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Assessment for Limba in Sierra Leone

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Limba in Sierra Leone, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3acd2.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
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

While there have been attempts to resolve the war in Sierra Leone recently, there is no evidence to suggest that the fighting has completely ended and will not escalate again in the future. Although, fighting was declared over in January of 2002 and steps seem to be in place to ensure more stability, pockets of violence still exist. Until the situation in the country is fully resolved, it is unlikely that the Limba will be involved in any protest or militant activity. The situation has been so dire in Sierra Leone that most people have been too concerned with survival to protest. The civil war has involved mainly Mende and Temne, but it is no longer an ethnic war. The Limba face a situation of no political discrimination and historic economic marginality. Groups like the Limba continue to be at risk of worsening circumstances as long as the fighting or threat of fighting remains.

Analytic Summary

The Limba, along with the Creole, are the smaller of the main ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Like the Creole, the Limba have occupied a privileged place in Sierra Leonean society, but the Limba have held more military and governmental positions than the Creole since 1968. The Limba are found mostly in the northern half of the country (REGIONAL = 1), where they have lived for hundreds of years (TRADITN = 1). In fact, the Limba are the oldest inhabitants of what is known as present-day Sierra Leone. The Limba speak numerous languages (LANG = 2), and they do not have a single common religion (BELIEF = 2), with members being both animist and Christian. Due to the civil war that has ravaged the country, the Limba, like other Sierra Leone ethnic groups, have become a cohesive group (COHESX= 4).

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. The Limba have been pre-eminent in the state, the party, and the army since Stevens seized power in 1968.

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 since the Strasser coup in 1992 can be blamed on a protracted civil war that 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 10 and 15 thousand people were killed between 1991 and 1998, including some from starvation, and as of 1998, about half of the country's population of four million have been displaced at one time or another during the conflict. Reports indicated that RUF rebels, disgruntled soldiers, and army deserters 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 more than a few weeks, although there was great hope for the country at its signing.

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

The current situation in Sierra Leone is very difficult to judge. The years of fighting have resulted in very little information leaving the country. As a result, there is little information available on the Limba and their current situation. It is unclear if they face any ecological or demographic stresses in comparison with other groups in Sierra Leone. However, there has been concern expressed over the region's sanitation conditions (DMSICK01-02 = 2). What is known is that the Limba are not subject to any apparent political discrimination (POLDIS03 = 0), but that they suffer from historical neglect in economic matters (ECDIS03 = 1). While groups such as Amnesty International have described large-scale repression during the civil war, the Limba are never mentioned specifically as being the perpetrators or the victims of such activity. Despite the fact that the Limba have played a role in the civil war, ethnicity does not serve as the focus of this war. As a result, the Limba have not been engaged in inter-group conflict.

The Limba have tended to support the All People's Congress. The APC has ruled Sierra Leone in the past and appears to continue to exist in some form, despite the lack of both elections and an existing parliament in recent years. Beyond the APC, the Limba, like other ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, have relied on support from the United Nations and NGOs such as Amnesty International. There is no information available indicating the nature of recent Limba demands, but their support of the APC demonstrates that they desire some voice in governmental affairs if and when the war is finally settled. Secondly, it also can be assumed that the group wants protection from the various elements of the civil war. The war has displaced thousands of people, mostly to Liberia and Guinea, and it can be assumed that large numbers of Limba are included in that group.

There is no information available that indicates that the Limba as a group have been involved in any protests or militant activity in recent times (PROT03 and REB03 = 0). However, in 2001, the Grassroot Awareness Organization, mostly a Limba group, stood up in a meeting and walked out, which was viewed as very insulting by others. It was done mainly for symbolic protest reasons (PROT01 = 2). If any Limba have been involved in the civil war, they apparently have not been acting in representation of the group's interests. The only recorded instance of Limba protest activity took place in the early 1980s (PROT80X = 4). The group has never been involved in any form of militant action.

References

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

Lexis-Nexis 2001-2003

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