From the Editor’s Keyboard

Demonizing the other in Sierra Leone politcs

29 March 2009 at 19:46 | 654 views

By Professor Hassan Sisay, Guest Writer, Wisconsin, USA.

Mark Twain once said, “get the facts first, you can distort them later.” If there was ever a time in Sierra Leone to heed these words it is now.

In the recent spate of violence, both APC and SLPP supporters claim to be right. This is natural, since any time you have competing interests, people assume that their side is right, and the “other” is wrong. The Most polarized reactions came from our educated members, and, many were influenced by tribal sentiments rather than by reason or fact. Some have even called for revenge, and a resurgence of the civil war. They have forgotten so soon the calamitous effects of that war on our country.

What then is the origin of this disease known as tribalism? Why is it so pervasive especially among the educated class that ought to know better? What maintains and nurtures this savage mindset for naked revenge and political opportunism? What is responsible for this monumental retreat from reality in regards to human character? And why is tribalism so capable of normalizing the unthinkable?

Even though we know that “people are the same under the skin,” and that both the SLPP and APC political parties have produced honest and crooked politicians, yet when disturbances occur, we behave as if the “other group” has more miscreants than we do. As psychologist Marilyn Brewer has stated, “you don’t have to hate other groups to love your own.” The record will show that neither the APC nor the SLPP is the best at everything. Both have made mistakes and lied to us not once but many times. And most likely, they will do so again, notwithstanding their promises.

In her award winning book, A History Beyond Race, Marc Aronson noted that saying “We are human and you are not” is a common survival tactic,” and so is hatred of others. Tribalism is not only real and affects all of us; it is also a learned behavior. To solve this problem, our children need to be more exposed to each other. We should promote national programs that unify ethnic groups, such as learning each other’s language, sponsoring inter-regional school visits, and sports events for our youth; and maintaining positive attitudes for any differences between us.

It is a shame that even today, we have Sierra Leoneans who were born and raised in Freetown, and have never traveled beyond Waterloo. The same applies to Northerners who have never been to the South and vice versa. We do not attempt to appreciate or understand each other’s cultures. Many of us intermingle for the first time at local universities or at social gatherings in various foreign countries. In developed nations, people study themselves, their cultures, and constitutions all the time. Doesn’t it dawn on us that there must be a reason for that? Ignorance breeds fear, and fear of each other creates situations where we believe the “others” are strange, inferior and must be fought or eliminated at all costs. The only way to end tribalism is to eliminate the factors it feeds on, such as ignorance, illiteracy, unemployment, nepotism, corruption, exploitation etc.

Both APC and SLPP supporters should realize that you do not have to hate your opponent to love your own. Continuously fighting and using lethal weapons at each other is barbaric, causes heavy human, economic, emotional, and social costs, and sets a very bad example for young people who may be interested in politics as a future career. We must realize that there are people in our midst who regardless of the veracity of others’ arguments will continue to support their political or ethnic groups.

This should not grant them a carte blanche to eliminate, suppress, brutalize, or kill those that disagree with them. Simply put, in competing groups there may be “irreconcilables,” who do not want to be bothered with the facts. They are not open to the truth, no matter its origin, and may support conflict endlessly in order to unite their group, and jeopardize the existence of other groups. There are also young people who are easily manipulated and are willing to fight anybody, anywhere, anytime, when they feel their “group” is threatened. They are the “sacrificial lambs” for unscrupulous politicians. They always bear the brunt of the violence, while the politicians continue to enjoy themselves, and look for the next cadre of “lambs” to sacrifice. For the sake of Sierra Leone’s present and future, SLPP and APC members PLEASE support your politicians or political parties without violence.