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Assessment for Temne in Sierra Leone

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Temne in Sierra Leone, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 27 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

In 2000, another cease-fire was signed by the government and the RUF. In 2002 the conflict was declared officially over, but individual harassment by RUF rebels continues and it remains to be seen how long the stability will last in the region. There have been other cease-fires, which have failed, the most recent being in 1998. If the Temne are punished by the government for their participation in the civil war, then there exists the potential for more militant activity. The group already faces ecological stresses, and is concentrated in one region. Any future repression or discrimination will only increase the potential for Temne activity.

Analytic Summary

The Temne have long been found in the Western Atlantic provinces of Sierra Leone (TRADITN = 2 and REGIONAL = 1). The Temne have historically been involved in disputes over power with the other large ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, particularly the Mende, who are found in the southern part of the country and who are approximately the same size as the Temne. The Temne are most easily identified due to their unique language (LANG = 1) and customs (CUSTOM = 1). Due to the almost continuous fighting and competition along ethnic lines since before independence, the Temne have a heightened sense of ethnic solidarity (COHESX9 = 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 of the regimes since the Strasser coup in 1992 can be attributed to the 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 Sankoh to support the new military government led by Major Johnny Koroma. Koroma, as well as the majority of his allies in the RUF, were Temne. 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. Those who have suffered the most in the war appear to be civilians from the northeast and southeast. 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 on November 10, 1996, did not last above 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. However, it does appear that the Temne have been affected by some ecological and health stress factors (DEMSTR00 = 4; DMSICK01-03 = 2; DMFOOD01-03 = 2) – mainly low food supplies and resulting disease. The group has had a history of economic neglect and political inequalities compared to groups found in other regions, and no governmental policies to correct that situation exist (POLDIS03= 2, ECDIS03 = 2). The Temne have largely supported the Revolutionary Union Force (RUF) during the war, and therefore it can be assumed that the repression levied against the RUF as reported by Amnesty International affected the group. The RUF have had large numbers of their members arrested, including leaders, some of whom have been tortured while in police or army custody. Property has been destroyed and a large number of RUF soldiers have been executed. The Temne have been involved in the civil war for years and as a result have been involved in inter-group communal warfare mainly with the Mende who have tended to support the government (COMCON00 = 6).

As mentioned the Temne have supported in large numbers the RUF, although the RUF is not specifically advocating Temne issues. NGO's such as Amnesty International have helped report government activity against the RUF, and United Nations Peacekeepers have attempted to protect civilians. The government of Liberia has actively supported the RUF in their attempts at gaining control of the government. Guinea has taken in large numbers of refugees from all groups who have fled the violence. It appears that the Temne have supported the RUF in order to increase their share of political power both at the state level and locally. Beyond this demand there is very little information available on the grievances of the group. It can be logically assumed that those not involved in the fighting are demanding protection from other ethnic groups, specifically the Mende.

The Temne have a history of protest and political organizing that dates back to colonial times (PROT45X = 2). In the 1970's the first Temne demonstrations were seen (PROT75X =3), and they reoccurred in the early 1990's (PROT90X = 3) to protest against their treatment by the government. In the 1970's, the Temne (in conjunction with the Mende) planned, but failed to carry out a coup (REBEL70X = 3). Large scale Temne communal warfare has been seen throughout the 1990's (REBEL90X and REBEL95X = 6). While no protests were reported recently (PROT03 = 0), militant activity remained through the year 2000 (REB00 = 5). In 2001, there were reports of political banditry but in 2002 and 2003 there were no further reports of rebellion by group members (REB01 = 1; REB02-03 = 0).


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

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

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