Looking at Sierra Leonean faces daily; I believe that the hope of every one of them is that we move forward with economic development and progress. It may have taken us quite a long time but I still believe that the glorious and peaceful future would come some day.
As a Christian and a former history student, I want to dilate on threats of tribalism and the backward movement.
If we read the Bible, the book of Joshua, we will see how Joshua as the leader of the Israelites made their onward journey for the ‘Promised Land’, the land flowing with milk and honey, and how they came up against the walls of Jericho.
These walls stood between them and the land they all wanted to reach and possess. If we compare Sierra Leone with Israel, we will see that our country is up against a wall, but in our own case, it is not the walls of another country, but it is the walls that we have created. We are that wall, the obstacle between us and the dreams we hope to achieve.
The wall we created is not made of concrete structure, neither is it a physical thing but it is also not intangible. It is real and it can be perceived and felt. We feel it everyday just as the scars of the Berlin wall to the Germans. It is a wall in our coconut heads.
It is distasteful and we should not wish for anything like that but it is a point worth noting.
The Berlin wall kept East and West Germany apart and for us the feeling of a wall in our heads may not keep us at bay, but can cause us to return where we are coming from in the nineties.
We like talking of being one nation and one people. That is correct, but events that unfold at times particularly this period, prove that though we might have made some progress we haven’t fully attained that status yet.
It is now absolutely correct for me to say that the venomous tribal sentiments today have shocked thousands of people. We were hoping for a country free of tribalism and ethnocentrism that we blamed in the previous government, but the president himself started it and all others followed to the point that even petty things like student scholarships and grants became political tools.
Speech is often said to be silver and silence golden, but with our president’s silence on the above mentioned issue, in my opinion will never be golden, but will be a disaster in the coming years. The Civil Society groups that should speak out either have joined the band wagon or afraid to speak. But those who will stand up for the truth will definitely be extolled by us.
The agitation will not cease nor will it calm because serious damages have already been done and some unhealthy notions formed. Some people have had to shelve their investment plans because of this issue. Some also have been made to think twice of calling Sierra Leone home. Others have had to change their minds about making certain business agreements just because of this agitation and the inter-tribal tensions and suspicions that it generated. I am not merely hypothesizing.
Our churches, schools, the media and other civil society groups need to do more by way of getting us enlightened on the dangers of such divisions as against the benefits of having mutual respect for each other out of a spirit of love and oneness and not as a mere formality.
Divisions that caused us to view ourselves as enemies are far from good. The consequences of the just concluded civil war were dire. I even don’t want to talk about it. We even have enough examples in Africa – the Biafra War in Nigeria had some inter-tribal under currents, the Ivorian war and the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda. These are all telling effects for us to refrain from such a dangerous path.
The ramifications of the 11 year old war and the loss of lives in our dear country are clear to all of us, the destruction of both private and public structures, and the poisoned atmosphere that affects the proper growth and development of individuals and businesses in the country. Thus I doubt if anybody in his right senses would want a repeat of the 11 year old war
Sierra Leone as a nation may be far from disintegration but it is still a fabric of 12 patches stitched together. And until we become one seamless garment we will neither have real beauty nor a developed country.
As a nation we stand together in the Promised Land. But between us and that promise, between us and our goal, between us and glory, between us and prosperity stands a wall. A wall of tribalism, a wall of petty politics and a wall of corruption and wrong economic policies and until that imaginary wall is demolished, we will continue to suffer.
We should try to break down that wall of tribal and political differences. Let’s come together and avoid tribalism and ethnocentrism as well as divisive politics. We should let the walls fall because until those walls come down, we can never make the onward march to glory.
A lot of times, tribalism and ethnocentrism have been used interchangeably to convey the same thoughts and opinions. As our society is multi-ethnic and members of perceived minority groups reach positions of power and influence, tribalism is becoming the predominant form of subtle oppression of ‘ethnic minority in the country.
Tribal and ethnic issues are so fundamental in our society that they seem almost an integral component. This seems to have come up even more clearly in the run up to the 2007 general election. And even though we know that tribalism has always been there, the level to which the Sierra Leonean community had fallen prey to it was and is still amazing.
It is becoming a common phenomenon for some myopic thinking Sierra Leoneans to behave as if ethnic differences produce inherent superiority in people of some specific ethnic group. In fact, such individuals respond to other Sierra Leoneans differently merely because of ethnicity.
Individual tribalism occurs in our day-to-day activities at informal level. This tendency is exhibited in daily conversations, jokes, and how we routinely relate to one another. At this level, the tribal behaviour may be conscious or unconscious. The idea however, is to demean or lower one ethnic group in order to raise the profile of the one the ethnocentric belong.
An ethnocentric tendency at this level is implicit in behaviour and can be identified by certain behavioral signs. This often is done in very subtle ways. For example, the belief that some ethnic groups are more adept in particular jobs or tasks, and the belief in differences in intelligence among certain ethnic groups. The Education Minister’s belief that we should belong to the northern tribes and the ruling party before students will be given scholarships or government grants. Ethnocentric show condescending attitudes towards members of other ethnic groups.
This government exhibits this tendency openly by sacking and replacing government workers who belong to other regions and tribes. They show favour by treating the people they have employed as members of a ‘superior’ ethnic group. These ‘employees’ openly condemn the culture of their ethnic group as backward and shower praises on the members of the other ethnic group.
I do hope that after two years of such tribal and ethnocentrism politics, they will see reason to change their ideas and work for a better Sierra Leone.
By Austin Thomas