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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Temne 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 Temne have several risk factors for rebellion, including a high degree of territorial concentration, a history of rebellion and a high degree of group organization and cohesion. However, absent other risk factors, such as government repression or discrimination, Temne are not likely to rebel. In 2002, the civil war in Sierra Leone was declared officially over with the signing of a peace agreement. Although peace has been somewhat tenuous, Sierra Leone has made promising steps toward its transition to a democracy on the heels of a brutal civil war that left many civilians maimed and traumatized former child soldiers. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) successfully completed disarmament and demobilization, and there have been no reports of interethnic conflict or rebellion involving Temne since the end of the civil war. The successful 2007 elections were determined to be free and fair despite some irregularities, another positive development. The remaining RUF political party merged with the Temne-dominated All People’s Congress and won a majority of seats in the Parliament.


Analytic Summary

The Temne have long been found in the Western Atlantic provinces of Sierra Leone (GROUPCON = 3). The Temne have historically been involved in disputes over power with the other large ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, particularly the Mende, who are found in the southern part of the country and who are approximately the same size as the Temne. The Temne are most easily identified due to their unique language (LANG = 1) and customs (CUSTOM = 1). Due to the almost continuous fighting and competition along ethnic lines since before independence, the Temne have a heightened sense of ethnic solidarity.

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. In 2002, a peace agreement was signed and elections took place several months later in May. Thus far, the peace agreement has lasted. The RUF disarmed and demobilized with the signing of the agreement and transformed into a political party. In 2007, the RUF announced that it would merge with the All People's Congress prior to elections (GOJPA06 = 2). The APC won a majority of seats in the new Parliament.

The current situation in Sierra Leone is very difficult to judge. The years of fighting have resulted in very little information leaving the country. However, it does appear that the Temne have been affected by some ecological and health stress factors – mainly low food supplies and resulting disease. Prior to the 2002 peace agreement, the group had a history of economic neglect and political inequalities compared to groups found in other regions, and no governmental policies to correct that situation. Following the 2002 agreement, the Temne continue to suffer from economic inequalities, but are now proportionately represented in the government (ECDIS06 = 2; POLDIS06 = 0). The Temne held about 30 percent of parliamentary seats and 12 of 28 cabinet positions in the 2002-2007 SLPP-dominated government. The Temne have largely supported the Revolutionary Union Force (RUF) during the war, and therefore it can be assumed that the repression levied against the RUF as reported by Amnesty International affected the group. The RUF have had large numbers of their members arrested, including leaders, some of whom have been tortured while in police or army custody. Property has been destroyed and a large number of RUF soldiers have been executed. However, it should be noted that no repression against the RUF or Temne members was reported from 2004-2006. The Temne had been involved in the civil war for years and as a result had been involved in inter-group communal warfare mainly with the Mende who have tended to support the government, but this ended after 2002 (INTERCON02-06 = 0).

As mentioned the Temne have supported in large numbers the RUF, which merged with the APC in 2007. NGOs such as Amnesty International have helped report government activity against the RUF, and United Nations Peacekeepers have attempted to protect civilians. The government of Liberia has actively supported the RUF in their attempts at gaining control of the government. Guinea has taken in large numbers of refugees from all groups who have fled the violence. It appears that the Temne have supported the RUF in order to increase their share of political power both at the state level and locally. Beyond this demand, which seems to have been met in the 2007 elections, there is very little information available on the grievances of the group. It can be assumed that those not involved in the fighting are demanding protection from other ethnic groups, specifically the Mende.

The Temne have a history of protest and political organizing that dates back to colonial times (PROT45X = 2). In the 1970s the first Temne demonstrations were seen (PROT75X = 3), and they reoccurred in the early 1990s (PROT90X = 3) to protest against their treatment by the government. In the 1970s, the Temne (in conjunction with the Mende) planned, but failed to carry out a coup (REBEL70X = 3). Large scale Temne communal warfare has been seen throughout the 1990s (REBEL90X = 6; REBEL95X = 6). While no protests were reported recently (PROT06 = 0), militant activity remained through the year 2000 (REB00 = 5), but tapered off thereafter. In 2001, there were reports of political banditry but in 2002 through 2006 there were no further reports of rebellion by group members (REB01 = 1; REB02-06 = 0).



Ansumana, Juliet. 7/9/2007. "As RUFP Merges with APC, Youth Groups Say 'Ernest Koroma is Salone's Saviour." Awareness Times., accessed 1/25/2009.

Global Security. 4/27/2005. "Revolutionary United Front (RUF).", accessed 1/25/2009.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Olson, James Stuart. 1996. The peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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