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The Oswald Hanciles Column

June 2, 2020

“Africa is plagued with tribalism”: US-based Sierra Leonean lawyer, Sorie Tarawally,  writes  

You are so very right!! Tribalism is a “plague”. It is worse than the bubonic plague which ravaged Europe from the 14th century to the early 19th century – wiping out about half of the population of Europe then. The Rwanda-1994 genocide was merely the horrendous outburst of tribalism which is cancerous in Africa.  

I disdain intellectuals and politicians – that is the vast majority of Sierra Leone’s educated elite – who use the tribal card largely in their politics. I see tribalism – which is largely Political Tribalism – as a form of collective stunted psychological and sociological growth. Politicians are always blamed – rightfully – for inflaming tribal passions. But, the tribal logic resonates with the vast majority of youth to elderly Sierra Leoneans that is why they buy it. 

While I was media adviser to former President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House, I wrote a four-part serial titled “The Tribal Card: Not a Wise Option for Any Governing Party” in THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN. I argued the historicity and futility of political parties overplaying the tribal card. In US-based Sierra Leonean’s Bhaidawa Sesay’s Free Speech forum between 2014 and 2016, I argued increasingly against Political Tribalism.  My main antagonist was my avowed “2nd Best Friend”, Mohamed Dumbuya. (Now deceased). 

Mohamed Dumbuya’s continual taunting line against me was: that I was “sitting in the bosom of other tribes” and criticising them. That meant, as a Mende-speaking Southeasterner from Bonthe District, I was serving at one of the highest  position in the Northern Province/Temne-speaking dominated APC government, and I dared to be criticising the APC government’s use of its apparent principal political weapon: tribalism.  The APC’s loss of the 2018 presidential election vindicated me. I make the same warning to the Southeastern/Mende-speaking dominated SLPP as I did to the APC.  If the SLPP plays the tribal card to extremes it is doomed.  

I will later pore on the educative piece you have done on US racism today. Continue teaching us please.  

I still do not agree with your thesis that “tribalism is the replacement of racism”. Tribalism, especially within the Sierra Leonean context, is not often accompanied with overt ethnic/tribal jingoism sociologically. Or, overt Ethnic Supremacist tendencies as is being manifest in racist Supremacy by whites in the United States.  

We have Political Tribalism in Sierra Leone, NOT tribalism.  Sociologically and economically, the two major tribal groups/blocks, Mende-speaking Southeasterners and Temne-speaking-Northern-dominated-APC Northwest people… mingle easily, intermarry easily and  do business with each other without blinking. In all the major cities of the Southeast, probably 95% of traders of non-edibles are Temne-speaking Northwest people.  Most of the medical professionals I spoke with when I toured every Northern district in 2012 were Mende-speaking Southeasterners.  This ease of tribal mingling in Sierra Leone is not so in a country like Nigeria.  

I remember when I first went to Lagos Nigeria in 1990, I was taken to a naming ceremony by an Igbo.  The Chairman of the ceremony started speaking in the Igbo langauge.  Someone moved to him and whispered something in his ear. 

The Chairman then said in the English language: “I am sorry I started speaking in the Igbo language. I have just been reminded that we are in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, and there could be people here who don’t understand the Igbo language.  Those who are here who don’t understand the Igbo language please put your hands up”.

Out of the crowd of about 300 people in Lagos – which is dominated by Yoruba people – I was the only person who put up his hand. 

The Chairman told the person who had taken me there to be translating for me. He continued speaking in the Igbo language.  

With the exception of the relatively clannish Fullahs, it is unthinkable for such a scenario in Freetown – to have a naming ceremony with only Mende people attending; and speaking in the Mende language.  

It is Political Tribalism we have in Sierra Leone because it is a way of the two fiercely-competitive tribal/regional groups/blocks – the Mende-speaking Southeasterners and the Temne-speaking-Northerners  – having a competitive edge over the other for the best government jobs. Both tribal groups/blocks would use their gullible masses to support their largely selfish designs. 

Sorie Tarawally wrote: “Don’t rush to defend because you think your party (meaning the SLPP) is being accused of being tribalistic”.

Through unrelenting propaganda, maybe, with the heightened use of social media by Sierra Leoneans, the APC has apparently succeeded in stigmatizing the SLPP and Mende-speaking Southeasterners as being more tribalistic than the APC. That is an Orwellian Big Lie!!   To me, the APC government of former President Ernest Bai Koroma was more tribalistic than President Maada Bio’s SLPP. (I may come out with details later). The difference between the SLPP and APC is that their tribal block strongholds would react differently to tribal marginalization. 

The Mende-speaking Southeastern educated elite who were sacked, marginalized, suppressed in many public sector jobs suffered in SILENCE during the ten years of rule of former President Ernest Bai Koroma  – the Temne-speaking-Northern Province educated elite are daily screaming against every real or perceived marginalization or suppression in the public sector with President  Maada Bio in power.  This fundamental difference between the two major ethnic groups would call for solid psychological and sociological research  – of the Mende-speaking Southeastern people and the Temne-speaking-Northern-dominated-APC Northwest people.  

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