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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


The Parliament of Sierra Leone on Monday 04th December 2017 debated and ratified two additional agreements aimed at improving and expanding Ports facilities in Sierra Leone to be at par with international best practices.

Presenting both Agreements prior to ratification, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Balogun Koroma said that the additional Agreements are geared towards addressing some of the concerns raised by MPs, in respect of expanding our Ports facilities to accommodate larger vessels, and the issuance of license with the view of combating money laundering, contra-band goods, and attracting more funds for Government.

Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, Minority Leader of the House, also supported the ratification of the two Agreements, saying if our Ports are not developed, we would not be able to attract huge vessels; thus the need for the continuous improvement of our Ports facilities.


Media News

"President Koroma is a big disappointment to press freedom" - SLAJ

Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, has said that President Ernest Bai Koroma has disappointed the media on press freedom in the country. 

“Successive governments have given us false hopes on the repeal of the criminal libel law. The politicians have lied to us. They have taken us to be big fools. President Koroma is our biggest disappointment. We had high hopes in him but he failed us woefully. So we will not trust any politician again, because when they get into office they forget about their promises,” said Nasralla.
Nasralla was speaking last Friday while formally launching a report on criminal defamation laws in Africa by PEN Sierra Leone at the SLAJ Harry Yansaneh Memorial Hall, Campbell Street, Freetown. 
He recalled that before he was first elected President of the Republic in 2007, President Koroma was a staunch campaigner against criminal libel law in Sierra Leone, but when he became President he suddenly had a different view.


Reasons why Sierra Leoneans Must Think beyond Tribal and Regional Lines Before Casting their Ballots This Time

As the national or general elections loom in Sierra Leone and, as a true citizen, I solemnly pray and hope with all hopes that Sierra Leoneans of the voting age will consider carefully who they would vote for, come March 2018. The divisive and immature nature of politics as it exists in Sierra Leone has, to a greater extent, contributed to the country lagging behind nearly all other countries in terms of progressive development. My readers should be mindful of the fact that certain countries in Africa would rather develop retrogressively than progressively, a situation wherein governments embark on ego-boosting programs that aren’t beneficial to the average citizen.

A government which expends its energy for the benefit of the people is a progressive government and that is what Sierra Leoneans want at this time after being in the doldrums for ages. It is therefore absolutely necessary for fellow citizens to refrain from casting their valued votes in favor of candidates because of tribal or regional affiliations but on how genuine and capable that candidate is, otherwise stagnation in progress is bound to follow.


View Point

Youth Unemployment Is A Killer Virus In Sierra Leone

“I studied Sociology at NjalaUniversity and graduated in 2015 but still unemployed despite several interviews being attended. I am currently awaiting my MSc at Njala University which is to be awarded early next year,” said 29 year old MabintyKamara.

“I graduated in 2012 with Honours from the Department of Accounting, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. I have sent several job applications; the only long job I got was with the International Medical Corps during the deadly Ebola virus and since then no job. I was also a volunteer teacher but the Minister of Education, Science and Technology did not approve me and others after almost a year of voluntary service so I quit,” said 31 year old Mohamed LaminKanneh.

In Sierra Leone, despite the numerous promises made by President Ernest BaiKoroma to figuratively ‘lay his life for the youth,’ unemployment among youth is one of the highest with no end in sight to reduce the spate of this social menace. According to the United Nations Development Program, approximately 70% of youth are underemployed or unemployed and an estimated 800,000 youth today are actively searching for employment.


News - Press Release

Sierra Leone receives US$10 Million Supplemental Financing from World Bank as support to Landslide and Flooding

FREETOWN, December 13, 2017 —The World Bank Group has approved aSupplemental Financing (SF) in the amount of US$10 million to help the Government of Sierra Leone meet immediate needs associated with the landslide and flooding disaster that struck Freetown on August 14, 2017.The SF is a grant, provided as a supplemental budget support operation that will flow directly into the Government’s budget.

The funding, under the First Productivity and Transparency Support Credit (PTSC-I), will ensure that the reforms supported under thisoperation remain on track and are implemented without the risk of delays due to competing capacity or budgetary priorities arising from the post-disaster recovery. It will also help with the rebuilding of critical infrastructuredestroyed during the landslide and flooding.

Since the end of the Ebola epidemic, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) has initiated substantive reforms to boost productivity, restore fiscal stability, and gradually rebuild buffers. The Government initiated substantive reforms, focusing on agriculture, fisheries and energy, supported by the First Productivity and Transparency Support Credit (PTSC-I), to boost productivity and start rebuilding the country's buffers.


Society -Local News

John Baimba Sesay: The Diplomat who Deserves Parliamentary Representation

John Baimba Sesay is a native of Kapethe Village, Safroko Limba Chiefdom, with chiefdom headquarter town of Binkolo, in Constituency 034, Bombali District. The Constituency covers Safroko Limba and Pakimasabong Chiefdoms in the same district.

Born in the early 1980’s, he holds Bachelor of Arts (BA) Mass Communication, with Hons, 2004-2008 from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. He also holds a post graduate Master of Arts (MA), Mass Communication (2009- June 2010) degree from the same university.

John Baimba is my colleague based in Beijing. Having worked for a number of daily newspapers, including, Independent Observer, For Di People and Awoko, he has a wealth of experience in journalism.



World Bank Group Boosts Financing for West African Power Pool Regional Power Transmission Project

FREETOWN, December13, 2017 —The World Bank Group on November 17, 2017 approved Additional Financing in the amount of US$59.57 million to West African Power Pool (WAPP) - Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea (CLSG) PowerInterconnection Project, which aims to increase electricity supply in the four participating countries.

The project will interconnect the four participating countries into the 225 kV (kilo volt) regional energy market in West Africa, and will also enable the connection to the WAPP of the planned hydropower plants in Bumbuna Extension, Yiben and Bekongor in Sierra Leone and Mount Coffee in Liberia and other future generation projects.

The Project will provide residents of Greater Monrovia Area in Liberia; Bo, Kenema and the Western Areas in Sierra Leone; and the Forest Region of Guinea, with improvements in power supplies in the short-term. It also pursues a regional infrastructure developmental approach that will provide over the medium- to long-term adequate electricity to the people of the four countries in a more efficient and cost effective way, boosting economic and social development.



It will not be Business as Usual…Bio assures Diaspora

He was passionate, confident and assuring as he addressed hundreds of Sierra Leoneans at the prestigious Royal Regency Hall in London on Saturday 9th December 2017 with a very simple message that as the next President it will not be business as usual. For a man who has a solid track record as a disciplinarian, Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio continues to attract many voters who feel the country needs a strong and disciplined leadership.

Cataloguing the current state of the country, Bio spoke about a divided country, the poor drowning in poverty, rich swimming in affluence, poor governance, battered economy, high public debt, third hungriest country, high inflation among others . He also reminded his audience that many of the things which necessitated the war such as bad governance, mismanagement of the economy, injustice have been the features of the current APC Government.

However, Bio's message was not just about the doom and gloom but also making a case why he is the right choice that the country needs. He spoke about his track record, experience and how he has always put his country first. "Some have come with slogan, country first, but I served my country first at a very tender age. I did not go around the world to work and come back old to say country first. When I was young I gave my life to our country," a passionate Bio said.

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