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Sierra Leone News: Paramount Chieftaincy: Between Democracy And Tradition

Whenever Portugal is paying in the World Cup I wonder how many Sierra Leoneans know that they could have been the real colonizers of this country and that they actually gave us the name Serra Lyoa which later was converted to Sierra Leone. Our history is replete with quite a lot of controversies some of whick still live with us today. One of such is governance transitions especially what we do with the reports and their recommendations. We currently find ourselves in a dilemma over the transition report that is being popularized. Two schools of though. One wants the recommendations of the report to be fully implemented. Others think bye gones should be bye gones and the current government should move ahead and not bring people in former government who have cases to answer to book.
We all know that Africa is backward mainly because of corruption. It is now dawning on us that globalization with all its attendant ramifications may not be pushing poor African countries forward at any acceptable pace. The west, too full of there naïve supremacist ego, claimed to have discovered us. Next they enslaved our forebears. Then they forced them work on the cotton and other plantations in North America. When abolitionists succeeded in getting the slaves free, they brought the bulk of them to settle in Freetown area in Sierra Leone. Tell me why the West did not kept data on the origins of the slaves. They simply brought most of them to Sierra Leone for convenience. Are you following? Do you now understand why the Creoles carry truck loads of Nigerian names but yet left here in Sierra Leone? Tell me how many creoles speak a word of Yoruba or any other Nigerian language. Yes, you will tell me they speak Nigerian language in the Ojeh activities. Come on…it is really to mystify the whole masquerading phenomenon.
When the Colonial predators established their administration in freetown they had no idea how to stretch their hegemony into what they called the hinterland. So they made some loyal chiefs Paramount Chiefs. Today it seems that paramount Chieftaincy looks like changing. If this is not that case why did irate youth some years back in Gbangbatoke go on the rampage and burn down houses including a sitting Paramount Chief’s own. Before the 90s who could have thought of this. Infact this was sacrilegious. At the time everything revolved around the paramount chiefs in the chiefdoms. All this started changing from 1971 when the One Party state was declared.
It was during the One Party that the real trials and tribulations of Paramount chiefs started. That was the beginning of politicization of the paramount chieftaincy. Paramount chiefs, who were considered not towing the line or playing ball, were removed. So most of them joined the APC. Those who did not lost their staffs. You remember the role the chiefs played in Salone’s first general elections and almost robbed the APC of victory? While all these happened, paramount chieftaincy was revered by at least the bulk of Sierra Leoneans. It was unheard of for ordinary persons in those days to have the temerity to challenge Paramount chiefs. Their word was final.
If people do not stand behind their paramount Chief, how paramount could the institution actually be? You see if you are older that Independent Salone, like I am, you will realize that the threats to Paramount chieftaincy over the years have been caused both by the Paramount chiefs and the politicians. We used to know Paramount chiefs as standing firm with their people. Years back at OBBA meetigs, the Late PC Kandeh Yumkella (RIP) used to say that a Paramount Chief does not have money…what he or she has is people. Today all that has changed. Today PCs are paid by Government. Recently the new Government paid their three month backlog of payment.
In Colonial times, Paramount Chiefs were playing Executive roles in their Chiefdoms. Later 12 were placed on the Legislative/ Parliament. Now 16 are in Parliament, each representing a district.
During the One Party dispensation, Late President Stevens introduced teachers, the army and the police into politics by appointing them to Parliament. If you are old enough you will remember that even the late prosperous businessman Jamil Sahid Mohamed was allowed to sit in Parliament. The two or three newspapers at the time reported that Late Jamil even lent the sierra Leone government Le3 Million and thus the privilege. Mind you this was I the mid 70s or so and Le 3 Million was a whooping sum. This author was earning Le 180 monthly. He topped this up to Le 200 with 20 Leones by writing articles in the We Yone.
Fast forward, our paramount chiefs were willy-nilly enmeshed in partisan politics and some even started seeing themselves as the traditional representatives of the government of the day. You can well remember in the 2007 Elections campaign a Paramount chiefs, in concert with youths actually tried to prevent a presidential candidate from entering a chiefdom to campaign.
In 2009, Parliament passed the Chieftaincy Act. Now listen. Part V, Section 19 of that Act talks about the removal of the Paramount Chief. It says in Part, “ A paramount Chief may be removed from office by the President for any gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, after a public enquiry….” What does not clearly come out in this Act is where the people stand. Tell me, if the President favors a Paramount chief and the people the paramount chief rules rise against him, what happens?
This whole thing is confusing and makes one think that the whole idea of decentralization and power sharing is undermined. We continue to see this in the Local Government which for the most part is undermined by reluctance and slowness in devolving powers and resources even after 11 years of the reinstitution of Local Governance.
Now let’s look at the Paramount chief representation in Parliament. The reality now in our governance as a state is that we have 16 officially designated administrative Districts, 14 in the Regions and 2 in the Western area. Since the Western Area has no Paramount Chiefs, they do not have these 2 extra representatives in Parliament. I really do not see this as a tidy arrangement. I will prefer those 16 spaces to be given to women in order to boost their numbers in Parliament and be able to ably bring to the fore cross-cutting issues like gender equity. In any case Paramount Chiefs have asked to be removed from Parliament and placed in their own house! Indeed we need to go back to the CRC Report.
By Beny SAM.
Thursday July 05, 2018.

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