Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A solid Traditional Institution

Paramount Chieftaincy in the Eastern region of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a small tropical country on the West Coast of Africa, surrounded by Guinea on the north, Liberia on the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. The country has a very long rainy season of seven months and the capital city, Freetown, is fondly called by Sierra Leoneans as the city of the “seven days rain,” where it can rain with very brief interruptions for an entire week. The country is very green as a result with luscious vegetation throughout the better part of any year. Sierra Leone is approximately 72000 square kilometers. The Northern part of the country is very rich Savannah like agricultural land, ideal for rice, fruit and palm cultivation. The Eastern and southern parts are more tropical and suited for tree crops such as Cocoa and Coffee. Approximately 45% of the country is located on Diamond rich land. The diamonds have been both a blessing and a curse. They have been a source of immense wealth for a few and a source of great instability, as they helped fuel the decade long civil war of the 90s that destroyed the economic and social infrastructure, reduced investment in human capital and sent the country back decades down the channel of modern development.

In spite of all these problems, Sierra Leone is a country that is very remarkable for the strength of its traditional institutions. Some of these institutions have proven tobe so formidable that they survived the advent and domination of British colonial influence. The institution of Chieftaincy in Sierra Leone is a typical example of a traditional social arrangement that remains intact, in spite of the ravages of colonialism, to the present day. It could be argued that the system suited the British colonialists, as it closely resembled their own monarchical system. The point is that the institution survived and is still relevant in the social fabric of the country.

Sierra Leone is divided into four regions (formerly provinces), all the four regions composed of twelve districts. Regional administration is divided between the central government on one hand and local administration consisting of Regional clerks and chiefdom authorities. Each region is divided into Chiefdoms, under the control of the Paramount Chief, who has traditional authority. All the Paramount Chiefs in a district elect one Paramount Chief that represents them in the national Parliament, the legislative branch of central government.

Chieftaincy in Sierra Leone is a very unique institution. Paramount Chieftaincy can only be obtained by right of birth. In each Chiefdom, there are royal families, most of who are descended from traditional warriors. When a Paramount Chief dies, his eldest child does not automatically become the paramount chief. In every chiefdom, there are likely to be several families that have traditional claims to the chieftaincy. In the event of the death of a paramount chief, members of each royal family in the chiefdom will select representatives that will face off against each other in the paramount chieftaincy election. In this election, only local authorities, that is, lower level chiefs, are allowed to vote. It is therefore very important during a Paramount Chief’s tenure to maintain very good political affiliations with lesser chiefs. This system introduces some checks and balances on the authority of the paramount chief.

In Sierra Leone, every chiefdom is divided into sections. A section may consist of several towns and villages, with the towns and villages divided into areas. Each section, town, village, and area will have their own chief with differing levels of authority.

The death of a Paramount Chief is a very significant event. The funeral rites that are observed differ among regions and ethnic groups. In Eastern Sierra Leone, the ceremonies surrounding the death of a Paramount Chief are very elaborate affairs. There are traditional days of mourning, with masquerades by the various traditional secret societies. After forty days of mourning and celebrating the life of the chief, the campaigning begins. Traditional alliances are rekindled and old differences and grudges are brought up. Campaigning is sometimes acrimonious and violent. Society becomes polarized and there can be a lot of character assassinations. All is not negative however, as each candidate tries to put on their best face. They make the usual promises, give gifts to schools, participate in community projects, and distribute a lot of tee shirts and other campaign paraphernalia.

In the days preceding the elections all the families try to mobolize their traditional bases. Men move about at night secretly, conniving, plotting and dredging up embarrassing stories from the past. Secret rituals are held in which chiefs pledge their loyalty to their candidates. Traditional rituals are conducted to tie them to these vows, with the promise of some grave misfortune befalling them if the vows are broken. There is also a lot of betrayal as some people try to secretly ally themselves with several camps. As paramount chieftaincy is a position of lifelong authority, the wrong allegiance could be a costly mistake for a lower level chief.
On the day of the vote, everybody gathers in the Chiefdom community hall. The election is usually presided over by the District Officer and District Paramount Chief Parliamentary representative. Initially there is an elimination phase which is usually the most interesting part. Each candidate comes forward and explains what qualifies him to contest for the chieftaincy. The presiding officers then invite people who want to dispute such claims to come up and do so. Some old people then get up and give detailed reasons why a particular candidate may not be qualified. In a particular case I observed, a candidate was disqualified because his brothers all agreed that he was not their father’s legitimate child. When he was disqualified he never had the same respect he had again.

After all the arguments, those whose royalty or family lineages were proved beyond a reasonable doubt were then allowed to proceed to the delegate balloting stage as official candidates. The Paramount chieftaincy election I observed in Segbwema was done by secret ballot. The voting was a tense and solemn process. Counting proceeded immediately after the votes and in less than two hours, the winning candidate was announced. There is usually no time for concession speeches as the celebration starts immediately.

In Segbwema, Momoh Borbor Jimmy Jajua, the son of the late Paramount Chief David Kekura Jimmy Jajua, won by a landslide and became paramount chief somewhere around 1983 till his death around 2005. A new chief is yet to be elected. The celebrations that followed Chief Jimmy’s election and subsequent inauguration were spectacular and elaborate. Traditional masquerades of all the major sections, and secret sects were at hand. There were “congorlee”, “Jawei Yafei”, “ Sowei”, “Bomu Landa”, “Ngorboi”
“Faluee”, “Jaygay power”, “Nafeii”, etc and traditional singers.

As Segbwema is a multi ethnic town, there were Mende,Temne, Madingo, Limba, and Fula celebrations. There was enough food cooked those days to feed the entire chiefdom for one month. Chief Jimmy was the first Njaluahun Paramount chief with a Masters degree but his reign was pretty unremarkable as he himself was a very quiet and reserved person.

Ex British Prime Minister Tony Blair was crowned a ceremonial Paramount Chief in Sierra Leone in gratitude for the Britsh role in ending Sierra Leone's bloody civil war and helping restore democratic governance.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Laughing time

Jokes and short stories from Sierra Leone

The Chimpanzee
A bar owner had a small chimpanzee that was always sad and never laughed. This bar owner became so concerned that he offered free drinks for a full day to anyone who would make his melancholy chimp laugh. The news soon got around about the challenge and many people from various parts of Freetown came to try their luck.

Days passed into weeks, and weeks into months, but no one was able to make this sad little chimp laugh, despite so many tries. The bar owner had just about given up hope when one day, a scrawny, pale complexioned and prematurely aging fellow came into the bar. He was wearing baggy trousers a few sizes too large that were held firmly to his waist by an ancient belt that had seen betters times about half a decade ago. His shoes were a few sizes too small and seemed glued and contoured to his feet.

This fellow came up to the bar owner and said he was there for the challenge to make the chimp laugh. The bar owner looked at the pathetic fellow and said, “Go right ahead, that’s the chimp in the corner, I call him Brigadier. Take all the time that you have my friend, just don’t get into the way of my paying customers”

The scrawny fellow was unfazed by the sarcastic remark and moved gingerly up to the melancholy chimp and whispered in its ear. The chimp let out a big yahoo and burst into loud and hilarious laughter. Everybody in the bar was surprised and amazed at the same time. The bar owner came over to the fellow and asked, “Did you really do that? I bet you did not. Go ahead try again; you are not getting free drinks by accident.”

The poor fellow again went up to the chimp and whispered slowly into its ear. This time the Chimp screamed a loud yahoo and launched into such side-splitting laughter that it had tears streaming down its face. Word soon spread like wild fire in Harmattan that a funny looking fellow had made the miserable ape laugh. People rushed to the bar from all around Mountain Cut to see this amazing spectacle. People edged the fellow on, “please do it again. Please, just one more time.” The fellow relented reluctantly, as he was eager to start feasting on his free drinks and was eyeing a cold bottle of Star Beer in the corner longingly. “Alright, alright just one more time and then I should get my drinks.”

He walked again to the chimp and whispered in its ear. This time the little chimp gave a loud yell, went into laughing tantrums and fled onto the street adjoining the bar. The bar owner was really amazed that this fellow had done three times in a single day what others have tried for months to do, but had failed. He came up to the scrawny fellow and said,
“Brother, I am ready to serve you all the beer you can drink. I just want to know what you told the chimp that made it laugh so hard”

The scrawny man said, “Firstly, I told the chimp that I was a teacher. That was what made it laugh so hard.”
The bar owner said, “What then did you say that made the chimp laugh until it cried?”
The teacher replied “I told him my salary. That was enough to make the chimp laugh until it cried” “What did you tell him to make him runaway? The teacher answered, “I asked him if he wanted to be a teacher”

Addressing Poverty in Sierra Leone

Over the decade, Sierra Leone has consistently earned the distinction of either being at the bottom of the human development index or being very close to it. In simple terms our country is regarded as the worst place to live in the world.
There are a lot of places on earth today that are far more dangerous and unstable than Sierra Leone; Somalia,Democratic republic of Congo, the Gaza strip in Palestine, Darfur in Sudan, Chechnya, to name but a few. There are also other countries with worse economic indicators. Take Zimbabwe for instance, where inflation is at runaway rates or Guinea Bissau, a country that seems to have no clue at modern governance.
So why is Sierra Leone, which is now relatively stable and has had democratic governance, however fragile it may be, for the better part of a decade considered to be the poorest country in the world?This question was posed by a friend at a recent Christmas party I attended (see details at I will attempt here to answer his question and invite members of this forum to contribute on the subject.
The human development index looks at the overall economic picture and social forces that impact the quality of life in a nation. Using simple words it looks at the availability of everything in a country that would ensure that human beings live as best as they can.
A major problem with Sierra leone is lack of even the basic infrastructure necessary for development. Most of the roads in Sierra Leone are in terrible shape. A lot of the country is simply inaccessible to vehicular traffic. Movement of both humans and agricultural produce is therefore severely restricted. In many areas, agricultural products which are mostly perishable, are left to rot, while other areas go without. Sometimes the cost of moving foodstuff is so high that it would not make any business sense to do so.
Lack of electricity, which thankfully is currently being addressed, is another major problem in Sierra leone. Living in the 21st century without electrical power is simply unimaginable to people in the more developed parts of the world. No madern economy, regardless of the good intentions of its leaders, can develop without electricity. Electricity is the backbone of all manufacturing and service industries. No serious manufacturer should have to deal with the headache of providing their own electricity. Electricity powers factories, computers and computer networks, lights up cinemas and clubs, banks and so on. Lack of this vital resource is simply intolerable.
A healthy population is a sound population. Lack of access to basic healthcare can be singled out to be the major reason why Sierra leone is always at the bottom of human development indices. The few hospitals that we have lack almost everything. From medicines to dressing, nurses to doctors, simple labs to X-rays, everything is grossly inadequate.High infant mortality and maternal deaths, which are are now preventable in this day and age, characterise Sierra Leone
Sierra Leoneans are poorly paid for the work that they do. The take home pay of most Sierra Leoneans can barely ensure their survival for a week, let alone a month. Teaching, the noblest profession, on earth is a joke in Sierra leone. Most landlord will not rent out to you, if you inform them that you are a teacher when looking for a place to rent. Other government workers are also in the same soup. Over the years these low wages have become the main impetus for the rampant corruption that has plagued the country like a malignant cancer that just won't go away. As long as workers are unable to feed themselves, corruption will never be minimized. This is an unfortunate but plain truth. The thing about corruption is that regardless of the reason it is done, it is always wrong and quickly moves from an act of necessity to a way of life.

Sierra leone, with all its diamond, bauxite, rutile, gold, and human resources should be a model for development in Africa and does not deserve to even be among the ranks of poor countries. But until we seriously start to put aside our differences and tackle our country's problems headon, we will continue to linger in the poor ranks.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tegloma Rocks Brooklyn Park

Tegloma Minnesota chapter had our Christmas party yesterday. Every relevant Tegloma Minnesota chapter member was there with the few exception of those who were unable to attend due to job conflicts. The DJ was Banky and his performance was remarkable. Mr Hassan Kamara, the vice president, was our impromptu master of ceremonies. Mr. Sheku Sheriff, the secretary general introduced the president, Mrs Elizabeth Momoh. Mr Sheriff praised Mrs. Momoh for her dedication to the organization and her love for Sierra Leoneans in general. Under her leadership, Tegloma in Minnesota has become a driving force in propagating Sierra leonean unity and fostering goodwill among the small West African community here in the Twin Cities.
The President thanked all the attendees and all the members that had joined in 2007. She also expressed her gratitude to the old members and appealed to all Sierra leoneans to endeavor to belong to a national association. She thanked Mr. Jonathan Rose and all the pioneering executive of the Sierra Leone Community in Minnesota (SLCM) and especially recognised the roles of Mr. Hassan Kamara and Mrs. Rebecca Johnson, for being such good ambassadors of Tegloma.
The distinguished guests included Miss Bridget Saidu, former president of Wisconsin chapter and current Tegloma federation treasurer and Mr. Dennis Saidu, vice president Wisconsin chapter. There were numerous other guests that were recognised.
Mr. Joshua Murray emphasized the need for Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora to belong to an association. An appealed for those that were planning to do so to consider Tegloma. He also lauded the SLCM and talked about the necessity of Sierra Leonean organizations conglomerating. In a private interview with Mr. Denis Saidu (VP of Wisconsin chapter), he expressed how delighted he was to be with his Minnesota friends and commended the executive and all members of the chapter for their impressive dedication and their invaluable contributions towards the ideals and goals of Tegloma. As a way of appreciation, he pledged to always grace their functions and render his assistance in whatever capacity he may be needed.


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