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Sierra Leone: Conflicts between the Mende and the Temne tribes and particularly the Kamajors [Kamajohs] targetting of the Temne

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 May 1998
Citation / Document Symbol SLE29357.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Sierra Leone: Conflicts between the Mende and the Temne tribes and particularly the Kamajors [Kamajohs] targetting of the Temne, 1 May 1998, SLE29357.E, available at: [accessed 1 June 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.


The Political Handbook of the World 1997, states that the Mende in the south and the Temne in the north are the most important of Sierra Leone's twelve principal tribal groups (738). The Mende are heavily represented in the southern based Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), which ruled the country from 1961-1967, while the All People's Congress (APC) is strongest in the Temne territory (ibid., 741). Although Sierra Leone reportedly suffers from ethnic divisions between the two largest groups,  the civil war which started in 1991, was over the control of mineral resources (The Washington Post 30 Nov. 1991).

The Kamajors are a civilian militia composed of local hunters of the Mende ethnic group formed in the earlier part of the civil war, which broke out in 1991, to fight the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)  (AI 20 Oct. 1997, 2; AFP 12 Feb. 1998; ARB Nov. 1996, 12445). ARB further reports that the Kamajors "have transformed themselves into a formidable civil defense force" and that rivalry between them and the RUF "has sometimes been bloody" (ibid.).

According to Africa Confidential,  the Kamajors militias "are wreaking revenge on what they see as the enemy, particularly Limbas and those from Kakeni, Binkolo and other northern areas" (20 Feb. 1998). The situation seems to have been different in 1997 because Country Reports 1997 counters with "throughout the last half of the year, there was fierce fighting between AFRC/RUF forces and Kamajors in several areas in the Southern and Eastern Provinces. AFRC/RUF forces routinely summarily executed captured Kamajohs. AFRC/RUF forces routinely shot and tortured civilians and looted their property while searching for Kamajors. While the Kamajors usually turned AFRC/RU prisoners over to ECOMOG, a few AFRC/RUF prisoners were executed while in Kamajor custody." (1998, 299). The following Amnesty International statement corroborates Country Report's information when it states that

Fighting between soldiers together with members of the RUF against the Kamajors continued. It became particularly fierce around Zimmi in mid-August 1997. Unarmed civilians, accused of supporting the kamajors, were killed as soldiers and RUF members entered villages ... In fighting between soldiers and kamajors around the towns of Panguma and Dodo in Kenema District around 23 September 1997, kamajors who were captured by soldiers were reported to have been summarily executed (ibid., 20 Oct. 1997, 21).

On 25 May 1997, the democratically elected government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown by a military coup headed Major Johnny Paul Koroma of the Armed Revolutionary Forces (AFRC) ( AI 20 Oct. 1997, 1; ARB Apr. 1998, 13055-13056), and linked to the Temne (The Stuart News 1 June 1997), The military accused President Kabbah of discrimination against other ethnic groups in appointments to high positions in government, lack of resources for the Sierra Leonian army, and particularly, of favouring the Kamajors (AI 20 Oct. 1997, 4).

The Kamajors,  loyal to the fallen president engaged the soldiers, together with RUF forces outside Freetown and the kapras, "a civilian militia of the Temne ethnic group," in the north particularly, in Tonkolili District (ibid., 1997, 2).

On 9 March 1998 President Kabbah, with the help of the Nigerian-led peacekeeping forces, Ecomog, regained the presidency of Sierra Leone (ARB 20 Apr. 1998, 13055). His victory is largely attributed to the Kamajors (ibid, 13056; AC 6 Feb. 1998, 7).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Africa Confidential [London]. 6 February 1998. Vol. 39. No. 3. "Sierra Leone: Dump or be Pushed."

Africa Research Bulletin: Political, Social and Cultural Series. April 1998. Vol. 35, No. 3. "Sierra Leone: Kabbah Returns."

_____. November 1996. Vol. 33. No. 10. "Sierra Leone's Kamajors."

Agence France Presse (AFP). 12 February 1998. "Who's Who in the Sierra Leone Conflict." (NEXIS)

Amnesty International. 20 October 1997. Sierra Leone: A Disastrous Set-Back for Human Rights. (AI Index: AFR 51/05/97).

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997. 1998. United States Department. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.

Political Handbook of the World 1997. 1997. Edited by Arthur S. Banks. Binghamton, NY: CSA.

The Stuart News. 1 June 1997. "Sierra Leone Coups." (NEXIS)

The Washington Post. 30 November 1996. "Sierra Leone: Rebels Reach Peace Accord." (NEXIS)

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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