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The Ajisafe Problem And Religious Tolerance PDF Print E-mail
Written by Yusuf Bangura 42C Chemin de Prélaz 1260 Nyon, Switzerland (4 October 2017)   
Thursday, 05 October 2017 12:43

Victor Ajisafe’s sermon of 25 September 2017 in which he denounced Islam as a religion of terror and denied Islam’s existence in Sierra Leone has infuriated the nation, with many calling for a complete shutdown of his church, an apology, and his deportation. The government acted swiftly by arresting Ajisafe, temporarily suspended all activities in the six branches of his church (Christ Revival Evangelistic Ministries), and closed down his radio station.

As Andrew Keili observed in his usually razor-sharp reflections, Ponder My Thoughts, even though our politics is often highly divisive, Ajisafe’s despicable comments and gross ignorance about our history and society generated a level of unity (wan word, as Keili puts it) we have not seen in peace time.

Unfortunately, this is the second time Ajisafe has offended the nation. During the military’s usurpation of power in 1997 that aggravated Sierra Leone’s civil war, he is reported to have sided with the coup, defying resolutions of the international community, and proclaimed in his sermons that the elected leader, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, would never return to power.

Ajisafe’s sermon was condemned by leaders and followers of all religious faiths--Muslim as well as Christian. Indeed, not a single video/audio clip or commentary in the vibrant social media came to his defence. Such unity is a demonstration of how deeply ingrained the notion of religious tolerance is in our society.

It is important to understand the basis of this tolerance and how to protect it from extremist preachers like Ajisafe and political agitators. Religious tolerance in Sierra Leone is fundamentally structural, which transcends the guarantees provided by the constitution and public policy. After all, national unity or non-discrimination along ethnic lines is also guaranteed in the constitution, but our practices, especially in the political domain, are disturbingly and brazenly ethnic. In other words, there must be something other than our constitution and public policies that has made us religiously tolerant.

The structural basis of our religious tolerance rests on three pillars. The first is the presence of the two main religions in our ethnic groups. Muslims may constitute about 70% of our population, but a sizeable Christian population can be found in most of the ethnic groups, especially the two numerically dominant ones, Mende and Themneh, and the Limba (all three groups constitute about 70% of the population), around which our divisive ethno-regional politics is constructed. Even among the Krio, there are Muslim Krio (Frobay and Fulatong) and the majority Christian Krio. Perhaps, it is only the Fula and Madingo, the pioneers of Islam in pre-colonial Sierra Leone, that are highly mono-religious.

Second, there has been a high level of inter-marriage across ethnicity and religion. Whereas inter-religious marriage is rare in many parts of the world, it is a very common practice in Sierra Leone. The wonderful point to note is that a spouse is not obliged to convert to the religion of the other spouse. It is, indeed, amazing to find in some families children practicing different religions. One of my brothers, who is a practicing Muslim, is married to a Christian; two of their children are Christian, and three are Muslim.

Third, most of Sierra Leone’s Christians have a Muslim heritage. Indeed, many are recent converts from Islam. The rise of evangelical churches (Prosperity Churches) in urban areas--with their claims of performing miracles and solving personal problems, as well as their embrace of African ways of singing and dancing during prayers--has endeared many young Muslims to Christianity. Many of the pastors of these new churches were raised as Muslims.

Importantly, the new converts to Christianity do not denounce their Muslim heritage; instead they embrace Christianity to experieince another kind of spiritual fulfilment and advance material goals, while mainitaing their bonds with Muslim members of their families. Keili is right that Ajisafe’s rants against Islam may be connected to his fear that Mufti Menk (the visiting Zimbabwean cleric whose address at the packed national stadium elicited Ajisafe’s rage) may pose a serious threat to his church in the marketplace of attracting, recruiting and retaining religious followers.

These three pillars of religious tolerance have provided a basis for Sierra Leoneans to respect the constitution’s provisions on religious accommodation, the emergence of moderate leaders in the various Christian and Muslim religious associations, and good working relations between Christian and Muslim leaders in the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone.

Ajisafe is Yoruba by ethnic heritage. Islam and Christianity are fully embraced in equal measure by the Yoruba in Nigeria; indeed, there are more Muslims than Christians in Lagos. Religious tolerance is also present in Yorubaland, which makes it all the more troubling why Ajisafe decided to ignore his own heritage and stir up religious hatred in his adopted country.

A key lesson we should draw from this episode is that Ajisafe’s practices are an outlier in the dynamics of religious thought and practice in Sierra Leone. His divisive ideas do not resonate with Sierra Leoneans.

Calls for his deportation seem harsh, given his status as a naturalised Sierra Leonean. With the increased threat of terrorism, some Western governments (the UK, for instnace, in 2014; and Germany more recently) have passed laws that make it possible to deport their citizens who have dual citizenship on grounds of public order. Ajisafe’s utterances may fall under the category of a hate crime or one that is likely to disturb public peace. However, given the structural basis of Sierra Leone’s religious tolerance, his utterances, though despicable, have so far not disturbed public peace. He has issued an apology in writing and via audio.

Having said this, structures are not cast in stone; the three pillars of religious tolerance can change over the long run. This is where sound public policy can help to maintain the robustness of those pillars and keep religious identities open, accommodating and fluid. Utterances and practices of the types associated with Ajisafe may generate episodic disturbances even when the pillars of relgious tolerance remain intact. I suggest four lines of action.

First, his radio station should not be reopened. Indeed, it was a grave mistake to grant licences to religious bodies and political parties to run radio stations in a fragile post-war country like Sierra Leone. It is very easy to spread hate messages and stir up disturbances via radio, which a large number of Sierra Leoneans, often with imperfect information, listen to. It is shocking that Ajisafe’s sermon was even aired on his radio station. Radio licences to religious bodies should be withdrawn as has happened in the case of political parties.

Second, there should be laws prohibiting extremist sermons—such as those that denounce other religions, extol violence, or support violent religious groups.

Third, even though the response of the public, including Christian bodies, is unanimous in condemning Ajisafe’s sermon, it is disturbing to learn that one of the mediating bodies, Body of Christ, which also denounced Ajisafe’s sermon and called for his apology, expressed solidarity with him when its leaders visited him in detention. What should have been a teaching moment for Ajisafe may instead have been an empowering moment for him. He and potential religious zealots may feel that they will have the backing of their religious colleagues whenever they offend the public. Organisations should learn to hold their members to account, by sanctioning them when they commit offences. The Body of Christ should make it clear to Ajisafe that he will carry his own cross if he wants to divide the country along religious lines.

Fourth, a small group of religious leaders, especially those in prosperity or evangelical churches, has grown stupendously rich on the pockets of poor Sierra Leoneans. These leaders have not given anything in return, in terms, for instance, of providing basic social services. It is such wealth that may have affected Ajisafe’s judgment in making his foolish sermon. Since many of the leaders of these churches are in the business of making money, the state should devise ways of subjecting their books to public scrutiny and taxing them.





26th IPRA Conference in Sierra Leone Ends on a High Note

The International Peace Research Association (IPRA) successfully held its 26th General Conference on ‘Agenda for Peace and Development: Conflict Prevention, Post-Conflict Transformation, and the Conflict, Disaster Risk and Sustainable Development Debate’ in collaboration with the 10TH Dealing With Disasters Series, Northumbria University (UK)and Sakarya University (Turkey) and  the University of  Sierra Leone at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone from November 27 to 1st December 2016.


Business News

Managing Director of Rokel Commercial Bank, speaks to The Worldfolio about the investment opportunities in Sierra Leone

John D. Okrafo-Smart, Managing Director of Rokel Commercial Bank, speaks to The Worldfolio about the investment opportunities in Sierra Leone and gives his insight into the banking landscape.

Excerpts shared by Sheriff Mahmud Ismail

The Government of Sierra Leone is placing great priority in improving the business climate, enhancing infrastructure and support to private sector development. In line with the government focus, the Central Bank is targeting price stability in support of economic recovery, enhancing monetary policy instruments and liquidity management and also limiting intervention in the foreign exchange market, which will be important to preserve foreign exchange reserves.

The above measures will help in the strengthening of the banking system to support financial intermediation. Commercial banks are thus poised to benefit and take advantage of the improved economic and business environment by offering better services to their customers, including loans and overdrafts and forex to import, thereby creating wealth and boosting government revenue.


Media News

Two veteran Journalists, now in the United States have paid a courtesy call on Sierra Leone's Ambassador

Two very respected and veteran Journalists who are in the United States of America for various reasons have called on Sierra Leone’s Amr. Bockari Kortu Stevens not only to appreciate the work of the Embassy, but also to pay courtesy as protocol demands.

Mr. Rod Mac-Johnson, former Lecturer Fourah Bay College, former Director of Information Ministry of Information and Communications, Former Director Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), Former Chairman Independent Media Commission (IMC) and stringer French News Agency  etc. is on vacation and Mr. Cyril Juxon Smith Director Information and Communications House of Parliament, former Acting Director General Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) and former UNESCO Media Consultant  is in the United States of America to attend the funeral of his father.

Speaking at the Ambassador’s residence on 4821 Colorado Avenue, Washington DC  Mr. Rod Mac-Johnson said “Thank  you Amr. Stevens for accommodating us in the middle of your tight schedule, and also to discuss with us in a homely spirit.



Dr. Tam Baryoh’s Only Crime!

Boris Johnson as a Journalist worked at The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers. He edited The Spectator newspaper between 1999 and 2006. He was Member of Parliament for Henley from 2001 to 2008 and was also Mayor of London. He is a member of the Conservative Party and the current UK Foreign Secretary.

Nnamdi Azikiwe was to serve as the first president of independent Nigeria from 1963 to 1966. He opened and edited a number of newspapers in Ghana and Nigeria and later became an active politician. Obafemi Awolowo was a great Nigerian politician. He also was an active journalist and edited The Nigerian Worker, amongst other publications.

There is a clear link between politics and journalism though, there seems to be a very thin boundary, or perhaps, “a reflective door in the firewall, such that with time, politicians and journalists cross the line changing roles and moving from side to side,” argues Aminat Afolabi in a piece, titled ‘Politics and Journalism, the Interwoven Relationship between Them.”


View Point

How and Why I endorse Julius Maada Bio for President?

I have

I have endorsed Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio for the SLPP presidential ticket in the March 7 2018 elections because I strongly believe in his project and ability to succeed as our next president if given the opportunity.  Perhaps I need to provide  some context as to how, when and why I took this decision.

Maada Bio is the second presidential candidate I have ever endorsed in Sierra Leone. The first was late president TejanKabbah during the campaigns in the 1996 general elections, which he won. I was then publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Expo Times, which won the best-selling newspaper award from the National Vendors Association that year. At the time, my newspaper was the largest circulation and most widely read newspaper in the country and my nearest competitors were For Di People and Concord Times. When the presidential election campaigns became heated and the battle lines were clearly drawn with the three front-runners, TejanKabbah of the SLPP, Karefa-Smart of the UNPP, and Thaimu Bangura of PDP (SORBEH), For Di People declared for and endorsed Karefa-Smart and the UNPP while Concord Times declared for and endorsed Thaimu Bangura and the PDP. Dr Prince Harding and Banda-Thomas then approached me to endorse and help TejanKabbah of the SLPP, who was then the clear frontrunner according to Opinion polls, to win the elections. 


News - Press Release

EU Election Exploratory Mission meets Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

(MFAIC Press Office, 18th October, 2017). The European Union Election Exploratory Mission to Sierra Leone led by Head of European Union Delegation to Sierra Leone, H.E. Tom Vens has paid a working visit to the Minister, Dr. Samura M.W. Kamara and Senior Management Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, at the Ministry’s office in Tower Hill, Freetown.

Ambassador Tom Vens stated that the EU Election Exploratory Mission is in Sierra Leone following an invitation by the Government of Sierra Leone for EU Electoral assistance, and to further discuss the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in facilitating EU Observer Mission for the March 2018 elections in the country. The EU Election Exploratory Missionas part of its mandate is in the country to draft and finalise the MOU with the Government of Sierra Leone through the Foreign Ministry.


Society -Local News

The State of World Population 2017: Unchecked inequality and failure to protect the rights of poorest women could undermine peace and world’s development goals, new UNFPA report warns

• Only about half of the world’s women hold paid jobs

• Globally, women earn 77 per cent of what men get

• Three in five women worldwide lack maternity leave, many pay “motherhood penalty”

Freetown, SIERRA LEONE, 17 October 2017-Unless inequality is urgently tackled and the poorest women empowered to make their own decisions about their lives, countries could face unrest and threats to peace and development, according the The State of World Population 2017, published today by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

The costs of inequalities, including in sexual and reproductive health and rights, could extend to the entire global community’s goals, adds the new UNFPA report, entitled, “Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality.”



U.S. Ambassador launches National Early Warning Systems Project, funded by USAID

On Wednesday, October 18, U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Maria E. Brewer, announced the official launch of the USAID West Africa-funded “Mitigating Election Violence through National Early Warning Systems” (NEWS) project and the inauguration of the National Elections Response Group in Sierra Leone.

Supported by $500,000 from USAID, NEWS is implemented by the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) in Sierra Leone. The focus is to monitor and identify potential electoral violence triggers and assist government and non-government organizations in Sierra Leone to better mitigate them.
The National Elections Response Group (NERG) is a partnership under the NEWS project, between WANEP, the Inter-Religious Council, the Campaign for Good Governance, government stakeholders, representatives from the National Electoral Commission, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Office of National Security (ONS) and a number of civil society organizations.

The primary objective of the National Elections Response Group (NERG) is to monitor the elections environment, develop, and recommend strategies and actions to relevant stakeholders with authority to implement necessary response actions to prevent escalation of tensions or incidence of violence for a peaceful 2018 election. Members of the NERG will work closely with WANEP, the Integrated Election Security Planning Committee under the ONS, Provincial and District Election Security Committees – PROSEC and DISEC with an extensive network of civil society organizations and with 60 community monitors across the country to identify potential risks of electoral violence.



PRESIDENT KOROMA SAYS… “I am very proud of Ansumana Usman Koroma”

President Dr Ernest BaiKoroma has informed Sierra Leoneans that, “I am very proud that we have people like Ansumana. We need many more Ansumana Usman Koromas that will go out there as Ambassadors of our country, showing and telling a good story about Sierra Leone.”

Whilst speaking at his Presidential office in Freetown, President Koroma affirmed that, “I am very proud of Ansumana and I am encouraging him to do more by helping his people.”

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