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Data

Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Creoles in Sierra Leone

View Group Chronology

Sierra Leone Facts
Area:    71,740 sq. km.
Capital:    Freetown
Total Population:    5,000 (source: UN, 1995, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

The Creoles of Sierra Leone are at risk due to the continuing instability in the region. While the conflict in Liberia was resolved in 2003 with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, instability in the region continues to put the Creoles at risk for violence. However, due to their small numbers, it is unlikely that Creoles would ever be involved in militant activity. The peaceful elections of 2007 are another hopeful sign, as is the continuation of special courts set up to address abuses committed during the conflict. Creoles also lack other risk factors for rebellion, such as discrimination and recent government repression.

Creoles only have a low risk of protest as they do not face political or cultural restrictions. Nor have they faced government repression in recent years. However, the unconsolidated nature of Sierra Leone's democracy does provide opportunity and perhaps incentive for Creoles to protest, should other groups question the traditionally privileged place in Sierra Leone's economy of Creoles.

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Analytic Summary

The Creoles, which comprise an estimated 8 percent of Sierra Leone's population, are descendants of freed Afro-European slaves, most of whom live in the Freetown area (GROUPCON = 1). They have been members of the elite since colonial times. Although Creoles initially intermarried with indigenous people, they began to detach themselves from the local majority by acquiring British education and culture (CUSTOM = 1). As a result they are predominantly Christian (BELIEF = 2). Their language, Krio, is also unique to the region, but is spoken as a second language by nearly all ethnic groups in Sierra Leone (LANG = 0). The Creoles have not been a major actor in the civil war that devastated the country between 1992 and 2002, but due to the nature of the conflict and the history of ethnic politics in the country, the Creoles are a fairly cohesive group.

The Creoles, who are mainly educated professionals, were very influential in governmental and economic sectors during the colonial period, but the British did not allow the Creole community to dominate colonial politics. After the country's independence in 1961, the Mende-dominated regimes (particularly under the rule of Albert Margai, 1964-67) tended to oppose Creole domination of the civil service. Subsequently, Creoles supported the All-People's Congress (APC), led by Siaka Stevens (an ethnic Limba). Under the APC regimes headed by Stevens (1971-85) and Joseph Saidu Momoh (1985-92), the Creoles retained strong influence. The predominance of Limba and Creole elite during the first years of the APC regime caused resentment from the Temne, who had helped the APC come to power. During the 1970s, the Temne joined the Mende in opposition to the government. After Stevens appointed a Temne vice president in 1978, the Temne appeared to have emerged as the second most influential group (next to ethnic Limba) in the regime.

On April 30, 1992, The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), led by Capt. Valentine Strasser, seized power in a coup. Over time, Strasser favored the Mende over other ethnic groups in both his government and the military. He was overthrown in a coup in January 1996 by his deputy. The deputy, Julius Bio, proceeded with plans for elections and a civilian government was installed in March 1996. Sierra Leone was led by Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, a civilian, until May 1997 when he was overthrown by a military coup. Much of the instability of the regimes since the Strasser coup in 1992 can be blamed on a protracted civil war, which began in March 1991. A rebellion, led by Foday Sankoh (Revolutionary United Front-RUF), began in the south-eastern region of the country and by March 1995, it had affected all but one district of the country. Fighting was the most intense in the southeast and northeast, and until the 1997 coup, was not evident in the capital, Freetown. The RUF leadership was composed mainly of Temne, and most reports indicated that troops were also mainly Temne. Sankoh himself and most of his lieutenants were Temne, and they were fighting against what they claimed was the hegemony of Mende in the country. The RUF complained that the predominantly-Mende SLPP (Sierra Leone People's Party) had been marginalizing non-Mende and using ethnic criterion in appointing ministers. With the coup of May 1997, however, the RUF had been ordered by its leader Sankoh to support the new military government led by Major Johnny Koroma. The rebels were then associated with the military government while the Kamajors, organized militias based on traditional hunting groups, were fighting the government and RUF. The Kamajors, composed mainly of Mende, were organized in 1994 to help the government fight the RUF at a time when government forces were disheartened and facing defeat by the rebels. One of the complaints of the military against the Kabbah regime was that he gave too much power to the Kamajors at the expense of the military.

Approximately 50,000 people were killed between 1991 and 2001, including some from starvation; and as of 1998, about half of the country's population of about five million had been displaced at one time or another during the conflict. Reports indicated that RUF rebels, disgruntled soldiers and army deserters carried out attacks against civilians. There were about 260,000 refugees in Liberia and Guinea during the height of the war (1993-1995), and at least 700,000 Sierra Leoneans were internally displaced. A peace agreement signed between the civilian government of Kabbah and RUF leader Sankoh in November 1996 did not last above a few weeks, though there was great hope for the country at its signing.

The situation in Sierra Leone stabilized in the summer of 1998. The Nigerian/ECOMOG forces in February 1998 succeeded in ousting Koroma from power, and Koroma's AFRC forces as well as his RUF allied fled to the north and east of the country. For several months after their overthrow, the AFRC and RUF committed atrocities against civilians of these regions leaving thousands dead or injured and an additional 166,000 internally displaced. Reports of atrocities diminished after June 1998. President Kabbah was restored to power in March 1998, and RUF leader Foday Sankoh was returned to the country after Koroma's ouster.

The current situation in Sierra Leone is very difficult to judge. Years of fighting have resulted in very little information leaving the country. Being the smallest group, information on the Creoles is very sparse. It appears that they do not face any ecological or demographic disadvantages compared to the other groups within Sierra Leone. However, a large percentage of the population has been internally displaced due to the fighting, and it is likely that the Creoles are not immune to this. It is difficult to assess the degree of political discrimination or lack thereof faced by Creoles due to instability in the Sierra Leone government. Having said that, the Creoles have always had a somewhat privileged place in Sierra Leone politics, dating back to colonial times and they continue to dominate the civil service sector to this day. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that they are singled out for discrimination (POLDIS06 = 0). Being historically advantaged and having high levels of education, it also appears that the group does not face current economic discrimination (ECDIS06 = 0). It is unclear if there are any policies in place that restrict their cultural freedoms and as Krio is the lingua franca, Creoles likely do not face any language restrictions (CULP0206 = 0).

There are no organizations that represent the Creoles interests specifically, although they have lent their support to the APC in the past. The United Nations has sent peacekeepers, and Amnesty International is on the ground reporting human rights violations for the country as a whole. Countries such as Guinea and Liberia have also taken in large numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict. Without groups advocating on their behalf, it is difficult to gauge their demands. Recent accounts record complaints made by Creoles regarding the SLPP-dominated government (POLGR06 = 1).There have been no reports of protest or rebellious activity by Creoles recently (PROT04-06 = 0; REB04-06 = 0). In April 2002, inhabitants of Freetown, namely the Creoles, and others in the region, participated in a Million Man March to show their support for Kabbah, the president who was up for re-election. The group has also been involved in some activity in the past. Prior to independence, the group had been involved in political organizing and pressuring the British government (PROT55X-65X = 2). In the early 1990s, the Creoles also participated in rallies calling for a more democratic government (PROT90X = 3). These protests never resulted in militant activity by the group.

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References

Amnesty International. 5/2002. "Sierra Leone Holds Elections in May." http://web.amnesty.org/wire/May2002/Sierra_Leone, accessed 8/27/2004.

Human Rights Watch. Jan. 2003. "Sierra Leone: 'We'll Kill you if you Cry': Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict." 15:1. http://hrw.org/reports/2003/sierraleone/sierleon0103.pdf, accessed 6/5/2008.

Kamara, Saidu. 1/23/2002. "The War is Over, Kabbah Declares." Standard Times (Sierra Leone).

Kandeh, Jimmy D. 1992. “Politicization of Ethnic Identities in Sierra Leone.” African Studies Review. 35:1. 81-99.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006..

Riley, Steve, et al. 1995). "Sierra Leone: The coming of Anarchy?" Review of African Political Economy. 22:63. 121-126.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Sierra Leone. 1999-2006.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006