Sierra Leone News: Paramount Chieftaincy And Democracy

I think we should listen to Late Nelson Mandela when he says: “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain top of our desires.” Adapting this to Sierra Leone, I say, we have indeed passed through several shadows of death and surprisingly our leaders are still looking for more shadows of fire for us to cross!
Much of the struggles we face today could be traced to the genesis of our history as a nation. Unfortunately our nation has a triple heritage, the type that the Kenyan Historian, Ali Mazrui refers to. We have the Western heritage, the Islamic Heritage and the traditional heritage. These three continue to interplay in our lives and we seem to be trapped by them and have formed the core of our DNA. This is demonstrated by our use of both the western common Law and customary Law.
One institution that is slowly but gradually caught up in aspects of our triple heritage is that of Paramount Chieftaincy. This institution is as old as Colonial rule in Sierra Leone. Please note that during the pre-colonial period we had chiefs but not Paramount Chiefs. When the Paramount chiefs suggested to the Constitutional Review Committee that they should have their own, the “House Of Chiefs”, I wonder what they were thinking? Well the CRC process is still on and it seems the referendum on the new Constitution may not be held before the 2018 Elections. Of course we cannot be oblivious of the fact that recently the President said that the referendum is still on the table. Never mind the point that NEC’s latest Electoral Time Table conspicuously leaves out that activity.
I have been reading quite a few pieces on the re-districting and the amalgamation done in the north of our country. It has now dawned on me that some huge sums of money will have to be garnered by government to put 41new Paramount Chiefs will have to be inaugurated, not to talk of creating the offices for the new Districts of Falaba and Karene including other social amenities.
As our democracy struggles to find its feet, the position of Paramount Chieftaincy appears to be adjusted in order to fit into the evolving modern governance dispensation. For a very long lime we have seen our paramount chieftaincy institution finding itself in the midst of political controversy. If they are not being too partisan, they are overstretching their powers or being humbled by some minister or Member of Parliament. Sometimes they even are at logger heads with their people.
A foremost Historian, Dr Arthur Abraham writes in his book titled, “Cultural policy In Sierra leone, “With the imposition of colonial rule, a foreign super structural entity, culturally different and alien, was superimposed upon the colonized society. A plural society was then created, characterized by the antagonistic relationship between the foreign rulers and the indigenous subjects, who mingled but did not mix.” Dr Abraham further says, “The dominating society, representing a technologically advanced society, infused elements that affected the pattern of change. Indigenous sovereignty was lost, and the rulers were made adjuncts of the colonial administrative mechanism… All indigenous rulers robbed of their sovereignty were styled “paramount chiefs’, with many of their powers and functions abrogated by the colonial power. Larger territories were then fragmented and rivalries generated”
From the foregoing, colonialism undermined the state organization in what was called the Sierra Leone Hinterland. History tells us that before colonialism, the state was divided into several provinces, each ruled by a chief, who was usually descended from the founder of the nuclear settlement. With the advent of colonial rule, the chief got his ultimate support from the colonial power, not from his people. In today’s Sierra Leone it seems that the Government of the day has replaced the colonial power. Those who continue their loyalty to opposition parties have dire consequences from the government in power. We have seen staffs removed from Paramount Chiefs because they were perceived as sympathizing with the opposition.
I find our Paramount Chiefs today in a bit of a precarious situation politically. If they represent some unpopular wishes of the government to the people, they risk revolts, and if he failed to carry out orders from the administration, he stood to be deposed. Over a year ago or so, we saw in Moyamba District when a PC, allegedly acting on the instructions of government had family properties destroyed by irate youth. Such incidents were never heard of on the 60s and 70s when Paramount Chiefs were firmly with their people and the people supported them fully.
The Ministry of local Government and Rural Development made their case to justify the recent re-districting and chiefdom de-amalgamation. What that ministry forgot was that they should have also reverted to the situation before colonialism when we had no Paramount chiefs but provincial chiefs. Tell me are our present governments not still taking advantage of our paramount Chieftaincy situation in the same way the colonial administration did? Why has government frantically forced the processes of re-districting and de-amalgamation on the populace especially in an election cycle? Well you might say this question is belated. You may not wait for too long more to see the consequences.
An interesting development is the fact that the present Government has started paying salaries Paramount Chiefs making their loyalty to the government more legitimized. I find serious implications of this. Firstly they are going to lose a lot of traditional freedoms they used to have which were appreciated by their people who held them in awe. Now being paid from the consolidated fund opens them up to public scrutiny which subsequently will erode their respect. One would then ask, does paramount Chieftaincy fit well in our democratic dispensation.
During the Colonial rule Paramount chiefs did not sit in the Legislative or Executive Councils. Today we have Paramount Chief Parliamentary Representatives from the twelve provincial districts. Currently 41 chiefdoms have been de-amalgamated giving a countrywide total of 190 Chiefdoms with 190 Paramount Chiefs, what a financial burden on government! I just wonder for a post-Ebola depraved country bringing more financial burden upon itself in the midst of an austerity whose end no one knows. What a fine legacy for the next government!
Paramount Chiefs had appealed to the CRC to create a House of Chiefs, another totally new angle to their current controversial identity.
By Ben Cambayma
Monday August 14, 2017.