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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Limba 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

Limba in Sierra Leone have several risk factors for rebellion, including territorial concentration and a cohesive identity. However, absent such risk factors as discrimination or government repression, rebellion remains unlikely in the near future. The 2007 elections were carried out peacefully, with the All People's Congress winning a majority in Parliament. Limba have traditionally supported the APC, further reducing the likelihood of Limba rebellion.

The likelihood of protest is also relatively low, although a more likely scenario than rebellion. The unconsolidated nature of Sierra Leone's democracy makes protest more likely, should the Limba not feel the APC is adequately representing their interests.


Analytic Summary

The Limba are the third largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone, behind the Mende and the Temne. The Limba are found mostly in the northern half of the country (GROUPCON = 3), where they have lived for hundreds of years. In fact, the Limba are the oldest inhabitants of what is known as present-day Sierra Leone. The Limba speak numerous languages including Krio, which is spoken by most groups in Sierra Leone (LANG = 1). They practice primarily traditional religions (BELIEF = 2), although there are small numbers of Christians and Muslims; however the Limba are said to be amongst the least Islamicized ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Due to the civil war that has ravaged the country, the Limba, like other Sierra Leone ethnic groups, have become a cohesive group.

After the country's independence in 1961, two political parties came to dominate Sierra Leonean politics. The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) was dominated by ethnic Mende and ruled the country from independence until 1968. Under successive SLPP regimes, Mende were favored and other ethnic groups sidelined. The All People's Congress (APC), dominated by Limba, ruled the country from 1968 until 1992. 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. Stevens left office in 1985, naming Joseph Saidu Momoh (also a Limba) as his successor. Momah faced increasing opposition as the APC government was increasingly characterized by human rights abuses and corruption.

Civil war in Sierra Leone broke out in 1991, as the Revolutionary United Front, led by Temne Foday Sankoh and backed by Liberia's Charles Taylor, launched attacks in eastern Sierra Leone. On April 30, 1992, The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), led by Capt. Valentine Strasser, seized power in a coup, blaming the previous APC regime of incompetence in dealing with the RUF rebellion. 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, won by the SLPP, and a civilian government was installed in March 1996. Sierra Leone was led by Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, a civilian and ethnic Mandingo, until May 1997 when he was overthrown by a military coup.

By March 1995, the ongoing civil war 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, a Limba. 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 four million have 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. Fighting affected all but one district of the country, and throughout the war the worst affected districts have been Moyamba, Bo, Kenema, Kailahun, Tonkolili, Kono and Pujehun. A peace agreement signed between the civilian government of Kabbah and RUF leader Sankoh in November 1996 did not last more than a few weeks, although 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. The years of fighting have resulted in very little information leaving the country. As a result, there is little information available on the Limba and their current situation. It is unclear if they face any ecological or demographic stresses in comparison with other groups in Sierra Leone. However, there has been concern expressed over the region's sanitation conditions. What is known is that the Limba are not subject to any apparent political discrimination (POLDIS06 = 0), but that they suffer from historical neglect in economic matters, although the government has introduced some remedial policies (ECDIS06 = 1). While groups such as Amnesty International have described large-scale repression during the civil war, the Limba are never mentioned specifically as being the perpetrators or the victims of such activity. Despite the fact that the Limba have played a role in the civil war, ethnicity does not serve as the focus of this war. As a result, The Limba have tended to support the All People's Congress. The APC has ruled Sierra Leone in the past and appears to continue to exist in some form (GOJPA06 = 2). Beyond the APC, the Limba, like other ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, have relied on support from the United Nations and NGOs such as Amnesty International. There is no information available indicating the nature of recent Limba demands, but their support of the APC demonstrates that they desire some voice in governmental affairs. The war has displaced thousands of people, mostly to Liberia and Guinea, and it can be assumed that large numbers of Limba are included in that group.

There is no information available that indicates that the Limba as a group have been involved in few protests and no rebellion in recent years (PROT04-05 = 0; REB06 = 0). However, in 2001, the Grassroot Awareness Organization, mostly a Limba group, stood up in a meeting and walked out, which was viewed as very insulting by others (PROT01 = 2). In 2006, Limba boycotted a ceremony after the the Biriwa chiefdom elections (PROT06 = 2). The only other recorded instance of Limba protest activity took place in the early 1980s (PROT80X = 4). The Limba have been involved in sporadic conflict with members of other ethnic groups, such as a 2006 clash in which 14 were injured in fighting between Limba and Mandingo following Biriwa chiefdom elections (INTERCON06 = 1).



Fanthorpe, Richard. 1998. "Limba 'Deep Rural' Strategies." The Journal of African History. 39:1. 15-38.

Fanthorpe, Richard. 1998."Locating the Politics of a Sierra Leonean Chiefdom." Africa. 68:4. 558-585

Human Rights Watch. Jan. 2003. "Sierra Leone: 'We'll Kill you if you Cry': Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict.", accessed 6/5/2008.

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

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