Opinion

Ethnocentrism is evil

28 March 2009 at 04:56 | 843 views

By Kargbo Okoboji and Ishmael Bobson in
Houston, Texas.

Sierra Leone translates as Lion Mountain in Portuguese, a country "discovered" in the 15th century by the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra and later taken over by the British in the 19th century to become a British colony.

The country then regained independence in 1961. After that, Mama-Salone faced a long and ugly economic battle, a string of coups and counter-coups and a nasty civil war. That evil spirit(the civil war) ravaged Mama-Salone for eleven long years. Thanks to the intervention of United Nations peace keepers and other friends of Sierra Leone, our dear country was later rescued from the evil monster.

To remind you about the country’s geographical boundaries, Sierra Leone is located on the West coast of Africa, between latitudes seven and ten north and longitudes 10.5 and 13 west. From an approximate 70 miles coastal belt of low-lying land, Sierra Leone rises to a mountain plateau near the eastern frontier rising 4000 to 6000 feet within a rich timber forest region.

The Western area encompasses the Sierra Leone Peninsula, on which the capital and main commercial center of Freetown stands is 24 miles long and 10 miles wide.

A mountainous promontory, it rises in places to 300 feet above sea level. One of the few parts of the West African coast where there is high land so near the sea. It is a place where the lush green forest spills down hill sides to meet the most beautiful white sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean good for a stranger to see.

The 27,925 square miles (73,326 sq km) country has a population of approximately (6) million people. Sierra Leone is divided into four main provinces, West, North, East and South. There are (12) districts in the entire country. Sierra Leone comprises (16) ethnic groups among which are: Mende,Temne, Limba,Kono,Koranko, Yalunka, Loko, Soso, Mandingo, Gola, Kissi, Fula and Krio. (Source: Sierra Leone chamber of commerce 2005).

Despite the country’s ranking on the Human Development Index, we Sierra Leoneans believe that our country is endowed with abundant natural resources: diamonds, gold, rutile, iron ore, and our Atlantic Ocean are reaching with variety of fishes, and forestry is perfect for agriculture. Every part of the country has natural resources including good farmland.

All of these resources were given by God not for a particular ethnic group but for the citizens of Sierra Leone. Why do we keep fighting and why are some of us trying to maintain ethnic supremacy? It is clear that no ethnic group is better than the other as was said by former President Siaka Stevens. It is only individuals that are different from each other. Can Sierra Leoneans bridge the gap of ethnic sentiment?

The answer is yes, we can! Culture, by definition, is the sine qua non of everything else. In our society, it is very hard to convince others that your ethnicity is better than the rest because of intermarriage and common problems. But why are we so greedy for power to rule when we know we don’t have any special qualities over others?

It’s hard to be impressed by inane arguments, but from a skeptic’s point of view, one will find the whole scenario very foolish and laughable. It is however necessary to separate points of opinion from points of fact. The late senator-Patrick Moynahan of New York said it well: "You are entitled to your opinions but you are not, to issues of fact."

When people engage in ethnic arguments, they come up with points to impress others. Ah! It makes us laugh our lungs out, when their "facts" are questioned and they come up short in their answers. Then they become either arrogant or aggressive i.e. physical.

Recently Attorney General Eric Holder of U.S.A, made a statement of fact. He said: "America is a nation of cowards when it comes to the issue of race”. This subject matter is so touchy and sensitive that most politicians, educators, businessmen, medics, lawyers etc would not dare to address such a topic.

Unlike in Sierra Leone, ethnocentrism here is open. The element of ethnic groups so deeply transcends the system that one cannot leave home, work place, entertainment areas, and other places without seeing it. Of course, it’s so profound in politics that it becomes regionalised.

Why can’t we just try to live side by side for the common good of Mama-Salone? The pill is very bitter to pass down our throats but it is the only panacea worth trying.

We are interdependent species. In Darwinism ,variation and heredity are the twin engines that made evolution possible. Natural selection gradually transforms species. This process proves that different species share a common ancestry.

Ethnocentrism is a burning issue that warrants immediate attention. Keeping silent is not the solution. We must face it, the only way out is being flexible on all aspects of life rather than being confrontational. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream manifested the true principle that all men are created equal and must be treated equally. Ethnocentrism in any form is deadly wrong.

Oh yes! Sierra Leone has legislation that deals with this issue. However, laws alone cannot be sufficient without the conscious action of our various ethnic groups. Political parties, social organizations, to mention but a few, must not be affiliated to ethnic groups only. God willing, all membership should be open to Tom, Dick and Harry.

We should practise some degree of tolerance and no violent ways in governing Mama Salone. President Obama, in his first interview with Ebony said: “I stand on the shoulders of all the people that made all these incredible contributions to lift this country up.”

If you listen carefully, you will learn a lot from those words. President Obama doesn’t just point at the contributions of the democrats who put him in the White House. He talks as an American for America (USA).

My friends, why do we politicize ethnicity? We have never seen a Mende passport,a Temne passport, or a Limba passport, in any part of the world. When we applied for our American passports, they are called the passports of the United States of America. The same thing with our Sierra Leone passports.

We have to resort to democratic principles in political governance in Sierra Leone. One man, one vote. We believe in respect for the mandate and wishes of the people of Sierra Leone.

The objective of this article is an attempt to eradicate negative traditionalism. Try the application of some democratic principles.

We must be prepared to create an open multicultural society in which every human being lives with respect and dignity. We say ethnocentrism in any form is evil.

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