The Mende ethnic group that are found primarily in the Southern and Eastern provinces of Sierra Leone have evolved a very spiritual civilization where the tenets of Justice, fair play, dignity of the human being, are sacrosanct. The Mende proclivity for Justice give non-Mendes - like Temnes, Gissis, Fullahs, Madingoes, Temnes, Limbas, Vais, Creoles, Lebanese...etc. - who settle in 'Mende-land' the confidence to intermarry with the Mendes, acquire land, and settle permanently in Mende territory. The keen sense of Justice which is the nexus of Mende religion and society (for example, it would be indeed rare for Mendes to adjudicate a case between a Mende and a non-Mende and where the Mende would do something which is starkly wrong and his Mende kith and kin side with the Mende because the other person is a 'foreigner') have build up the confidence of non-Mendes to get assimilated into what I can term as a 'Mende-speaking civilization'. So, today in the South-East, many people who are classified as 'Mendes' are really not as such Mendes 'by blood' - but, Fullahs, Madingoes, Temnes, Vais, Gissis, Sherbros, etc. - who have been assimilated by the Mende civilization.
Coachie Mansaray's words being dangerously misused
In 2005, I had a spirited newspaper debate with PEEP Publisher/Editor, the late Olu Gordon, on the 'Mende civilization vis-a-vis the SLPP as a religion to the Mende-speaking people'. An article like this on the Mendes become necessary today because of the silly statement publicly made recently by only recently SLPP Youth Leader for the Western Area, 'Coachie' Mansaray - a statement which is being regularly emblazoned on the front page of the SLPP official newspaper, UNITY, with the obvious intention of coalescing Mende people within the SLPP, and directing their venom and their votes against the APC in the November 12, 2012 General Elections. It is a stark and crude political gimmick.
The 'Mendes are stupid' mantra smacks of a RUF-type Machiavellian-mode tactic - 'The end justify the means'. Desperate politicians and their journalist political backers are recklessly pouring petrol on the smouldering fire of ethnic discontent which risks plunging our country into a Rwanda-type genocide (or, a more benign Ivorian-like or Kenya-type ethnic pogrom). It shocks me that one of those who're pouring this fuel on ethnic embers is the Gissi man from Kailahun, George Khoryama, in his column, 'THE JOINT', in Global Times newspaper.
O, Khoryama, You!!!? After Our Liberian Experience!!?
I am repulsed by Khoryama's incendiary language because Khoryama spent some 26 years in Liberia - to my 12 years as an immigrant there - and rose up to become Editor-in-Chief of the government-owned NEW LIBERIAN newspaper, and a Director in the Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs of the Republic of Liberia. Khoryama knows that in Liberia, Charles Taylor's and Samuel Kanyan Doe-led armies were locked in a 'tribal war' - very unlike the Foday Sankoh-led 'rebel war' in Sierra Leone, where there were indiscriminate maiming and wanton murder of hapless civilians. In Liberia, it was the tribe of a former Commanding-General of the Armed Forces of Liberia General Thomas Quiwonkpa's Gio-Mano tribe responding to the genocide against them by the Krahn ethnic group of President Doe. Doe would massacre Gio-Mano men, women and children anywhere they would meet them - and when Charles Taylor provided leadership for them, the Gio-Mano also would butcher the Krahns anywhere and everywhere. It was chilling!!! Surely, this is not the type of hatred and mad murder that Khoryama wants replicated in Sierra Leone?
Thou Shall Not Belie the Potency of the 'Big Lie'
'O, there is too much of intermarriage, we are too peaceful a nation; we are too tolerant...': that would be the dismissive hand of those who may want to belie the power of the 'Hate Speech' being articulated by the likes of Khoryama. Indeed, since they fled the wars of the Sudan some seven hundred years ago and migrated southward, entering this territory the British had carved out and labelled 'Sierra Leone' about 180 years ago, the Mendes have largely had their war-like spirits defused, and over the past one hundred years especially, the Mendes within the boundaries of our country have become pacific and legalistic. Importantly, the Mendes are now more inclined to get feisty fighting a 'cerebral type of war' - in the 'war field' of schools and tertiary institutions'. (The 'Kamajor' phenomenon of ordinary Mendes arming themselves to defend their territory against the scorch-earth tactics of the RUF was an aberration; a rare occasion which was spurred by sheer survival impulses: they either would fight RUF the rebels or they would be massacred by the RUF). The Mende near-worship of education is why today among all the ethnic groups there are a disproportionate number of Mendes in 'white collar' jobs - as teachers, lawyers, nurses, IT technicians, middle level international NGO workers, etc. It is very unlikely that the conservative Mendes are going to be warped into an ethnic war because of Coachie Mansaray's slip of tongue, or, the petrol being poured on fire by reckless columnists like George Khoryama. Well, take a second take at that assertion; and don't be lulled into escapism.
The Logic of Orwell's "1984"
There is a logic of the mind which is dramatized in George Orwell's second epoch-making book, titled "1984". In that book, Orwell dramatize, and teaches, that if one keeps on spouting a Big Lie consistently enough, intensely, even the most strong-willed individual would capitulate and begin to believe the Big Lie. If for example, one were to begin to fervidly state that those of the predominantly business class Fullah ethnic group are responsible for the high price of goods on the local market, soon than later, non-Fullahs would believe such a Big Lie - and could begin to beat up Fullahs on the street, like ordinary Germans did to Jews in Nazi Germany before the Second World War was ignited. So, the words of Coachie - 'Mendes are stupid' - are intended to get Mendes to kindle their ethnic pride, hate non-Mendes, especially those who are APC. Using the credibility of the printed word for Mendes, UNITY newspaper and Khoryama are cold-bloodedly being strategic as they stoke the ethnic fires of hate. We must confront the reality of the tribal fear and hatred that they could be sowing in the minds of about two million Mende people. We must find a counter for it.
Let 'Development Compete with Tribal Suspicion'
The most sensible thing to do is to inundate the audio and video airwaves with information on the development projects all over the country that have been activated by this APC government. There must be imaginative ways to get the youth especially to 'see the picture' of the 'boom era' that Sierra Leone is about to enter into. The Mende-speaking youth have to be convinced that there would be no need to fear non-Mendes taking up most of the jobs of the future. The Mende-speaking youth must be weaned away from the bleak picture the SLPP wants to paint for them. They must 'see' the bright future which the APC is building for them. The Mende youth must see that the future beckons with hundreds of thousands of new jobs to be created - and Mendes are better positioned to take advantage of the coming 'jobs galore' as the economy expands significantly, and more foreign direct investments is pumped into the country. Mende intellectuals tend to be elitist. But, the majority of Mendes have ingrained egalitarian tendencies. Once it is credibly communicated to them that the majority of Mendes would benefit from stability and economic growth in the country, the pacific and legalistic Mende are not likely to follow leaders who want to drag them along the miasmic road of ethnic hatred to tribal war.
The 'Mendes live in a religious Universe'
Prof. Canon Harry Sawyer, a former principal of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, in his 1960s-published book on the Mendes postulate that 'the Mende lives in a religious universe'. From the time the Mende wakes up, walks, works, does everything and anything, he invokes the name of 'God'. When you great a Mende and ask about his health, he would respond, 'There is no rust on God'. If a Mende man says he is to travel to Pujehun tomorrow, he would be reminded, 'If God agrees'. The essence of traditional Mende religion still holds sway in Mende psyche. The Mendes are apparently some of the most fervent Christians and Muslims in Sierra Leone. But, this could only be a gloss. Scratch a Mende man and you come up with his Mende religious beliefs. It just so happens that most of Mende religious beliefs are parallel with Christianity and Islam. Thus, Mende and Christianity believe that one 'should welcome strangers, for one could be welcoming angels into one's household' - hence, Mendes would bend over backward to welcome a stranger into his home. The Mende are too civilized, too religious, to be warped into sustained bloodletting against any other tribe. I Know, because I am, maternally, a Mende; the nephew of Charles Margai....Did I say Mende there?
The Mende Tribe has been Eclipsed by the 'Mende Civilization'
Fact is, the Margais were not originally Mendes. Just like Dr. Sama Banya is not Mende (he is Gissi); Musa Tarawaly is not Mende (he is Koronko); former SLPP Secretary General, Dr. Prince Abionoh Harding is not Mende (he is Creole); former NaCSA boss is not Mende (he is Madingo); former information minister, Prof. Septimus Kaikai is not Mende; former SLPP Chairman, Alhaji U.N.S. Jah is not Mende (both men are Fullahs). The Margais migrated from Kono land within the 20th Century. They got assimilated by the Mende civilization just like about half of the population of the people of the South East who have been absorbed into the Mende civilization. To provide an antidote to the tribal poison writers like Khoryama are spewing politicians and other well-meaning people must make a conscious effort at one-to-one and group dialogue with Mende-speaking opinion leaders, and youth..... to assure them of what they so much hold dear: JUSTICE. Holistic justice. Economic and Social and Legal Justice. This is where the humane image and character of President Ernest Bai Koroma should be brought to the fore to stimulate such a dialogue.