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Assessment for Creoles in Sierra Leone

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Creoles in Sierra Leone, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Sierra Leone Facts
Area:    71,740 sq. km.
Capital:    Freetown
Total Population:    5,000 (source: UN, 1995, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Creoles of Sierra Leone are at risk due to the continuing situation that the country faces. It is important to note that the government had also called a state of emergency, suspending some civil rights, in 1998, which was not lifted until March 1, 2002. While the signing of ceasefires is a cause for some degree of optimism, these agreements have collapsed in the past, and the potential for resumed fighting remains high. However, a tenuous end to the fighting was officially declared on January 18, 2002. Furthermore, adding some security and stability is the creation of a special court system to address the abuses occurring during the conflict. As of 2003, the court was in operation. The Creoles are a very small group which has enjoyed a favored place in Sierra Leone society. If a peaceful settlement can be found in the country that holds, and the Creoles' place in the society changes, they may begin to protest their new situation. The conflict in Liberia threatens to hamper peace arrangements within the country as Liberia has been known to support the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and as fighting in that country can spill over the borders into Sierra Leone. However, UN peacekeeping efforts in Liberia help reduce the threat of conflict across borders. Due to their small numbers, it is unlikely that Creoles would ever be involved in militant activity. The Creole, like the majority of the Sierra Leone population, must first hope that a sustainable peace can be found. Until then, the society cannot function, and the population in general will continue to be in danger.

Analytic Summary

The Creole, which comprise 3% of Sierra Leone's population, are descendants of freed Afro-European slaves (TRADITN = 3) who live in the Freetown area (GROUPCON = 1). They have been members of the elite from colonial times. Although Creoles initially intermarried with indigenous people, they began to detach themselves from the local majority by acquiring British education and culture (CUSTOM = 1). As a result they are predominantly Christian (BELIEF = 3). Their language is also unique to the region (LANG = 1). The Creoles have not been a major actor in the civil war that devastated the country between 1992 and 2002, but due to the nature of the conflict and the history of ethnic politics in the country, the Creoles are a fairly cohesive group (COHESX9 = 4).

The Creoles, who are mainly educated professionals, were very influential in governmental and economic sectors during the colonial period, but the British did not allow the Creole community to dominate colonial politics. After the country's independence in 1961, the Mende-dominated regimes (particularly under the rule of Albert Margai, 1964-67) tended to oppose Creole domination of the civil service. Subsequently, Creoles supported the All-People's Congress (APC), led by Siaka Stevens (an ethnic Limba). Under the APC regimes headed by Stevens (1971-85) and Joseph Saidu Momoh (1985-92), the Creoles retained strong influence. The predominance of Limba and Creole elite during the first years of the APC regime caused resentment from the Temne, who had helped the APC come to power. During the 1970s, the Temne joined the Mende in opposition to the government. After Stevens appointed a Temne vice president in 1978, the Temne appeared to have emerged as the second most influential group (next to ethnic Limba) in the regime.

On April 30, 1992, The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), led by Capt. Valentine Strasser, seized power in a coup. Over time, Strasser favored the Mende over other ethnic groups in both his government and the military. He was overthrown in a coup in January 1996 by his deputy. The deputy, Julius Bio, proceeded with plans for elections and a civilian government was installed in March 1996. Sierra Leone was led by Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, a civilian, until May 1997 when he was overthrown by a military coup. Much of the instability of the regimes since the Strasser coup in 1992 can be blamed on a protracted civil war, which began in March 1991. A rebellion, led by Foday Sankoh (Revolutionary United Front-RUF), began in the south-eastern region of the country and by March 1995, it had affected all but one district of the country. Fighting was the most intense in the southeast and northeast, and until the 1997 coup, was not evident in the capital, Freetown. The RUF leadership was composed mainly of Temne, and most reports indicated that troops were also mainly Temne. Sankoh himself and most of his lieutenants were Temne, and they were fighting against what they claimed was the hegemony of Mende in the country. The RUF complained that the predominantly-Mende SLPP (Sierra Leone People's Party) had been marginalizing non-Mende and using ethnic criterion in appointing ministers. With the coup of May 1997, however, the RUF had been ordered by its leader Sankoh to support the new military government led by Major Johnny Koroma. The rebels were then associated with the military government while the Kamajors, organized militias based on traditional hunting groups, were fighting the government and RUF. The Kamajors, composed mainly of Mende, were organized in 1994 to help the government fight the RUF at a time when government forces were disheartened and facing defeat by the rebels. One of the complaints of the military against the Kabbah regime was that he gave too much power to the Kamajors at the expense of the military.

Between ten and fifteen thousand people were killed between 1991 and 1998, including some from starvation, and as of 1998, about half of the country's population of about five million had been displaced at one time or another during the conflict. Reports indicated that RUF rebels, disgruntled soldiers, and army deserters have carried out attacks against civilians. There were about 260,000 refugees in Liberia and Guinea during the height of the war 1993-1995 and at least 700,000 Sierra Leoneans were internally displaced. Fighting has affected all but one district of the country, and throughout the war the worst affected districts have been Moyamba, Bo, Kenema, Kailahun, Tonkolili, Kono, and Pujehun. A peace agreement signed between the civilian government of Kabbah and RUF leader Sankoh 30 November 1996 did not last above a few weeks, though there was great hope for the country at its signing.

The situation in Sierra Leone stabilized in the summer of 1998. The Nigerian/ECOMOG forces in February 1998 succeeded in ousting Koroma from power, and Koroma's AFRC forces as well as his RUF allied fled to the north and east of the country. For several months after their overthrow, the AFRC and RUF committed atrocities against civilians of these regions leaving thousands dead or injured and an additional 166,000 internally displaced. Reports of atrocities diminished after June 1998. President Kabbah was restored to power in March 1998, and RUF leader Foday Sankoh was returned to the country after Koroma's ouster.

The current situation in Sierra Leone is very difficult to judge. Years of fighting have resulted in very little information leaving the country. Being the smallest group, information on the Creoles is very sparse. It appears that they do not face any ecological or demographic disadvantages compared to the other groups within Sierra Leone (DEMSTR03 = 0). However, a large percentage of the population has been internally displaced due to the fighting, and it is likely that the Creoles are not immune to this. It is difficult to assess the degree of political discrimination or lack thereof faced by Creoles due to instability in the Sierra Leone government, where it is unclear who is actually ruling the country as a result of the civil war. Having said that, the Creoles have always had a somewhat privileged place in Sierra Leone politics, dating back to colonial times, and there is no evidence to suggest that they are singled out for discrimination (POLDIS03 = 0). Being historically advantaged, it also appears that the group does not face current economic discrimination (ECDIS03 = 0). It is unclear if there are any policies in place that restrict their cultural freedoms. While there are numerous reports of overt repression by the contesting sides in the civil war (and obviously in a brutal civil war there will be intergroup conflict), the Creoles are not identified in reports as being involved in these repressive acts, either as perpetrators or victims.

There are no organizations that represent the Creoles interests specifically. The United Nations has sent peacekeepers, and Amnesty International is on the ground reporting human rights violations for the country as a whole. Countries such as Guinea and Liberia have also taken in large numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict. Without groups advocating on their behalf, it is impossible to guage their demands. It can be assumed that they want to be protected from the various factions in the civil war, but beyond that, it is not wise to speculate on their grievances without information.

There have been no reports of protest or rebellious activity by Creoles recently (PROT03 and REB03 = 0). In April 2002, inhabitants of Freetown, namely the Creoles, and others in the region, participated in a Million Man March to show their support for Kabbah, the president who was up for re-election. The group had also been involved in some activity in the past. Prior to independence, the group had been involved with political organizing and pressuring the British government (PROT55X-65X = 2). In the early 1990s, the Creoles also participated in rallies calling for a more democratic government (PROT90X = 3). These protests never resulted in militant activity by the group.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) The World Factbook 1992, 2004 Washington, D.C.

Degenhardt, Henry W. ed. (1988) Revolutionary and Dissident Movements, A Keesing's Reference Publication, (Brunt Mill, Harlow, Essex: Longman) pp.318-319.

Hartmana, Lori (1993) "Indigenous Rebellion in the Casamançe," Fourth World Bulletin, December, Vol.3, No.1.

Lexus/Nexus-Reuters News Service, BBC reports, etc.

"Sierra Leone Holds Elections in May." Amnesty International. May 2002. [accessed 8/27/04]

Langford, Mark. "Helping Heal Wounds of War." Birmingham Post and Mail Ltd. 15 Jan. 2002.

Kamara, Saidu. "The War is Over, Kabbah Declares." Standard Times (Sierra Leone). 23 Jan. 2002

"Sierra Leone: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." (2001-2003). US Department of State.

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