The elites are the people who have more power or influence in society because they are more privileged to have material wealth, education or positions. They are usually acutely aware of this higher social standing and view those of lower standing as inferior; this elitist behavior leads to maltreatment and lack of compassion toward the underprivileged.
How this system came to be in Sierra Leone goes way back in our history. From the pre-colonial explorers, who came for trade to the Colonizers, they all operated through middlemen. The middleman, usually the chief or other leader, would broker trade and whatever else the Whiteman came to our shores to get, this resulted in material rewards that made this middleman a little richer than others, with this wealth came power that also gave him and his family special privileges from generation to generation.
For instance, the first schools established in Sierra Leone were intended for the education of the children of the leaders in the Colony (the Creoles) as well as the Protectorate (the indigenous people). Consequently, the first to attain western education in Sierra Leone, both men and women, was this group of people. So began a class structure, which to this day plagues our society. Hence the adage in Sierra Leone, “it’s not what you know but who knows you.”
The social structure in our society is grounded in discrimination based on elitism, which draws a line between the privileged and the underprivileged. The attitudes and behaviors of individuals as well as our social institutions and practices favor the privileged while depriving the underprivileged. This can be seen in public service institutions, e.g., there are the public hospitals for the underprivileged, which lack even the most basic supplies; and there is the well-stocked private hospitals for the privileged. The same is true for the schools. Employment in the non-agricultural sector also requires connections to the networks of the privileged. Elitism is a destructive structure for our society as it confers resources to a small percentage of people while depriving the masses of basic necessities.
Elitism is even more detrimental for women. It has become a tool that is keeping women divided along the lines of economic and educational status as well as family lineage. There is no solidarity between privileged women and underprivileged and progress for women in Sierra Leone is measured by the achievement of the privileged women; the underprivileged are consistently overlooked and under-served.
We are willing to bet that of the 13% of women who are supposed to have made it to higher levels of government positions, the majority is in some way connected to the elite, either along bloodlines, marriage or other relationship.
Those of us among the women of Sierra Leone who think of ourselves as members of the elite have become apathetic and are contributing to the preservation of a structure that keeps the majority of women in deplorable conditions in our society. Those of us who are privileged women keep our distance both metaphorically and literally from our underprivileged sisters; we see them as the “other,” which becomes clear when we talk about Upline women who are prone to all kinds of social problems because of their “primitive cultural practices.” We never see the issues that affect underprivileged rural women in Sierra Leone as issues for all women to be concerned with, we therefore do not see the need for our active participation to resolve them. Some of us may tag on to Western women who come to our country to “rescue these poor women,” otherwise, we generally ignore the issues.
Men in our society found out a long time ago that political power is a sure way to break through the barrier of elitism; they pursue this with passion and are dominating all the political parties and would (literally) kill to get a piece of the political pie because with it comes access to the vast mineral wealth and other resources our country is so endowed with. The decade long war was a manifestation of this zeal by men who wanted political power by all means possible.
We the women of Sierra Leone remain marginalized in all the political parties; elitism remains a barrier which puts us in a vicious cycle out of which we see no way except to affiliate with some “big” man, with the hope that he will rescue us through financial support or connection to the networks of the privileged; only through these networks are we able to find jobs or business opportunities.
This is why as women in our society we tend to be more focused on attracting the interest of men who seem to have the resources to help us out of poverty more than we are on the dream of attaining education or becoming self-sufficient as a way out of poverty. Many of us are being exploited in the process and the young women among us are particularly vulnerable as they are faced with limited opportunities in pursuing education, leadership, political participation or any other social progress due to elitist barriers; alternatively, they succumb to the lure of the “big men” as their rescuers.