Sierra Leone women condemn tribal divisions


7:00 A.M. EST June 8, 2011 | FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (UMNS)

Emelia Garber speaks to United Methodist women at the Christian School of Mission in Sierra Leone. All 71 participants joined in condemning negative aspects of tribalism.
Emelia Garber speaks to United Methodist women at the Christian School
of Mission in Sierra Leone. All 71 participants joined in condemning negative
aspects of tribalism. A UMNS web-only photo by Phileas Jusu.

Women of The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, meeting at a School of Christian Mission in Brookfields, western Freetown, have condemned tribalism as unjust, divisive and detrimental to national cohesion.

In a two-page communiqué called “The Brookfields Declaration,” the women said “... the matter of tribalism is a serious negative factor against the peaceful existence of our country as a united nation. We believe that Sierra Leoneans need to engage the negative aspects of tribalism as a matter of urgency... .”

All 71 participants signed the Brookfields Declaration, which was widely publicized in the local media.

Ten years after the West African nation’s civil strife – classified as one of the most brutal wars in recent times – regionalism and tribalism are being discussed in Sierra Leone.

The country of 5 million has had two major elections since the war ended. National statistics show that people voted along regional or tribal lines in the last presidential and general elections in 2007. It is now feared that such divisions could mean violence for the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections scheduled for 2012.

“We will openly and strongly condemn any form of politicking by any politician who promotes first his regional and tribal credentials rather than his personal capabilities for any political position,” the women’s declaration says.

Successive Sierra Leonean governments hold the church in high esteem because the church played a significant role in negotiating peace and providing relief during the war under an umbrella organization called the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone.

The United Methodist Church, in particular, was instrumental in the reconciliation process and through its Child Rescue Center in Bo continues to lead a campaign to care for children left destitute after the war. United Methodist Bishop Joseph Humper, now retired, served as chair of the post-conflict Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Making a commitment

The women signing the declaration believe Sierra Leone’s decision makers will take seriously their concerns. Beatrice Fofanah, women’s coordinator for the denomination’s Sierra Leone Annual (regional) Conference, said the signers made a commitment to discuss the declaration in their homes and communities.

In addition, she said, the women will use the Women’s Forum -- a powerful organization in Sierra Leone -- to reach out to government, institutional heads and politicians. The women will present the document at the next sitting of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration so that it becomes a legal instrument of the church.

“We know it is not going to be easy to make this change ... but we believe empowered by God, guided by the Holy Spirit, we are going to make a very positive impact in our country as far as ethnicity is concerned,” Fofanah said.

A strong element of the School of Christian Mission, a key program of the international organization of United Methodist Women, is the spiritual-growth study. This is the first year that the Sierra Leone UMW has organized a School of Christian Mission.

The spiritual growth topic, “Jesus and Courageous Women,” included lessons about ethnicity and tribalism through the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

Such issues were not a barrier to Jesus, Fofanah pointed out. “He was a Jew and by tradition had nothing to do with a Samaritan. But, our Lord moved across the social barrier to engage and communicate with the woman at the well. The woman, too, politely entered into dialogue with Christ.

“So, from the example of Jesus Christ and the Samaritan woman, we were challenged to believe that we too can impact our society,” she said.

*Jusu is a communicator for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.

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