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Reform is not

Against Tradition:
Making Chieftaincy
Relevant in 21 Century
st

Sierra Leone

Campaign for Good Governance


Methodist Church Sierra Leone
Network Movement for Justice and Development
October 2009

Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Contents Background

Background 1 This report is published by This report was commissioned by Campaign for Good The importance of stimulating debate on chieftaincy reflects
Partners in Conflict Governance (CGG); and Network Movement for Justice two wholly Sierra Leonean priorities. First, the overwhelming
List of Acronyms 2 Transformation (picot)
and Development (NMJD) and the Methodist Church Sierra message from post-war community dialogue sessions is
In collaboration with
Executive Summary 3 Campaign for Good Leone (MCSL), who work together as Partners in Conflict that ordinary people want to see the chieftaincy system
Governance (cgg) Transformation (PICOT), to inform their advocacy campaign reformed, not abolished. Second, one Act directly affecting
Introduction: Why Reform the Chieftaincy System? 10 in Freetown, October 2009 calling for reform of the chieftaincy system in Sierra Leone. chiefdom governance has recently been enacted: the
The following organisations Over the past years, chiefdom governance has been identified Chieftaincy Act, 2009; while another Bill, equally affecting
1 Legacies of “Indirect Rule”: Government Policy  15 as a major issue by community members participating in chiefdom governance, is waiting to be enacted: the Local
are members of Partners in
On Chieftaincy in the 20th Century Conflict Transformation: conflict transformation sessions facilitated by the partner Courts Bill, 2008. Additionally, the Sierra Leone government
1.1 “Native Law and Custom” 15 1. Network Movement for organizations. During a one-week workshop in July 2007, is considering the Constitutional Review Committee’s
1.2 Post-Colonial Patronage Politics and Legislative Stagnation 19 Justice and Development PICOT therefore decided to make chieftaincy reform its major recommendations for the addition of new clauses on
(NMJD)
1.3 Lessons from History for a New Programme  23 advocacy focus. Reform at this level has the potential to effect chieftaincy in the Sierra Leonean Constitution. It has also
2. Methodist Church Sierra
of Chieftaincy Reform Leone (MCSL) real change in the lives of the rural poor as it addresses root commissioned a departmental review of the Local
causes of poverty and exclusion rather than symptoms. Government Act, 2004, which establishes the division of
2 Talking About Chieftaincy in Sierra Leone Today  25 The failings of chiefdom governance have been highlighted functions between the chiefdoms and the town and district
in several recent reports commissioned by donor agencies. councils. Through their advocacy campaign, PICOT, CGG
2.1 Accountability and Good Governance 25
While the present report is equally candid about these and other civil society organizations in Sierra Leone seek to
2.1.1 The Moral Contract between Chiefs and People 25 failings, its primary aim is to draw all interest groups, chiefs ensure that the voices and concerns of ordinary Sierra
2.1.2 Case Study: The Biriwa Chieftaincy Election Crisis of 2006 26 included, into a debate about the institutional reforms Leoneans are taken into account during these important
2.1.3 Chieftaincy’s Crisis of Accountability 29 that are needed to make the chiefdom governance more legislative and policy developments.
2.1.4 The Case for Universal Adult Suffrage in Chieftaincy Elections 34 accountable, democratic, just, and focussed on development. The evidence cited in this report is drawn from published
2.2 Justice and Human Rights 37 The fundamental challenge for reform is to make chieftaincy sources, the authors’ fieldwork and community dialogue
2.2.1 Overlapping Spheres of Justice 37 relevant in Sierra Leone in the 21st century. Since the end sessions facilitated by the partner organizations. The authors
2.2.2 Rural Community-Based Justice 38 of the civil war, there have been numerous changes in would like to thank PICOT partners, CGG, Frances Fortune
Sierra Leoneans’ conceptions of governance, development, of Search for Common Ground and Marie-Luise Schueller of
2.2.3 Corruption and Conflict in the Local Justice System 39
accountability, justice and human rights. Some have attempted Christian Aid for their comments. They would also like to thank
2.2.4 Ways Forward for Improving the Local Justice System 42 to label these changes as “untraditional” and “un-Sierra Peter Muffu of Njala University and Marie-Luise Schueller of
2.3 Taxation and Representation 43 Leonean.” However, there is nothing untraditional about Christian Aid for their assistance in editing and proof reading
2.3.1 Chiefdoms and Local Councils 43 women wanting better access to justice and governance, the first and final drafts.1
2.3.2 Case Study: Conflicts over Revenue Collection in  46 for there are many places in the country where women are The research was supported by Christian Aid, UK, with
Tonkolili District chiefs, judges and lawyers. There is nothing untraditional funding from Irish Aid MAPS.
2.3.3 Ways Forward for Improving the Local Government System 47 or un-Sierra Leonean about people from non-ruling houses
holding positions of authority, since there are many such
3 Strengths and Weaknesses of Recent Legislation  49 persons holding responsible positions within chiefdom
governance structures, local councils and central government.
on Chieftaincy
There is nothing untraditional and un-Sierra Leonean about
3.1 The Chieftaincy Act, 2009 49 chiefs being more accountable to their people, or of ensuring
3.2 The Local Courts Bill, 2008 52 that chiefs are insulated from the pressure to serve as party
3.3 The Local Government Act, 2004 53 political enforcers. These are not issues that should be seen
as opposing tradition. The resilience of traditional political
4 Chieftaincy and Decentralization in other  54 institutions depends on their ability to bring on board new
African Countries: What Lessons for Sierra Leone? ideas and respond to emerging aspirations. Where institutions
are out of step with the aspirations of the people, they risk
5 Recommendations and Conclusions 56 losing the loyalty and respect of those that they are meant to
5.1 Accountability and Good Governance Reforms 56 serve. The case for reform is therefore not a case against
tradition. It is rather a case for the continued relevance of
5.2 Justice and Human Rights Reforms 57
chieftaincy in a country that yearns for better governance,
5.3 Taxation and Representation Reforms 58 fairer justice systems, socio-economic development and
5.4 Conclusions 58 greater accountability.

References 59
Persons, Organizations and Communities Consulted 60
1. Thanks also to Renee Zandvliet , CGG intern, for editing and proof
reading the first draft.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

List of Acronyms Executive Summary

AFRC: Armed Forces Revolutionary Council Why Reform the Chieftaincy system? Clearly, the first step for meaningful reform of the chieftaincy
APC: All Peoples Congress Chieftaincy remains a key cultural and political institution in system is to repair the relationship between chiefs and their
Sierra Leone. However, recent public consultations have people and to protect that relationship from political interference
BKM: Bureh-Kasseh-Makonteh Chiefdom
revealed a general crisis of confidence in the system of from above. Chiefs remain to be convinced that reform is in their
CCFC: Central Chiefdom Finance Clerk best interests and many complain that “tradition” is sacrosanct.
governance through which chiefs exercise local authority.
CDC: Chiefdom Development Committee Many Sierra Leoneans, chiefs included, have acknowledged Yet many of the powers and functions attached to chieftaincy are
CDF: Civil Defense Forces that the failings of the chieftaincy system were among the root demonstrably not traditional. Just as government is continually
causes of the recent civil war. refining laws and policies to ensure that the state system
CEDAW: Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Reform of the chieftaincy system is nevertheless faced is operating efficiently, serving the nation and moving with
CGG: Campaign for Good Governance the times, so should the functions attached to chieftaincy be
with numerous obstacles, both institutional and political. The
CGRP: Chiefdom Governance Reform Programme system was originally designed for the purpose of colonial subjected to critical examination and reformed if need be.
CPI: Chiefdom Police Inspector “indirect rule”, a regime under which chiefs were allowed to Indeed, the Government of Sierra Leone is even now
rule over their subjects according to “native law and custom” passing laws that will have a significant impact on chiefdom
CSO: Civil Society Organization
with supervision from above. Many commentators, including governance. These laws include the Chieftaincy Act, 2009, the
DecSec: Decentralization Secretariat Local Courts Bill, 2008 and the Local Government Act, 2004.
the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC),
IDP: Internally Displaced Person argue that the control exerted by the colonial administration The latter Act is currently undergoing an internal government
IRCBP: Institutional Reform and Capacity Building Project over chiefs had a negative impact on their relationship with review. With this legislation in progress, there is every reason
their people. Chiefs served the central government first and for chiefs to join a national discussion about the future of their
LGA: Local Government Act
foremost and often used their colonially wrought powers to institution. The fundamental challenge for chieftaincy reform
MIALGRA: Ministry for Internal Affairs, Local Government & Rural Affairs is to make the institution relevant in Sierra Leone in the 21st
exploit their people for private gain.
NEC: National Electoral Commission It was Sierra Leone’s misfortune that post-colonial century. Where institutions are out of step with the aspirations
NMJD: Network Movement for Justice and Development governments tended to use chiefs in exactly the same manner of the people, they risk losing the loyalty and respect of
as their colonial predecessors: as instruments for maintaining those that they are meant to serve. The case for reform is
NGO: Non Governmental Organization
political control over the countryside. Party-political rivalries, therefore not a case against tradition. It is rather a case for
NPRC: National Provisional Ruling Council the continued relevance of chieftaincy in a country that
particularly the rivalry between the Sierra Leone Peoples Party
MCSL: Methodist Church Sierra Leone (SLPP) and All Peoples Congress (APC), intensified this trend. yearns for better governance, fairer justice systems, socio-
ONS: Office of National Security Whichever party had the ascendency in a particular area relied economic development and greater accountability.
on chiefs to mobilize the rural vote in its favour. When in power, Chieftaincy reform, we argue, cannot work unless it takes
PICOT: Partners in Conflict Transformation
both of the leading parties were inclined to speak publicly the voices of ordinary people fully into account. For that
PC: Paramount Chief reason, it must address the following priority principles:
of chieftaincy as if it was a completely traditional system of
PMDC: People’s Movement for Democratic Change governance that was above politics. But in practice, central
1. Accountability and Good Governance
PPRC: Political Parties Registration Office government actively sought to control chiefs using laws
Ordinary people want to have greater say in the decision
RUF: Revolutionary United Front inherited from the colonial era.
making process in the chiefdoms. They also want to see
Since the war, the resurgence of multi-party democracy
SLP: Sierra Leone Police more democratic and transparent chieftaincy elections so
has also seen the revival of party political co-option of chiefs.
that they can be confident that the winners are genuinely
SLPP: Sierra Leone People’s Party Some international donor agencies working in Sierra Leone
committed to the welfare and development of the
TA: Tribal Authorities have come to regard the obstacles facing chieftaincy reform
communities they represent.
TDC: Tonkolili District Council as intractable and recommend starting afresh with more
modern institutions of local government. However, chieftaincy 2. Justice and Human Rights
TRC: Truth and Reconciliation Commission Ordinary people want to have confidence that when they
is protected from abolition by the 1991 Constitution and, in
UNDP: United Nations Development Programme spite of widespread anger and resentment towards chiefs’ take a dispute to a chief or a case to the Local Court, they will
VDC: Village Development Committee authoritarian behaviour over the years, the vast majority of receive justice irrespective of their age, gender or social status.
Sierra Leoneans still respect the institution of chieftaincy and
WDC: Ward Development Committee 3. Taxation and Representation
want to see it continue.
YKK: Yakemo Kpukumu Krim When ordinary people pay their taxes to local authorities,
they want to see a tangible return in the form of services and
development investment.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Lessons from History Central Government Interference The first accountability issue emerging from these cases is that Justice and Human Rights Issues
in Chieftaincy Affairs many chiefdom residents, youth and women in particular, are There are no explicit provisions in the general law about the
The failings of an authoritarian model of Chieftaincy Third, the British colonial authorities arrogated to themselves reduced to the role of bystanders at chieftaincy elections as local administration of justice by chiefs. The Local Courts
Several important lessons for chieftaincy reform can be ruling houses and their elite supporters struggle for ascendency.
the task of supervising chiefdom governance, which meant Act, 1963, states that these Courts have primary jurisdiction
found in history. First, colonial “indirect rule” helped to Second, insofar as they were designed to introduce
that, in the final analysis, executive interpretations of to “hear and determine civil cases governed by customary
create an authoritarian model of chieftaincy that has arguably taxpayer (and thus popular) representation to Chiefdom
“native law and custom” always enjoyed priority over the law” and that it is an offence to any person to “exercise or
never been “traditional”. Successive governments of Sierra Councils, the old rules for allocating Chiefdom Councillors to
interpretations of chiefs and their people. Since native law and attempt to exercise judicial powers” within their territorial
Leone have supported this model, believing oligarchy [i.e. localities on a ratio of one councillor for every 20 taxpayers
custom could not, by definition, be regulated directly by the jurisdiction. But since Section 176(3) of the Laws of Sierra
rule by a small elite] to be necessary for the maintenance have become a manifest failure. Many chiefs insist on
statute, the colonial authorities effectively licensed themselves Leone 1965 makes provision for the existence of the statutes
of law and order at the local level. This model overlooks appointing taxpayer representatives to Chiefdom Councils
to intervene in chiefdom affairs whenever they saw it fit. and common law, Paramount Chiefs have retained a role
the vital role that cooperation and consensus have always because it helps them to secure the support of community
National governments have carried on that tradition even in the as the final arbiters of justice in communities governed by
played in maintaining social order at the grassroots. patrons and opinion formers and ensure that upwardly mobile
post-civil war era. Clearly, legislative reforms aimed at making customary law.
Whenever governments have been faced with evidence chiefdom residents remain tied to the system of authority
chiefdom governance more accountable, just, respecting The present system of justice therefore creates
that the authoritarian model of chieftaincy creates conflict, based on chieftaincy. Yet, the fundamental problem with this
of human rights and effective in delivering services and overlapping spheres of authority. In remote rural
their habitual response has been to put the blame on the system of patronage is that it excludes youths, women and
development inputs must also aim to protect chiefs and rural communities, chiefs represent by far the most accessible
protestors. Yet if chiefs are going to return to their traditional poorer chiefdom residents and often contradicts shared ideas
people from excessive and unaccountable central government resolvers of disputes and dispensers of justice. Paramount
communitarian role as the TRC Report recommends, the of “community” that enable chiefs to maintain social order in
interference in their affairs. Chiefs, Section Chiefs and Village Chiefs often hold informal
authoritarian model of chieftaincy will have to go. the first place. courts where they adjudicate cases, levy fees, impose
Overlapping systems of local governance Talking About Chieftaincy in Third, local factional rivalries would clearly not have such a fines or other punishments. But they also adjudicate intra-
Second, Successive governments’ determination not to Sierra Leone Today disruptive effect on chiefdom governance if it were not for the community disputes where little or no money is involved.
compromise “native law and custom” often meant that The analysis continues with an examination of the views of excessive and unaccountable power government continues Another feature of this community-based justice system
when reforms in chiefdom governance did take place, they different stakeholders on chieftaincy issues in present-day to hold over chieftaincy affairs. Chieftaincy politics remains is the strong moral pressure on individuals not to involve
lacked coherence and sustainability. For example, the “native Sierra Leone. focussed on winning the favour of central government rather outsiders in disputes. Yet even in remote rural areas there are
administration” reforms of the 1930s sought to add local than winning the support of the people. people who prefer to look beyond chiefs for justice: traders,
Accountability and Good Governance Issues
government functions to the governing councils of chiefdoms teachers and others who, by virtue of their work, education
Applying the principle of accountability to relations between The Case for Universal Adult Suffrage
(Tribal Authorities) without any real consideration of whether and community of origin, prefer to bring cases before the
chiefs and their subjects might appear problematic, given in Chieftaincy Elections
these bodies had the capacity to manage these functions. Local Courts and Magistrate’s Courts.
that a Paramount Chief’s primary claim to rule is his or her Universal adult suffrage in chieftaincy elections could help to
Furthermore, taxpayer representatives were originally Community based justice only works effectively where
hereditary right. However, many rural people still consider resolve chieftaincy’s current crisis of accountability.
included in Tribal Authorities with the intention of making these there is a moral consensus. Unfortunately, there are many
chiefs to be bound by a moral contract with them and it is this First, it would bring an end to politically motivated inflation
bodies more democratic. Yet the expanded Tribal Authorities signs that this consensus has come under severe strain in
contract that they want to see restored. of local tax assessments and fraudulent manipulation of
became too large to function effectively as decision-making rural Sierra Leone in recent years. Part of the problem is chiefs’
Case studies of the Biriwa chieftaincy election of 2006 Chiefdom Councillor lists.
forums and their key administrative functions were eventually over-zealous enforcement of their subjects’ “community”
and the Bureh-Kasseh-Makonteh (BKM) chieftaincy election Second, since women are now expected to pay local tax
transferred to self-recruiting Chiefdom Committees. Another obligations, especially unpaid labour. They also use their own
of 2002 illustrate chieftaincy’s current accountability crisis. In under decentralization, the numbers of assessed taxpayers
approach was to introduce new institutions to satisfy social judicial authority and the Local Courts to inflict punishments
the Biriwa case, government officials revised the Chiefdom in all chiefdoms are already increasing substantially. If the old
groups (e.g. miners and wage workers) who were demanding on community people who defy their authority. Another
Councillor list without consulting the chiefdom people, 1:20 ratio of Councillors to taxpayers is retained it will produce
modern governance yet leave chiefdom institutions intact to element of the problem is that many chiefs and Local Court
accepted inflated tax assessments, made revisions to the List Chiefdom Councils that are too large to be able to meet and
serve communities of poor farmers. That policy created two functionaries have come to rely on the local justice system as
that clearly favoured one candidate and prioritized their own conduct business effectively in one place (e.g. a Court Barray).
overlapping systems of justice and the institutional separation a source of private income.
interpretation of local customs and traditions. When it refused Third, it would place responsibility for managing chieftaincy
of local revenue collection (chiefdoms) from service delivery elections firmly in the hands of the NEC and curtail abuse of
to respond to local protests, bringing in armed security to
(District Councils). Clearly, the primary objective of chieftaincy the government’s colonially wrought power to arbitrate on
ensure the completion of the election, local secret societies
reform must be the creation of a fully integrated local matters of “customary law and usage” in chieftaincy elections.
imposed ritual curfews on bush paths and the Court Barray,
government system. The whole point of universal adult suffrage in chieftaincy
forcing the election to reconvene elsewhere. The Biriwa
election also prompted a confrontation between the National elections is to bring chiefs back in touch with the communities
Electoral Commission (NEC) and the Local Government they represent, to give them a mandate to “stand firm and do
Ministry, which eventually led to a controversial High Court something better for the people” as one rural youth put it. The
ruling stating that chiefdom elections were not “public” idea that the public cannot be trusted to vote responsibly for
elections and therefore outside NEC’s constitutional remit. their political leaders really should have no place in a modern
In the BKM case, government officials also accepted inflated democracy. Again, the argument comes back to the point
tax assessments, authorized a “ghost” chiefdom section and that if all Sierra Leonean citizens have the right to vote for the
upheld a colonial-era rotational crowning agreement that had President, there is no good reason why they should not vote
only been signed by one faction in the chiefdom. for their chiefs.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Ways Forward for Improving the Local Justice System Current problems between local councils and chiefdoms Ways Forward for Improving the Local Furthermore, the Act is either deficient or inconsistent on
First, it is very unlikely that corruption in the Local Courts over revenue collection are illustrated by a case study from Government System several issues, both major and minor. The lack of clarity over
and Chiefs’ judicial hearings will diminish until Local Court Tonkolili District. Since 2004, the rate of local tax in the District Clearly, the present division of functions between the local the role of the NEC in paramount chieftaincy elections is a
functionaries and chiefs cease to rely so heavily on fees and has increased considerably, and is now a significant source councils and the chiefdoms is untenable. The logical solution notable case in point. Section 4(4) of the Act states that: “The
fines for private income. Providing adequate salaries for Local of revenue. Tonkolili District Council (TDC) is entitled to take a might be that local councils take over responsibility for revision of the Chiefdom Councillors List shall be undertaken by
Court functionaries, Chiefdom Police and chiefs and a proper percentage of local taxes and revenues from market dues, but collecting all revenues, but the political reality is that most rural the office of the Provincial Secretary in collaboration with the
salary structure for all ranks of chief (i.e. Village Chiefs and with so much money now becoming available, local Paramount Sierra Leoneans’ primary loyalty is to their chiefdoms and they National Electoral Commission (NEC)”.Are NEC officials going
Section Chiefs should receive proper salaries, not rebates on Chiefs are arguing that the tax paid by communities should be would resist extending further powers to bureaucrats and to have access to the raw tax data in order to ensure that the
local tax collections) is essential. reinvested in the development of those specific communities, functionaries whom they are already inclined to distrust. list is compiled in accordance with the rules, or are they going
Second, the idea enshrined in the Chiefdom Councils not the district as the whole. The only answer in the long term is that the chiefdoms to be asked to approve a list that has simply been updated to fill
Act (Cap.61 of the Laws of Sierra Leone, 1960), that chiefs In a public meeting held in November 2008, the TDC become fully integrated into the local government system. vacancies caused by recent deaths of Councillors?
should maintain order in their localities simply by exercising leadership revealed that one chiefdom administration had Chiefdom Committees should take over the present functions Finally, some sections of the Act continue to support
their authority as chiefs, is a throwback to colonial “indirect not paid anything into its bank account for two years, despite of Ward Development Committees and the new generation excessive central government control over chieftaincy
rule” and needs to be revised to reflect 21st century realities. collecting taxes over that time. Furthermore, nobody in the of Village Development Committees (VDCs), which are more affairs. For example, the Act specifically states that Provincial
The law should recognize that chiefs of all ranks play a key district seemed to know where the 60% of local revenues representative of the interests of women and youth than Secretaries should preside over chieftaincy elections in
role in mediating problems and disputes at the community due to the chiefdoms was going. Functionaries employed the hastily formed VDCs of the early post-war era, should their capacity as Declaration Officers and that government
level, including disputes between community members and by chiefdom administrations (e.g. Chiefdom Police, Treasury also be formalized as the bottom tier of the integrated local recognises the validity of an election based on Provincial
outside parties Clerks, etc) claimed that they were not being paid and Treasury government system. Secretaries’ reports. In effect therefore, Provincial Secretaries
Third, the interface between customary law and state law Clerks were frequently transferred from chiefdom to chiefdom are both managing elections and monitoring them on behalf
needs to be better defined. Customary law in Sierra Leone and didn’t have up-to-date records. It eventually emerged Strengths and Weaknesses of Recent of the government. It is not clear, however, who is monitoring
must be restated. Restatement basically entails writing that the Ministry for Internal Affairs, Local Government & Legislation Affecting Chieftaincy their performance.
down laws and their usages in one document. This process Rural Affairs (MIALGRA) in Freetown was still controlling
The Chieftaincy Act, 2009 The Local Courts Bill, 2008 and the Justice Sector
is different from codification, which entails entrusting binding chiefdom financial accounts, summoning CCFCs and Treasury
The primary purpose of this Act is to set out procedures for Reform Strategy
legal force to the laws so documented. Codifying customary Clerks to the capital every year to assist in the preparation
electing Paramount Chiefs and Sub-Chiefs. The government’s On paper, the Local Courts Bill, 2008 is a far more radical
law would freeze it and deny it the flexibility that is its defining of budgets. Such practices contravene the clauses in the
initiative in making these elections a specific subject of piece of legislation than the Chieftaincy Act, 2009. In essence,
characteristic. A restatement of customary laws and usages Local Government Act that establish district councils as the
legislation is to be applauded, as are the sections of the new the Bill updates and expands upon the provisions of the
would improve all justice practitioners’ knowledge of these highest authorities in their localities with responsibility for
Act that seek to give paramount chieftaincy elections greater Local Courts Act, 1963 and subsequent amendments. The
laws, and generate more informed understanding of the social approving the annual budgets of chiefdom administrations and
protection from political interference from above. However, radical feature of the Bill is to transfer the administration
context in which they are applicable. overseeing the implementation of these budgets.
the Chieftaincy Act, 2009 clearly does not go far enough in of the Local courts from the Ministry responsible for Local
A Provincial Secretary interviewed in January 2009 later
Taxation and Representation Issues terms of reforming the ills that have plagued the chieftaincy Government to the Ministry of Justice. The Chief Justice now
revealed that revenue deposited in chiefdom administration
system in the past. appoints the Court Chairman and all other functionaries after
The Relationship between Chiefdom Councils banks accounts is often used as a “hospitality” slush fund for
In particular, the Act merely recapitulates existing consultation with the Judicial and Legal Service Commission,
and District Councils Minsters and other senior government figures when on visits to
guidelines for using Chiefdom Councils as Electoral Colleges as established by Section 140 of the Constitution.
The Local Government Act (LGA) of 2004 establishes the rural areas. He concluded by observing that central government
in paramount chieftaincy elections. Section 4(3) of the The effect of the Local Courts Bill, 2008, is to separate the
local councils as the highest authorities in their localities. will always side with the chiefs when they come into conflict
Act states that fraudulent inflation of taxpayer lists is an local law courts completely from chiefdom administration.
The LGA reinstates an old system whereby the local councils with the local councils because a Paramount Chief can still
offence. It also states that “irregularities” in the revision of For the first time in Sierra Leone’s history, the formal justice
claim a precept on revenues collected by the chiefdoms. deliver “40,000 votes” to a political party at election time.
the gazetted Chiefdom Councillors list shall not constitute system has been placed under one institutional umbrella,
It also confirms the original law and order functions of
grounds for invalidating an election. Here, the government breaking down old divisions created by colonial “indirect rule.”
Chiefdom Councils as established by the Chiefdom Councils
is acknowledging, tacitly, that fraud is commonplace in The great advantage of this change is that a single authority
Act and Provinces Lands Act (Caps. 61 and 122 of the Laws
the revision of Chiefdom Councillors lists. Yet it seems to will take overall responsibility for the appointment, training
of Sierra Leone, 1960).
be worried that if legal challenges to election results were and terms and conditions of employment of all local law court
This division of functions has tended to place the
permitted the whole Electoral College system could collapse. functionaries. Answering to a clear chain of command will
chiefdoms and local councils in competition with one another.
If the system requires such protection, there is something enable these functionaries to resist political leverage on their
By far the most pressing problem arising here concerns the
fundamentally wrong with it. Rather than seeking to protect decision making. With court revenues paid directly into the
collection and usage of revenue. At present, local revenue
the old system, the government should have set about government’s coffers and the government taking responsibility
collection remains the primary responsibility of poorly trained
reforming it. for functionaries’ salaries, both the opportunity and incentive
and infrequently remunerated Treasury Clerks and other
for financial corruption in the local law courts should be
chiefdom functionaries.
greatly reduced. The Local Courts Bill represents a historic
step forward in Sierra Leone’s system of governance, yet its
enactment continues to be delayed.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

The Local Government Act, 2004 There are several lessons from these two countries here D. All Chiefs Receive Salaries I. Reform the Chiefdom Police
The Local Government Act, 2004 is the oldest piece of for chieftaincy reform in Sierra Leone. First, while the Chiefs of all ranks perform key roles in maintaining social The Chiefdom Police should be reformed into a rural auxiliary
legislation considered in this report and is already the subject authors of this report are not recommending the removal of order in rural areas (see recommendation G) and should police force, trained by the SLP but with less stringent entry
of an internal governmental review. One of the main areas chiefs from the local government system in the foreseeable receive government salaries for this work. They should not qualifications. The new force should serve the local councils as
earmarked for review is the division of functions between the future, the experience of Ghana and Uganda emphasizes have to rely on community contributions to make up for time well as chiefdom authorities.
local councils and the chiefdoms. The root of the problem is that, where chieftaincy is concerned, there is a trade off lost in securing their livelihoods and local taxes should pay
J. Enact the Local Courts Bill, 2008
the old idea, inherited from colonial “indirect rule,” that the between formal political power and genuine community for welfare services and development. Sub-Chiefs should
The Bill represents a key step in the reform of the chieftaincy
chiefdoms are responsible for law and order while the local representation. Second, an institutionally integrated local receive graded salaries and the rebate on local tax collection
system and the integration of chiefdom-level structures into
councils are responsible for development. The Chieftaincy government system is always going to be more efficient should be abolished.
the state system. It should be enacted without further delay.
Act, 2009, is now emphasizing that Paramount Chiefs should in delivering services and responding to local development
E. Reincorporate the National Council of
serve as agents of development. If it achieves nothing else, needs than one in which functions are divided between K. Local Councils Take over Responsibility for all
Paramount Chiefs as a Body with Specific
the review of the 2004 Act should seek to ensure that chiefs separate and competing institutions. Third, when chieftaincy Local Revenue Collection
Constitutional Responsibilities
become part of the local government system, not remain in becomes a strictly civil institution, it is better placed to District and Town Councils should become responsible for all
The National Council of Paramount Chiefs should be renamed
competition with it. develop its own special sphere of governance and adapt to revenue collection, which should now fund welfare services
National Council of Chiefs and fully incorporated, based on the
social and economic change. Fourth, freedom from political and development activity.
model of the Ghanaian House of Chiefs. The new body should
Chieftaincy and Decentralization in work on behalf of the central state also allows chiefs to
be fully funded and work with the Law Reform Commission L. Extend Statutory Recognition to the
other African Countries: What Lessons take a lead in civil society organizations capable of attracting
on the restatement of customary law, investigate land tenure New Generation of VDCs
for Sierra Leone? external development funding.
reform in the Provinces and advise the Local Government Villages represent the bottom tier of local administration in rural
There have been close links between Sierra Leone and Ghana
Ministry and NEC on matters pertaining to rotational crowning areas and statutory recognition of these structures will pave the
on policy relating to chieftaincy for many years. Many of the Recommendations and Conclusions
agreements and ruling house eligibility in chieftaincy elections. way for their incorporation into the local government system.
colonial laws on chieftaincy in Sierra Leone were adapted from
A. Introduce Universal Adult Suffrage in Paramount
existing laws enacted in Nigeria and Ghana (then Gold Coast). F. Establish a Chieftaincy Commission M. Replace Ward Development Committees with
Chieftaincy Elections.
More recently, Ghanaian and Ugandan experts have advised This independent body will regulate chiefs’ salaries, develop VDCs and Reformed Chiefdom Committees
This will ensure that elections are truly democratic and
the Sierra Leone Government on local government policy. a code of conduct for chieftaincy and investigate complaints WDCs should be abolished and their functions returned
Paramount Chiefs are representative of all of their people.
One of the striking differences between Sierra Leone and against chiefs raised by citizens. The Chieftaincy Commission to reformed Chiefdom Committees. The new Chiefdom
If people are allowed to elect their chiefs, chiefs will become
Ghana and Uganda is that in these two countries, there is should have the power to recommend to the President that a Committee should comprise of the Paramount Chief
accountable to the community, not to the brokers and
no separate sphere of chiefdom governance responsible for Commission of Inquiry into the conduct of a Paramount Chief (chairman), Speaker, Section Chiefs, Local Councillors
manipulators who seek to control chieftaincy elections.
collecting tax and maintaining law and order. Both countries is necessary, but it must also be bound by law to forward representing wards wholly or partially located in the chiefdom
Peace and security will therefore increase.
have a system of elected councils that extend from the evidence of illegal activity on the part of bureaucrats and and 5 men and 5 women elected by the people. Chiefdom
district level right down to the village level. These councils B. The NEC Supervises Paramount Chieftaincy private citizens to the relevant authorities. Committees should become part of the local government
are responsible for collecting all local revenues and helping to Elections system along with the VDCs and have development budgets
G. Extend Legal Recognition to Chiefs’ Leading
maintain national security. Chiefs have no formal role in them. Paramount Chieftaincy elections are public elections and approved by the District Council. Committee members should
Role in Local Dispute Resolution
Both the intent and effect of chieftaincy legislation in should therefore be supervised by the NEC. This will allow receive expenses for attending meetings.
This role should receive statutory recognition and should
both countries is to place chiefs firmly within the realm of the NEC to carry out its constitutional mandate and help to There is nothing in these recommendations that would
be the basis upon which chiefs receive salaries (see
civil society. Chiefs in Ghana and Uganda continue to wield ensure that chieftaincy elections are free and fair and fully represent a radical departure from local governance practices
recommendation D). Clarifying this role will help to improve
considerable influence in local and national affairs, but they do regulated by the law. A list of aspirants should be published in other African countries that have chieftaincy systems. On
liaison between chiefs, the police services and the formal court
so in their capacity as leaders and representatives of particular well in advance of the election and their eligibility should the contrary, these recommendations would bring Sierra
system. Disputes over customary land rights are a special case
communities. In Ghana, chiefs themselves often acknowledge only be investigated when it is the subject of a formal written Leone more into line with the local governance systems now
and it is vital that these are properly recorded. Chiefs require
that their formal exclusion from party politics ensures that their challenge from a citizen of the chiefdom. Challenges should found in counties like Ghana and Uganda.
support from government in formalizing these adjudications.
position as community leaders is not compromised. There are be heard by the Local Courts and the Declaration of Rights
clear benefits to both chiefs and their people when chieftaincy meeting should be abolished. H. Restate Customary Law
remains a strictly civil institution. In Ghana in particular, there A restatement of customary laws and usages would improve
C. Incorporate the Chiefdom Committee as
are regional and national Houses of Chiefs whose duties all justice practitioners’ knowledge of these laws, and generate
a Local Government Body
include advising any person or authority on matters relating more informed understanding of the social context in which
The Chiefdom Committee, rather than the Chiefdom Council,
to chieftaincy and undertaking the study, interpretation and they are applicable. This is work that should be done by the
should be recognized in law as the governing body of the
codification of customary law. Another benefit of “civil” upgraded National Council of Chiefs in partnerships with
chiefdom and its structure, roles and responsibilities must
chieftaincy is that it can become a corporate foundation for Customary Law Officers and the Law Reform Commission.
be redefined to reflect this (see recommendation M). The
community development. For example, the Kingdom of Restatement is not codification and the purpose of the
Chiefdom Council serves no useful function except as an
Buganda is registered as a development agency and has been exercise is to improve the performance of the justice system
instrument of patronage and should be abolished.
able to secure funding from the Ugandan government and rather than transform customary law into written law.
international NGOs.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Introduction:
Why Reform the Chieftaincy system?

Chieftaincy remains a key cultural and political institution in Community dialogue sessions facilitated by NGOs since Since the end of the war, Sierra Leone has seen a massive Reform of the chieftaincy system is nevertheless faced with
Sierra Leone. Formal government and business activity is the end of the civil war have revealed the extent to which influx of foreign aid, aimed at rehabilitating state institutions numerous obstacles, both institutional and political. Foremost
concentrated in Freetown and the mining areas and two thirds chiefs’ governance has deviated from popular expectations in and providing social and economic support to the Sierra among these obstacles is the durability of a species of
of the population is scattered in small rural towns and farming recent years. Time and again, participants in these sessions Leonean people. Governments of Sierra Leone have strongly patronage politics that exploits the legacy of colonial “indirect
communities. There are few civil authorities readily accessible have claimed that chiefs, especially Paramount Chiefs, have supported these international efforts, pledging to put the rule”.As the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission
to these rural communities other than chiefs. Even after been abusing their authority. For example, chiefs have stood corruption and political oppression of the past behind them. (TRC) notes in its final report, Sierra Leone’s chieftaincy
the inception of decentralization in 2004, chiefs continue to accused of diverting external development support to their To that end, they have overseen the return of multi-party system, like similar systems in other African colonies, was
represent the first point of contact with government for many own families and political supporters rather than the most democracy and a decentralization programme whose primary designed from the outset to operate on principles distinct from
Sierra Leoneans. needy, entering into secret cartels with outside agencies aim has been to “create a participatory local governance those of modern local government. In the early Sierra Leone
Rural people still rely on chiefs to intercede on their behalf (e.g. foreign firms) to exploit local resources behind the backs structure where people (including previously marginalized Protectorate, large pre-colonial polities were often broken
with central government in Freetown and government still of their people, and using the Local Courts and informal groups) can actively participate in the decision-making process up into small colonial chiefdoms to facilitate the collection of
uses chiefs to issue decrees to the people and to oversee judicial hearings to suppress criticism of their governance, at the local level.”5 Over the last ten years, Sierra Leoneans government tax and chiefs were allowed to rule their localities
development programmes in their localities. The prevalence seize property under disputed ownership for their own from all walks of life have become familiar with ideas about only as long as they maintained law and order and fulfilled
of customary land tenure in the provinces also means that use and generate income from fines that are often grossly good governance, accountability, transparency, justice and colonial demands for labour and taxes. The TRC goes on to
chiefs, especially those of paramount rank, still play a vital incommensurate with the offences committed.2 Reports also human rights. Many of these ideas have now become part of argue that the control exerted by the colonial administration
role in authorizing transfers of land ownership between continue to circulate that chiefs and religious leaders (e.g. the language of everyday politics and have helped stimulate over chiefs changed the traditional relationship between chiefs
community members and supervising land leases taken out imams) at the village level are compelling people to work farms what a recent World Bank report describes as a “remarkable and their people:
by non-locals. Rural people still make a point of informing for them without pay under the pretext that this represents upsurge in self-organized social activism”, especially
The overhaul of the structure of Chieftaincy was to have grave
chiefs about their family affairs, often inviting them to witness “communal labour”.3 among young people. This activism has taken the form of
implications on the ways in which traditional rulers related
the life-cycle ceremonies of family members (e.g. babies’ Many Sierra Leoneans, chiefs included, now acknowledge business cooperatives, community development groups,
to their subjects and on the socio-political organization of
naming ceremonies, initiations and funerals). In rural areas, that these abuses have been driving able bodied young people and occupational bodies like bike-riders and cassette sellers
the communities. The overbearing attitudes and behaviour
many births, marriages, deaths and property transfers remain out of rural areas, and that during the civil war some of these associations (Peeters, et al, 2009:11).
imbibed by the Chiefs from their colonial masters led to their
unrecorded by the state. Chiefs’ capacity to “speak” for their exiles joined militia groups and targeted chiefs and their Post-war reconstruction has impacted strongly on
assuming new and overwhelming powers over their subjects.
subjects therefore remains, for many, a major source of social families in order to exact revenge. For example, Conciliation relations between government and people. The return of
Some of these measures, such as the ability to impose fines
and economic security. Resources facilitated a series of public workshops on multi-party democracy has given many Sierra Leoneans
or other punishments for errant behaviour, were retained long
Chiefs’ continuing importance in grassroots governance governance in southern Sierra Leone at the end of the civil war. renewed confidence that a popular verdict on the performance
into the post-colonial period and permanently defined the
also derives from the African cultural idea that they are the One of their field reports outlines rural youths’ views on the of governments can be expressed peacefully. Indeed, the
negative perceptions of Chiefs among many of their subjects.
living embodiments of the histories and traditions that bind consequences of corrupt local justice: Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2007 marked only
Indeed, these negative perceptions carried over into the
local communities together. This idea did not disappear the second time in Sierra Leone’s history that an opposition
This is an age-old problem in the community and is one of conflict in Sierra Leone in the 1990s as a partial explanation for
during the recent civil war. For example, a group of Internally party was voted into power and the first time that such an
the main factors underlying the war. These heavy fines cause the brutality of the treatment meted out to Chiefs and other
Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Buya Romende Chiefdom in event did not prompt a military coup. Yet government is also
deep-seated grudges as well [as] force young people to flee figures of status or authority.6
Port Loko District were interviewed in a camp in Port Loko constantly reminding people of their civic responsibilities,
as they are unable to pay. The chiefs in the community are not
town in November 2001. According to the manager of the especially with regard to paying taxes. By law, all men over the After Independence, some African ex-colonies embarked
paid [by the government]. Therefore, they find their living from
camp (an employee of the Norwegian Refugee Council), the age of 21 years are liable for local tax, but the government has upon ambitious programmes of political modernization that
conflict and the fines that it produces. Combining this practice
recently redeployed Sierra Leone Police had been extremely recently decreed that all adult women are also liable. The local often had strong repercussions for chiefs. In Guinea for
with other malpractices that chiefs enjoy has made chiefs a
helpful in providing security for the camp and had established tax rate in many districts is ten times higher than it was before example, chiefs were seen as functionaries of a discredited
target for victimisation by armed youth[s], as they themselves
a temporary post there after some ex-combatants had been the decentralization programme started in 2004. Many people colonial regime and there was widespread public support
feel victimised by the authorities.4
discovered harassing the IDPs. But when the IDP group living in rural areas now take the view that if principles of good for President Sékou Touré’s campaign to abolish chieftaincy
was asked to pinpoint the changes that would give them A summary report on this consultancy exercise went on governance, democracy, accountability, transparency and (Schmidt, 2005). In Ghana, the Kwame Nkrumah government
confidence to return home they stated that “The Paramount to observe that ‘many youth[s] joined the rebel war out of justice are priorities for central government and decentralized made a determined attempt to democratize local government,
Chief should return first”.“The police are around for everyone,” frustration to be able to [exact] revenge on the chiefdom[s] for councils, there is no good reason why they cannot also be eventually settling, after a bitter political battle, to alter the
they went on “but the Paramount Chief has been recognized all the bad governance that had been targeting them over the applied to the chiefdoms. At stake here is not only the quality legal basis of chieftaincy (Rathbone, 2000). In Sierra Leone,
by the government for our chiefdom alone. If he comes back, years’ (Conciliation Resources, 2000:3). of local-level governance, but also Sierra Leone’s future peace however, national governments conserved an unreformed
we will know that out ‘father’ has returned and we will go and prosperity. chieftaincy system. Party-political rivalries, particularly the
back” (Fanthorpe, 2001). growing rivalry between the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP)
But it is precisely because chiefs are still considered and All Peoples Congress (APC), saw chieftaincy become a
integral to the social fabric of communities that they are 2. For summaries of the testimonial evidence, see Conciliation political instrument. Whichever party had the ascendency in
expected to govern in the community interest. If they deviate Resources (2000); Fanthorpe, Jay and Kamara (2002); Archibald and a particular area relied on chiefs to mobilize the rural vote in
Richards (2002); Fanthorpe (2003, 2004a); Manning, 2008.
from this norm, putting their own private interests and/or those its favour. The 1965 Public Order Act empowered Paramount
3. Community Dialogue Session, Malenkay village, Tonkolili District,
of outsiders ahead of their people, public dismay and anger is Chiefs to disallow public meetings if they considered them
January 2009.
particularly intense.
4. Conciliation Resources, Report on Bumpeh Chiefdom 5. World Bank, Project Appraisal Document on a Proposed Grant in
(Moyamba District) Consultation, 19th-20th January 2000, Paramount the Amount of SDR 16.8 Million (USD 25.12 Million Equivalent) to the
Chiefs Restoration Unit, Governance Reform Secretariat, Ministry Government of Sierra Leone for an Institutional Reform and Capacity
of Presidential Affairs (PRU/GRS/MPA), Freetown. Building Project, Report No. 28315-SL, April 2004, P. 27. 6. TRC Report, Vol.3a, paragraph 19.

10 11
Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

detrimental to national security, public order, public safety …the Paramount Chiefs were reduced to mere agents of if they allowed the female candidate contesting on behalf Similar conclusions were reached by the nationwide
or public morality. These powers were routinely abused to the Central Government. They had to tow [sic] the line or of the SLPP to win the District Council seat in their ward. consultative process facilitated by UNDP in 1998:
prevent opposition party activists from campaigning in party perish. Indeed, many, like Alikali Modu of Maforki, Bai Koblo He organized youth that disrupted campaign activities of the
It was evident that throughout the country, the relationship
strongholds (Cartwright, 1970:138-81). Yet, if a Paramount Pathbana of Lunsar, Masimera and Kumkanda of Loko female SLPP candidate.11
between traditional rulers and their subjects had become
Chief supported one party, members of rival ruling houses Masama, lost their thrones and in many areas, individuals The TRC made a strong recommendation that the co-option
strained over the years. Contributing factors as expressed
currently out of power would declare support for the other loyal to the ruling party were imposed on the people even of chiefs by political parties must end:
include the open partisan affiliation and the manifestly
leading party in the hope that they would gain favours if there when they did not hail from recognized ruling houses.7
The Commission calls for the return of Chiefs to their traditional unprogressive character of some chiefs. The cry for reform in
was a change of government (Tangri, 1978a). Such strategies
Since the war, chiefs themselves have acknowledged roles and functions. Their first and primary loyalty must be to aspects of the institution of chieftaincy was overwhelming.
ensured that chieftaincy politics would become interwoven
that their governance must improve and many have taken their subjects, not to party political bosses. The Commission This was, however, tempered by the desire to see that the
with national electoral politics. Observing these developments,
steps to re-establish harmonious relations with local youth. accordingly recommends the decoupling of Chiefs from institution regained its former glory and respect and that chiefs
the political scientist Victor Minikin argued that in the first
For example, PICOT-trained paralegals interviewed in party politics. Their legal responsibilities and authority should are empowered to play their roles as vehicles of development
decade after independence, Sierra Leone underwent a
Bumpeh Chiefdom in Bo district in December 2008 reported be closely examined to ensure that these accord with their and progress in their chiefdoms.15
relatively seamless transition from colonial indirect rule to
that youths are now being included in village and section traditional roles. This recommendation is made for the serious
the ‘indirect’ participation of the rural masses in modern Clearly therefore, the first step for meaningful reform of
meetings and that, as a result, many are now more inclined consideration of Government.12
democracy (Minikin, 1973). the chieftaincy system is to repair the relationship between
to carry on living and working in rural areas rather than join
Chiefs who had the favour of the ruling party were given Some international donor agencies working in Sierra chiefs and their people and to protect that relationship from
the exodus to the towns. In Masingbi in Tonkolili District, the
a virtually free rein to rule their localities as they saw fit. Many Leone have come to regard the obstacles facing chieftaincy political interference from above. Many chiefs oppose, on
Paramount Chief has recently donated start up money to a
exploited their positions for private gain, often seeking to reform as intractable and recommend starting afresh grounds of principle, state-led reforms of institutions they
youth organization whose combined aims are to ensure that
recoup the considerable outlay in bribes that had helped to with more modern institutions of local government.13 consider to be traditional. For example, in a recent interview
local youth activism is led by the genuinely young and that
secure their elections in the first place. Yet the real power However, chieftaincy is protected from abolition by the with the Chairman and executive committee members
“communal labour” for public works is properly regulated
always remained with the central regime. When in power, 1991 Constitution and, in spite of widespread anger and of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs, the chiefs
and rewarded with “food for work”.8
both of the leading parties were inclined to speak publicly resentment towards chiefs’ authoritarian behaviour over acknowledged that “confusion” in chiefdom governance was
Yet the post-war resurgence of multi-party democracy
of chieftaincy as if it was a completely traditional system of the years, the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans still respect one of the causes of the recent civil war. Yet, they argued that
has also seen the revival of party political co-option of chiefs.
governance that was above politics. But in practice, central the institution of chieftaincy and want to see it continue. chieftaincy is a cultural institution, a product of traditions that
For example, the United State’s State Department country
government actively sought to control chiefs using laws That sentiment has remained steadfast even in chieftaincy’s “stretch deep into the history of the country”. Culture, they
report on human rights practices for Sierra Leone in 2006
inherited from the colonial era. A prime case in point is section darkest moments. For example, popular grievances against went on, is the “whole self of the man and cannot be built
noted several instances where Paramount Chiefs, supporting
25 of the Provinces Act (Cap.60 of the Laws of Sierra Leone, chiefs’ governance boiled over into civil disorder in southern with a new face.” In their view, pressure for reform in the
the then ruling SLPP, harassed members and supporters of
1960), which authorizes the deposition of paramount chiefs Sierra Leone in the 1940s and in northern areas in the mid- chieftaincy system comes from international development
the opposition APC and PMDC parties. Reported incidents
on grounds of “subversive conduct”. Siaka Stevens’ one-party 1950s. Some commentators consider these riots evidence of agencies and Sierra Leoneans should not be forced to import
include the Niawa Lenga Paramount Chief’s summary
regime used this law extensively in the 1970s and ‘80s to an incipient “class” conflict in rural areas (e.g. Kilson, 1966) foreign governmental institutions “just because we don’t
dismissal of a town chief for attending an APC party meeting,
control chiefs. and others suggest that they were a precursor of the recent have money”.16 Yet, many present-day problems in chiefdom
the Sorogbema Paramount Chief’s suspension of four of his
Another clause in the unreformed Provinces Act states civil war (e.g. Hanlon, 2004). However, the Commission of governance do not stem from the cultural institution of
section chiefs for attending a PMDC party meeting and a
that both Paramount Chiefs and Chiefdom Councillors are Inquiry into the northern riots found that while they had been chieftaincy itself, but from the powers and functions that
Paramount Chief’s ejection of a woman from a local micro-
elected according to “native law”, subject to the approval provoked by some chiefs’ despotic behaviour, the institution have been attached to it over the years by colonial and post-
credit scheme because she could not produce an SLPP party
of the administrative officer presiding over their elections. of chieftaincy had not itself come under attack: colonial governments. The fundamental point being made by
membership card.9 These problems have continued since
It thus remained extremely difficult for ordinary citizens to the TRC Report is that many of these powers and functions
the change of government in 2007. Many Paramount Chiefs All our inquiries have demonstrated the respect in which the
challenge corrupt chieftaincy elections in the courts because are explicitly not traditional: they were attached to chieftaincy
now declared their support for the APC party. After the July office of chief – if not the office holder – is held. Witness after
the adjudication of customary law in respect of chieftaincy as a result of government policies that may no longer be
2008 local government elections, the registrar of the Political witness has said that if the chief is kind, the people will work
elections became the preserve of the Ministry responsible relevant to present day Sierra Leone. Just as government
Parties Registration Commission complained to the press for him...We find no evidence whatsoever that would support
for Local Government. Even today, ordinary people seeking is continually refining laws and policies to ensure that the
that “Paramount Chiefs are forcing their people to support any contention that a unit of local administration other than
to challenge the results of paramount chieftaincy elections state system is operating efficiently, serving the nation and
the APC government.”10 In one incident, the Paramount Chief a chiefdom should be adopted or is even possible. What is
have few options available to them except petitioning central moving with the times, so should the functions attached to
of Sandor chiefdom threatened to remove several sub-chiefs required is that the Paramount chiefs in particular keep out
government. The government has no legal obligation to chieftaincy be subjected to critical examination and reformed
of party politics and devote themselves to their duties to
respond to such petitions even when they present prima facie if need be.
their people...14
evidence of corruption or procedural irregularity.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the chieftaincy system became 7. Government of Sierra Leone and UNDP, Nation-Wide Consultative
Process (October – December 1998), Volume 1, Main Report, Freetown,
locked into a downward spiral of exploitation and oppression. January 1999, p.4. 11. Partners in Conflict Transformation (PICOT), MAPS 11 Annual report,
This poisonous legacy was emphasized in nationwide December 1st 2007 to November 30th 2008.
8. Interview, Kunike Youth Development Organization, Masingbi,
consultations on governance carried out by the Ministry of January 2009. 12. TRC Report, Vol. 2, paragraph 257.
Local Government in partnership with UNDP in 1998. The
9. Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Sierra Leone, 2006, 13. For an analysis of these arguments, see Fanthorpe (2006), Jackson 15. Nationwide Consultative Process, p.23-4
report on these consultations notes that “the entire local US State Department, online at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/ (2007) and Sawyer (2008).
16. Interview with PC Bai Koblo Queen II of Masimera Chiefdom
government structure broke down” during the Stevens era and hrrpt/2006/78756.htm
14. Government of Sierra Leone, Report of the Commission of Inquiry (Chairman, National Council of Paramount Chiefs), P.C. Alhaji Issa
goes on to state that 10. ‘PPRC Angry With SLPP, APC’, Concord Times, Freetown, into Disturbances in the Provinces (November 1955 to March 1956) Kamara-Koroma, Gallinas Perri Chiefdom, Pujehun District, PC Amadu
4 September 2008. (London, 1956), p.150. Kaikai, Kpanga Kabonde Chiefdom, Pujehun District, November 2008.

12 13
Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

1. Legacies of “Indirect Rule”:


Government Policy on Chieftaincy in the 20th Century

Indeed, post-war reconstruction is still underway and the Sierra This report identifies the reforms that will be needed if 1.1 “Native Law and Custom” chiefs’ right to tribute from their free subjects was guaranteed
Leone government is starting to pass laws and implement chieftaincy in Sierra Leone is to remain relevant in 21st As the TRC report notes, the chieftaincy system operating in law. A subject who disobeyed their chief’s “lawful orders”,
sector-specific reform programmes that are clearly intended century Sierra Leone. Chieftaincy reform, we argue, cannot in Sierra Leone today was originally designed to harness or who left their chiefdom without first obtaining their chief’s
to define chieftaincy’s place in the local government system work unless it takes the voices of ordinary people fully into indigenous African authorities to British colonial rule. For the permission, became liable to prosecution in the District
for many years to come. The process began with proposed account. For that reason, it must address the following British, the attraction of ‘indirect rule’ in the Sierra Leone Commissioners’ Courts.21
amendments to Section 72 of the 1991 Constitution, which priority principles: Protectorate was that it represented government on the Yet the colonial authorities also reserved the right to
sought to add detail on the election of Paramount Chiefs, their Accountability and Good Governance: Ordinary people cheap. If chiefs could be relied upon to maintain order in the depose Paramount Chiefs whom they considered guilty of
powers and duties and the circumstance of their depositions/ want to have greater say in the decision-making process in the countryside, a small corps of colonial administrators could maladministration. Indeed, officials on the ground never lost
removal.17 This initiative was taken further by the Chieftaincy chiefdoms in order to ensure that decisions over the utilisation serve in an oversight role and be spared the rigours, and costs, sight of the fact that “native law and custom” served colonial
Act, 2009, which is about to be enacted and represents the of local resources, the allocation of development inputs and of governing rural areas directly. administrative ends and that their role as arbiters of “native
first time in Sierra Leone’s history that procedures for electing the appointment of chiefdom functionaries (e.g. Treasury Central to the theory of “indirect rule” was that chiefs’ affairs” was founded, in the final analysis, upon a monopoly of
Paramount Chiefs and Sub-Chiefs have been detailed in Clerks) are made in the community interest. They also want authority was established by “native law and custom”.Within coercive force. As District Commissioner E.F. Sayers argued in
law. The Local Courts Bill, 2008, also about to be enacted, to see more democratic and transparent chieftaincy elections the colonial state, the limits of this authority was established by his annual report for Koinadugu District for the year 1922:
places the Local Courts entirely under the supervision of the so that they can be confident that the winners are genuinely distinguishing “natives” from “non-natives”; i.e. distinguishing The Government took over things as they found them, under
Judiciary (rather than the Ministry of Local Government and committed to the welfare of the communities they represent. subjects of chiefs from citizens of the state (cf. Mamdani, a regime in which might was right, and decided political
chiefdom administrations as previously). The new Bill is part of Justice and Human Rights: Ordinary people want to 1996). The original Native Courts, over which Paramount Chiefs boundaries accordingly. In some cases however, there
a package of reforms aimed at improving local justice, building have confidence that when they take a dispute to a chief or presided, only had jurisdiction over “natives” (i.e. descendants remains the souvenir of a legitimist but weaker cause. The
the capacity of the Local Courts and Chiefdom Police, and a case to the Customary Law Court, they will receive justice of the indigenous African population of the Protectorate and great advantage of the Government rule is its overwhelming
improving oversight of the local justice system.18 Finally, the irrespective of their age, gender or social status. They neighbouring regions); Europeans and Krios (descendants of force, which can impose that great boon, stability. In my
Local Government Act, 2004, has already provided for the also want to see an end to exploitative summonsing fees, liberated slaves) from Sierra Leone Colony were considered opinion, what has been done should not be undone, but
re-establishment of elected local government in Sierra Leone, administration fees and fines. “non-natives”.In the provinces, they were served by courts abuses carefully pruned away. To do this, it is necessary at
the devolution of central government functions to local councils, Taxation and Representation: When ordinary people presided over by British District Commissioners. Customary law one and the same time to respect the office of paramount
and the division of functions between local councils and pay their taxes to local authorities, they want to see a return in was nevertheless given primacy in respect of the Protectorate’s chief, but to carefully scrutinize the conduct of the holder of
chiefdom authorities. In essence, the 2004 Act revives the local the form of services and development investment. They want main economic asset: land. Under the terms of the original this office, and where he proves unworthy, to punish him with
government system Sierra Leone inherited at Independence: a to be sure that their political representatives are managing Protectorate Ordinance, as amended in 1897, all Protectorate exemplary severity, even to the extent of ruthless deposition
two-tier system in which District and Town Councils are primarily resources responsibly. They also want to see chiefdom land was deemed inalienable to “non-natives” and the and replacement.22
responsible for managing public services and development and authorities and elected councillors cooperating effectively in regulation of local land rights (excluding mineral rights) was left,
chiefdoms primarily responsible for maintaining law and order. bringing development to their localities. by default, in the hands of chiefs. Successive governments of Sierra Leone, both colonial
The new councils take a “precept” from taxes collected by In making the case for specific reforms in the sphere It was apparent very early in the colonial era that the and independent, have never really moved beyond this way
chiefdom authorities and oversee the chiefdoms’ administrative of chieftaincy this report aims to stimulate a new national distinction between “native” and “non-native” was particularly of thinking. Consequently, the contradictions of colonial
budgets. Five years on, the weaknesses of the original Act, debate on the subject. Chapter 1 examines government problematic in Sierra Leone: a region with a long history “indirect rule” continue to plague local governance. On the
particularly its provisions for the financing and staffing of the policy on chieftaincy in the 20th century and the lessons of indigenous African commerce, migration and cultural one hand, the colonial authorities often spurned opportunities
new councils and the divisions of functions between the it contains for any new programme of chieftaincy reform. interaction. One British District Commissioner complained in for implementing socially progressive reforms in chiefdom
decentralized councils and the chiefdoms, have prompted the Chapter 2 analyses the views of stakeholders in the a report of 1914 that the Native Courts of Paramount Chiefs governance even when these had popular support. For
government to undertake a comprehensive internal review of its chieftaincy system (i.e. government, chiefs, Civil Society were “flagrantly corrupt” and “exist purely and simply for the example, when the Sierra Leone Protectorate was first
provisions. This review, led by the Decentralisation Secretariat Organizations (CSOs) and ordinary people) in context and purpose of betting and for the extortion of outrageously high established, the British authorities encouraged the principle
(DecSec) is not yet complete. highlights priority areas for reform. Chapter 3 examines the court fees from suitors of little influence and standing.” He of hereditary succession to paramount chieftaincy, which
Some Sierra Leonean commentators argue that chiefs strengths and weaknesses of recent legislation affecting went on to note that many residents of the Protectorate who resulted in proliferation of local claims to “ruling house” status
tend to oppose reform within their sphere of governance out chiefdom governance in the light of these stakeholder views. had set up their own businesses and who visited the Sierra (Barrows, 1977:80-2). Yet, strict hereditary succession to
of an underlying fear that new legislation will only add to the Chapter 4 explores the lessons Sierra Leone can learn from Leone Colony regularly were refusing to obey summonses to chieftaincy represented a departure from pre-colonial tradition.
power central government holds over them.19 But since new chieftaincy reform and decentralization in Ghana and Uganda. chief’s courts. “Although such persons are usually sharply dealt Sierra Leonean historians who have studied this era report
legislation is already appearing accompanied by very little Chapter 5 sets out the reforms that are now needed to with”, he went on, “there is really little ground for surprise that that pre-colonial chiefs often succeeded to office on the basis
public consultation, there is all the more reason for chiefs to secure the future of Sierra Leone’s chieftaincy system. a native who possesses intelligence and initiative, who sees of their personal qualities and the services they were able to
join a national discussion about chieftaincy reform and to join justice properly administered in the District Commissioners’ provide to local communities; not necessarily because they
civil society groups in encouraging government to listen to Court, should revolt against the tribunal of his Chief.20 were descended from previous chiefs (Abraham, 1978:274-
what community people are saying on the subject. In spite of such misgivings, the British remained committed 80). By the 1920s, increasingly fraught competition between
to the principle of “indirect rule”. In the early colonial era, chiefdom ruling houses for the prize of paramount chieftaincy
chiefs’ powers over their subjects were bolstered rather than had prompted the colonial authorities to experiment with
17. Government of Sierra Leone Report of the Commission to Review reduced. Domestic slavery was allowed to continue and popular suffrage in paramount chieftaincy elections.
the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991, January 2008
18. Government of Sierra Leone, Justice Sector Reform Strategy and 21. These measures were set out in the Protectorate Native Law
Investment Plan, 2008-2010, March 2008 Ordinance of 1905.
19. Interview, Ambrose James, Search For Common Ground, Freetown, 20. Annual Report on the Railway District for the Year 1914 22. Annual Report on the Northern Province for the Year 1922
December 2008. (Freetown, Government Printing Department, 1915). (Freetown, Government Printing Department, 1922)

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Most of these experiments took place in the prosperous commercial cultivation. The Protectorate Ordinance of 1933 While the idea behind chiefdom tax was that the people Tribal Authorities also retained their primary functions in
Southern Province, where the spread of modern education and confirmed the Tribal Authority as the body that elects the could invest in their own development, almost all of chiefdom maintaining law and order, yet their capacity to perform even
wage employment was already beginning to foster more critical paramount chief, although it was silent on the constitution of revenue was, in practice, consumed by the salaries of chiefs these functions was called into question by growing civil
public attitudes towards chieftaincy. Under these experiments, that body and the precise method for electing chiefs. and chiefdom functionaries. This was a common problem unrest in rural areas in the late 1940s. Giving up rights to tribute
British officials continued to meet with assessor chiefs and The key elements of this legislative programme were the among “native administrations” in British colonial Africa in favour of fixed salaries had represented a loss of income for
chiefdom elders to identify chieftaincy aspirants with the best Native Administration ordinances, which were based on earlier (Kilson, 1966:24-33). In Sierra Leone, efforts to free up many Paramount Chiefs and some were continuing to collect
hereditary credentials, but the final choice was put to a ballot of reforms instituted in the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Nigeria.25 resources for development investment saw the amalgamation tribute even after they had agreed to institute the reform
the chiefdom people. In some cases, this ballot was restricted These ordinances, passed in 1937, granted tax authority to Tribal of several small chiefdoms. The 217 chiefdoms existing in programme. These illegal demands provoked widespread
to taxpayers (at that time, only family heads were registered for Authorities, provided for the creation of chiefdom treasuries 1937 were reduced to 148 by the time of independence in rioting and other forms of civil disobedience. Young men
the house tax) but in others it was open to every resident of a and charged Tribal Authorities with responsibility for drawing 1961.28 Some officials claimed at the time that chiefdom featured prominently in these protests, which prompted the
chiefdom who attended the election meeting. Commenting on up annual administrative budgets. Chiefs and chiefdom amalgamations were ‘restoring’ pre-colonial polities that had return of colonial anxieties that the old deference to chieftaincy
these experiments in 1926, one British official noted that: functionaries were now to be paid salaries and obliged to waive been broken up at the beginning of British rule to facilitate and patriarchy was breaking down. The administrative report on
all rights to tribute. According to the Tribal Authorities Ordinance, the collection of colonial tax, although no effort was made to the Sierra Leone Protectorate for the year 1947 comments on
The four elections of Paramount Chiefs during the year
the primary duty of the Tribal Authority was “to maintain order re-survey chiefdom boundaries.29 these riots as follows:
have been presided over by The Commissioner, Southern
and good government in the area over which its authority The inadequacy of this reform programme became clear
Province, sitting with two assessor chiefs. Although bribery From all provinces complaints have come that [Paramount
extends” and to “interpose for the purpose of preventing, and to within a decade of its inception. Chiefs’ implementation of the
and corruption will creep in at these elections...one receives Chiefs’] salaries are too low, but as long as the present
the best of its ability to prevent, the commission of any offence”. “native administration” reforms was kept discretionary in order
the definite impression this it is diminishing and that these excessive number of chiefdom units continue it is impossible
It was the duty of native subjects ‘to do all that is reasonably to retain their support for the programme and 63 out of 199
democratic elections have rightly superseded the intrigues to raise them appreciably with the result that there is always
necessary” to give effect to any lawful order issued by their chiefdoms remained unreformed at the end of 1948. These
of an oligarchical nominating board sitting in camera. The a temptation for Paramount Chiefs to recoup themselves by
chiefs. The Tribal Authority was also invested with powers to delays compromised the local services Tribal Authorities were
preliminary conferences held between the assessor chiefs and illicit means. Finding themselves unable to support the pomp
prevent disturbances of the peace, environmental damage (e.g. supposed to be managing, which by now included primary
the Tribal Authority, followed by an open election by houses [i.e. and circumstance to which they feel themselves entitled, they
the pollution of water and the destruction of economic trees in education and healthcare, agricultural extension and the
taxpayers], is the one method open to the least objection and are all too apt to see a ready way out of their difficulties in the
bush fires) and the spread of infectious diseases. It was also construction and maintenance of local roads.
is rapidly becoming recognized, appreciated and relied upon by imposition of illegal levies, the holding of surreptitious courts,
empowered to compel chiefdom residents to register births The colonial government soon reached the conclusion
the people themselves.23 or the use of forced labour. Whether from a sense of loyalty
and deaths and cultivate land in order to ensure an adequate that, despite numerous chiefdom amalgamations, these
to the chiefdom, or from fear of the consequences, sufferers
Yet the experiment was soon dropped. It was disliked by supply of food. It was further empowered to pass bye-laws units were too small and inefficiently run to succeed in the
from such abuses are generally slow in coming forward
chiefs and colonial officials, who feared that popular suffrage pertaining to: a) the setting aside of land in or near a settlement role as service providers. New development investment was
with complaints until their grievances burst bounds and their
in chieftaincy elections would threaten the patriarchal social for development benefitting the community as a whole; b) expected to come on stream after World War Two and the
disgruntlement becomes so widespread that only drastic
order they considered to be the foundation of “indirect rule”. public services and amenities (e.g. slaughterhouses) provided idea took hold that new institutions were required to manage
action can cure the ill.31
One colonial official warned that the experiments were already by the chiefdom authorities and fees in respect of these c) the it. District Councils, originally a forum for chiefs, had already
providing young “upstarts” with opportunities to bribe their way construction, repair and demolition of buildings in the chiefdom; been set up. Legislation passed in 1950 re-incorporated these The colonial government was therefore forced to return,
into power and warned against any policy that seeks to “graft d) street and market trading in the chiefdom. 26 councils as elected local government bodies whose primary yet again, to the question of making chiefdom governance
upon oligarchy [oligarchy = rule by a small elite group] principles Remarkably, the new ordinances could not arrive at any duty was ‘to promote the development of the District and more democratic. For example, the annual report on the
taken directly from a highly developed democracy but without more precise definition of the Tribal Authority than: “the the welfare of its people with the funds at its disposal’.30 Protectorate administration for 1948 notes that:
the safeguards that are essential for their safe working.”24 Paramount Chief, the Chiefs, the councillors and men of note Furthermore, Local Tax Ordinance of 1954 provided for the
[Tribal Authorities] form the judicial and legislative body of the
On the other hand, when the colonial authorities finally elected by the people according to native law and custom.” replacement of the old government “house” tax with a
chiefdom and are the only political expression of the will of the
conceded that chiefdom governance needed to be reformed Visible again here is the extreme reluctance of the colonial unified poll tax levied on all male residents of a chiefdom at
chiefdom. The oligarchic nature of this body has caused some
in order to keep pace with social and economic change in authorities to use statutory instruments to regulate institutions or over the apparent age of twenty-one years, plus any adult
misgiving and the importance of introducing younger and more
the Protectorate, its precise strategy was to attempt to graft deemed to be governed by “native law and custom”, whatever female carrying out a trade or business in the chiefdom. The
educated elements into it has long been realized.32
new powers and functions onto chiefly oligarchies. A raft of new powers and functions were being attached to them. Tribal Authorities retained primary responsibility for collecting
legislation, beginning in the late 1920s, added new powers and Some concession to democratic principles was in fact made this tax and other sources of local revenue (e.g. market dues
functions to the governing councils of chiefdoms, then known by the inclusion of representatives of taxpayers on Tribal and hawkers’ licences), but the District Councils also claimed
as Tribal Authorities. For example, the 1927 Protectorate Land Authorities (using a 1:40 ratio of Tribal Authority to taxpayers), a precept on revenues collected by the chiefdoms as part of
Ordinance assumed that all land in the provinces was “vested but this innovation was not itself a subject of legislation. their own operating budgets.
in Tribal Authorities” and set about defining the conditions Rather, it was left to colonial officials on the ground to ensure
under which external agencies (including the central state) that ‘correct constitution’ of Tribal Authorities was achieved.27
could lease chiefdom land. The Concessions Ordinance of
1931 granted Tribal Authorities the power to alienate land,
25. Report by Mr. J.S. Fenton, O.B.E., District Commissioner, on a Visit
with government approval, in plots of up to 5,000 acres for to Nigeria and on the Application of Principles of Native Administration 28. The de-amalgamation of the Marampa and Masimera chiefdoms
to the Protectorate of Sierra Leone (Freetown, Government Printing shortly before the recent civil war raised the number of chiefdoms in
Department, 1935). present day Sierra Leone to 149.
23. Annual Report on the Provincial Administration for the year 1926 31. Annual Report on the Sierra Leone Protectorate for the year 1947
(Freetown, Government Printing Department, 1927). 26. Tribal Authorities Ordinance, 1937. 29. Report on the Sierra Leone Protectorate for the years 1949 and 1950 (Freetown, Government Printer, 1948)
(Freetown, Government Printer, 1952), p. 14.
24. Annual Report on the Provincial Administration for the year 1925 27. National Archives, London, CO267/679/2, H.R.R. Blood to Moyne, 32. Annual Report on the Sierra Leone Protectorate for the year 1948
(Freetown, Government Printing Department, 1926). 30 April 1941. 30. District Councils Ordinance, 1950, section 14. (Freetown, Government Printer, 1949)

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Responding to a confidential query from the Colonial Office the countryside and were thus predisposed to treat these Secretary, commenting on the late Chief’s recommendations
The Composition of Tribal Authorities
in 1952, the Chief Commissioner for the Protectorate also complaints with scepticism (Barrows, 1971: 86-128). Justice in 1964, argued that taxpayers would constitute a large
(1956 Guidelines)
observed that: sector reform was in fact taking place in the provinces at the electorate and thus “introduce the danger of mob rule” in
1. The New Tribal Authority List will consist of:
time of the riots. The old District Commissioners’ Courts had chieftaincy elections.37
..age might almost be said to be a necessary qualification a. The Paramount Chief, Acting Chief or Regent Chief,
begun to be replaced by Magistrates Courts in the 1930s and The 1956 instructions were to govern procedure in
for membership of a Tribal Authority. Very few members are speakers, section chiefs and section speakers and any
it had also become administrative policy to take Native Courts chieftaincy elections for the next 40 years. They went on to
probably under 40 years of age, and the only satisfactory way of other customary officials who by virtue of their office are
out of Paramount Chiefs’ personal control and to appoint Court serve as a basis for new guidelines broadcast (but again not
providing an opening for representatives of the more youthful included in the present Tribal Authority list.
Presidents to serve for limited terms. These Court Presidents passed into law) by the government of President Ahmad Tejan
part of the community, would seem to be some form of popular b. The headmen of towns of 20 or more taxpayers.
were elected by Tribal Authorities, subject to the approval of the Kabbah in 2002.
election. The question is one which requires a careful approach, c. One representative for every twenty tax payers in any
Provincial Commissioner. Uniformed police were deployed into
and even when the outline of such a development has been town additional to the first twenty.
the provinces for the first time in 1954, replacing the old Court
d. One representative of neighbouring villages of less than
1.2 Post-Colonial Patronage Politics
agreed in principle, the arrangement and supervision of such
Messenger service.
20 tax payers where such villages agree to group into units
and Legislative Stagnation
elections would still present plenty of difficulties. Nevertheless
Yet the old legal dualisms of “indirect rule” were still The government’s cautious and somewhat secretive approach
it is in this direction that opinion is moving.33 of not less than twenty tax payers.
preserved in practice. The original government policy on the towards reforms in chiefdom governance in the second half
Further outbreaks of rioting against chiefs in the Northern uniformed police was that Tribal Authorities should retain 2. The appointment of representatives in paragraph 1(c) and of the 1950s was politically motivated. The Krio business and
Province in the mid-1950s finally prompted government action. primary responsibility for maintaining law and order in rural 1(d) will be by vote of the taxpayers within the town or villages professional elite of the old Sierra Leone Colony had long
The Commission of Inquiry into these riots reported that not areas and that the police should concentrate on the urban and the representative shall be a taxpayer in the village or considered themselves the group best equipped to govern
least among the difficulties confronting the police (recently and mining areas where customary authority was weaker group of villages which he is elected to represent. an independent Sierra Leone. But when the old Colony and
deployed in the provinces) was the “existence in many areas and “non-natives” most likely to congregate.35 In 1959, the 3) In large towns, where sections are established under Protectorate where fully united under a single constitution in
of a state of affairs better described as a civil war rather than a chiefdoms went on to acquire their own dedicated police recognized heads responsible for the collection of tax within 1951, the balance of power shifted towards an emerging elite
disturbance”. Echoing the above noted administrative report for force, charged with responsibility for detecting crime, the section, each section will be regarded as a separate town of Protectorate origin, many of whom were educated members
1947, the Commissioners reported encountering: apprehending offenders, serving summonses and enforcing for the purpose of electing representatives under paragraphs of chiefly families. This new elite saw themselves as having a
orders issued by the Chiefdom Council. Yet, the Chiefdom 1(b) and (c) above. greater right to govern Sierra Leone than the Krios because they
 a degree of demoralisation among the people in their

Police were never considered part of the national police were the descendants of the country’s original African rulers.
customary institutions and in their approach to the statutory 4) Villages of less than 20 taxpayers unable to group under
service and received no formal training from them. Rather, Uniting under the banner of the SLPP, they took advantage
duties with which they have been entrusted, which has paragraph 1(d) will lose their right of representation. Grouping
they were trained at the District Offices and came under of the former Protectorate’s bigger population to win Sierra
shocked us. Dishonesty has become accepted as a normal may only take place within sections of a chiefdom.
the supervision of District Watch Committees comprising Leone’s first national elections in 1957. The new government,
ingredient of life to such an extent that no one has been Source: Secret Policy File: EP/3/2 Election of Paramount
of the District Officer (equivalent of the colonial District led by Prime Minster (later Sir) Milton Margai, remained fiercely
concerned to fight it or even complain about it. The ordinary Chiefs, Provincial Secretary’s Office, Kenema.
Commissioner) and representatives from the uniformed protective of chiefs’ interests, especially after Krio politicians
peasant or fisherman seems originally to have accepted a
police and Chiefdom Councils in the district (Bondi 1976:65). started to win bye-elections in riot-torn provincial constituencies
degree of corruption which was tolerable; at a later stage he
Reforms directed specifically at Tribal Authorities in the (Kilson, 1966: Cartwright, 1970; Clapham, 1982).
has been cowed into accepting it; finally he has rebelled.34
wake of the riots were equally conservative. The Commission This protective attitude was made clear in the government’s
The Commissioners recommended that Tribal Authorities of Inquiry’s recommendations concerning the relationship Given the prevailing unrest in the provinces, these response to the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the
should be replaced by smaller and more representative bodies, between chiefdoms and District Councils were largely instructions were remarkably conservative and not obviously 1955-56 riots. The government acknowledged that chiefs
that chiefdoms should be allowed to deliver local services ignored. In 1956, however, a sub-committee of the recently designed to “provide an opening for representatives of the had to put their house in order and move with the times,
(e.g. primary education and healthcare) rather than making all Africanised Executive Council issued new instructions more youthful part of the community.” Amendments to but was more inclined to put the blame for the riots on the
social and development services the responsibility of District regarding the composition of Tribal Authorities (Box 1).36 CAP 61 of the Laws of Sierra Leone (1960), passed after “unsettlement following upon the [Second World] war, the
Councils and that the District Councils should only use their The instructions also cover chieftaincy elections and state Independence, established the legal status of elected Tribal decline in moral standards in general and the undermining of
power of precept over local taxes for specific projects rather that only candidates descended from a ruling house may Authority members representing taxpayers on a ratio of 1:20 respect for law and order following on widespread discoveries
than their general operating budgets. stand for election as paramount chiefs and that descent and of Tribal Authority members appointed directly by central of diamonds and the economic consequences.” These factors,
These riots also highlighted the weakness of formal from a ruling house means descent in the male line from a government. But the bulk of these instructions were treated the government claimed, had caused people in the south to
institutions for administering justice and maintaining law and Paramount Chief, or a full brother of a Paramount Chief, who as “policy” and not passed into law. One set of the original “detest and resent as extortion and oppression practices
order in the provinces. With chiefs controlling the local court has previously been recognized as a Paramount Chief of instructions survived the civil war in the Provincial Secretary’s which they had previously accepted as part of the custom
system, the only non-violent option available to ordinary people the same chiefdom. It is also stated that “where tradition or Office in Kenema. It is included in a file containing extensive and the rights of their Chiefs”. People in the north, it went on,
seeking relief from injustices perpetrated by their chiefs was other circumstances make this advisable, permission may be internal government correspondence on policy in relation to had inculcated a similar attitude as a result of contact with
to take complaints to officials of the colonial government. Yet sought from the Governor in Council to depart from this rule”. chieftaincy elections. One of these discussion documents is southerners during seasonal labour migration.38
these officials still relied upon chiefs to keep order in an essay written by Paramount Chief Kai Samba I of Nongowa
chiefdom in the early 1950s. PC Kai Samba was renowned
during his lifetime for his progressive political views. In his
35. Government of Sierra Leone, The Introduction of the Police Force 37. Memo, PS Southern Province to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry
essay he strongly advocated the re-introduction of taxpayer
33. National Archives, London, CO554/242, secret report entitled into the Protectorate (Freetown, Government Printer, 1954). of the Interior, Freetown, 22 September 1964. Secret Policy File: EP/3/2
Tribal Authorities, 29 July 1952. suffrage in all chieftaincy elections, arguing that it was an Election of Paramount Chiefs, Provincial Secretary’s Office, Kenema.
36. The Sierra Leone government’s only surviving copy of the original
34. Government of Sierra Leone, Report of the Commission of Inquiry instructions, dating from 1958, is currently stored in the Provincial
essential instrument for fighting bribery and corruption. The 38. Statement of the Sierra Leone Government on the Report of the
into Disturbances in the Provinces (November 1955 to March 1956) Secretary’s Office in Kenema. Originally labelled a Secret Policy File, government did not take up his suggestions. A Provincial Commission of Inquiry into Disturbances in the Protectorate (November
(London, 1956). it has since been made accessible to researchers and consultants. 1955-March 1956), (Freetown, Government Printer, 1956).

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

It may not have been the Margai government’s original Unfortunately, the establishment of unelected Chiefdom A government memo circulated to Provincial Secretaries in 1965 The trend towards centralized control over chiefdom
intention to use chieftaincy as an instrument of patronage Committees clearly undermined what had been the primary alleged that most Court Presidents were either close relatives governance continued further after the abolition of the District
politics, but the combination of the highly centralized state rationale for introducing taxpayer representation on Tribal of Paramount Chiefs, and thus biased towards chiefs’ interests Councils. These bodies had been a success at first, but after
system bequeathed by the British, the persistence of rural Authorities/Chiefdom Councils in the first place: i.e. greater in their judgements, or political rivals of Paramount Chiefs (i.e. a decade of operation they became severely hampered by
underdevelopment and the rise of party politics, virtually public participation in chiefdom governance. The effect of members of rival Ruling Houses) intent on using their mandates financial constraints. Overseas development grants had
guaranteed that outcome in the post-independence era. this amendment, whatever its drafters may have intended, as elected functionaries to challenge Paramount Chiefs’ come to an end in 1955 and government grants for capital
As patronage politics took hold, formal government policy was to strengthen chiefly oligarchies (Viswasam, 1972:31). authority (Barrows, 1971:144). Following this memo, authority to development and road maintenance became increasingly
on chiefdom affairs began to grind to a standstill and many From the very beginning, most ward representatives on nominate Court Presidents (later known as Court Chairmen) was unreliable. By the mid-1960s, many chiefdoms were
colonial laws were simply left on the statute. For example, Chiefdom Committees were in fact Section Chiefs and they transferred from Chiefdom Councils to an ad hoc Local Court regularly defaulting on their precepts. Cut backs in services
the 1927 Protectorate Land Ordinance and 1931 Concessions continued to sit on these committees after the abolition of Service Commission (LCSC), comprising of the Judicial Advisor and capital projects were unavoidable and some councils
Ordinance were incorporated into the Laws of Sierra Leone the original District Councils in 1972. The amendments to the from the Ministry of Justice, the Provincial Secretary, the District saw their functions taken over by central government. The
(1960) as the Provinces Land Act (Cap 122) and Concessions original Tribal Authorities Act represent the last major piece Officer and the Paramount Chief of the chiefdom concerned. councils were also undermined by patronage politics. Many
Act (Cap 120). The 1933 Protectorate Ordinance and 1937 of legislation specifically focussing on chieftaincy prior to the However, when Siaka Stevens’ APC regime came to power councillors remained loyal to their chiefdoms of origin and
Tribal Authorities Ordinance were likewise incorporated as the drafting of the Chieftaincy Act of 2009. in 1968 it became commonplace for central government to competed to divert council resources to these localities.
Provinces Act (Cap 60) and Tribal Authorities Act (Cap 61). The trend towards increasing central government appoint party activists as Local Court Chairmen, often with Party political supporters were also given preferential
Among these laws, only the Tribal Authorities Act control over chiefdom affairs in the post-colonial era was no regard to the literacy and residency qualifications attached access to administrative jobs in the councils and external
was amended after Independence. The bulk of these also visible in the justice sector. The Local Courts Act, 1963, to the position and contrary to the recommendations of the contracts. Prodigious unauthorized expenditure was a regular
amendments, enacted in one package in 1964, changed the finally jettisoned the distinction between “native” and “non- LCSC. The Stevens government’s interest in using the Local occurrence in all councils and repeated allegations of financial
name of the chiefdom’s governing council from that of Tribal native” in the administration of justice by replacing the old Courts as an instrument of political control was emphasised mismanagement prompted frequent suspensions of council
Authority to Chiefdom Council and provided for the formal Native Courts with Local Courts. The new courts retained in an amendment to the Local Courts Act passed in 1974. This business (Tangri, 1978b).
recognition of the Chiefdom Committee as the executive complete jurisdiction over customary law cases but were amendment clarified the definition of “Minister” in the original In 1970, the Stevens government set up a Local
arm of the Chiefdom Council. According to the amendments, also given the power to administer both civil and criminal law Act to mean the “Minister responsible for the Interior”: a Government Review Commission to analyse the local
the Chiefdom Committee membership comprised of in certain cases (e.g. debt recovery, disputes over property security-orientated portfolio that included local government. government system. The Committee’s main recommendations
the Paramount Chief (Chairman), senior Speaker (Vice- ownership, petty larceny and assault) provided that the One researcher working in Sierra Leone at the time reported with regard to local structures were: a) both the Chiefdoms
Chairman), the second Speaker (if any), two members from value of disputed proprieties and the magnitude of crimes that in the south in particular, APC supporters would usually and District Councils should be retained but must be
each District Council ward in the chiefdom elected by the (as measured by the punishments appropriate to them) take their cases to Local Courts run by APC-appointed Court re-organized and improved; b) the Local Courts should come
chiefdom councillors, and a literate councillor nominated by fell below specified thresholds. The Local Courts now had Chairmen while SLPP supporters would usually take their under the supervision of the Chief Justice; c) the Chiefdom
the local government Minister. The original idea behind ward jurisdiction over specific territories (usually chiefdoms or cases to Paramount Chiefs (Barrows, 1971:145). As the central Police should be gradually replaced by the state police; d) a
representatives had been to make elected District Councillors sections of chiefdoms) rather than categories of persons and state began to unravel in the 1980s, responsibility to nominate Local Government Service Commission should be set up to
ex officio members of Chiefdom Committees, but this was their decisions could be appealed to the higher courts. Under Local Court Chairmen defaulted back to Paramount Chiefs, control appointments; e) there should be a significant increase
watered down due to fears that councillors would interfere the Act, Court Presidents and Vice-Presidents were formally although the legislation remained unchanged. in local taxes as soon as there was a “climate of opinion”
politically in chiefdom affairs (Kilson, 1966:220). appointed by the “Minister” responsible for the Local Courts The fundamental problem with the 1963 Act and subsequent favourable to such increases (Bondi, 1976:7-8). However, the
Chiefdom Committees were originally formed on an ad on the recommendation of Chiefdom Councils. Lesser court amendments was that it conserved the dualistic legal system Stevens government chose to abolish the District Councils and
hoc basis in the mid-1950s as the government had began to functionaries (i.e. clerks and bailiffs) and Court Members Sierra Leone had inherited from colonial “indirect rule” (Maru, ignored all the other recommendations.40 The law establishing
realize that (as the Commission of Inquiry into the 1955-56 (local elders serving as advisors to the Local Court in return 2005). For example, the Act provided the Local Courts with the District Councils was formally suspended in January 1972.
riots had pointed out) including taxpayer representatives for a nominal fee) were appointed directly by Chiefdom jurisdiction over cases pertaining to the estates of deceased In a presidential address to parliament in June 1973,
on Tribal Authorities often made these bodies too large to Councils. The exercise of judicial power within the primary persons when these were governed by customary law President Stevens stated that it was his “government’s
operate effectively as governing councils (Bondi, 1976:32). jurisdiction of a Local Court was also outlawed. This provision (especially where chiefdom land was involved), but withdrew intention to strengthen Chiefdom Administrations so that they
The primary functions of the Chiefdom Committee, according effectively rendered chiefs’ exercise of judicial authority this jurisdiction when such cases were governed by modern will play a significant role in our economic, social, and political
to the 1964 amendments, were: a) to prepare chiefdom illegal, notwithstanding their unreformed statutory powers to law. In practice, matching a particular civil case to a particular development”.At that time, the government was giving serious
budgets and inspect chiefdom accounts on a regular basis; prevent the commission of offences and to ensure, generally, system of law always depended on which authorities – i.e. consideration to using the Chiefdom Police as the basis for a
b) negotiate contracts with external agencies; c) ensure that law and order prevailed in their chiefdoms. Paramount Chiefs and Local Courts or Police and Magistrates’ new internal security force. Many Chiefdom Police officers
the proper collection of local revenues; d) approve the Court – the case was brought to in the first instance. It remains were deployed in their home areas and the government’s
appointment of chiefdom employees; e) devise chiefdom commonplace today for plaintiffs and defendants to manoeuvre strategy was to take advantage of their local knowledge.
bye-laws for consideration by the chiefdom council; f) to have a case heard in whichever court they believe will offer Ultimately however, Stevens opted for a modern paramilitary
advise the chiefdom council generally on chiefdom affairs the best chance of a favourable verdict. Wealthy, well-educated force (Internal Security Unit, later renamed Special Security
and perform any other duties as may be delegated to it by and politically well connected people have always enjoyed a Division), trained by Cuban and Chinese expatriates and served
the Chiefdom Council. The Chiefdom Council remained considerable advantage in such “justice shopping” (Fanthorpe, by a vast network of local informers (Bondi, 1976:65-7).
the legally recognized governing body of a chiefdom, and 2001). The suppressive effects of legal dualism on rural Sierra
continued to serve as an electoral college in paramount Leoneans’ aspirations towards modernity and self-development
chieftaincy elections. are as apparent today as they were in the above-noted
40. In an interview in November 2005, the Director of Local Government
administrative report dating from 1914.39 in the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development
stated that all copies of the final report of this Local Government Review
39. See page 10, footnote 22. Commission had been lost.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

The Stevens government also commissioned a United The report went on to make four key recommendations for ordinary people in lieu of regular salaries (Fanthorpe 2004a, 1.3 Lessons from History for a New
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study on chiefdom reforming chiefdom governance: a) the Chiefdom Committee, 2004b). Local Court staff also converted judicial fees and Programme of Chieftaincy Reform
governance with a view to making chiefdom institutions fit for not the Chiefdom Council, should be recognized as the fines into private income (Conciliation Resources, 2000). The history of government policy towards chieftaincy in
purpose as local government bodies and service providers. local authority of the chiefdom, with the Chiefdom Council Like the Margai government thirty years earlier, the the 20th century contains some valuable lessons for a
The report, which appeared in 1972, was scathing about serving only as an electoral college in paramount chieftaincy Stevens’ government’s unwillingness to reform the new programme of chieftaincy reform. First, successive
the continuing dominance of policy inherited from colonial elections; b) the Chiefdom Committee should become a chieftaincy system was driven by politics. Stevens had governments of Sierra Leone, both colonial and post-colonial,
“indirect rule” in Sierra Leone. The basis of this critique was legally constituted local government body with clearly defined come to power pledging to introduce a ‘socialist pattern have always supported an authoritarian model of chieftaincy,
that the maintenance of law and order is really a central roles and responsibilities; c) most seats on the Chiefdom of society’ and thus a stronger state. Yet his main political believing oligarchy to be necessary for the maintenance of
government function and one that the centre should support Committee should, in the course of time, become elective; d) strategy was to use the regulatory authority of the state law and order. This authoritarian model overlooks the vital
financially even when delegating it to the chiefdoms: central government should assume full financial responsibility as a coercive instrument, taking advantage of the heavy role played by cooperation and consensus in maintaining
for the chiefdoms’ law and order function, paying the salaries concentration of population and capital-generating activity social order at the grassroots. These attributes of traditional
The principle of using traditional authorities and
of Paramount chiefs, Chiefdom Police and Local Court in Freetown and the mining areas. By co-opting all branches governance have been emphasized in numerous academic
customary law for the maintenance of social cohesion
functionaries (Viswasam, 1972:69-70). of the executive, Stevens was able to distribute mining studies. For example, some academics have argued that
is unexceptionable. The difficulties however arose from
None of these recommendations were implemented. licenses, import-export licenses and government contracts as cooperation is driven by the needs of economic survival in
the policy, quite unrelated to the above principle, that the
On the contrary, the Stevens regime set about the further political favours. Laws and regulations were relaxed to favour remote rural areas (e.g. Richards, 1986). Other commentators
traditional authorities must also maintain themselves
strengthening of central government control over rural political supporters, yet rigorously enforced whenever it was have focussed on cultural ideas that portray chiefs as pivots
out of local revenues. With the growing need of the rural
administration. A series of amendments to the law on local considered necessary to exclude rivals or punish dissent. of community life, who should ideally know all of their people
communities for welfare services two options were open
tax (notably the Chiefdom Treasuries Amendment Act of For the most part, Stevens left local political factions to fight personally, be ready to supply wise advice when needed
to the colonial government, either to set up a separate local
1975) saw chiefdom finances placed under the full control of amongst themselves for the largesse his regime occasionally and use their skills in public speaking to “cool hearts” when
body in the chiefdom and transfer to it the local revenue
the District Offices. The rate of local tax was fixed nationally, saw fit to distribute. Yet, the success of this ‘shadow state’ disputes arise (e.g. Finnegan, 1963). One study has gone so
or to confer local government functions on the existing
and Chiefdom Committees could not instruct their Treasury strategy also depended on the excluded masses remaining far as to argue that conflict arises in rural communities when
authorities and take over financial liability for the law and
Clerks to draw salaries and expenses from chiefdom bank poor and politically divided and upon chieftaincy remaining an key decisions are made of the basis of technical-rational
order function. Neither course was adopted. Instead local
accounts. Instead, Treasury Clerks were obliged to submit effective instrument for maintaining social order among these criteria – e.g. allocating development resources on the basis of
functions were imposed on the chiefdoms in addition to the
vouchers to the Central Chiefdom Finance Clerks (CCFCs), excluded populations (Clapham, 1982; Reno, 1995). As Sierra population statistics and poverty assessments and choosing
law and order function and the local revenues proved to be
who were employees of central government working Leone descended towards civil war, the conservation of political leaders by means of modern, winner-takes-all elections
quite insufficient to sustain both. The colonial government
out of the District Offices. Under the new arrangements, unreformed chieftaincy institutions seemed more and more – rather than the traditional modality of “hanging heads” and
attempted to meet this problem by a system of local
the CCFCs controlled a Consolidated Revenue Fund for like a cynical strategy for insulating the governing elite from reaching decisions through consensus (Ferme, 1998).
government grants which resulted in the illogical position
all chiefdoms in a district. In the mid-1970s, the Auditor popular accountability. Whenever governments have been faced with evidence
whereby chiefdoms subsidised a central government
General’s office issued a series of damning reports on the By the time war broke out in 1991, what little formal that the authoritarian model of chieftaincy creates conflict, their
function and the central government subsidised local
management of these accounts, but the auditing process administrative activity still taking place in the chiefdoms was habitual response has been to put the blame on the protestors:
government functions. The fact that the Chiefdom
itself had petered out by the end of that decade in a general directly controlled by central government. Senior District e.g. the young “upstarts” allegedly exploiting a widened
Council was incapable of functioning as a local body and
climate of de-bureaucratization (Clapham, 1976). Officers and Provincial Secretaries continued to preside franchise in chieftaincy elections in the 1920s; the anti-chief
that the Chiefdom Committee, left to itself, was equally
These changes effectively stripped away the last over paramount chieftaincy elections and revise Chiefdom rioters in the 1950s whose actions were allegedly a symptom of
ineffective appears to have been lost sight of. In any case,
vestiges of local government and service functionality from Councillor lists every few years. Local tax continued to be a “decline in moral standards” caused by the diamond mining
the Chiefdom Committee had neither the resources nor
the chiefdoms. In theory, Chiefdom Councils continued paid, despite the fact that it yielded scant returns in the boom; the fears of “mob rule” in the 1960s that precluded
the organization necessary for a local authority. When the
to employ numerous salaried functionaries, which form of services. Indeed, most of the essential services official consideration of full taxpayer suffrage in paramount
inevitable failure resulted, obsession with theory dictated
included Local Court staff, Chiefdom Police, the Treasury (particularly health and primary education) accessible to chieftaincy elections. Governments have also promoted this
the establishment of District Councils without sufficient
Clerk, revenue collectors, sanitary inspectors, Traditional rural people remained heavily dependent on the charity of conservative way of thinking for overtly political ends. For
consideration of whether the conditions necessary for the
Birth Attendants and labourers. Many salaries of lesser foreign religious missions and development NGOs. Even example, the government of Sir Milton Margai was desperate
growth of a second tier of rural local government existed.
functionaries were not sufficient to cover living costs and so, there were other compelling reasons for local people to to circumvent a political alliance between the Freetown Krios
The conferment of precepting powers on District Councils
chiefdom work was often combined with farming or other carry on paying tax. First, it helped to ensure that their home and provincial anti-chief protestors, while the Stevens regime
and the subsequent diversion of government’s attention
sources of income. They nevertheless had a considerable villages were represented on the Chiefdom Council and thus was keen to keep the rural masses beholden to chiefs while it
away from the chiefdoms (so far as local government
symbolic value as rewards from “government” for public provided them with a chance of influencing the outcome of stripped the nation of its assets. The recent civil war presents
functions were concerned) led to the present degenerate
service. In the 1980s, as Sierra Leone’s economy declined paramount chieftaincy elections. Second, rural travellers were yet further evidence that the authoritarian model of chieftaincy
state of chiefdom local government (Viswasam, 1972:41).
and bureaucratic corruption became rife, salary payments frequently asked to produce their local tax receipts at police creates conflict. The failings of chiefdom governance may not
to chiefdom functionaries became increasingly intermittent. checkpoints on the main roads. These receipts consequently have been a direct cause of the war, but frequent attacks on
Central government grants-in-aid to chiefdom administrations became markers of local citizenship (Ferme, 1998). chiefs and chiefdom buildings (especially Court Barrays and
continued, but the funds that actually reached the chiefdoms Treasury Clerks’ offices) are indicative of the depths of popular
were mainly used to settle arrears in Paramount Chiefs’ resentment towards chiefdom authorities that had built up
salaries. Many chiefdom functionaries, especially Chiefdom in some areas. If chiefs are going to return to their traditional
Police, left their posts during this era (Fanthorpe, 2001). Those communitarian roles as the TRC Report recommends, the
that remained would often demand fees for their services from authoritarian model of chieftaincy will simply have to go.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

2. Talking About Chieftaincy in Sierra Leone Today

Second, successive governments’ determination not to The politicisation of chieftaincy in the post-colonial era saw
compromise “native law and custom” often meant that successive governments, the Stevens regime in particular,
when reforms did take place, they lacked coherence and revive the old colonial technique of controlling chieftaincy affairs
sustainability. For example, the “native administration” by means of administrative fiat (i.e. orders issued from an office
reforms of the 1930s sought to add local government with executive or managerial authority under the guise of policy,
functions to Tribal Authorities without any real consideration without necessarily having the force of law). With the statute
of whether these bodies had the capacity to manage these left largely unreformed, politically motivated interventions in
functions. Furthermore, taxpayer representatives were chiefdom governance were thus kept insulated from legal and
originally included in Tribal Authorities with the intention of democratic challenge. Given the extent of government-led
making these bodies more democratic. Yet the expanded changes to chiefdom governance since the earliest colonial
Tribal Authorities became too large to function effectively as times, there can be little justification for opposing a present-
decision-making forums and their key administrative functions day reform programme on the grounds that it contravenes
were eventually transferred to self-recruiting Chiefdom “tradition”. Clearly however, legislative reforms aimed at making
Committees. The original objective of introducing democratic chiefdom governance more accountable, just, respecting
principles in chiefdom governance was thus undermined. of human rights and effective in delivering services and
Another approach was to introduce new institutions to satisfy development inputs must also aim to protect chiefs and rural
those social groups (e.g. miners and wage workers) that were people from excessive and unaccountable central government
now demanding modern governance yet leave chiefdom interference in their affairs. Culture and customary law will still
institutions intact to serve everyone else. That policy created play an important role in rural life in the foreseeable future, but
two overlapping systems of justice and the institutional the notion that the chiefdoms represent a separate sphere of
separation of local revenue collection (chiefdoms) from governance, regulated entirely by customary law, has no place
in a modern state. Like colonial “indirect rule”, it should be left Young woman voicing her concerns about the lack of popular
service delivery (District Councils). participation in Paramount Chieftaincy Elections; MCSL Community
Furthermore, central governments have often, due behind in history. Dialogue Session, Kailahun District
to politics, ignored perfectly logical and reasonable
recommendations for improving chiefdom-level governance.
For example, proposals to introduce full taxpayer suffrage The following analysis of the views of different stakeholders rural areas remain unwritten and the point being made here
in paramount chieftaincy elections, and consultancy reports on chieftaincy issues in present-day Sierra Leone is organized was that people continue to rely on chiefs to authorize their
advocating for the incorporation of Chiefdom Committees according to the priority principles set out in the introduction: rights, prevent outside agencies from infringing upon them,
as local government bodies, the introduction of an elective Accountability and Good Governance, Justice and Human and resolve disputes over them. The other side of this moral
element to Chiefdom Committees and the integration of Rights and Taxation and Representation. In recent years, senior contract is that chiefs are expected to commit themselves fully
the Chiefdom Police into the national police service, have members of the Sierra Leonean government have called the to the welfare of their communities and be involved in their
all fallen on deaf ears. Clearly, the primary objective of any outputs of NGO-facilitated community consultations into day-to-day affairs.
future reform must be the creation of a fully integrated local question, expressing concerns that participants are merely Unlike chiefs at the village level, Paramount Chiefs cannot
government system. Here, the question should not be how responding to the promptings of foreign-trained facilitators.41 In possibly know all their subjects personally. Here however, the
local government can co-exist with traditional authority, but order to answer these misgivings, outcomes of consultations moral contract takes on a symbolic character. As members
how the unique qualities of chieftaincy (e.g. championing and interviews are linked to a broader contextual analysis of of Ruling Houses, Paramount Chiefs claim descent from pre-
community interests and resolving disputes) and can be put post-war chieftaincy politics, illustrated with case studies. colonial rulers who authorized the original land and residence
to best use in local government. rights of the ancestors of present-day chiefdom people. In
Third, the British authorities arrogated to themselves the 2.1 Accountability and Good Governance principle therefore, rights to chieftaincy are interlinked with
task of supervising chiefdom governance, which meant that, subjects’ social and economic rights and chiefs’ are expected
2.1.1 The Moral Contract between Chiefs and People
in the final analysis, colonial interpretations of “native law to respect subjects’ rights like their own. Another feature of
Applying the principle of accountability to relations between
and custom” always enjoyed priority over the interpretations that moral contract is that Paramount Chiefs are expected to
chiefs and their subjects might appear problematic, given that
of chiefs and their people. Since “native law and custom” serve as patrons of cultural activities in their chiefdoms, e.g.
Paramount Chiefs’ primary claim to rule is their hereditary right.
could not, by definition, be regulated directly by the statute, initiation ceremonies, funerals of Sub-Chiefs and other “big-
However, many rural people still consider chiefs to be bound by
the colonial authorities effectively licensed themselves to men”, secret society masquerades and sacrifices to ancestral
a moral contract with them. During earlier fieldwork in 2002-
intervene in chiefdom affairs whenever they saw fit. It was in and non-human spirits that are believed to protect the welfare
03, one of the authors of this report asked several gatherings
this context that the Sierra Leonean historian Arthur Abraham of the chiefdom. There is more at stake here than mere
of chiefdom residents what attribute of chieftaincy was, in their
argued that there was never a coherent colonial policy adherence to “tradition”, since these cultural activities also
view, the most important. The answer most frequently given
towards the chieftaincy system in Sierra Leone, merely a serve to reproduce chiefdoms as political communities within
was that “a chief knows a person’s right” (Fanthorpe, 2006).
series of ad hoc administrative interventions (Abraham, 1978). a modern state still dominated by patronage politics. Public
Many social and economic rights (especially rights to land) in
trust in elected politicians, bureaucrats and security services
has still to recover from the rampant corruption of the pre-war
41. This view was strongly expressed by former Minster of Youth and
Sports Dennis Bright in an interview with a DFID research mission in years and the abject failure of the central authorities to protect
March 2003. civilians during the RUF war.
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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Many rural people still consider Paramount Chiefs as the As this last example indicates, many of the cultural Bombali District has long been a heartland of APC support.
Inflated Tax Assessments, Biriwa Chiefdom
authorities most likely to champion the interests of their institutions that serve to integrate chiefdoms as political Bumban, the historic Biriwa capital, is the hometown of two
Post-war tax assessment in Biriwa chiefdom began in 2002.
communities within government and to direct scarce services communities are fiercely protected from encroachment by leading APC members: a former Minister who now sits on the
The total number of tax payers assessed in the chiefdom
and development resources back home. In a village discussion the central state and other outside agencies. Illiterate farmers party’s executive committee and the current party Treasurer.
in 2002 was 8,782 as compared to 4,263 in 1985, a rise of
group about a forthcoming chieftaincy election in Port Loko are well aware that government is dominated by highly Kamabai, the present-day chiefdom capital, is the hometown
106%. Yet, according to census data, the population of the
District in October 2002, a male participant observed that: educated people who know modern laws and bureaucratic of the APC Chairman of Bombali District Council and the
chiefdom grew by a mere 8% between 1985 and 2004.
procedures far better than they do. Since they can’t compete birthplace of the mother of President Ernest Bai Koroma. While
A Paramount Chief has the right to stand firm and do Among the Limba, the greatest increases in recorded
on these terms, they use their cultural resources as political Limba speakers in Biriwa remained staunchly supportive of the
something better for the people. We are expecting that our taxpayers were in the headquarters sections. Kamabai section
weapons. As one Sierra Leonean NGO manager observed: APC when the civil war ended, the local Mandingo and Fula
new chief will talk to the government for us. All messages from recorded 596 taxpayers in 1985 and 1,125 in 2002, while the
“the one thing an illiterate man can use to fight back against speakers did not. Both ethnic groups were frequent targets
government come through the Paramount Chief. A Paramount corresponding figures for Bumban section were 722 and
corrupt politicians is his culture”.44 Another group of NGO of the pre-war APC government’s “anti-stranger” drives in the
Chief is the “people’s representative” in government. 1,303. The Mandingo sections showed even larger increases.
fieldworkers made similar observations when discussing diamond mining areas. After the war, the national leaderships
Balandugu section recorded 340 taxpayers in 1985 and 1.012
An elderly female participant responded to this observation how difficult it remains to raise the topic of chieftaincy reform of both groups declared support for the SLPP government of
in 2002, while the corresponding figures for Karina section
by pointing out that: in some isolated villages. The Poro society, they noted, is Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Former President Kabbah is a Mandingo
were 538 and 1,903. Furthermore, the revised Chiefdom
still strongly involved in chieftaincy affairs in southern Sierra on his father’s side and had long been a supporter of the Sierra
 ur new chief should not be a chief that government imposes.
O Council list, based on the 2002 tax assessment, also allocated
Leone and decides certain cases in the bush where no Leonean Mandingo community.
If we have a Paramount Chief we can call our own, we will 130 Councillors to Karina section, although a 1:20 ratio of
woman is allowed to enter. As one fieldworker observed, In Biriwa, the paramount chieftaincy has rotated between
make any number of sacrifices to work for him. Councillors to taxpayers should only have produced 95.
“these things they hold firm to their chests and we could not the Limba ruling houses of Bumban and Kamabai since the
This moral contract also emerged strongly in a consultation work in the chiefdoms if people thought we were coming to early colonial era. In the 1950s, aspirants from Karina began to
exercise commissioned by the DFID-funded Chiefdom destroy them.”45 contest the Biriwa paramount chieftaincy, claiming that their
Governance Reform Programme (CGRP).42 For example, ancestors had helped to protect the chiefdom from war during The Biriwa Paramount Chief (from the Kalawa ruling house
2.1.2 Case Study: The Biriwa Chieftaincy Election of Bumban) died unexpectedly in 2003, but preparations
according to one workshop report, participants identified the pre-colonial era and that their ruling house was descended
Crisis of 2006 46 to elect a new chief did not get underway until 2006. The
“service to their people” and “implementing the law for the from a daughter of Suluku of Bumban, the famous late 19th
Central government interference in chieftaincy elections updated Chiefdom Councillor lists soon became a major point
benefit of the people” as chiefs’ main responsibilities. They century Biriwa Limba ruler. In a chieftaincy election held
continues to provoke local outrage and the Biriwa chieftaincy of contention. Local tax had been assessed and collected in
also recommended that “politicians should keep their hands 1956, a Karina aspirant took advantage of a split in the vote
election crisis of 2006 is a notable case in point. The majority 2004 under new rules that required all adult women to pay
off local administration”. In another workshop, participants between the Limba aspirants to poll the most votes, but the
of the chiefdom’s population are Limba speakers, but local tax, but the Local Government Ministry insisted that an
identified “protecting the chiefdom people from molestation British District Commissioner eventually ruled that a Mandingo
substantial numbers of “stranger” Mandingo and Fula also electoral college for the forthcoming election should be based
and other inhumane treatment from the hands of police and Paramount Chief was unacceptable in a Limba chiefdom and
reside in the area. These two ethnic groups specialized, on the flawed 2002 Chiefdom Councillor list. Furthermore,
other law enforcement agencies” as a leading responsibility ordered the election to be re-run (Fanthorpe, 1998). The old
historically, in long distance trading and livestock herding when the updated list was gazetted in March 2006, it omitted
for Paramount Chiefs, while in a third workshop, participants rotational succession arrangement between Bumban and
and their populations are scattered widely throughout Sierra the names of 36 Limba ceremonial chiefs that had appeared
reported that a Paramount Chief must “love his/her subjects Kamabai ruling houses continued up to the civil war period.
Leone and neighbouring countries. While many present-day on the original 2002 list. In Temne-speaking areas, chieftaincy
without fear or favour”,“always protect the rights of citizens” All factions in the chiefdom took advantage of the weak
Paramount Chiefs in Sierra Leone acknowledge Mandingo is surrounded by considerable ceremony, led by numerous
and “be honest in all dealings with the government authorities state of local bureaucracy in the aftermath of civil war to inflate
or Fula ancestry, there are no Mandingo or Fula chiefdoms male and female titled officials. These “ceremonial chiefs”
for the welfare of his/her people.” In a fourth report, the taxpayer assessments in their localities (Box 2). The Biriwa
as such. Biriwa contains Karina town, one of the oldest have long been included in Temne Chiefdom Councils
facilitators observed that the Paramount Chief had been chiefdom Treasury Clerk at that time lived in Makeni and
Mandingo settlements in rural Sierra Leone. Karina has its and the predecessor of the late Biriwa Paramount Chief
imposed on the chiefdom by the Stevens regime. They went his monthly travel allowance of 5,000 Leones did not cover
own section with seventeen large settlements. A second had introduced the idea into his own chiefdom. All of the
on to note that it was a local custom to invite newly elected even one return taxi fare from Makeni to Kamabai. When tax
Mandingo section, Balandugu, has eight villages. The Limba Biriwa ceremonial chiefs were, of course, Limba-speaking
Paramount Chiefs to serve as patrons of local Wunde society collection resumed in the chiefdom in 2002, he relied upon a
speakers reside in the seven remaining sections, which nominees of the Paramount Chief. They had appeared on
initiations, which enabled them to collect ceremonial offerings network of personal contacts to deliver tax assessment forms
have more than two hundred villages. However, by virtue of several gazetted Biriwa Chiefdom Councillor lists, but with an
thus recoup their election expenses. However, this Paramount and receipt books to chiefdom authorities as and when they
their trading speciality the Mandingo of Biriwa are in regular election pending the government decided to remove them.
Chief had never once been invited to serve as a Wunde patron travelled to the chiefdom.47 Documents obtained from the
contact with fellow Mandingo living elsewhere in Sierra The Office of the President would later issue a statement
during his twenty-five year rule.43 Treasury Clerk also indicated that the final assessment for
Leone and many of these people regard Karina town as an claiming that this action represented a bid to “adhere to the
Karina town included the names of 720 taxpayers who were
ancestral home. The Mandingo population with an interest in norms that existed about chieftaincy during the colonial era”.
not accounted for on the original assessment forms. With
Biriwa chieftaincy politics is thus considerably larger than that Since there was no record of Limba ceremonial chiefs at
42. Between 1999 and 2001, the CGRP hosted workshops on the local tax rate still set at the pre-war level of 500 Leones
chieftaincy issues in more than seventy chiefdoms in southern and which is normally resident in the chiefdom at any one time. Independence in 1961, the government had concluded that
per person, there was little to deter chieftaincy factions from
central Sierra Leone. The project was original called the Paramount ceremonial chieftaincy could not be considered a “traditional”
Chiefs Restoration Programme, but the name was changed in its manipulating the local tax system for political gain. On this
second and final year of operation. particular occasion, the Mandingo faction had seized an Limba institution. The statement also went on to note that
advantage over its Limba rivals. accepting this development would have “opened a floodgate
43. CGRP workshop reports for Kongbora Chiefdom, (May 2000), 44. Interview, Victor Kalie Kamara, Community Action for Progress
Valunya Chiefdom (July 2000), Malen Chiefdom (June 2000) and (CAP), Rokupr, November 2002. to the numerous ‘secret society’ members nationwide
Gbo Chiefdom (May 2000). These workshop reports were originally insisting on their inclusion on the councillors list by virtue of
45. Interview, NMJD fieldworkers, Bo, November 2008.
stored in the Paramount Chiefs Restoration Unit, Governance Reform
Secretariat at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs. This unit is now 46. This case study is based on field research carried out by Richard
closed, but copies of the reports are still held by the Ministry of Fanthorpe during numerous visits to Biriwa Chiefdom between April
Internal Affairs, Local Government and Rural Affairs. 2003 and February 2009. 47. Interview, Biriwa Chiefdom Treasury Clerk, Makeni, March 2003

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

the membership of their societies”.48 The newly gazetted list are considered chiefdom authorities. Each of the chiefdom’s One participant in this ritual explained later that the women refused to comply with this order, citing its independence as
also added an extra 22 Chiefdom Councillors to Balandugu nine sections has a Mammy Queen with an overall leader had taken matters into their own hands in order to protect their established by Section 32 of the 1991 Constitution and its
section, the government’s explanation being that these were currently residing in Kamabai. The head Mammy Queen, along men, since, as she put it, “soldiers shame to shoot women”.49 authority to conduct public elections under Section 33 of the
representatives of Fula cattle herders who had only returned to with the Kamabai section Mammy Queen and the head of the The head Mammy Queen also explained that she was the same Constitution.52
the chiefdom after 2002. women’s Bondo society for the chiefdom, were among the daughter of the Kamabai Paramount Chief who, in 1953, had In November 2006, a team of judges led by Chief Justice
The local Limba-speakers were outraged by these ceremonial chiefs omitted from the Chiefdom Councillor list built the Barray in the first place. As far as she was concerned, A.R.D. Renner-Thomas delivered a controversial ruling in the
developments. Officials of the Local Government Ministry did in the 2006 update. In full view of the security forces and the it was a symbol of Kamabai’s status as the chiefdom Supreme Court in response to an appeal action brought by the
nothing illegal in modifying the Chiefdom Councillor list. Yet, Local Government officials and Chiefdom Councillors sitting headquarters and she was not going to allow outsiders to Limba ruling houses of Biriwa. He upheld an earlier High Court
as the local Limba saw it, the government had declared that in the Barray, the head Mammy Queen and her supporters appropriate it.50 Indeed, it was a source of great satisfaction ruling that the eligibility of aspirants in chieftaincy elections
their ceremonial chiefs were not in fact traditional authorities surrounded the Barray and placed a Bondo curfew on it, forcing to the local Limba that the women’s action had forced the was a matter of customary law, over which the courts had no
while upholding the rights of Fula herders whom they did not all the men out. Provincial Secretary to reconvene the election in a cramped jurisdiction. He also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the
consider to be indigenes of the chiefdom. Furthermore, they market enclosure and that the formal recognition ceremony Biriwa chieftaincy election should be declared null and void
believed that the Ministry had insisted on using the 2002 for the new Paramount Chief, led by the President in January because it was conducted in contravention of Section 33 of
revision of the Chiefdom Councillor list for the forthcoming Declaration of Rights 2007, was held in a school assembly hall. the 1991 Constitution. The Chief Justice ruled that paramount
election in order to favour the SLPP-supporting Mandingos Ever since colonial times, the first stage in any chieftaincy Within days of the election, the leading Limba aspirant, chieftaincy elections did not constitute public elections
and Fulas. Indeed, the sole Mandingo aspirant in the election election has been an exercise known as the Declaration of already serving as the Senior Speaker of the chiefdom, for which the NEC was expressly responsible because
was a Freetown-based medical doctor and personal friend of Rights. Here, aspirants declare their hereditary claims to underwent the traditional ceremonies of chiefly investiture a) chieftaincy elections were not mentioned specifically
President Kabbah, whose declaration that Karina town was his paramount chieftaincy at a special meeting of the Chiefdom in Bumban’s society bush. He was briefly detained by the in Section 33 of the Constitution and b) Section 72 of the
birthplace raised eyebrows even among neutral observers. Council chaired by the Provincial Secretary. The meeting begins police, concerned that he was trying to usurp the authority 1991 Constitution establishes the supremacy of Parliament
Local Government officials made three attempts to with a roll call of Chiefdom Councillors, and if the list has not of the elected Paramount Chief. While he would in fact serve in making provisions for managing paramount chieftaincy
complete the pre-election Declaration of Rights exercise already been updated (e.g. to replace deceased Councillors) as the de facto chief of the local Limba, he adopted the title elections. If legislators had intended for chieftaincy elections
(Box 3, page 33), in the early months of 2006, all of which since the last official revision, changes will be agreed at this “Chairman of Biriwa Limba Customs and Secret Societies”. to be covered by the provisions of Section 33, the Chief
were disrupted by violent arguments over the eligibility of time. With the assistance of assessor Paramount Chiefs (who By using that title he made his political point clear, yet Justice argued, they would have inserted an appropriate cross-
Mandingos to stand for election to the Biriwa paramount usually come from neighbouring chiefdoms), the Provincial deflected any allegations of usurpation.51 The newly elected reference making that intent clear.53
chieftaincy and the right of Government to exclude Limba Secretary seeks to ensure that that aspirants belong to Paramount Chief, who took the name Paramount Chief
2.1.3 Chieftaincy’s Crisis of Accountability
ceremonial chiefs from the Chiefdom Councillor list. ruling houses recognized by government, that government Alimamy Moseray II, did not challenge his Limba rival,
The Biriwa case illustrates the importance many Sierra
Even though they still commanded a notional majority of guidelines on the eligibility of candidates (e.g. candidates must spending most of his time abroad or in Freetown. The return
Leoneans still attach to the chiefdom as a source of political
60 Chiefdom Councillors, the Limba aspirants and their belong to ruling houses through direct paternal lineage, they of an APC government in September 2007 made it a certainty
identification and belonging. But it is also indicative of a
supporting Councillors decided to boycott the election entirely cannot previously have served as Acting Paramount Chiefs that the 2006 Biriwa election result would be annulled and the
broader crisis of accountability that currently afflicts the
and seek satisfaction for their grievances in the law courts. or Regent Chiefs and must not have any criminal convictions) election re-run. PC Alimamy Moseray was formally suspended
chieftaincy system. Further examples from Biriwa and other
Tensions in the chiefdom escalated as it became clear that are adhered to and that rotational succession pacts between in November 2008, and the re-run election was still pending as
chiefdoms illustrate the magnitude of this crisis.
the government was determined to press ahead with the ruling houses, if any, are honoured. The assembled Chiefdom of September 2009.
First, there is no question that the Limba speakers of Biriwa
election even though the Mandingo aspirant was now the sole Councillors are consulted regularly during this vetting process The Biriwa election also prompted a confrontation between
were united in opposing what they perceived to be central
registered candidate. Reports began to circulate that the Limba and it is they who make the final decision as to whether or the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the Local
government manipulation of the 2006 chieftaincy election for
Gbangbani society, which the strictly Muslim Mandingo and not a particular aspirant should be accepted as a candidate Government Ministry. The NEC was granted an oversight
partisan political ends. Yet, many residents of the chiefdom
Fula rarely joined, was being used to impose ritual curfews on in the election proper. Usually, a collective shout of approval role in paramount chieftaincy elections by the then Attorney-
remained little more than onlookers upon an elite contest.
roads and paths in the chiefdom, so as to prevent the passage or disapproval is enough to decide the matter, with a vote General Solomon Berewa in 2002 and the commission
On one side, the Supreme Court appeal was lodged by elite
of Mandingos and Fulas across “Limba” land. being taken only if the Council is split. In the past, the actual went on to preside over more than 70 chieftaincy elections.
descendants of Kamabai living in Freetown and the petition
An attempt was made to hold the election on 28 July 2006, election of the Paramount Chief took place immediately after However, during the Biriwa Chieftaincy election, the NEC
that helped set in motion the annulment of the 2006 election
in spite of the fact that a High Court Injunction restraining the the completion of the Declaration of Rights, but the Local called for a suspension of proceedings while the injunction
result, and suspension of PC Alimamy Moseray II, was drafted
Mandingo candidate from standing had been granted hours Government Ministry now tends leave a few weeks’ gap against the Mandingo candidate was still in force and while
by members of the APC party executive. Even the women
earlier. The Kamabai Court Barray was surrounded by police between the two events to ensure that all challenges and local complaints over the updated Chiefdom Council list were
who placed the ritual curfew on the Court Barray were wives
and soldiers, armed with live ammunition and tear gas. While complaints can be fairly dealt with and that failed aspirants and still being investigated. The NEC was also concerned over
and daughters of senior chiefs. On the other side, the Kabbah
vehement, possibly violent, protest from the local Limba had their supporters do not disrupt election proceedings. the possibility of violence if the election went ahead before
government seemed to treat all criticism of its handling of
been anticipated, it took a form against which government these issues were resolved. However, the Local Government
the election as a challenge to its sovereign authority, to be
agencies were completely unprepared. In Biriwa, as in most Ministry ordered the NEC to hand over election materials if it
answered with force if need be. Yet, PC Alimamy Moseray’s
present-day chiefdoms, women’s leaders (Mammy Queens) wasn’t prepared to resume the proceedings. The NEC

49. Interview, Isatu Pompoli, Section Mammy Queen, Bumban, May 2007.
50. Interview, Regina Posseh Kalawa, Head Mammy Queen, Kamabai,
May 2007 52. Interview, Christiana Thorpe, NEC Commissioner, Freetown, May 2007.
48. Government of Sierra Leone, Office of the President, Government 51. Interview, Chiefdom Speaker Alimany Alusine Seku Conteh, 53. The full text of this ruling was published in several Freetown
Notice, Biriwa Paramount Chieftaincy Elections, 15 August, 2006 Kamabai, May 2007 newspapers.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

candidacy was merely the most recent among a series of A female participant in the same group echoed these A second session with the same group of youths took place Such interpretations of the original guidelines are followed
attempts by members of the Freetown elite to make political sentiments: in January 2008. On this occasion, the youths reported that everywhere. As a result, the organization of taxpayers
capital out of Karina town’s historic status, and thereby their main concern, over and above the continuing lack of into notional “units” to qualify for Chiefdom Council
 he number of youths and women far outweighs the number
T
enhance the national profile of a small yet economically employment opportunities, was the absence of a Paramount representation has become little more than a game of
of TAs. Therefore, since women and youths pay taxes, they
powerful Mandingo community still struggling to shake off its Chief who could intercede with the government on their numbers played by the authorities that manage the local tax
should be accorded the right to vote for the Paramount Chief.
“stranger” image.54 Had the choice of a new Paramount Chief behalf to bring development to the chiefdom. It is easy to system (i.e. the Chiefdom Committee, Treasury Clerk and
It affects the women because we pay taxes as men do but
been put to a popular vote in the chiefdom, the whole fiasco understand why the political imagination of these youths was CCFC) and authorize revisions of Chiefdom Councillor lists
why should we not be entitled to vote for the PC?
would have been avoided. still captured by the ideal of the communitarian chief. At that (Provincial Secretary and Local Government Ministry). Chiefs
Local youths’ frustration at their exclusion from chieftaincy The very survival of communities is at stake here. For example, time, none of the three District Councillors representing wards of all ranks are nevertheless inclined to defend the present
elections came out vividly in a group discussion held in another youth participant in the same MCSL-facilitated in the chiefdom actually resided there and Parliament had only system because it also answers to other priorities. Chiefs at
Kamabai in 2005. At that time, the youths’ main concern was discussion group observed: recently gone back to a constituency system after a decade the village and section level claim that they rely on Chiefdom
the lack of opportunity for paid employment in the town. They during which parliamentary seats were allocated on a district Councillors to help them maintain law and order in their
The [chiefdom] authorities maltreat us at will and they often
were all born in the chiefdom and they were hoping that more basis. Yet it is the very commitment of rural people to this ideal localities and therefore need to appoint responsible people.
say that if you are not pleased with their rule, then you can
development projects would come to their area to provide that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous As one Section Chief in Bombali District noted:
willingly leave their chiefdoms. If a young person sees how
jobs. Yet they complained that when projects did come, chiefs elites. If that exploitation persists, it is only likely to provoke
risky it is, then he or she will already be preparing to leave. TAs must be appointed on the recommendation of their
and elders reserved many benefits for themselves and gave further conflict.
You can even find some villages that haven’t any young people Section Chiefs. In my section, I won’t recommend you if I don’t
work to their “favourites”.The fundamental problem, as they Second, insofar as they were designed to introduce
in them because they have all left. know you to be a hard working person. Even the Paramount
saw it, was that youths had no means of holding chiefs and taxpayer (and thus popular) representation to Chiefdom
Chief cannot recommend anyone to be a TA in my section. A TA
elders to account. In the old days, one youth observed, a To take another example, Kamabai served as an operational Councils, the old guidelines (see Box 1, page 17) have been
is a real citizen.58
person who could pay tax for twenty people automatically base for RUF groups in the final stages of the civil war and a manifest failure. The formula for electing councillors is
became a Chiefdom Councillor. But nowadays, “everyone pays most of the youths who participated in discussions had been fundamentally flawed. Take, for example, a hypothetical A Village Chief made a similar point when contributing to a NMJD-
tax for themselves and the Town Chief chooses the TAs”.55 conscripted at one time or another as trainee combatants, case where Village A has 55 taxpayers, including the Village facilitated village discussion group. At one stage he observed that:
The situation was no better in respect of chieftaincy elections. labour gangers, load carriers and messengers. Local youths Chief. Under the existing guidelines, the first 20 taxpayers “TA means ‘chief’, as in Tribal Authority”.He also noted that:
As another youth observed: had observed RUF personnel closely and felt that their qualify the Village Chief to sit on the Chiefdom Council, while
The TA is the person that pays the tax for the other 19 people.
present situation was not so far removed from that which had the next 20 qualify the village to have an extra Councillor.
Crownings [i.e. chieftaincy elections] do not involve youths. There are two TAs here in Massahun. Chiefdom authorities
prompted those people to go to war. As the chiefdom’s youth The remaining 15 taxpayers are insufficient in number to
Elders meet to make a committee [i.e. Electoral College] and will scrutinize TAs to see if they are working in the interests of
leader (Young Man’s Chief) observed, Sierra Leonean youth qualify for a third Councillor, but if the guidelines are adhered
only TAs have the right to vote for the chief. Youths can support the people. If not, he or she will be changed automatically...
is living under political authorities that are “not transparent”, to correctly, all the taxpayers in the village should vote to
a person, but because they are not on the committee they Removing TAs will create more workload for Village Chiefs. A
that have many “hidden agendas” and whose representatives decide who shall serve as the extra Councillor and all are
don’t have the right [to vote]. The elders just say: ‘chieftaincy large village of 1,500 people would now have only one chief.59
are only interested in “self-development.” Young people are therefore represented. Yet if villages are small, they must
is not child’s play’. Sometimes the young men do not like a
therefore inclined to say to themselves: “if no development organize themselves so that they can create “units” of It was clearly not the intent of the colonial architects of
Paramount Chief but they have no power to influence the
comes, I will look around and take what I want”.“That way of twenty taxpayers. Thus for example, Villages B, C and D with the Chiefdom Councils that taxpayer representatives should
choice. Let the youths be involved in crownings.56
thinking”, the youth leader concluded, “brings war”.57 a combined total of 15 taxpayers must seek out another become an auxiliary class of chiefs, directly appointed by
Male and female youths living in other parts of Sierra Leone small village to bring the group’s total to at least 20. Since the chiefdom authorities. Yet some chiefs insist that their method
have expressed the same frustrations. For example, in a guidelines also allow for the division of a large settlement into works best because it respects “tradition”.According to one
community discussion group facilitated by MCSL in Kailahun separate “sections” for the purpose of electing Councillors, Paramount Chief for example, the number twenty represents
District in March 2008, a youth participant observed that: they have provided chiefdom authorities with a pretext for the indigenous (Mende) cultural concept of the “whole man”
grouping all chiefdom taxpayers into notional “units” of 20 (ten fingers and ten toes). Each “unit” of twenty tax payers
We suffer from paramount chieftaincy elections because it is
and allocating Councillors to them. represented by a TA reflects, in his view, the traditional family
only the TAs that are involved and we, the youths, are excluded.
This interpretation of the guidelines ensures that larger structure with the “whole man” at the head.60 However, the
It affects us because it is only the wishes of the TAs that are
and politically important settlements can maximise their days when most rural family heads were directly responsible
fulfilled and not the youths, yet the population of youths is
allocation of Councillors. In Village A for example, the final 15 for the day-to-day welfare of twenty fully fledged adults are long
far greater than the TAs. This can destroy our development
taxpayers would be considered as an incipient “unit”, thereby gone. In present-day Sierra Leone, people who have money are
because our voices are not heard.
allowing the village to claim a third Councillor. The additional constantly under pressure from their family networks to provide
five taxpayers completing this “unit” would be found them with support, but that is a different kind of relationship.
by grouping it with taxpayers living in other villages. This Social and economic life in rural areas is never static. Young
interpretation also obviates the need for public elections of people move out in search of education and employment
Village Discussion Group, Massahun, Bo District, December 2008 Councillors, since in theory a “unit” of 20 taxpayers is small
54. Other national politicians to claim descent from Karina include the enough to meet face to face to decide which of their number 58. Interview, Section Chief Yayah Conteh II, Bumban, December 2008.
late diamond magnate Jamil Said Mohamed and former Vice-President should become the Councillor.
59. Village Discussion Group, Massahun, Bo District, December 2008.
S.I. Koroma. See Koroma (1996:44).
60. Interview with PC Bai Koblo Queen II of Masimera Chiefdom
55. In rural areas, Chiefdom Councillors are still known by the old
(Chairman, National Council of Paramount Chiefs), PC Alhaji Issa Kamara-
colonial name “Tribal Authorities”, often abbreviated to “TA”.
Koroma, Gallinas Perri Chiefdom, Pujehun District, PC Amadu Kaikai,
56. Youth discussion Group, Kamabai, November 2005. 57. Youth discussion Group, Kamabai, November 2005 Kpanga Kabonde Chiefdom, Pujehun District, November 2008.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

while older people move in to take over the households and In a village discussion group held in another part of the same rotational crowning agreement was in force. The small In the run up to the December 2002 election, the Kasseh
family lands of late relatives. Traders offering credit to farmers chiefdom, a female Chiefdom Councillor who had recently Makonteh chiefdom had amalgamated with Bureh in 1946 ruling houses’ campaign to win the paramount chieftaincy of
are active even in remote areas and locally born businessmen seen her name deleted from the gazetted Chiefdom Councillor without a specific agreement on crowning being drawn up. the amalgamated chiefdom was led by a cabal of local traders
who support the rural poor fairly can sometimes rival chiefs list made the following remarks: Kasseh had joined in 1957 and its ruling houses subsequently (including the Regent Chief), backed by a high ranking civil
as community figureheads. Many people that succeed in demanded an agreement to rotate the chieftaincy. However, servant and relative of a former Vice-President of Sierra Leone.
I paid local tax in this chiefdom for 23 years and because of
government or business also take a keen interest in their home the three parties couldn’t agree as to which of them should The government did not respond to the Bureh ruling houses’
my hard work I was made a Chiefdom Councillor. But now we
communities, especially during national elections. have the first turn. In 1959, an exasperated British District petition claiming that the gazetted Chiefdom Councillor list
seem to have a new system and my name has been removed
Given this situation, it is easy to understand why chiefs Commissioner called a meeting in the Kasseh chiefdom contained numerous frauds (Box 4). In the Declaration of
from the list. If a candidate for the throne [i.e. paramount
insist on appointing taxpayer representatives to Chiefdom headquarters and drew up a declaration reserving the next Rights meeting, the Provincial Secretary ruled that the Kasseh
chieftaincy] comes, he pays the DO [i.e. District Officer] to
Councils. It helps them to secure the support of community paramount chieftaincy for Kasseh. The declaration was signed declaration of 1959 represented a binding agreement and
remove councillors from the list and add those who support
patrons and opinion formers and ensure that upwardly mobile by Kasseh chiefs, but the other ruling houses boycotted disallowed Bureh and Makonteh aspirants from standing. He
him. For now, Councillors are changed at will. A person up
chiefdom residents remain tied in, in a more general sense, the meeting. The District Commissioner’s decree was not promised to return in due course to arrange a new rotational
to the age of 18 can vote for the President, but they cannot
to the system of authority based on chieftaincy. For example, honoured, and ruling houses from the largest of the three succession agreement between all three ex-chiefdoms,
vote for a Paramount Chief unless they are Councillors. If they
one of the authors of this report spent several months working ex-chiefdoms (Bureh) continued to win every subsequent but that promise was never kept. The Makonteh and Bureh
demand to vote they are told they are not old enough! Elders
with a Sierra Leonean NGO in Rokupr in Kambia District shortly chieftaincy election until 2002. Chiefdom Councillors took some measure of revenge by
are not willing to include the youths in chieftaincy business, but
after the civil war. The managers of this NGO were supplying combined forces to defeat the candidate favoured by the civil
if they act dishonestly, the youths will expose it. The youths are
relief inputs to their hometown on behalf of international servant and the Regent Chief. The winning candidate was a
not prepared to be used again as tools.64
agencies. When local tax resumed in 2002 the local Section former CDF commander who was respected throughout the
Chief gave them a receipt book and asked them to pay tax on Rural people are also demanding more representative amalgamated chiefdom. At the Declaration of Rights, more
behalf of their workers. After doing so, both were invited to join Chiefdom Committees. For example, action points raised in The Contested BKM Chiefdom might have been made of the fact that he had recently been
the Chiefdom Council for a “fee” of 6,000 Leones each.61 the CGRP consultations included a) “the present Chiefdom Councillor List of 2002 “adopted” by a local ruling house for the purposes of fighting
Yet, the fundamental problem with this system of Committee is not functioning well, as they are all old [and] The 1998 revision of the BKM Chiefdom Councillor list the election if the rival candidate supported by the civil servant
patronage is that it excludes youths, women and poorer lack initiatives for development”; 2) “Chiefdom Committee showed that Bureh had 9 sections, 90 villages and 196 had not also been “adopted” by another ruling house in exactly
chiefdom residents and often contradicts shared ideas of members should all be replaced and provisions made for councillors, Makonteh had 3 sections, 40 villages and 87 the same manner.
“community” that enable chiefs to maintain social order representatives of women’s groups, CDF and youths”; 3) councillors, and Kasseh had 5 sections, 70 villages, and The enduring legacy of colonial “indirect rule” is apparent
in the first place. In Rokupr for example, The Section Chief “The female councillors are not selected for the Chiefdom 137 councillors. However, the October 2002 list, published in both the Biriwa and BKM cases. In the Supreme Court
was notorious for demanding contributions from Chiefdom Committee. This has aroused feelings of neglect and low in the Gazette, showed that Bureh had 259 councillors, ruling on the Biriwa case, the Chief Justice specifically cited
Councillors to cover his “expenses” and threatening to esteem among the women who know that it is unfair.”65 Makonteh 153 councillors and Kasseh 355 councillors. the provisions of Section 72 of the 1991 Constitution (i.e.
remove their names from the gazetted Councillor list if they Again, the message from all these testimonies is that unless Historically one of the Bureh chiefdom sections was that Paramount Chieftaincy is established by customary law
refused to comply. He was equally notorious for distributing chiefs win back the respect of their people, and unless comprised of the employees of a large Sierra Leone Produce and usage and that laws passed by Parliament governing
Chiefdom Councillorships to store keepers, boat operators, the people can be confident that Chiefdom Councils and Marketing Board (SLPMB) palm oil mill. The mill was the election and removal of Paramount Chiefs should not be
vehicle operators and government functionaries who were not Committees represent their interests, the community values destroyed during the civil war and this section was summarily inconsistent with custom), when arguing that customary law
indigenes of the chiefdom. In a discussion with town residents, that underpin the entire system of local governance at the deleted from Bureh in the revised Chiefdom Councillor list. had priority over matters of ruling house eligibility and that
many complained that these “strangers” answered only to chiefdom level will collapse. A new “section”, comprising of entirely fictitious villages, decisions over the jurisdiction of the statute in chieftaincy
the Section Chief and District Officer and that the Chiefdom Third, local factional rivalries would clearly not have such a was listed in the Gazette under Kasseh. The Bureh ruling matters were the prerogative of Parliament. Implicit in this
Councillors representing them considered themselves to be disruptive effect on chiefdom governance if it were not for the houses petitioned the government over the revised list, ruling is the notion that Chieftaincy is an institution apart
local “chiefs” on an equal footing with indigene Councillors.62 excessive and unaccountable power government continues pointing out further that several of the Councillors listed from normal political affairs and that many of the protections
A driver working for the above-mentioned NGO later described to hold over chieftaincy affairs. Chieftaincy politics remains under Kasseh were well known local personalities (including of citizens rights enshrined in the Constitution (including
how he had been subjected to a “citizen’s arrest” by one of focussed on winning the favour of central government rather a former APC Vice-President of Sierra Leone) who were long the rights of all citizens above the age of 18 to vote in public
these “stranger” Councillors for failing to produce a local tax than winning the support of the people. dead. This petition was ignored. elections) do not apply to it.
receipt on demand. He was released as soon as he managed The Biriwa chieftaincy election is only one among several
to convince the Chiefdom Police that he had left the receipt at recent chieftaincy elections to see government officials Source: Field research, R. Fanthorpe
home, but the incident still rankled several months later. “I was authorize inflated Chiefdom Councillor lists and make other
born in this chiefdom”,he complained, “and I told the man that I questionable decisions. Another case in point is the chieftaincy
know the very year, the month and the day that he first set foot election in BKM chiefdom in December 2002.66 The salient
here. Why should he have authority over me in this chiefdom?”63 feature of this election was controversy over whether a

61. Interview, Victor Kalie Kamara, CAP, Rokupr, Kambia District,


December 2002
64. Village discussion Groups, Gbonkomaria, Kambia District,
62. Discussion Group, Rokupr, Kambia District, October 2002. The same
October 2002.
problem has been reported in diamond mining districts, another area
where wealth is concentrated in the hands of non-indigenes. See Reno 65. CGRP workshop reports for Kpaka Chiefdom (May 2000),
(1995:55-103) Imperri Chiefdom (June 2000) and Peje Chiefdom (June 2000).
63. Interview, Deltha Kamara, Driver, CAP, Rokupr Kambia District, 66. This case study is based on field research carried out by
October 2002. Richard Fanthorpe between October and December 2002.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

But if the Supreme Court restrains itself from adjudicating on Paramount Chiefs who benefit from fraudulent or otherwise Third, these changes would place responsibility for managing
Action Points on Chieftaincy Elections,
matters of customary law, the Local Government Ministry has unfair elections tend to alienate large numbers of their chieftaincy elections firmly in the hands of the NEC and
CGRP Workshops, 1999-2000
no such concerns. Prior to the Biriwa controversy, the Kabbah people even before taking up office. More accountable to the curtail abuse of the government’s colonially wrought power
1. The Councillors who vote for [the] Paramount Chief
government had decreed that ruling houses established bureaucrats and politicians that arranged their election victories to arbitrate on matters of “customary law and usage” in
and Section Chiefs are not elected in accordance with the
after Independence in 1961 were no longer to be recognized, than the communities they are supposed to represent, chieftaincy elections. If candidates were registered by the
rules. People who are not eligible are included on the list
arguing that it was necessary to uphold “traditional” ruling they are susceptible to pressure from above to exploit their NEC ahead of an election, there would be no need for an old
of councillors by corrupt officials just to influence elections
houses untainted by the manipulations of the Stevens regime customary authority over land and other local resources for fashioned Declaration of Rights exercise in which the Provincial
(Baoma Chiefdom, July 2000).
in the 1970s and ‘80s. During the Biriwa controversy, the Local the benefit of their patrons. These are the very practices that Secretary arrives in a motorcade and leads the process from a
Government Minister argued that since the Karina Mandingo the above-noted TRC report condemned as being among the high table while the aspirants and councillors sit below him in 2. Instead of Councillors voting for chiefs, let all taxpayers
had contested elections in the 1950s, they must be considered root causes of the civil war. Clearly, the rights of chiefdom the Court Barray (see photo). Early registration of candidates within the chiefdom who are indigenes vote (Wunde
a legitimate “ruling house”. But he forgot to mention people must now be fully protected by the statute. The would provide time for any challenges to their hereditary rights Chiefdom, July 2000).
that a British official had refused to recognize a winning extension of that protection does not mean that chieftaincy claims to be thoroughly investigated and for the Provincial
3. Only candidates with birthright for holding the chieftaincy
Karina candidate as Paramount Chief because the colonial is under threat of abolition. Rather, it means that a legal and Secretary and Assessor Chiefs to supply a pre-election report
should contest. The birthright question for each aspirant should
government had always considered Biriwa to be a “Limba” constitutional distinction urgently needs to be established on matters pertaining to rotational succession agreements and
be answered by chiefdom people not Central Government
chiefdom. The Minister also referred to a treaty of friendship between chieftaincy as a traditional institution and institutions the ruling house legitimacy.
(Kamajei Chiefdom, June 2000).
between the British and the Karina chiefs dating from the of governance at the chiefdom level, most of which ceased to
1890s. While that treaty did indeed prove that chieftaincy in be traditional long ago. 4. The election of a Paramount Chief should no more be
Karina has a pre-colonial pedigree it did not, contrary to the interfered with by the Government. Each contestant must
2.1.4 The Case for Universal Adult Suffrage in
Minster’s claims, establish any connection between Karina come from a ruling house recognized by the people (Bendu
Chieftaincy Elections
and the chieftaincy of Biriwa.67 In the BKM case there was Cha Chiefdom, June 2000).
As we have seen, introducing popular suffrage in chieftaincy
certainly justice in the Kasseh and Makonteh ruling houses’
elections has been mooted in Sierra Leone since the 5. A system should be devised to ensure “one man one vote”
claim that Bureh should not be allowed exclusive access
1920s. Governments, both colonial and post-colonial, have in chieftaincy elections (Mano Sakrim Chiefdom, June 2000)
to the paramount chieftaincy just because it had the most
long resisted this reform for ideological reasons and out
taxpayers. Yet the 1959 declaration on Kasseh’s right to fill 6. The councillors who constitute the Electoral College for
of cynical political calculation. Yet universal adult suffrage
the next chieftaincy vacancy, signed by Kasseh chiefs alone, election of Paramount Chief of the chiefdom [should] be
in chieftaincy elections could help to resolve chieftaincy’s
represented very questionable grounds for barring Makonteh enlarged/broad based to include more youths and women
current crisis of accountability. First, it would bring an end
as well as Bureh ruling houses from contesting the 2002 (Mano Dasse Chiefdom, December 1999)
to politically motivated inflation of local tax assessments
election. In both cases, colonial officials’ ad hoc interventions
and fraudulent manipulation of Chiefdom Councillor lists. 7. The people of Nomo agreed that the election of future
in chieftaincy affairs provided their modern counterparts with
Second, since women are now expected to pay local tax Paramount Chiefs should be by universal suffrage involving
precedents for equally arbitrary rulings on chieftaincy elections.
under decentralization, the numbers of assessed taxpayers Aspirants seated before the Provincial Secretary and Assessor Chiefs. the people for the chiefdom (Nomo Chiefdom, July 2000)
Arbitrary government rulings on chieftaincy elections often Declaration of Rights, Kukuna, Bramaia Chiefdom, November 2002.
in all chiefdoms are already increasing substantially. If the
engender strong feelings of anger and injustice in rural areas. 8. According to the teachers, youths civil groups and CDF,
old 1:20 ratio of Councillors to taxpayers is retained it will
People know when tricks are being played upon them. The There is no question that these measures would be popular the Paramount Chief should be from a ruling house and must
produce Chiefdom Councils that are too large to be able to
public has access to gazetted Chiefdom Councillor lists via the at community level. Outcomes of village discussion groups be elected by every taxpayer of the chiefdom, not the TAs or
meet and conduct business effectively in one place (e.g.
Government Bookshop in Freetown and irregularities in gazetted and public workshops on desired reforms for chieftaincy Councillors alone (Nongowa Chiefdom, May 2000)
a Court Barray). The number of registered taxpayers in a
Chiefdom Councillor lists are widely discussed. Old government elections have been consistent on this matter for several years.
chiefdom is now nearing the number of registered voters, 9. Election of Paramount Chief [should] be the business of
records on colonial-era chieftaincy elections remain such Compare for example, comments and recommendations
the only differences being due to the respective ages of tax all taxpayers since councillors do not represent the wishes
valuable political commodities that they have also been copied emerging from the above-noted Chiefdom Governance
liability and voter eligibility (21 years for taxpayers and 18 of the 19 people they represent (Sorogbema Chiefdom
extensively. After the destruction of government property during Reform Programme (CGRP) consultations held shortly after
years for voters). If the ages of tax liability and voter eligibility September, 2000)
the civil war, some private citizens now hold more complete the end of the civil war (Box 5) and those recently agreed
were harmonised in law, it would be easy to use the national
records on chiefdom histories than central government. Yet in discussion groups facilitated by CGG, NMJD and MCSL 10. Chieftaincy elections must be conducted by an Electoral
electoral register as a basis for voter registration in chieftaincy
when the name of a former Vice-President everyone knows to (Box 6). The consistent message in these discussion groups Commission, not by District Officers (Gallinhas Perri Chiefdom,
elections, with additional safeguards (e.g. possession of
be dead appears on a gazetted Chiefdom Councillor list, it is a and workshops is that ordinary people want to be able to June 2000)
local tax receipts) in place to ensure that voters are genuine
political signal to all concerned that the lies and fabrication of the vote for their Paramount Chief, just like they vote for District
residents of the chiefdom in which they are voting.
chieftaincy faction favoured by government have become the Councillors, Members of Parliament and the President. In
government’s “truth”.With no satisfaction likely to be found in rural areas, women, youths and other people who are not
the courts, all an aggrieved faction can do is petition the Local Chiefdom Councillors are expected to perform their civic
Government Minister and other senior government figures in duties in obeying the law, engaging in productive activities,
the hope that it can induce a change of heart. paying taxes and performing communal labour. Consequently,
they feel it is an injustice that they can’t vote for the authorities
that still represent their first point of contact with government.
67. Government of Sierra Leone, Office of the President,
If people did not have respect for the institution of chieftaincy,
Government Notice, Biriwa Paramount Chieftaincy Elections, 15 August,
2006. The chieftaincy of Biriwa was the subject of a treaty originally they would not feel so passionately on this issue.
drawn up in 1841.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

There is, at present, little support for the idea of universal adult how, during his election campaign, some poor farmers had that it is an offence to any person to “exercise or attempt to
Action Points and Comments on
suffrage in chieftaincy elections among Paramount Chiefs. rubbed their hands with glee in anticipation of the largesse he exercise judicial powers” within their territorial jurisdiction.
Chieftaincy Elections: CGG, NMJD and
One Paramount Chief argued that the British monarchy had and other aspirants would be obliged to distribute. Another Since the Local Courts are limited as to the civil and criminal
MCSL facilitated discussion groups,
not changed for centuries, so why should the chieftaincy Paramount Chief, interviewed in 2005, was perhaps being cases upon which they can adjudicate, their jurisdiction is
2008-2009
system? “Immediately you accept adult suffrage”, he went on, more honest over the issue when he observed that, under effectively subordinate to that of the Magistrate’s Courts and
1. Since we are not allowed to vote for our PC, and he does
“the institution of chieftaincy starts breaking; the cracks have universal adult suffrage, there would be too many people higher courts. Where written law and customary law come
not feel accountable to us, no development activities are taken
come”68 Another Paramount Chief remarked that: “universal for him to bribe to be sure of getting elected.71 As the chief’s into conflict, written law is supposed to prevail. Cases heard in
forward that respond to our needs (Several groups, Kakua
suffrage in chieftaincy elections will not improve anything. admission implies, widening the suffrage in chieftaincy a Local Court can be referred to a higher court and decisions
Chiefdom, June to August 2008).
Money will become the main factor in deciding the winners elections could serve to combat bribery and corruption rather can also be appealed to a District Appeal Court, presided over
2. The Electoral College System disenfranchises us as women and they may not be the right people. An aspirant has to please than increase it. This was certainly the view of participants by a Magistrate assisted by customary law assessors. Each
and youths in the election of our local authorities (Fowaya, Peje as many people as possible and under universal suffrage only in one of the above-noted Chiefdom Governance Reform Province has a Customary Law Officer who advises on referral
Bongre Chiefdom, February 2009). those with money will get elected.”69 A third Paramount Chief Programme workshops. As the workshop report noted: and assessment matters.
argued that the present structure of chiefdom governance The appointment of party political activists as Local
3. If people vote for their MPs and [District] Councillor and  he people are strongly advocating that PCs be elected by all
T
can be made to work “if we are left alone to do our roles Court Chairmen, noted in Chapter 1, ended with the demise
President, then why can’t they vote for their chiefs? (Several taxpayers. They argue that Councillors who vote for PCs do
without outside political interference”. But he also conceded of the pre-war APC regime. In recent years, Paramount
groups, Kakua chiefdom, October 2008). not adequately represent the interest of the people. It would
that the system for appointing TAs has “hiccoughs” and Chiefs have been in the habit of appointing Local Court
be easy to manipulate a few people but not the majority.72
4. We want NEC to be conducting chieftaincy elections has been politicised such that “people put more names [i.e. Chairmen, expecting endorsement of their decisions by the
(Segbwema, Njaluahun Chiefdom, March 2009). inflate Councillor numbers] to get their supporters’ votes”. He A further point often made by Paramount Chiefs is that Local Government Ministry. Legally speaking, the situation
concluded that “we are looking forward to a system that can if everyone is allowed to vote in chieftaincy elections, local metamorphosed into a fiduciary relationship, in which the
5. Let the process [for electing Paramount Chiefs] be just
reconstruct our governance and build its capacity”.70 residents would call relatives from Freetown and Kono to come Minister became the principal, and the Paramount Chiefs, the
like voting for the President. Let all chieftaincy aspirants start
It is understandable that Paramount Chiefs fear that and vote, and the result would therefore be decided by people agents. Therefore, even though the Paramount Chiefs do not
campaigning for votes like the Honourables [Members of
conceding one major reform in chiefdom governance could not genuinely committed to the welfare of the chiefdom. A have the legal authority to appoint Court Chairmen, and even
Parliament]; let them go and meet people on their farms
open the door to a whole host of other reforms that could bureaucrat, interviewed in 2002, expressed a similar view though the Act does not expressly transfer the said authority to
(Massahun, Kakua Chiefdom, December 2008).
marginalize them from the political process completely. But when claiming that, under universal adult suffrage, “the street them, by accepting Paramount Chiefs’ nominees for Chairmen
6. If I reach 18 years and vote for the PC, the PC will respect since the statute already provides for the inclusion of taxpayer boys in Bo would elect one of their own as Paramount Chief,” of Local Courts, the Minister ratified their actions, thereby
me (Massahun, Kakua Chiefdom, December 2008). representatives on Chiefdom Councils, there are no justifiable apparently assuming that ruling houses would be abolished generating agency by ratification. Recently however, Provincial
grounds for arguing that universal adult suffrage in chieftaincy too. There are echoes here of the arguments put forward by Secretaries have begun to take back this power, sometimes
7. All participants agreed that the chieftaincy election that
elections is wrong because it does not respect “tradition”. British colonial officials in the 1920s to oppose a wider suffrage sacking Court Chairmen appointed by chiefs and making new
obtains now is unfair. The T/A system (Electoral College) is
As we have seen, taxpayer representatives are regularly in chieftaincy elections: that “native” Sierra Leoneans were not appointments. Paramount Chiefs are outraged by this change,
undemocratic and should be abolished (Kabala, Warra Warra
appointed by chiefdom authorities, and some chiefs have yet ready for democracy and that a wider suffrage would only although Provincial Secretaries are operating in accordance
Yagalla Chiefdom, May 2009).
reinterpreted these representatives as traditional authorities. benefit young “upstarts” who were only interested in becoming with the law as it currently stands.
8. The sole responsibility should be given to the NEC for the But these reinterpretations are a product of politics, not of law chiefs to make money. These arguments were tendentious There are no explicit provisions in the general law about
conduct of chieftaincy elections which is the body set up by or democratic principle. even then, and the idea that the public cannot be trusted to vote the local administration of justice by chiefs. Some Paramount
law (Binkolo, Safroko chiefdom, May 2009). The whole point of universal adult suffrage in chieftaincy responsibly for their political leaders really should have no place Chiefs argue that judicial decisions taken by them should not
elections is to bring chiefs back in touch with the communities in a modern democracy. Again, the argument comes back to the be considered as unconstitutional or illegal. Section 176(3)
9. ...all participants endorsed the position of CSOs that the
they represent, to give them a mandate to “stand firm and point that if all Sierra Leonean citizens have the right to vote for of the Laws of Sierra Leone, 1965, makes provision for the
election of Paramount Chiefs [should] be done through
do something better for the people”, as one youth informant the President, there is no good reason why they should not be existence of the statutes and common law. Common law in
universal adult suffrage and that TAs should be abolished.
put it. The argument that universal adult suffrage in chieftaincy able to vote for their chiefs. that sense means the existing law and customary law, which
However, they said that if it was impossible for every tax
elections would only ensure that the richest candidate always are applicable to particular communities in Sierra Leone. Some
payer to vote then every 10th taxpayer should become a TA
and those TAs should be democratically elected (Joru, Gaura
wins, regardless of hereditary right, is remarkable given 2.2 Justice and Human Rights of the powers exercised by Paramount chiefs in administering
the amount of bribery that currently goes on in chieftaincy the functions of their institution are established by customary
Chiefdom, May 2009). 2.2.1 Overlapping Spheres of Justice
elections. Indeed, the Kabbah government specifically law and usage and the institution is protected from abolition
As we saw in Chapter 1, the primary responsibility of
10. All the participants agree that chieftaincy elections should outlawed the practice of “camping” Chiefdom Councillors at by means of legislative instruments such as Section 72(1) of
Chiefdom Councils under the Chiefdom Councils Act (Cap
now be democratic wherein all taxpayers who have attained chieftaincy elections (i.e. corralling them for the purpose of the 1991 Constitution. In theory therefore, in communities
61 of the Laws of Sierra Lone, 1960) is to “maintain order
the age of 18 years and above should vote (universal adult bribery and coercion) in an effort to combat this problem. The governed by customary law Paramount Chiefs might be seen
and good government” in their chiefdoms and do everything
suffrage). This was buttressed on the grounds that PCs/ Paramount Chief who raised this argument went on to note as the final arbiters of justice comparable to the Supreme
within their reasonable power to prevent the commission
Sub-Chiefs when elected have to govern everybody in the Court, which means that whatever ruling the Paramount Chief
68. Interview with PC Bai Koblo Queen II of Masimera Chiefdom of offenses. However, the Local Courts Act, 1963, states
chiefdom and not just the few TAs who elect them (Koidu, may issue, that decision is final.
(Chairman, National Council of Paramount Chiefs); P.C. Alhaji Issa explicitly that Local Courts have primary jurisdiction to “hear
Gbense Chiefdom, May 2009). Kamara-Koroma, Gallinas Perri Chiefdom, Pujehun District; PC Amadu and determine civil cases governed by customary law” and
Kaikai, Kpanga Kabonde Chiefdom, Pujehun District, November 2008.
69. Interview, Paramount Chief Thomas Kposowa, Bumpeh Ngao
Chiefdom, November 2008. 71. Interview, Paramount Chief Bai Sebora Kasanga II, Makeni,
October 2005.
70. Interview, Paramount Chief Bai Sunthuba Osara III, Gbonkolenken
Chiefdom, December 2008. 72. CGRP workshop, Badjia Chiefdom, June 2000

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

In theory also, Paramount Chiefs have powers to banish chiefs, it would no longer be a “civic obligation” to support Yet even in a rural chiefdom like Biriwa there are people who
individuals from their chiefdoms. This power is enshrined chiefs economically except through the general tax system. prefer to look beyond chiefs for justice. As noted above, the
in Section 26(1) of the Provinces Act (Cap. 60 of the Laws Formal taxes offer much greater transparency than chiefs’ ad chiefdom contains numerous Mandingo and Fula residents
of Sierra Leone, 1960). However, Section 18 of the 1991 hoc demands for labour and thus are better able to protect rural who regularly exchange goods and services with the local
Constitution guarantees every citizen of Sierra Leone freedom citizens from exploitation. Limba but who do not join Limba secret societies and do
to move and settle in any part of the country without expulsion The male and female secret societies play a leading role not consider themselves beholden to Limba chiefs. There
or threat thereof and Section 171(15) of the Constitution in maintaining the moral contract that enables chiefs and are also many residents of the chiefdom, both temporary
establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of Sierra their people to exchange services. In many areas of Sierra and permanent, Limba and non-Limba, who, by virtue of
Leone. Section 26(1) of the Provinces Act has therefore ceased Leone, every child is initiated at puberty (sometimes earlier). their work, education, religious beliefs and personal choice,
to be pure law and any Paramount Chief evoking this provision Initiates are taught skills and social behaviour specific to their are less integrated into the local community than others.
to banish a citizen from his chiefdom will be violating the sex, including deference to chiefs and elders. Furthermore, Many prefer to bring cases before the Local Courts and
Constitution. Even so, the Paramount Chief of Kakua chiefdom the powers that the societies control are also believed to be Magistrate’s Courts. The Local Courts provide an essential
in Bo District banished popular radio broadcaster John Abu in morally discerning. Having been ritually transformed into adults service for these social groups. For example, in their first
2006 and also threatened to banish a civil society activist called Section Chief’s Court, Bumban, May 2007 through the agency of these powers, initiates are required to year of operation after the civil war (2003), the Local Courts
Maxwell Kemokai.73 observe a range of laws and protocols in order to keep them in of Biriwa heard a mere 36 cases. Eighteen of these cases
The dispute resolution work of one Section Chief in Biriwa balance. Many “society” laws are the same as general laws, concerned the recovery of debts and property and all involved
2.2.2 Rural Community-Based Justice
was observed over a ten day period in May 2007. He received e.g. people should not curse, steal, fight, or kill. The societies Limba versus non-Limba and/or locals versus non-locals.
The present system of justice therefore creates several
no salary and the rebate owing from the tax collected in his thus play a major role in maintaining law and order in rural areas Seven cases involved marriage disputes often accompanied
overlapping spheres of authority. In some areas, conflict
section had not been paid for years. Yet on five of those ten even when not in session (Fanthorpe, 2007). by allegations of “woman damage” (i.e. unauthorized sexual
between these spheres is limited due to the poverty and
days, several hours of the chief’s time were taken up with Another feature of this community-based system of justice contact). Again, four of these cases were brought by non-
geographical isolation of the local population. For example,
dispute adjudications. The first of these cases involved a is the strong moral pressure upon individuals not to involve locals seeking the return of locally born wives who had left
Biriwa chiefdom has a population of 30,000, many living in
witchcraft accusation prompted by the sudden death of a child outsiders in disputes. A Regent Chief interviewed in 2001 them to go and live with their families. The Local Courts
small villages in remote hill country. The main Makeni-Kabala
in a remote village; the second was prompted by a violent observed that people living together in a rural village or town were also patronized by chiefs for the purpose of punishing
highway runs along the foot of the hills and the three Local
fist fight in a neighbouring village; the third was a complaint are invariably relatives by marriage or descent, and feel they challenges to their authority. Two cases were brought by
Courts operating in the chiefdom are all based along this road.
brought by a mother that her young son-in-law had started an have to get along with each other come what may. When a chiefs against local youths for failing to answer to their
The nearest Magistrate’s Court is in Makeni, 40 kilometres
affair with his wife’s younger sister; the fourth was a complaint person committing an offence pays compensation to an injured summonses and a further two cases were brought against
distant from Kamabai, the Biriwa chiefdom headquarters.
brought by an elder against a young man whom he accused party and begs forgiveness for a crime it allows people to put youths for committing “sacrilege” (kasseh), i.e. fighting in a
There is no permanent Sierra Leone Police post in the
of having cleared a farm on his land without first asking the incident behind them. For that reason, he went on, the village in contravention of secret society laws.
chiefdom. Two police officers usually travel up to Kamabai from
permission; the fifth was a complaint brought by a villager traditional practice of ‘begging’ for forgiveness is not necessarily
Makeni every day but don’t always stay overnight. 2.2.3 Corruption and Conflict in the Local
against his younger kinsman whom he accused of growing considered immoral in rural areas even when it absolves an
For most of the chiefdom’s residents, chiefs represent by Justice System
marijuana on family land. In each case, the Section Chief knew offence that, under a Western system of justice, might demand
far the most accessible resolvers of disputes and dispensers Community based justice only works effectively where there
all the people and families involved personally. the severest punishment. It was this moral pressure, the Regent
of justice. Paramount Chiefs, Section Chiefs and Village is a moral consensus. Unfortunately, there are many signs
The largest sum of money offered to the Section Chief Chief reasoned, that made rural people reluctant to bring cases
Chiefs often hold informal courts where they adjudicate that this consensus has come under severe strain in rural
during these hearings was two thousand Leones. However, to the SLP. That action, he observed, would not only bring in
cases, levy fees, impose fines or other punishments. In 2003 Sierra Leone in recent years. Part of the problem is chiefs’
he received compensation for this work by calling section ‘strangers’ to pry into the private affairs of a village, but also
for example, the standard rate for a ‘country summons’ to over-zealous enforcement of their subjects’ “community”
people to farm a large swamp farm for him every year. This is shame the person accused of an offence. Going to the police,
a Village Chief’s informal court in Biriwa was 500 Leones obligations, especially unpaid labour. Unfair compulsion
a common practice among chiefs in rural areas. While Sierra the chief concluded, ‘makes an enemy for life’.75
(£0.15). The Local Courts on the main road charged 5,000 of rural youths to perform “communal labour” has been a
Leone has ratified both International Labour Organization
Leones for a summons and levied further charges for ‘hearing’, hot topic in community consultations since the end of the
Conventions on Forced Labour (Convention No. 29, the Forced
‘service’ and ‘stationary’ that pushed protagonists’ potential war (Fanthorpe, 2004a; Richards, Bah and Vincent, 2004)
Labour Convention, and Convention No. 105, the Abolition
expenses (should they lose a case) towards 20,000 Leones and there is no sign as yet that the problem is abating. For
of Forced Labour), Section 19(2e) of the 1991 Constitution
before any fines were taken into consideration.74 Many poor example, a NGO fieldworker, interviewed in Tonkolili District
excludes “communal labour or labour which forms part of
farmers found these sums difficult to come by. For them, the in January 2009, spoke of how the Chief and Imam of the
other civic obligation” from its definition of “Forced Labour.”
advantage in taking cases to a chief rather than the Local Court village in which he worked expected villagers to work farms
Clause 8(h) of the Chiefdom Councils Act (Cap 61 of the
was that justice is comparatively cheap and quick. for them every year. Youths who refused to comply with
Laws of Sierra Leone, 1960) also empowers chiefs to compel
these demands would be fined and if they showed any
their subjects (“natives”) to engage in productive farm work.
further defiance, their families would be told that they would
As long as chiefs demands for farm labour are accepted by
be excluded from future aid distributions.
community people as compensation for their services to
that community, they are currently protected by the law, in
spite of the fact that the Native Administration Ordinances of
73. Field research, Abubakar Sidique Turay, December 2008 1937 were originally designed to render such arrangements
74. The material in this and following paragraphs is based on fieldwork obsolete and unlawful. If salaries were paid to all ranks of “Communal labour” gang improving a bush road, Bumban, May 2007
carried out by Richard Fanthorpe at various times between April 2003
and February 2009. 75. Interview, Regent Chief, Kukuna, Bramaia Chiefdom, November 2001.

38 39
Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

But the main element of the problem is that many chiefs Many of these problems are still affecting rural areas. For rearrested for failing to pay the sum demanded. Eventually,
Comments and Action Points on Local
and Local Court functionaries have come to rely on the local example, in one recent case in Kenema District a young man the landowner, a poor farmer, had to borrow the money in
Justice, CGRP Workshops, 2000
justice system as a source of private income. Only Paramount went to the Local Court in an attempt to win control over his order to gain his freedom.77
1. Leaders levy heavy fines not commensurate to crimes
Chiefs and Speakers receive salaries, and these are rarely late father’s estate: a house situated at Tejan Street in Kenema The following testimony of a female Chiefdom Police
committed by people. This has led to youths running away
paid on time. Pending the implementation of the Local Courts town. The plaintiff had only been 14 years old when his father Officer provides a further example of the intimidation that
to urban cities where rules are flexible (Badjia Chiefdom,
Bill, 2008 (see Chapter 3.2), Local Court functionaries are died and the defendant was his father’s surviving brother. The chiefdom residents can still suffer if they question the authority
June 2000).
supposedly paid out of general chiefdom revenues. However, house had been rented out to different persons, but now the of chiefs or attempt to use the local justice system to pursue
the management of chiefdom finances remains in disarray 2. The Chiefs levy exorbitant fines for wife confessions, brother was attempting to seize the house. He was supported grievances against them:
(see section 2.3 below) and many do not receive salaries “call name” or adultery, especially if the wives are those of in that plan by the plaintiff’s step-mother, who had born three
 t the start of June, 2007, I had a confrontation with one of
A
at all. Many Court functionaries only work when there is a elders. This is a very nagging problem for the youth (Panga children with his late father. The step-mother had asked the
the Sub-Chiefs in the chiefdom over the unfair treatment
case to be heard and find their main livelihoods in farming Krim Chiefdom, May 2000). defendant to sell the house and to share proceeds with her.
of women in his locality. The matter was reported to the
(Richards, Bah and Vincent, 2004:6). For both chiefs and Local But the plaintiff was now 18 years old and living in one of the
3. [In group discussions] Chiefs were also accused of grossly Paramount Chief who, without investigating, ordered the roof
Court functionaries, revenue from fines and fees represents rooms in the house. He objected to the sale and the matter
backing their relatives in disputes...In many cases, chiefs had of my house to be uprooted as punishment for my action.
a major cash windfall and rarely finds its way into chiefdom was taken to the Local Court. However, the Paramount Chief
levied low fines where their relatives are involved but had This was during the rainy season, and my entire belongings
bank accounts. As a result, justice becomes a market in which withdrew the matter from the Local Court and adjudicated it
escalated such fines for people outside their family. To gain got wet and eventually destroyed. My children and I had to
satisfaction usually goes to the highest bidder. himself. The Paramount Chief ordered the sale of the house.
respect of the people chiefs must exhibit maximum impartiality evacuate and sought refuge at my elder sister’s place. A few
This problem was particularly acute at the end of the civil He came to this decision by asking those in favour of the sale
in dealing with people. (Gorama Mende Chiefdom, July 2000). weeks later, a senior Chiefdom Police Officer, (name withheld),
war and was highlighted in the CGRP consultations (Box 7). to raise their hands and then those against to do the same. The
attacked and beat me up mercilessly (I suspect his act was
At that time, the local justice system not only suffered from 4. ...the chief takes bribes from non-indigenous people in the plaintiff was in the minority and the Paramount Chief ruled that
a machination). I decided to use the legal channel to secure
financial corruption but also political corruption. Workshop chiefdom for special protection and favouritism. As a result the the house should be sold. It later emerged that the Paramount
justice. Therefore, I had to summon him to the Local Court.
participants accused chiefs of using the Local Courts to punish non-indigenes continue to violate chiefdom laws with impunity Chief had bought the house himself to accommodate a relative
When the matter was called up for hearing, the Paramount
anyone who defied their authority yet also ensuring that (Falla Wondor Chiefdom, June 2000). who was about to return from England. One and a half million
Chief intervened and asked the Court Chairman to dispose of
family members and political allies were never summoned. Leones were given to the Local Court Chairman to pass on to
5. [The] Court Chairman is in conflict with [the] Court Clerk and the case so that he (the Paramount Chief) could adjudicate over
However, chiefs were also facing competition from a range the plaintiff as his own share.76
is frequently duped by [the] Court Clerk over court proceeds. it. For two months nothing was heard of my case. Sensing
of other authorities intent on pursuing the same strategies: In another recent case, a Paramount Chief in Kailahun
The court revenue is a source of conflict and mainly the Court that I was not going to get justice, I went to a women’s
Magistrates, Customary Law Officers, District Officers, District victimized a chiefdom resident for taking a case to the
Chairman takes the lion’s share of these proceeds and is in rights organization in Bo for help. After some pressures from
Provincial Secretaries and Members of Parliament. The police after the Chief himself had accepted bribes from a local
conflict with the [Court Members] over withholding payments this organization, the case was finally charged to the JPs’
resulting erosion of public confidence in the justice system businessman to dismiss the resident’s complaint against
due to them. He also has problems with the Paramount Chief [Justice of the Peace’s] Court in Bo. My hope of eventually
is evident in the contribution of a young NGO worker in a him. The complaint arose from a business arrangement
if he doesn’t give revenue on demand. [The] Customary securing justice was again dashed when in the midst of the
discussion groups held in Rokupr in Kambia District, October between a land owner and a chainsaw operator. Some
Law Officer interferes with [the] Court by withdrawing cases proceedings, The Paramount Chief , for the second time, got
2002. Unlike Kamabai in Biriwa, Rokupr is situated in an area chainsaw owners asked the landowner for permission to fell
from the court to be settled (at greater expense) in Bo the court to dispose of my case. This became very frustrating
of intensive commercial farming, which supplies rice and trees on his land, which was granted. Thirteen boards were
(Gbo Chiefdom, May 2000). and I finally lost hope in the matter. To date, nothing has come
other produce to Freetown and Guinea. The area’s political produced and the landowner was given three boards as
out of the case. Back in Jaiama, the Paramount Chief and other
connections to Freetown are therefore much stronger than 6. There is no respect for Chiefdom Police since they are not payment. After one month, one chainsaw operator returned
chiefdom authorities continued to intimidate me and my family.
those of Biriwa Chiefdom and the socio-economic profile of its officially uniformed or attired. They have been reduced to the and continued to cut boards from the felled trees without the
As a result, I transferred to another chiefdom in the far north of
population more diverse. As the young man observed: rank of beggars with no money, no decent houses, no food and landowner’s permission. When confronted by the landowner,
Bo called Valunia, where I am currently resident.78
so there is no regard for them in the chiefdom (Banta Mokelle the chainsaw operator and his workers admitted that they
 ur problem in this country is that it is too centralized.
O
Chiefdom, July 2000). were cutting boards without his permission. The landowner In these examples we can see several violations of
Freetown is everything. If somebody comes to this area from
took the matter to the local Town Chief, claiming that the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, including
outside, they do not regard the chief; they prefer to go to 7. The power of Chiefs is undermined by the Magistrate’s
chainsaw operator had been trespassing on his land and the rights to the protection of law and security of person
Freetown. The chief is not given the power for people to find Court. Cases already in [the] N.A. Court are withdraws and
stealing his property. The Town Chief reported the matter to (Section 15a), protection from the deprivation of property
out if he is an effective ruler. If you have a land issue, the chief taken to [the] Magistrate’s Court to the embarrassment of the
the Paramount Chief, who found in the chainsaw operator’s without compensation (Section 15d), freedom from unlawful
has a mandate to preside over the case. But the losers will Chiefs (Nongowa Chiefdom, May 2000).
favour and instructed the landowner to pay a total of Le arrest and detention (Section 17) and protection from inhuman
go to Freetown to contact the politicians and they will come
8. Seed rice and palm oil are produced in vast quantities in 410,000 in fines for slander, summonsing fees and hearing or degrading treatment (Section 20). It is also apparent that
back and reverse the case. We have no guidelines on justice;
this area. Consequently traders are drawn to the markets. fees. The landowner subsequently reported the matter to statutory guidelines on the jurisdictions of the various courts
nobody knows where the law lies. Losers also go to the DO
However the farm gate prices are very low. Traders can even the Police who said that the case was a matter of larceny are regularly flaunted, as are the guidelines on the magnitude
[District Officer]. Instead of investigating the case, he will
interfere in court business to ensure that the person being which they should be dealing with and not the Paramount of the punishments Local Courts can hand down.
transfer the case to Kambia [District Headquarters]. The door
fined has enough money to pay the fine to fight his case – at Chief. This argument, however, did not sit well with the
has been opened to expeditors. If you don’t have connections
extortionist prices. Traders have even been known to go so Paramount Chief. The landowner was arrested and jailed by
in Freetown, you can do nothing up-country. Everything costs
far as to connive with the Court Chairmen to ensure that they the Paramount Chief for 14 days and told to pay Le 400,000
money and we are poor people.
have first call on the cheapest produce (Bumpeh Chiefdom, in further fines. After the 14 days, he was released and then
January 2000). 77. Field research, Abubakar Sidique Turay, December 2008.
78. Interview, female Chiefdom Police Officer, Valunia Chiefdom,
76. Field research, Abubakar Sidique Turay, December 2008 November 2008.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

The adjudication of land disputes represents one type of 2.2.4 Ways Forward for Improving the government is already following the lead of NGOs in piloting Chiefs could play a leading role in this restatement process,
case over which chiefs, especially Paramount Chiefs, retain Local Justice System support to paralegal services and strengthening liaison especially now that increasing numbers of Paramount Chiefs
close control.79 Here, chiefs can point to laws (notably the The above discussion indicates that while chiefs still have an between chiefdom authorities and the SLP.81 Providing the have been educated to university level. Land is a special case
preamble of the Provinces Land Act, Cap. 122 of the Laws important role to play in the local justice system, this role is in rural poor with a realistic opportunity of obtaining justice within that process, given the primacy of laws protecting
of Sierra Leone, 1960 and Section 28(d) Local Government urgent need of clarification. independently of chiefs, should they wish to do so, would customary tenure of land in the provinces, the importance of
Act, 2004) which state that provincial land is “vested in” First, it is very unlikely that corruption in the Local Courts help to re-establish chiefs in their role as community advisors agriculture in the Sierra Leone economy and the recent efforts
and “held in trust for the people” by Chiefdom Councils and Chiefs’ judicial hearings will diminish until Local Court and mediators. of government to stimulate commercial investment in farming.
headed by Paramount Chiefs. In some areas, newly elected functionaries and chiefs cease to rely so heavily on fees and Institutional strengthening for better justice and security It is vital that land cases are properly recorded, not only to
Paramount Chiefs still undergo traditional cultural ceremonies fines for private income. As a Village Chief observed during a should be strategic and multifaceted. For example, now that safeguard the interests of poor farmers but also to establish a
of investiture in which their lives are linked to the land, its discussion groups in Bo District in November 2008: the administration of the Local Courts is to be placed under the body of legal precedents for the adjudication of appeals in the
fertility and the health and wellbeing of its inhabitants. But Ministry of Justice (see Chapter 3.2), Local Court Chairmen higher courts.
I am a farmer but I have to drop my cutlass whenever I am
the problem with chiefs’ adjudication of land disputes is should cease to become political footballs between Paramount
summoned to the PC in Bo. I get to Bo and we all sit down in
that there is no formal mechanism to ensure that it is fair Chiefs and Provincial Secretaries. As their appointments 2.3 Taxation and Representation
the Court Barray to wait for the Paramount Chief and the DC
and transparent. gain legitimacy, senior bureaucrats and politicians will have
[“District Commissioner”, i.e. a Local Government Ministry 2.3.1 Chiefdoms and Local Councils
For example, in Biriwa chiefdom farm land is apportioned fewer pretexts for intervening in the local justice system. The
official.] As long as they are not there we sit down and sweat. Democratic decentralization – the devolution of central
to villages. Families resident in these villages inherit specific same principle should also apply to the Chiefdom Police, an
When they arrive we all stand up like school children and then government functions to elected local authorities – was a
plots of land within these apportionments. In April 2003, the organization that has suffered badly from unpaid salaries, poor
sit down again. We have to do what they tell us. Then we are policy priority for Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s Sierra Leone People’s
most recent Limba Paramount Chief of Biriwa presided over equipment and low staff morale since the end of the civil war.
dismissed with no food and no (money for) transport. I come Party (SLPP) government when it was first elected in February
a land dispute between two villages. The essence of the case Placing the Chiefdom Police under the management of the
home having lost a day of farming. So when I fine you 5,000 1996. Public consultations on this policy got underway in
was that the inhabitants of one village claimed that those SLP will help to improve liaison and coordination between the
Leones for something am I going to refund it? Freetown and the provinces soon after the restoration of
of another were encroaching on their ancestral land. The two organizations without compromising the integrity of the
civilian rule in February 1998. These consultations, facilitated
case was complicated by the fact that the villagers accused Providing adequate salaries for Local Court functionaries, Chiefdom Police as a community-based force with its own
by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),
of encroachment were not residing in their settlement’s Chiefdom Police and chiefs and a proper salary structure methods of recruitment and training. This was indeed the
revealed strong grassroots support for decentralization, based
original location; the village had moved to take advantage of for all ranks of chief (i.e. Village Chiefs and Section Chiefs direction in which the above-mentioned Local Government
on a general understanding that exclusion from the processes
a roadside location several decades previously. The villagers should receive proper salaries, not rebates on local tax Review Commission was seeking to travel almost 40 years ago.
of government was a major source of poverty and insecurity in
accused of encroachment argued that no knowledge of any collections) is more than just a strategy for combating corrupt Third, as several recent studies have pointed out (e.g.
rural areas. As the summary report notes:
boundary agreement had been passed down to them by justice. The Sierra Leone government also needs to revisit Alterman, et al, 2003), the interface between customary law
their forefathers. The villagers complaining of encroachment an issue of principle raised almost forty years ago by UNDP and state law needs to be better defined. In recent years,  ierra Leoneans believe that the centralization of government
S
argued that there was no boundary agreement between consultant C. Viswasam: that in performing their statutory the Justice Sector Development Programme has been powers and functions over the past two and a half decades,
them because the encroaching villagers weren’t supposed to duties in maintaining law and order in their localities, chiefs piloting the restatement of customary law in some districts.82 and the consequent exclusion of the majority of Sierra
be there in the first place! The Paramount Chief demanded are performing a service for the central state, which the state Restatement basically entails writing down laws and their Leoneans from the planning and management of development
100,000 Leones from each party to hear the case. After must pay for. One obvious concern here is that if chiefs were usages in one document. This process is different from activities that concern them, are among the root causes of
sending a delegation of elders to inspect the disputed land, paid out of central government revenues rather than local codification, which entails entrusting binding legal force to the the many social ills within the country today. These include
he decreed that the case was not resolvable and invited both taxes, central governments’ political grip on them would only laws so documented. Codifying customary law would freeze violence, general indiscipline, corruption and poverty. There
groups of villagers to try again with a new Paramount Chief increase. However, central government has been subsidizing, it and deny it the flexibility that is its defining characteristic. A was, therefore, a unanimous call for decentralization through
after he was dead. He did not return the hearing fee. The and effectively controlling, chiefs’ salary payments for many restatement of customary laws and usages would improve all the restoration of appropriate local government institutions.83
details of the case were recorded by a local schoolteacher years. If it took over formal responsibility for chiefs’ salaries, the justice practitioners’ knowledge of these laws, and generate
District and Town Councils had been reactivated under
on pages ripped out from a student exercise book. The notes mutual obligations of state and chiefs would at least become more informed understanding of the social context in which
Committees of Management in 2000, but the Sierra Leone
remained in his personal possession for several months but more transparent. they are applicable.
Government and international donors decided upon further
he eventually lost them.80 Second, the idea enshrined in the Chiefdom Councils Restatement of customary law is also urgently needed
public consultation and technical preparation. A second
Act (Cap.61 of the Laws of Sierra Leone, 1960), that chiefs given the numerous social protection laws that have been
Task Force on Decentralization and Local Government was
should maintain order in their localities simply by exercising appearing on the statute in recent years, notably the Child Rights
commissioned, and throughout 2003 it organized expert
their authority as chiefs, is a throwback to colonial “indirect Act, 2007; The Devolution of Estates Act, 2007; the Domestic
seminars and consultancy studies on the modalities of
rule” and needs to be revised to reflect 21st century Violence Act, 2007 and the Registration of Customary Marriages
decentralization, plus a further series of public consultations in
realities. The law should recognize that chiefs of all ranks and Divorce Act, 2009. All of these Acts impact on family and
the capital and provinces. The Sierra Leone Parliament passed
play a key role in mediating problems and disputes at the property relations that, in the provinces, are currently governed
a new Local Government Act (LGA) in February 2004, which
community level, including disputes between community by customary law. However, these new laws reflect post-war
paved the way for local elections the following May; the first in
members and outside parties. It would be unrealistic to social changes and the level of local demand for them is a matter
Sierra Leone since the 1960s. Following the local
expect chiefs living in remote villages not to authorize to be determined rather than assumed.
on-the-spot punishments for minor offences. But the law
79. In a recent survey of Local Court records in Kailahun, Pujehun,
Tonkolili and Koinadugu Districts, land cases were only recorded should also protect the rural poor from being subjected to 81. Government of Sierra Leone, 2008. Justice Sector Reform and
in Kailahun District, representing 2.1% of all cases in that District; corrupt and vindictive judgements in chiefs’ informal courts. Investment Plan: 2008-2010, Freetown, March 2008
83. Republic of Sierra Leone and UNDP, Nation-Wide Consultative
see Koroma (2007).
Institutional strengthening is crucial here. The Sierra Leone 82. Justice Sector Development Programme, Progress Report, Process (October-December,1998), Volume 1, Main Report, Freetown,
80. This case was witnessed by Richard Fanthorpe in April 2003. December 2006 January 1999, pp. v-vi.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

elections, the Sierra Leone government, again with donor Five years on and the situation has settled down considerably, to chiefdom authorities. For example, the WDC member in Third, by far the most pressing problem in the relationship
support, established a Decentralization Secretariat (DecSec) at least on the surface. Early optimism within local councils Bumban between 2004 and 2008 was the wife of the Bumban between the chiefdoms and local councils concerns the
to coordinate action among central government ministries and over the resources available to them has been replaced by Section Chief. Her successor in 2008 was the daughter of a collection and usage of revenue. Many chiefdoms still
provide training and other assistance to the new councils. recurrent anxiety over securing adequate funding. The political former Biriwa Paramount Chief and estranged wife of a senior employ, at least notionally, large numbers of functionaries
The LGA establishes the new councils as the highest opportunists have moved on and in some areas, the 2008 APC party official. Whether the WDCs have succeeded where that include Treasury Clerks, Court Chairmen, Court Clerks,
authorities in their localities. They have authority under the intake of local councillors is considerably younger and more the early post-war VDCs failed is therefore open to question. Chiefdom Police, Traditional Birth Attendants, Health
Act to oversee the Chiefdom Councils in the performance community based than before (Fanthorpe, 2009). As a result As early as 2005, members of DecSec staff were Inspectors and labourers. While the local councils oversee
of any functions they may delegate to them, determine the of these developments, local council activities have begun to reporting that many WDC members were refusing to attend chiefdom administration finances, neither they nor the Local
rate of local tax, approve the annual budgets of the Chiefdom mesh, however informally, with the chieftaincy system and its meetings without receiving per diems and travel expenses, Government Service Commission are responsible for hiring
Councils and oversee the implementation of these budgets politics. In Biriwa chiefdom for example, the local councillor although neither were included in local council budgets. these workers or monitoring their pay and conditions. That
(Section 20, Subsection 2, clauses h-j). The LGA reinstates representing the western ward is a Mandingo from Karina, Councillors were also complaining that they could not afford responsibility, for all functionaries except Court Chairmen,
the old system whereby the local councils claim a precept the councillor representing the southern ward is a member to provide food and lodging for WDC members attending lies with the Chiefdom Councils. At present therefore, local
on revenues collected by the chiefdoms. Yet, the LGA also of the Kamabai ruling house and a nephew of a former Biriwa meetings (Brown, et al, 2006). In some areas, the recent revenue collection remains the primary responsibility of poorly
confirms the original functions of Chiefdom Councils as Paramount Chief, while the councillor for the northern ward, intake of younger, more community based councillors has trained and infrequently remunerated Treasury Clerks and
established by the Chiefdom Councils Act and Provinces Lands the current Bombali District Council Chairman, is a descendant benefitted WDCs, since their members are better placed to other chiefdom functionaries.
Act (Caps. 61 and 122 of the Laws of Sierra Leone, 1960): a) of the Bumban ruling house on his mother’s side and the son liaise between communities and councillors. But even today, To complicate matters further, oversight over all aspects
preventing the commission of offences; b) prohibiting illegal of a former Treasury Clerk who lived and worked in Kamabai WDCs remain most effective when they receive direct NGO of chiefdom administrations except finance and development
gambling; c) making bye-laws and d) holding land in trust for for most of his life. In neighbouring Tonkolili District, the current support and have been specifically included in the participatory is now the responsibility of the Provincial Secretary, who took
the people of the chiefdom (Section 28). The LGA also reserves Council Chairman is a descendant of a ruling house of one monitoring and evaluation of NGO projects (Fanthorpe, 2009). over that role from the now defunct position of Senior District
seats for Paramount Chiefs on local councils on a quota basis. chiefdom in the District, a fact he frequently mentions in Meanwhile, community life has moved on since the end of Officer. Furthermore, the Central Chiefdom Finance Clerks
Many complications have arisen in the relationship meetings with community people (Fanthorpe 2009). the war and NGOs are helping to facilitate the formation of VDCs (CCFCs) remain in post. They are responsible for training
between the local councils and the chiefdoms. Second, complications of a different nature have arisen in that do in fact represent the interest of women, youths and the Treasury Clerks and producing chiefdom financial accounts
First, international donors’ strong support for the relation to the Ward Development Committees (WDCs). The poorest of the poor. For example, in village discussion groups in for auditing purposes. They are expected to work closely with
decentralization programme led many people in Sierra Lone to LGA assigns functions to Ward Development Committees Bo district, an NMJD-supported paralegal observed that “people the local councils, but they remain, for the time being at least,
believe that the new councils would become leading conduits (WDCs) that have long been part of the de facto functional are beginning to accept change; they now accept, for example, employees of central government.
for development investment. Urbanised party members flocked repertoire of the chiefdoms. These include mobilizing local that women should be part of decision making”.He went on Neither chiefs nor local councillors and council
to rural areas to compete for nominations in the inaugural council residents for the implementation of self-help and development to note that “youths are now being called to elders’ meetings administrations find the current revenue collecting
elections, often forcing locally based politicians to fight on projects, providing a focal point for discussion of local and whatever the outcome, it is agreed with them”.An NMJD arrangements satisfactory. For example, the Paramount Chief
independent tickets (Brown, et al, 2006). Many among the first problems and needs (with a view to developing action plans fieldworker added that villages now have elected VDCs that in Bumpeh Ngao Chiefdom claimed that the District Council
intake of local councillors interpreted the provisions of the LGA and making recommendations to higher authorities) and include youth and women’s representatives. The fieldworkers was not doing anything to earn the precept it takes from the
as giving them personal authority over Paramount Chiefs. For organizing communal and voluntary work (Sections 95 and are working hard to forge links between VDCs and WDCs.87 revenue collected in his chiefdom and that he and his people
the first time ever, Paramount chiefs now had serious political 96). According to the LGA, each WDC should be comprised Unlike WDCs, VDCs are not recognized in law. But were “discouraged”. Last year, he went on, Bumpeh paid the
rivals in their localities (Fanthorpe, 2006). In Makeni, for example, of the local councillor, Paramount Chief and no more than ten structures at this level are clearly necessary for effective highest precept of all chiefdoms in Bo District. Furthermore,
the APC won control over the Town Council despite the local ordinary members (of which five must be women) elected by development administration, especially since villages remain the District Council and the chiefdom are supposed to share
Paramount Chief’s heavy canvassing on behalf of the SLPP. The the ward residents in a public meeting. primary references of social identification and belonging and the ground rent paid by rutile mining companies working
incoming Council Chairman issued a public condemnation of the The WDCs were designed to facilitate community since the populations served by WDCs number in thousands. in the chiefdom, but the chiefs claims that the chiefdom
pre-decentralization management of local revenues, in which the oversight over local development activities initiated by the This point came out clearly in village discussion groups recently never receives it.89 On the other side of the coin, a District
Paramount Chief had played a leading role. The latter retaliated new councils. The WDC concept was strongly supported by facilitated by MCSL in Kailahun District. In one discussion, Council Chairman complained during an interview that
by announcing a policy of non-cooperation with the town international donor agencies, many of whom believed that villagers complained that the “WDC should be reporting their chiefdom authorities were regularly withholding revenues
council. In a subsequent interview, the Paramount Chief argued chiefdom structures were unfit to manage development in meeting outcomes to we the community members which from the local councils and that they were supported in
that he retained two key political advantages over local councils. a fair and transparent manner.86 The Village Development they are not doing”. In another village, people complained such practices by Provincial Secretaries and higher political
First, he held office for life while local councillors only served Committees (VDCs) that had been formed in response to early that “none of our community members was invited to the authorities in Freetown. As a result, the Councils are always
four year terms; second as the person responsible for the post-war relief efforts had come under heavy criticism from WDC election in Ward 24, we are not happy about that” and short of operating funds and unable to plan effectively
welfare of the land and people of his chiefdom, no development international NGO staff, the argument being that they were that “we need our VDC members to be on the WDC so that because, as he put it, “it is always difficult to budget on
activity could take place there without his knowledge and dominated by patriarchal elites and were unrepresentative of development can be fostered”.88 Since villages represent the another man’s pocket”. In a subsequent interview, he stated
permission.84 Another Paramount Chief was even more blunt the interests of women, youths and the poorest community bottom tier of chiefdom administration, there is an opportunity that he was attempting to win government approval for the
when remarking that whatever powers local councillors claim, members (e.g. Archibald and Richards, 2002). However, here to begin the formal integration of chiefdom structures into transformation of the Chiefdom Police into a “District Police”
when they set foot in his chiefdom they were his “subjects”.85 no resources were made available for WDC elections and the local government system. force capable of monitoring revenue collection effectively and
many among the original intake of local councillors simply tracking down defaulters.90
nominated their WDCs. Inevitably, many current and former
84. Interview, Paramount Chief Bai Sebora Kasanga II, Makeni, WDC members in rural areas have close social and family ties 87. Village discussion group, Kpetema, Bumpeh Ngao Chiefdom, 89. Interview, Paramount Chief Thomas Kposowa, Bumpeh Ngao
October 2005 Bo District, November 2008. Chiefdom, November 2008
85. Interview, Paramount Chief Bai Sunthuba Osara III, Yele, 86. Interview, Sylvia Fletcher, United Nations Development Programme, 88. Village discussion groups, Yeikandor and Wonde villages, 90. Interviews, Eric Dura Sesay, Bombali District Council Chairman,
Gbonkolenken Chiefdom, December 2008. Freetown, October 2005 Njaluahun Chiefdom, October 2008. Makeni, October 2005 and December 2008

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

2.3.2 Case Study: Conflicts over Revenue It appeared that the Paramount Chief was exploiting his elite The tax issue was also raised with the senior chiefs who Yet, the Ministry has recently announced a freeze on chiefdom
Collection in Tonkolili District91 political connections in withholding local tax monies, but preside over the chiefdom while the Paramount Chief is away bank accounts and decreed that the precept on local tax for the
Further illustration of the current problems between local his stance also drew attention to the fact that nobody in the in Freetown. They claimed that the tax collection had been year 2008 will be withheld from local councils and used to pay
councils and chiefdoms over revenue collection is provided district seemed to know where the 60% of local revenues delayed because polygamous husbands had been struggling arrears in paramount chiefs’ salaries. The legality of this decree
by the following case study of Tonkolili District. Like other due to the chiefdoms is going. Functionaries employed by to find the money to pay for their wives. It was suggested to is questionable, although nobody in the local government
local councils, Tonkolili District Council (TDC) has set the rate chiefdom administrations (e.g. Chiefdom Police, Treasury them that it would be easier to leave the task of collecting tax system appears to have challenged it publicly. Commenting
of local tax at 5,000 Leones per person. Local tax has thus Clerks, etc) claim that they are not being paid, senior chiefs to TDC. They were aghast at this idea, claiming that “Town and on this decree, a Provincial Secretary interviewed in January
become a significant revenue source. According to figures are paid intermittently by central government and no services Section Chiefs are the only ones who know their people”. If 2009 claimed that the Ministry had taken action because
obtained from the Tonkolili CCFC, the local tax collected in are being delivered. Two Treasury Clerks were interviewed a non-local person attempted to collect tax, they argued, the the local councils were failing to bring development to the
the district was 166.6 Million Leones in 2005, 146.2 Million during the research and both were asked if the old accounting people would simply run away from them. But by no means chiefdoms. But he also made further disarmingly candid
in 2006, 96.6 Million in 2007, and 315.2 Million in 2008. The system of a) drawing up estimates of chiefdom administration all chiefdom authorities in the District are reluctant to pay over remarks that indicate where the 60% of local revenues due
greatly increased tax collection in 2008 reflects the efforts revenue and expenditure at the beginning of each year and b) taxes. Another chiefdom in the district paid over all the taxes to chiefdom administrations are still going. He argued that
of government agencies, including the police, to check the conducting a full audit of actual revenue and expenditure at assessed for 2008 with exemplary promptness. When the political accountability works differently in Sierra Leone as
public for tax receipts and ensure that every adult citizen has the end of each year was still followed. One answered that chiefdom authorities were interviewed, they claimed that the compared to Western countries. Ministers and other senior
paid. All revenues collected by the chiefdoms are now paid the accounting period was now supposed to be three years community people had mobilized themselves to pay tax as government figures expect to be royally entertained when they
into separate bank accounts, the only authorized signatories but that he was new in post and had not yet conducted an an expression of support for a highly respected Regent Chief. visit rural areas. If they are not satisfied with local hospitality,
for which are the Paramount Chief, Treasury Clerk, and Chief audit. His predecessor had taken all the accounting records They had shown a unity of purpose in performing their civic they will block development in that locality. Revenue deposited
Administrator (CA). It is only when the money is deposited and with him when he had been transferred to another job the duty and as far as they were concerned, it was now up to TDC in chiefdom administration bank accounts, he went on, is often
properly accounted for that TDC can claim its precept. previous year and all he had in his possession were bank and the government to keep up their end of the bargain and used as a “hospitality” slush fund for visiting dignitaries. He
In theory, TDC should receive 20% of market dues statements and a petty cash book. The other Treasury Clerk bring development to the chiefdom.93 concluded by observing that central government will always
and licence fee revenues and 40% of local tax. Of the answered in the same vein, only having been in post a few side with the chiefs when they come into conflict with the local
remaining 60% of the local tax take, 40% goes to chiefdom months. When the same question was put to the CCFC, he councils because a Paramount Chief can still deliver “40,000
administrations, 10% to the CCFC’s office and the remaining referred the matter back to the Treasury Clerks. After further votes” to a political party at election time.94
10% to Village and Section Chiefs. With so much money discussion with DecSec staff it eventually emerged that the
2.3.3 Ways Forward for Improving the Local
becoming available, Paramount Chiefs are now arguing that Ministry for Internal Affairs, Local Government & Rural Affairs
Government System
the tax paid by communities should be reinvested in the (MIALGRA) in Freetown is still controlling chiefdom financial
As noted earlier, the government constantly reminds people
development of those specific communities, not the district accounts, summoning CCFCs and Treasury Clerks to the
about their civic responsibilities, especially with regard to
as a whole. In other words, they believe that chiefdom capital every year to assist in the preparation of budgets. Such
paying taxes. Indeed, when he was first elected President
administrations should keep all of the revenues they collect. practices contravene the clauses in the Local Government
Ernest Bai Koroma made several speeches stressing the
In a public meeting held in November 2008, the TDC Act that establish district councils as the highest authorities
importance of a “social contract” between government and
leadership revealed that one chiefdom administration in their localities with responsibility for approving the annual
people, where citizens pay, either directly or via taxes, for
has not paid anything into its bank account for two years, budgets of chiefdom administrations and overseeing the
services provided by government. But such well meaning
despite collecting revenues over that time.92 The Paramount implementation of these budgets.
sentiments are hollow if people pay their taxes and see no
Chief of this particular chiefdom is a noted critic of the local Such lack of transparency sows mistrust. For example, it
visible return. Lack of transparency in financial administration
councils. When interviewed in April 2007 he argued at some was common knowledge in TDC that the Paramount Chief
only breeds local suspicion that revenues are being consumed
length that Donors and NGOs should be assisting chiefdom who was refusing to pay tax distrusted the CCFC, who
by distant elites who have no legal or moral right to them. That
administrations, not local councils. A highly educated man, he also happened to be an indigene of his chiefdom. Under
suspicion also exacerbates conflict between the chiefdoms
became a leading advisor to President Koroma after the latter’s decentralization, CCFCs no longer have authority to withdraw
Senior Chiefs, Kunike Barina Chiefdom, January 2009 and the local councils.
election victory in September 2007. Inquiries among chiefdom money from chiefdom bank accounts, but the Paramount
Clearly, the present division of functions in which
people revealed that the tax monies were still being held by Chief had previously accused the CCFC of doing just that.
chiefdoms are primarily responsible for collecting revenues
local Section Chiefs. The general view was that the Section The CCFC had been exonerated by a Ministerial inquiry team,
and the local councils responsible for delivering services and
Chiefs would not have been so bold as to withhold the money but the mistrust remained. Tensions also escalated when a
development inputs is untenable. The logical solution might
without the backing of the Paramount Chief. Treasury Clerk, who had been pursuing the Section Chiefs
be that local councils take over responsibility for collecting
to hand over the tax monies, died unexpectedly prompting
all revenues, but the political reality is that most rural Sierra
rumours of witchcraft. Eventually the Freetown press got hold
Leoneans’ primary loyalty is to their chiefdoms and they
of the story and the negative publicity stung the Paramount
would resist extending further powers to bureaucrats and
Chief into action. By late January 2009, word was circulating in
functionaries whom they are already inclined to distrust.
the District that the Paramount Chief had instructed his Section
Chiefs to release the tax money for deposit in the bank.
91. This case study is based on field research carried out by
Richard Fanthorpe for Concern Worldwide in January and February 2009;
see Fanthorpe (2009).
92. Details of interviews in this and the next two paragraphs have been 93. Meeting with the chiefs and elders of Kunike Barina chiefdom,
withheld due to the sensitivity of the issues discussed. Makali, January 2009 94. Details of interview withheld

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3. Strengths and Weaknesses of Recent


Legislation Affecting Chieftaincy

The above-noted Paramount Chief who refused to pay tax to 3.1 The Chieftaincy Act 2009 Sections 8 and 9 deal with eligibility of candidates and reiterate
TDC strongly advocates for the return of planning and budget The primary purpose of the Chieftaincy Act, 2009, is to set the status quo in requiring candidates to be born in wedlock
making authority to the chiefdoms as established by the out the procedures for electing and appointing Paramount to a “rightful claimant in a recognized ruling house” or have
original Chiefdom Treasuries Ordinance of 1937. Yet that is Chiefs and Sub-Chiefs. It builds upon guidelines for paramount “direct paternal lineage” for such a claimant whether born
no real solution to the revenue mobilisation problem. In their chieftaincy elections issued by the government of Ahmad Tejan in wedlock or not. A recognized ruling house is now legally
present form, neither the Chiefdom Councils nor the Chiefdom Kabbah in 2002 and represents the first time in Sierra Leone’s defined as “one that has been established and in existence
Committees are sufficiently representative of community history that these procedures have been detailed in law. as such at independence on 27th April, 1961”. Persons not
interest to retain public trust. Furthermore, and as C. Viswasam Much of the Act reiterates the status quo. For example, qualified to stand as candidates are also the same as before:
pointed out nearly 40 years ago, they simply lack the capacity Section 2 states that “the Chiefdom Councillors of the those with criminal convictions, deposed chiefs within 5 years
to perform local government functions (Viswasam, 1972). One Chiefdom shall elect a new Paramount Chief in the chiefdom in of their deposition and adopted children of ruling houses.
Paramount Chief interviewed in May 2002 was very receptive accordance with the provisions of this Act and the customary Sections 11 and 12 provide for the appointment of Assessor
to the idea of an elected Chiefdom Committee, although law of the chiefdom”. Section 3 provides for the appointment Chiefs in chieftaincy elections. These Assessors are appointed
another Paramount Chief interviewed more recently argued of a Regent Chief by the Minister responsible for Local by the Minster responsible for local government.
that such an innovation would simply “bring politics” into Government in consultation with the Chiefdom Committee, Sections 13 to 17 deal with the acceptance of aspirants
these Committees, like the politics that currently plague the while Section 4 states that the Chiefdom Councillor list as fully fledged candidates, with the provision that aspirants
Chiefdom Councils.95 But if chiefs want to be more involved in should be specially revised for the purposes of the election whose qualifications have been disputed will be allowed to
the decentralized government system, they will have to make and include the Regent Chief, Speaker, Section Chiefs, stand as candidates providing their candidature is supported
concessions to institutional reform. Court Chairmen, Ceremonial Chiefs (“where the paramount by “the Provincial Secretary, the Assessor Chiefs and by
The only answer in the long term is that the chiefdoms chieftaincy in the chiefdom is by customary law linked with two-thirds of the Chiefdom Councillors present and voting
become more fully integrated into the local government secret societies”), Member of Parliament for the constituency by secret ballot”.The Act recapitulates current practice in
system. Senior members of DecSec lament what they call in which the chiefdom is situated, any government Minister the election process: 1) winning candidates should poll
the “missing bottom” of decentralization, i.e. the fact that from the chiefdom and finally Chiefdom councillors 55% of the votes and the runoffs should be decided by
institutional reform has not extended down to the community “representing every twenty taxpayers”.The 1956 guidelines simple majority; 2) when a new Paramount Chief is elected,
level. The problems experienced by WDCs shows that the on the specifics of this representation (Box 1, p. 17) are not all Chiefdom Councillors sign an Attestation Document
solution does not lie in creating new institutions whose included in the Act. Section 4(4) states that “The revision of the signifying their agreement to recognize the new chief and
activities and functions overlap with those of chiefdom Chiefdom Councillors’ List shall be undertaken by the office “obey his lawful order and instructions”; 3) the government
institutions. Incorporating the new generation of VDCs into the of the Provincial Secretary in collaboration with the National recognizes the election as valid when it accepts a report
local government system has been noted already as a possible Electoral Commission (NEC)”. from the Provincial Secretary signalling satisfaction with the
way forward. Once that incorporation is underway, the task Sections 5 and 6 reiterate the status quo in respect of conduct of the election. Section 18 goes on to state that
of convincing chiefs of the merits of a more democratically the Declaration of Rights meeting (see Box 3, p. 33). The “the validity of the election of any person as a Paramount
representative Chiefdom Committee, coordinating between meeting is “convened by the Provincial Secretary” who serves Chief may be challenged by any Chiefdom Councillor of the
VDCs and District Councils, may be that much easier. as Declaration Officer. In a departure from earlier practice, chiefdom within seven days after the declaration of the result
Section 6(2) states that “where the chiefdom concerned is an of the election by a petition addressed to the High Court”. All
amalgamated chiefdom the Declaration Officer shall ensure the grounds for challenge relate to the eligibility of candidates
that the conduct of the election of a Paramount Chief for the as covered by Sections 8 and 9, except for a Section 18 (1b),
Chiefdom is done on a rotational crowning basis and further which provides for a challenge if “the election was otherwise
ensure that the same is complied with.” This provision removes improper”. However, an earlier clause appears to rule out
the need for written proof of rotational crowning agreements96 challenges to election results on the basis of fraudulently
but does not specify how rotational crowning will be organized. inflated taxpayer lists. Section 4(3) states that “subject to
Section 7 emphasises that “in any paramount chieftaincy paragraph (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 18, the election of
election, the responsibility of the Government is limited a Paramount Chief shall not be invalidated by any irregularity
only to the facilitation of the process so as to ensure that in the revision on the Gazette List used for the election, but it
the election is conducted in a fair and transparent manner” is an offence for any person compiling that list to knowingly
and that: “no government Minister or other official, and take into account an inflated number of taxpayers”.
no political party, whether collectively or otherwise, shall
promote or show preference for the candidature of any
particular contestant in a paramount chieftaincy election”.

95. Interview, Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, Freetown, May 2002;


Interview, Paramount Chief Bai Sunthuba Osara III, Gbonkolenken
Chiefdom, December 2008. 96. see BKM case study, box 4, page 41

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Sections 19 and 20 deal with the removal of Paramount Section 28 of the new Act states that “the Polling of any majority of local citizens from voting or their political leaders Council. All the historical evidence points to the fact that the
Chiefs and have been brought into line with Section 72 (4) of Paramount Chieftaincy election shall be supervised by is undemocratic. The Electoral College system is skewed in centralization of power at the chiefdom level creates division
the 1991 Constitution, which states that “a Paramount Chief the National Electoral Commission whose decision on an favour of elderly males; women and youth are marginalized. and conflict and this section should not have been included
may be removed from office by the President for any gross electoral issue shall be final”. Section 29 lists the duties of If the Chieftaincy system is to survive, political accountability in the Act without further clarification of Paramount Chiefs’
misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office Paramount Chiefs as set out in the amendments to the 1991 needs to shift downwards. powers vis a vis those of Chiefdom Councils as set out in Caps.
if after a public inquiry conducted under the Chairmanship of Constitution: a) “supervise the collection of local tax and assist Furthermore, the Act is either deficient or inconsistent 60 and 61 of the Laws of Sierra Leone (1960) and subsequent
a Judge of the High Court or a Justice of Appeal or a Justice the appropriate authority in the collection of other lawful taxes on several issues, both major and minor. First, given that amendments. Furthermore, why are Members of Parliament,
of the Supreme Court, the Commission of Inquiry makes an to which members of his chiefdom are subject”; b) “use his the government has recently reported for the first time and Minsters who happen to have been born in a particular
adverse finding against the Paramount Chief, and the President best ability to prevent the commission of offences within his on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination chiefdom, included in Chiefdom Council lists by virtue of their
is of the opinion that it is in the public interest that the chiefdom and to maintain order and good government within against Women (CEDAW), and given that there are female offices (which, incidentally, are hardly “customary” offices),
Paramount Chief should be removed.” 97 Section 32 of the new his chiefdom”; 3) “preserve or promote, as appropriate, and Paramount Chiefs in some southern chiefdoms, the constant but not District and Town Councillors whose wards lie wholly or
Act repeals Sections 5 and 25(c) of the Provinces Act (Cap. 60 to serve as the guardian of the customs and traditions of his reference to a Paramount Chief as “he” in the text of the Act partially within that chiefdom?
of the Laws of Sierra Leone, 1960), which allow for the removal chiefdom”; 4) “to all intent and purposes a Paramount Chiefs is unacceptably gender biased. Second, the provisions in the Sixth, why does the Act limit eligibility to challenge the
of Paramount Chiefs for “subversive conduct.” shall serve as an agent of development in his chiefdom”; Act regarding Ceremonial Chiefs do not solve the problem that result of chieftaincy elections to Chiefdom Councillors? Surely
Sections 22-27 deal with the appointment and removal of 5) “to supervise the election of all Sub-Chiefs in his chiefdom”. arose in the above-noted Biriwa case, where the government it is the right of all citizens to seek relief in the courts for their
Speakers and Sub-Chiefs. In the past, Speakers were often It is also stated that “for the purpose of his functions”, a decided that such chiefs were not part of Limba “custom” and legitimate grievances?
elected by Chiefdom Councillors but the new Act now states Paramount Chief shall “use his best ability to secure the local Limba emphatically disagreed. It is certainly true that titled Further problems arise over the role of the NEC. With
that they shall be personal appointees of the Paramount Chief. making of the appropriate bye-laws by the Chiefdom Council. officials with ceremonial duties connected to the death and respect to Section 4(4), it is not clear what form of “revision”
The rationale for this change, as explained by the Director of The government’s initiative in making the election of crowning of chiefs have a public profile in the Temne-speaking of the Chiefdom Council list is being referred to. Historically
Local Government in a meeting of the Task Force on Local Paramount Chiefs a specific subject of legislation is to be area, but there are very few areas in Sierra Leone where revising the list entailed re-calculating the allocation of
Government and Decentralization in 2003, was that some applauded, and Section 7 of the new Act that seeks to give Paramount Chieftaincy is not “linked” with secret societies in Chiefdom Councillors to each locality in the chiefdom based
elected Speakers were using their “mandate” to challenge the paramount chieftaincy elections greater protection from one way or another. Who therefore decides what is and what is on the latest local tax assessments. But as we saw in the
authority of the Paramount Chief whenever he or she made an political interference is particularly welcome. However, the not “customary” for each chiefdom? Third, the same question Biriwa case, it can also mean adjusting and updating a
unpopular decision. Chieftaincy Act, 2009 clearly does not go far enough in terms applies to the new provisions on rotational crowing. While gazetted list based on a tax assessment made several years
The Act states that Section Chiefs shall be elected by the of reforming the ills that have been plaguing the chieftaincy the removal of the requirement for written proof of rotational earlier. Are NEC officials going to have access to the raw tax
Chiefdom Councillors in the relevant section and that Town system in the past decades. crowning agreements is welcome, who now decides on the data in order to ensure that the list is compiled in accordance
Chiefs shall be elected by the tax payers residing in the town. The failure of the government to reform the Electoral order of rotation? with the rules, or are they going to be asked to approve a
It goes on to state, in respect of both Town Chiefs and Sections College system in chieftaincy elections is particularly alarming. Fourth, while the Act states that a Paramount Chief should list that has simply been updated to fill vacancies caused by
Chiefs, that “if the Minister [of local Government] is satisfied As we saw in the previous chapter, case studies illustrate how serve as “an agent of development in his chiefdom”, there recent deaths of Councillors? It is not clear whether the new
with the conduct of the election, the newly elected chief readily the present system for electing Paramount Chiefs is is no mention in the Act whatsoever of the decentralized Act really achieves anything more than returning the NEC to
shall be formally recognized by publication of the election in abused. Control over Chiefdom Councillor lists is in the hands councils. The LGA is explicit in establishing the District its pre-2006 role in observing paramount chieftaincy elections
the Gazette”.The Act goes on to state that Speakers, Section of few people and they can easily be manipulated to favour Councils as the highest authorities in their localities with and ensuring that the ballot of Chiefdom Councillors takes
Chiefs and Town Chiefs may be removed from office on the particular aspirants. A lack of consistent records of taxpayers primary responsibility for development. At first sight, this place in a free and fair manner.
recommendation of the Chiefdom Committee following in a Chiefdom also makes it very easy to bloat the list of tax clause might not appear controversial since Paramount The Executive Secretary of the NEC, interviewed in
its investigation of complaints brought by the Paramount payers. As a result, Chiefdom Councillors often do not function Chiefs are already members of WDCs and elect their own December 2008, argued that the NEC should have a much
Chief, Paramount Chief and Councillors and local tax payers as individuals conferring with those they represent to make representatives to sit on District Councils. However the new stronger role in chieftaincy elections than the Act currently
respectively. The Act specifies that appeals against removal are considered votes in paramount chieftaincy elections as much Act does not make it clear whether Paramount Chiefs’ newly allows. In the Commission’s view, the NEC should be on hand
to be dealt with in the first instance by the Provincial Secretary as names and numbers on a list that are mobilized by groups specified functions as agents of development are a reflection to ensure that the candidates registered by the Provincial
with the final and binding decision resting with the Minister competing to control chieftaincy elections in pursuit of their of their existing involvement in the District Council system or Secretary actually go through the Declaration of Rights
responsible for local government. own selfish interests. whether it provides them with statutory license to engage process and meet the qualifications required by law. The
Section 4(3) states that fraudulent inflation of taxpayer lists in development activities independent of District Council Commission also argues that the NEC should be taking the
is an offence but also states that “irregularities” in the revision oversight. Gaps and contradictions within local government lead in the registration of voters, meaning that the NEC should
97. The Constitutional Review Commission’s proposed amendment to of the gazetted Chiefdom Councillor list shall not constitute legislation have already created conflicts over roles and be managing and authorizing the revision of Chiefdom Council
this Section is: “A Paramount Chief may be removed from office by the grounds for invalidating an election. Here the government responsibilities and the new Act seems to be multiplying them lists.98 Given the problems with chieftaincy elections detailed
President for any gross misconduct in the performance of the functions
is acknowledging, tacitly, that fraud is commonplace in the rather than reducing them. in the last chapter, the case for handing over chieftaincy
of his office if after a public inquiry conducted under the Chairmanship of
a Judge of the High Court or a Justice of the Appeal Court or a Justice of revision of Chiefdom Councillor lists. Yet it seems to be worried Fifth, similar gaps and contradictions appear in other elections to a professional election management body is
the Supreme Court, the Commission of Inquiry makes an adverse finding that if legal challenges to election results were permitted on provisions of the Act. For example, the newly defined functions compelling. But the NEC would be even better placed to carry
against the Paramount Chief, and the President is of the opinion that it these grounds, the whole system for electing paramount assigned to Paramount Chiefs overlap with those assigned to out its constitutional mandate if the principle of universal adult
is in the public interest that the Paramount Chief should be removed.
The report of the Commission of Enquiry shall, for the purposes of this chiefs could collapse under the weight of these challenges. Chiefdom Councils under Cap.61 of the Laws of Sierra Leone, suffrage was introduced to paramount chieftaincy elections.
Constitution, be deemed to be a judgment of the High Court of Justice If the system requires such protection, there is something 1960. While this overlap reflects the fact that the Paramount Again, the draft Chieftaincy Act does not go far enough to
and accordingly an appeal shall lie as of right from the Commission to fundamentally wrong with it. Rather than protecting the Chief is also the head of the Chiefdom Council, the Act appears ensure that paramount chieftaincy elections are free and fair.
the Court of Appeal, and if thereafter the President is of the opinion that
it is in the public interest that the Paramount Chief should be removed, it
system from legal challenges the government should to be making the office of Paramount Chief a new focus of
should be done accordingly.” See Report of the Commission to Review have set about reforming it. Any system that prevents the these powers and functions at the expense of the Chiefdom 98. Interview, Stephen Aiah Mattia, NEC Executive Secretary, Freetown,
the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991, January 2008. December 2008.

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Finally, some sections of the Act continue to support excessive 3.2 The Local Courts Bill, 2008 and the Justice The effect of the Local Courts Bill, 2008 is to separate the local
central government control over chieftaincy affairs. For Sector Reform Strategy law courts completely from chiefdom administration. For the
example, the Act specifically states that Provincial Secretaries On paper, the Local Courts Bill, 2008 is a far more radical piece first time in Sierra Leone’s history, the formal justice system
should preside over chieftaincy elections in their capacity as of legislation than the Chieftaincy Act 2009. In essence, the Bill has been placed under one institutional umbrella, breaking
Declaration Officers and that government recognises the updates and expands upon the provisions of the Local Courts down old divisions created by colonial “indirect rule.” As
validity of an election based on Provincial Secretaries’ reports. Act, 1963 and subsequent amendments. The radical feature discussed above in Chapter 2.2.4, the great advantage of this
In effect therefore, Provincial Secretaries are both managing of the Bill is to transfer the administration of Local Courts from change is that a single authority will take overall responsibility
elections and monitoring them on behalf of the government. It the Ministry responsible for Local Government to the Ministry for the appointment, training and terms and conditions of
is not clear who is monitoring their performance. of Justice. The Chief Justice now appoints the Court Chairman employment of all local law court functionaries. Answering
Furthermore, while the Sierra Leone government’s and all other functionaries after consultation with the Judicial to a clear chain of command will enable these functionaries
effort to standardize the appointment of sub-chiefs is to and Legal Service Commission.99 to resist anyone seeking to exert political leverage on their
be applauded, it is not clear why these community-level A Local Courts Service Committee will also be established decision making. With court revenues paid directly into the
elections should require the approval of the Ministry of Local for each Province, for the purpose of advising the Commission government’s coffers and the government taking responsibility
Government. It is doubtful whether provincial secretariats on appointments, transfers, promotions and dismissals of for functionaries’ salaries, both the opportunity and incentive
have the administrative capacity to monitor the elections of officers and servants of Local Courts (Section 7 (1)). The for financial corruption in the local law courts should be greatly
Town Chiefs and Section Chiefs in remote rural areas and Committee is chaired by the resident High Court Judge of reduced. The Local Courts Bill is a historic step forward in
thus whether it is feasible to expect formal notification of the Province and consists of a Paramount Chief representing Sierra Leone’s system of governance and justice and the
Sub-Chiefs’ elections to appear in the Gazette outside the the Council of Chiefs in the Province, a representative of the sooner it is fully implemented the better.
normal revision of Chiefdom Councillors lists every three Minister responsible for judicial affairs,, the Provincial Secretary, However, there is no reason why the principles applied in
years. Yet the Act grants the Local Government Ministry the a person with experience in the administration of Local Courts the new Bill cannot also be applied to the Chiefdom Police.
power to annul the appointment of any Sub-Chief whose and a representative of the District Council. Members of each Looking at the situation logically, the agency that should be
election it considers unsatisfactory, without specifying the Local Courts Service Committee are appointed by the President. taking the lead role in defining the roles and responsibilities of
grounds for that dissatisfaction or, it would appear, requiring While the Local Courts Service Committee has some the Chiefdom Police should by the SLP. Hopefully, the new Bill
the Ministry to actually monitor that election. The Act goes similarities with the Local Court Service Commission that can go on to set a precedent for further reforms of this kind.
on to state that Speakers, Section Chiefs and Town Chiefs was established by the original Local Courts Act of 1963 (See
3.3 The Local Government Act, 2004
may be removed from office on the recommendation of above, page 20), it is now less of an ad hoc body. It does
The Local Government Act, 2004 is the oldest piece of
the Chiefdom Committee following its investigation of not therefore include the Paramount Chief of the particular
legislation considered in this report and is already the subject
complaints brought by the Paramount Chief, Paramount Chief chiefdom in which court appointments are being made at
of an internal governmental review. One of the main areas
and Councillors and local tax payers respectively. But since any given time. The Chiefdom Council no longer has a role
earmarked for review is the division of functions between the
a Paramount Chief is also the Chairman of the Chiefdom in appointing lesser court functionaries (i.e. Vice-Chairman,
local councils and the chiefdoms.102 Clearly, the local revenue
Committee, he or she cannot bring personal complaints Clerk of Court, Finance Clerk and Bailiff) and all fees, penalties,
collection system requires urgent attention and along with
against a Speaker or Section Chief for investigation by the fines, and other monies taken by the court are now to be paid
it the overlap of functions between chiefdom structures and
Committee without creating a conflict of interest. According directly into the Consolidated Fund rather than chiefdom bank
WDCs. But the root of the problem is the old idea, inherited
to the Act, appeals against the removal of Sub-Chiefs accounts as before. The salaries of Court Chairmen and all
from colonial “indirect rule”,that the chiefdoms are responsible
from office are to be dealt with in the first instance by the other functionaries are now to be paid out of the same Fund.
for law and order while the local councils are responsible for
Provincial Secretary with the final and binding decision The Sierra Leone Government’s new Justice Sector
development. As we have seen, the Chieftaincy Act, 2009 is
resting with the local government Minister. Reform Strategy recognizes the pivotal role played by chiefs
now emphasizing that Paramount Chiefs should serve as agents
While the Act has some positive features, concern has to in the delivery of ‘primary’ justice.100 The strategy seeks to
of development. If it achieves nothing else, the review of the
remain that the government is intent on retaining direct control improve the quality of ‘primary justice’ in the country through
2004 Act should seek to ensure that chiefs become part of the
over the chieftaincy system in order to carry on using it as an activities that include training chiefs in basic concepts of
local government system and not remain in competition with it.
instrument of political control over the countryside The present human rights, jurisdiction, appointment and tenure, and
system is fundamentally anti-democratic and facilitates the basic record keeping. The 2008 strategy document also
very abuses of power that brought chieftaincy into discredit acknowledges the chiefdom police as being in the frontline of
before the recent civil war. crime prevention in many local communities. It is expected
that the Ministry responsible for Local government will “clearly
define the roles and responsibilities of the Chiefdom Police,
train them to carry out these roles and responsibilities and
develop an effective performance management system.101

99. As established by section 140 of the Constitution


100. Primary justice is defined in the strategy as that delivered by local
courts and paramount chiefs’ courts.
101. Government of Sierra Leone, 2008. Justice Sector Reform and
Investment Plan: 2008-2010, Freetown, March 2008 102. Interview, Emmanuel Gaima, Director, DecSec, December 2008.

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4. Chieftaincy and Decentralization in other African Countries:


What Lessons for Sierra Leone?

There have been close links between Sierra Leone and Ghana Chieftaincy in both countries has a more corporate character It might be argued that chiefs in Ghana and Uganda have There are several lessons here for chieftaincy reform in
on policy relating to chieftaincy for many years. Many of the than chieftaincy in Sierra Leone, in the sense that chiefs had little choice but to become leaders in civil society. Early Sierra Leone. First, while the authors of this report are
colonial laws on chieftaincy in Sierra Leone were adapted derive income from managing community assets attached post-colonial governments in both countries were far more not recommending the removal of chiefs from the local
from existing laws enacted in Ghana (Gold Coast). More to their offices Section 246(3a) of the 1995 Constitution ideologically driven than their counterparts in Sierra Leone and government system in the foreseeable future, the experience
recently, former President Kabbah, then serving as an advisor of Uganda, drawn up two years after the institution specifically sought to quell the political influence of powerful of Ghana and Uganda emphasizes that, where chieftaincy is
to the NPRC junta, led a delegation to Ghana to learn from of chieftaincy was formally restored by the Museveni indigenous kingdoms (Asante in Ghana and Buganda in concerned, there is a trade off between formal political power
its experiences in planning and implementing democratic administration, states that chieftaincy is a “corporation sole Uganda) that had prospered under colonial “indirect rule.” and community representation. Second, an institutionally
decentralization. Ghanaian chieftaincy experts also provided with perpetual succession and with capacity to sue and be Larger and richer countries than Sierra Leone have the luxury integrated local government system is always going to be
inputs into the short-lived Task Force on Chiefdom Governance sued and to hold assets or properties in trust for itself and of not having to rely on chiefs to perform governmental more efficient in delivering services and responding to local
set up by the Kabbah government in 2006.103 Sierra Leone’s the people concerned. Ugandan chiefs derive income from functions at the local level. Yet, there are clear benefits to both development needs than one in which functions are divided
post-war decentralization programme was also based on land rents, donations from external sources and voluntary chiefs and their people when chieftaincy remains a strictly between separate and competing institutions. Third, when
lessons learned in Uganda, which is generally regarded contributions from their subjects (Mukyala-Makiika, 1998). civil institution. In Ghana in particular, there are regional and chieftaincy becomes a strictly civil institution, it is better
as having one of the most far reaching decentralization Ghanaian chiefs have been collecting rents from stool and national Houses of Chiefs whose main duties, as established placed to develop its own special sphere of governance
programmes in the whole of Africa. As part of UNDP’s skin lands since pre-colonial times. by Section 272 of the Constitution are: a) to advise any and adapt to social and economic change. Fourth, freedom
assistance to the Sierra Leonean programme, the head of Both the intent and effect of chieftaincy legislation in person or authority charged with any responsibility under from political work on behalf of the central state also allows
the Ugandan Decentralisation Secretariat participated as both countries is to place chiefs firmly within the realm of this Constitution or any other law for any matter relating to or chiefs to take a lead in civil society organizations capable of
an advisor to the Kabbah government’s Task Force on Local civil society. Chiefs in Ghana and Uganda continue to wield affecting chieftaincy; b) to undertake the progressive study, attracting external development funding. Finally, there is a
Government and Decentralization for 10 months in 2003. considerable influence in local and national affairs, but they interpretation and codification of customary law with a view lively debate in both Ghana and Uganda over the relevance
One of the striking differences between Sierra Leone and do so in their capacity as leaders and representatives of to evolving, in appropriate cases, a unified system of rules of of chieftaincy in a modern state and the role it should be
Ghana and Uganda is that in these two countries, there is particular communities. In Ghana, chiefs themselves often customary law, and compiling the customary laws and lines playing in the 21st century. Some chiefs continue to campaign
no separate sphere of chiefdom governance responsible for acknowledge that their formal exclusion from party politics of succession applicable to each stool or skin; c) undertake for greater involvement in the formal government system,
collecting tax and maintaining law and order. Both countries ensures that their position as community leaders is not an evaluation of traditional customs and usages with a view while modernizers argue that chieftaincy is retrogressive
have a system of elected councils that extend from the compromised. For example, according to Barimah Kwame to eliminating those customs and usages that are outmoded and undemocratic and better left out of the state system.
district level right down to the village level. These councils Nkyi, Omanhene of the Assin Traditional Area, “a chief swears and socially harmful d) perform such other function, not being Debate is healthy for democracy and chiefs are always likely
are responsible for collecting all local revenues and helping oath of office and allegiance to his people and indulgence in inconsistent with any function assigned to the House of Chiefs to win greater public support when they seek to demonstrate
to maintain national security. Chiefs have no formal role active partisan politics will mean serving two masters and such of a region, as Parliament may refer to it. In other words, when their continuing relevance than simply relying on central
in them. In Ghana, 30% of all seats in local government divided allegiance impairs the trust and the confidence that his not burdened with the political and administrative work of the government to keep them in power.
councils were reserved for chiefs until 1988, when the people have in him”. He argued further that a chief in partisan central state, Ghanaian chiefs become free to develop their
Rawlings administration removed that privilege. One third politics may expose himself to the dictates of the party and own special sphere of governance.
of the membership of District Assemblies is still appointed could be victimized should the party he supports lose power. Another benefit of “civil” chieftaincy is that it can become
by central government and traditional leaders are often Furthermore, in an address to the National House of Chiefs a corporate foundation for community development. For
included in these appointments in their individual capacities in 1996, its President noted: “On the participation of Chiefs in example, the Kingdom of Buganda, is registered as a
as respected community leaders (Crook, 2005). Section politics, a Chief who dabbles in politics is likely to be treated development agency and has been able to secure funding
246(f) of the Constitution of Uganda (1995) states explicitly like a politician who could be hooted at or booed. This would from the Ugandan government and international NGOs.104
that: “a traditional leader or cultural leader shall not have or not only undermine his position but ultimately desecrate the In Ghana, the World Bank has recently established a special
exercise any administrative, legislative or executive powers institution of chieftaincy as a whole” (Boafo-Arthur, 2001). lending facility, known as the Learning and Innovation
of Government or local government” and Section 246(3d) Loan (LIL), whose main purpose is to “test approaches to
states that: “no person shall be compelled to pay allegiance substantially integrate and improve deprived remote and rural
or contribute to the cost of maintaining a traditional leader or communities led by the traditional authority and help focus
cultural leader.” The constitutions of both countries also exclude the contributions/influence of traditional authorities in socio-
chiefs from taking part in “active party politics” (Ghana) and economic development” (Guri, 2006).
joining and participating in “partisan politics” (Uganda).

103. This Task Force ceased operations ahead of the 2007 Presidential
and Parliamentary elections and was not reactivated by the incoming 104. The Buganda Development Agency has a website at
APC Government. It did not produce a public report. www.buganda.or.ug.

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5. Recommendations and Conclusions

The following recommendations 5.1 Accountability and Good Governance


Reforms
E. Reincorporate the National Council
of Paramount Chiefs as a Body with Specific
5.2 Justice and Human Rights
Recommendations
for reforming the chieftaincy Constitutional Responsibilities
A. Introduce Universal Adult Suffrage in Paramount G. Extend Legal Recognition to Chiefs’ Leading
system are based on the Chieftaincy elections.
The National Council of Paramount Chiefs should be renamed
Role in Local Dispute Resolution
National Council of Chiefs and fully incorporated based on the
evidence and analysis presented This will ensure that elections are truly democratic and
model of the Ghanaian House of Chiefs. The new body should
This role should receive statutory recognition and should
in the previous chapters. Paramount Chiefs are representative of all of their people.
If people are allowed to elect their chiefs, chiefs become
be fully funded and work with the Law Reform Commission on
be the basis upon which chiefs receive salaries (see
recommendation D). Clarifying this role will help to improve
the restatement of customary law, investigate land tenure reform
accountable to the community, not to the brokers and liaison between chiefs, the police services and the formal court
in the Provinces and advise the Local Government Ministry and
manipulators who seek to control chieftaincy elections. Peace system. Disputes over customary land rights are a special case
NEC on matters pertaining to rotational crowning agreements and
and security will therefore increase. and it is vital that these are properly recorded. Chiefs require
ruling house eligibility during chieftaincy elections.
support from government in formalizing these adjudications.
B. The NEC Supervises Paramount Chieftaincy F. Establish a Chieftaincy Commission
Elections This independent body will regulate chiefs’ salaries, develop
H. Restate Customary Law
Paramount Chieftaincy elections are public elections and A restatement of customary laws and usages would improve
a code of conduct for chieftaincy and investigate complaints
should therefore be supervised by the NEC. This will allow the all justice practitioners’ knowledge of these laws, and generate
against chiefs raised by citizens. The Chieftaincy Commission
NEC to carry out its constitutional mandate and help to ensure more informed understanding of the social context in which
should have the power to recommend to the President that a
that chieftaincy elections are free and fair and fully regulated by they are applicable. This is work that should be done by the
Commission of Inquiry into the conduct of a Paramount Chief
the law. A list of aspirants should be published well in advance upgraded National Council of Chiefs in partnerships with
is necessary, but it must also be bound by law to forward
of the election and their eligibility should only be investigated Customary Law Officers and the Law Reform Commission.
evidence of illegal activity on the part of bureaucrats and
when it is the subject of a formal written challenge from a Restatement is not codification and the purpose of the
private citizens to the relevant authorities.
citizen of the chiefdom. Challenges should be heard by the exercise is to improve the performance of the justice system
Local Courts and the Declaration of Rights meeting should rather than transform customary law into written law.
be abolished.
I. Reform the Chiefdom Police
C. Incorporate the Chiefdom Committee as a Local The Chiefdom Police should be reformed into a rural auxiliary
Government Body police force, trained by the SLP but with less stringent entry
UNDP consultant C.Viswasam’s recommendations of qualifications. The new force should serve the local councils as
nearly 40 years ago must be implemented. The Chiefdom well as chiefdom authorities.
Committee, rather than the Chiefdom Council, should be
J. Enact the Local Courts Bill, 2008
recognized in law as the governing body of the chiefdom and
The Bill represents a key step in the reform of the chieftaincy
its structure, roles and responsibilities must be redefined
system and the integration of chiefdom-level structures into
to reflect this (See recommendation M). The Chiefdom
the state system. It should be enacted without delay.
Council serves no useful function except as an instrument of
patronage and should be abolished.

D. All Chiefs Receive Salaries


Chiefs of all ranks perform key roles in maintaining social order
in rural areas (see recommendation G) and should receive
government salaries for this work. They should not have to rely
on community contributions to make up for time lost in securing
their livelihoods and local taxes should pay for welfare services
and development. Sub-Chiefs should receive graded salaries
and the rebate on local tax collection should be abolished.

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Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone Reform is not Against Tradition Making Chieftaincy Relevant in 21st Century Sierra Leone

Persons, Organizations and Communities Consulted, 2008-9

Government of Sierra Leone Other Chiefs This report was researched and written by
Dr Julius Sandy, Public Sector Reform Unit Chief Younge, Mende Tribal Headman, Freetown Richard Fanthorpe and Mohamed Gibril Sesay.
Joe Lebbe, Director of Local Government, Ministry for Internal
Chiefdom Functionaries
Affairs, Local Government & Rural Affairs (2005)
Emmanuel Gaima, Decentralisation Secretariat
Treasury Clerk, Biriwa Chiefdom, Bombali District (2003) With contributions from Abubakar Sidique Turay
Christiana Thorpe, National Electoral Commission (2007)
Treasury Clerk, Kunike Chiefdom (Justice and Human Rights section) and
Treasury Clerk, Kunike Barina Chiefdom Momo Taziff Koroma.
Stephen Aiah Mattia, National Electoral Commission
Central Chiefdom Finance Clerk, Tonkolili District
Abraham John, Human Rights Commission
Vandie Nabie, Human Rights Commission Community Discussions and Focus Groups
Youths, Kamabai, Biriwa Chiefdom, Bombali District
Local Government
(2005 and 2007)
Chairman, Bo District Council
Massahun, Kakua Chiefdom, Bo District
Eric Dura Sesay, Chairman, Bombali District Council
Rokupr, Magbema Chiefdom, Kambia District (2002)
(2005 and 2007)
Gbonkomaria, Magbema Chiefdom, Kambia District, (2002)
Dr. Wusu Sannoh, Mayor, Bo
Kpetema, Bumpeh Ngao Chiefdom, Bo District
Chief Administrator, Pujehun District Council
Yeikandor and Wonde, Njaluahun Chiefdom, Kailahun District
Chief Administrator, Bo District Council
Chiefdom Authorities, Makali, Kunike Barina Chiefdom
Deputy Chairman, Bo District Council
Fowaya, Peje Bongre Chiefdom, Kailahun District
Finance Officer, Pujehun District Council
Segbwema, Njaluahun Chiefdom, Kailahun District
Paramount Chiefs and Speakers Kabala, Warra Warra Yagalla Chiefdom, Koinadugu District
PC Alhaji Issa Kamara-Koroma, Gallinas Perri Chiefdom, Binkolo, Safroko Chiefdom, Bombali District
Pujehun District Joru, Gaura Chiefdom, Kenema District
PC Amadu Kaikai, Kpanga Kabonde Chiefdom, Pujehun District Koidu, Gbense Chiefdom, Kono District
PC Bai Koblo Queen II, Marampa Chiefdom, Port Loko District Makeni, Bombali Sebora Chiefdom, Bombali District
PC Thomas Kposowa, Bumpeh Ngao Chiefdom, Bo District
CBOs
PC Bai Sunthuba Osara III, Gbonkolenken Chiefdom,
Kunike Youth Development Organization, Masingbi,
Tonkolili District
Tonkolili District
PC Bai Sebora Kasanga II, Makeni, Bombali District (2005)
Market Traders, Bo
PC Charles Caulker, Bumpeh Chiefdom, Moyamba District
Bike Riders Association, Bo.
(2002)
Alimany Alusine Seku Conteh, Chiefdom Speaker, Kamabai, NGOs
Bombali District (2007) Ngolo Katta, Centre for the Coordination of Youth Activities
Tennyson Williams, ActionAid
Sub-Chiefs and other Chiefdom Authorities
Ambrose James, Search For Common Ground
Regent Chief, Bramaia Chiefdom (2001)
Frances Fortune, Search For Common Ground
Town Chief Osman Bangalie, Imperri Chiefdom,
Victor Kalie Kamara, CAP, Rokupr, Kambia District (2002)
Bonthe District
Deltha Kamara, CAP, Rokupr, Kambia District (2002)
Isaac K. M. Sheriff, Caretaker Chief and Treasurer,
Community aminator, Focus Group, Network Movement
Imperri Chiefdom
for Justice and Development
Mohamed Sidi Ahmed, Youth Chairman Imperi Chiefdom
Musa Mewa, National Accountability Group
Isatu Pompoli, Section Mammy Queen, Bumban,
Brima Sheriff, Amnesty International-Sierra Leone
Bombali District (2007).
Regina Posseh Kalawa, Head Mammy Queen, Donor Agencies
Kamabai, Bombali District (2007) Chiara Bellini, European Union
Yayah Conteh II, Section Chief, Bumban, Bombali District Sylvia Fletcher, UNDP (2005)
Doris Alpha, Chiefdom Police, Valunia Chiefdom, Bo District Edward Kamara, UNDP
Grainne O’Neil – Irish Aid
Chris Gabelle, DFID

60 61
This report was commissioned by:
Campaign for Good Governance
Methodist Church Sierra Leone
Network Movement for Justice and Development

Supported by

Funded by Irish Aid MAPS

This document has been produced with the


financial assistance of Irish Aid. The contents of this
document are the sole responsibility of picot and
cgg and can under no circumstances be regarded
as reflecting the position of Irish Aid.