Bo and Makeni are the second and third largest cities of Sierra Leone. The two cities are homes to Mendes and Themes, the two largest of the 16 ethnic groups. Each of the two groups account for slightly more than 30 percent of Sierra Leone’s 7.5 million people. Based in the Southern Region, the Mendes of Bo historically support the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) while Temnes in the Northern Region, predominantly support the opposition All People’s Congress (APC). Rivalry between political elites from these two groups have defined the politics and stability of Sierra Leone in the last six decades of independence.
It is ironic that Sierra Leone is consistently ranked among the most peaceful1 countries in Africa, and yet on a routine basis, conversations on violence and political tensions dominate local media.
Equally ironic is that, in a society where inter-ethnic and cross-regional marriages2 are common and religious tolerance is high, concerns about ethno-regional tensions have become a defining feature of politics. The reality however, is that like communities in Sierra Leone, Bo and Makeni are inherently peaceful. Concerns around violence and division only emerge when it comes to politics, elections and resource distribution. Furthermore, extremism and division are propagated by a select few – political elites that benefit from stoking these tensions which keeps the people of Bo and Makeni polarised.
This paper unravels several critical issues that undermine Sierra Leone’s path to sustained political stability and national cohesion with a focus on unlocking the potential of civil society and the media as significant makers and shapers of the future of Sierra Leone.