known as “corruption”. Even if top political positions in the public sector are dominated by one party/ethnic/regional bloc, the next tier of the governing elite would be equitably distributed – or, would be almost impossible to significantly change. Thus, the ‘governing elite’ between both ethnic/regional blocs in the public sector would almost always collaborate to fleece the country, and, do just as much work as is necessary for the ship of state not to sink, and for them to sustain their personal enrichment spree. There is now a tacit ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the two regional/ethnic blocs that whatever ill-gotten wealth is got should not be touched by a succeeding government. (When aberrant military governments would confiscate stolen government money, it would be returned to their ‘rightful owners’ by civilian governments). To history!! To see thread of emotionalism in our politics.

Sir Albert Margai’s Emotionalism Leading to the ‘First SLPP’ losing Power

Sir Albert Margai was one of the classical cases of an egoistical leader who burned his bridges, and lost power – even when the cards were stacked in his favour. As the first non-Krio lawyer (or, ‘provincial’), Sir Albert’s confidence bordered on sheer conceit. Sir Albert was erudite, and, importantly, resonant. With a huge bald head, bull neck, he was your typical African chief – commanding instant attention, even awe. Between 1964 and 1967 when he took over the reins of the Prime Minister position, Sir Albert Margai energized the developmental situation in the country, apparently, aiming to compete with the Ivory Coast to transform Sierra Leone into an agriculture export giant in the world. The Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB) became ubiquitous in the agriculture districts of the South/East especially, with new cash crop plantations sprouting in nearly all districts, and, produce-buying stations everywhere. Between 1964 and 1966, new airports were constructed in Bonthe Town and Gbangbatoke village; and, water treatment plant in Bonthe Town. That tremendously boosted his fortunes in the South/East stronghold of the SLPP – as he stoked hopes of a new age of prosperity.

Lack of Emotional Control by the SLPP’s Sir Albert Margai

According to authoritative IMF sources, the GDP per capita of Sierra Leone rose from $147 in 1960 to $156 in 1966 (in the same period, Nigeria’s GDP per capita was $91 in 1960 and $122 in 1966). The shops in Freetown were overflowing with quality imported goods from overseas; and department stores like P.Z. and Kingsway would be daily jam-packed with the new elite. The ‘boom economic age’ of Freetown was not in doubt, as daily, there were hordes of immigrants from Guinea, Nigeria, and as far away as Pakistan and India – ready to do any menial work, or, teaching job, to earn the powerful Leone, whose value was at par with the British pound. Sir Albert became an African luminary!! After the first OAU summit in Ghana, Sir Albert earned the sobriquet ‘Albert Margai of Africa’ – because of his resonance and erudition.

But, then, Sir Albert was egoistical – polarizing his SLPP into rigid groups of ‘Those for Sir Albert’ and ‘Those against Sir Albert’. Using the logic of NEGATIVE TRIBALISM, Sir Albert angered the elite of the Krio minority by speedy promotion of Mende elite like Peter Tucker, violating the laws of the ‘conveyor belt system’ of the civil service when Peter Tucker was made head of the civil service at age 39.

Sir Albert did not read the writing on the wall when the SLPP lost all the seats in the Freetown municipality election of 1966. He disdained the heckling he received as his Cadillac limousine would cruise the city of Freetown. Sir Albert, reacted strongly to those who opposed him, and those who he felt would be strong opposition to him. That was how he influenced the SLPP not to give party symbols to three popular politicians in the South/East – Kai-Samba, F.S. Anthony, L.A.M. Briwah, and Prince William during the 1967 elections… All four contested the elections as independent candidates. All three won!!. All three were the decisive factor that gave the APC a slight victory over the SLPP in the 1967 elections. Sierra Leone’s political history would have been radically different if Albert Margai had bottled his emotions, and recognized the leadership ability of those four men in constituencies in their districts. The Siaka Stevens-led APC successfully used the ‘emotions weapon’ against Sir Albert Margai, demonizing him, or, making him into a derisive character in Freetown (from ‘Akpata to Akata’).

‘U borbor dae counter psychological manipulation’

How have the ‘masses’ learned to ‘counter psychologically manipulate’ the ‘governing elite’ of Sierra Leone? In his book, Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation’ (2004 —ISBN 0-07-144672-9), clinical psychologist, Harriet Braiker, identifies the following basic ways that manipulators control their victims: It is called Positive Reinforcement: This includes praise, superficial charm, superficial sympathy; facial expression such as forced laugh or smile….. Such antics of manipulators is not restricted to youths hailing a president, or, politician, with shouts of ‘you borbor dae o’…’…The Pa nar Messiah…’.; but, the forced laugh or smile is typical of ministers, directors, etc…when they are with a president.

The Psych-Mani strategy – which de-emphasizes efficiency and productivity – would lead a country inexorably towards the implosion of its economy, disillusionment of the majority, and civil war!!


For a governing party, the curative is to mitigate the use of Psych-Mani and the use of the ‘weapon’ of ethno/regionalism. That was the lesson of the Foday Sankoh-led rebel war. A government that wants to stay in power for 35 years like Lee Kwan Yew did in Singapore and forge sustainable prosperity should consciously strive to be inclusive (not semantically), and harness the best brains within the two major ethnic/regional blocs. There is need for DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION to identify, to nurture, to target development messages, and government inducement, to chiefdoms in every district of the country – in a form of continual dialogue; intense engagement between governors and the governed. Using my prescription of DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION, the political opposition that uses Psych-Mani as its main weapon would be caught off guard during elections. (Successive political opposition parties – from SLPP to APC to SLPP to APC again – would almost NEVER exercise intellectual rigor to present to the public alternative development options to government’s).

The sustainable political thrust the DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION plans I have presented to government is sure to lead to cheaper and nutritious food; quality housing; the best education; well-paying and secured jobs for the majority, Justice, peace, stability…. Using Psych-Mani to gain power, and sustain a party in power would be, relatively, transient. The alternative to my DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION option is…‘Foday Sankoh’.

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