We recently read a disturbing article entitled: Confronting the Past?: Negotiating a Heritage of Conflict in Sierra Leone, by Dr. Paul Basu, a British Anthropologist. In our view, this article fits what Dr. Basu aptly describes “…to reinforce crude, racialized characterizations of barbarism or the war-like nature of particular societies” (Basu 2008), which sends a message very detrimental to the peace process in Sierra Leone.
From the very beginning to the end of this article, Dr. Basu demonstrates grave misconceptions about Sierra Leone and her people; of course, all framed in rhetorical and highly glossed language in the guise of scholarly work. We believe that Dr. Basu utterly failed to provide any empirical evidence to support his claim that Sierra Leone went into a decade-long bloody war because it has a ‘cultural heritage of conflict.’
Cultural heritage is not a priority in Sierra Leone (p. 233).
With these very first words, Basu starts spreading his false knowledge about Sierra Leoneans. He hones in on the fact that our national museum, like many of our other national monuments, is dilapidated and in desperate need of repairs; he equates our lack of the kind of resources he has at his disposal to pour into his museum projects in Europe as unconcern about our cultural heritage.
Dr. Basu, as a biased foreigner with profiteering motives in the collection of our artifacts, is not qualified to make this judgment, regardless of what title is attached to his name.
He continues on his trail of false information about Sierra Leone and her people through out this article, in which he suggests that the decade long bloody war took place in Sierra Leone because our country has a “heritage of conflict;” he criticizes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC 2004) for failing to include his misconception about our heritage, and to this he remarks,
Reading the chapter in the TRC’s Report concerned with historical antecedents to the conflict, it is evident that the ‘roots of the conflict’ have been placed outside Sierra Leone itself, and are associated, uncontroversially, with the ‘social engineering strategy’ of the ‘imperial leadership’ (p. 238).
As the saying goes, “old folks are uneasy when dried bones are mentioned,” it is obvious from his protest about the TRC reference to the role of the “imperial leadership” that he is defensive of the role of Britain. It is a well documented fact that British corporations played a big role in the Sierra Leone conflict, a quick google search will result in a whole lot of British names and companies that were involved in arms shipments to Sierra Leone, even during the period of arms embargo.
We find it totally hypocritical of Dr. Basu to ignore the well-established fact that the Sierra Leone war was precipitated by the scramble for our natural resources, particularly our diamonds; the war was supported and sustained by western (mostly British) profiteering corporations that were supplying all sides with weapons and mercenary expertise, without which, the war might have been less bloody and not have lasted for so long.
Unfortunately for Dr. Basu, there is no instance of conflict in Sierra Leone’s history which does not involve his own country, Britain, as the perpetrator. This is why he tries to go way back into ancient history but still fails to prove anything.
In his pursuit of ‘reinventing the past’ for Sierra Leone and to make it into one that fits the violent peg he has carved out, he delves into our ‘recent past,’ in which he could not find much to go on beyond the decade long civil war from 1992 to 2002; for this he points to mass graves and remains of “burnt houses in towns everywhere.” Well, we already know this and due to this knowledge that is still fresh in our minds, we are trying to do all that is humanly possible as a people to prevent it from happening again. We know Dr. Basu does not share this hope, as he tries to advance his misconceived ideas about our heritage by saying,
…But what is even more striking is the knowledge that many of these same towns and villages have been attacked and rebuilt many times over recent centuries, and that their lands must be pocked with mass graves from earlier massacres recalled in oral traditions and travellers’ accounts. (p. 240).
Who are these travelers whose account he refers to? They are European travelers, of course. So Dr. Basu is actually continuing the European tradition of spreading lies and deceitful information that plant hatred and division among peoples. One of the evidences he points to, supposedly in our ‘distance past,’ to support his argument turns out to be a huge effort on his part to defend his British ancestors who perpetrated untold violence on peoples all around the world, including Sierra Leoneans.
In a typical self-righteous-white supremacist-arrogant manner, Dr. Basu refers to the British who died in Sierra Leone as ‘victims’ and labels their death as ‘murders’ and merely make mention of ‘people killed’ when he mentions death of Sierra Leoneans; he conveniently forgets to mention the killings of Sierra Leoneans by the British in the Hut Tax War he cites,
…At Tikonko, in neighbouring Bo District, a mass grave behind the market commemorates 13 people, killed during an attack in 1998, while a squat obelisk nearby covers the well where the bodies of three missionaries, murdered during the Hut Tax War, were dumped 100 years earlier (p. 241).
He refers to our people’s fight in the Hut Tax War as “the so-called uprising,” as if to redefine the word “uprising” just so he could fit our warriors into his “crude, racialized characterizations of barbarism” label as people who were fighting for no other reason than to exhibit their “conflict prone heritage.”
Whether Dr. Basu agrees or not, the “uprising” of the Hut Tax War carries the same meaning that the word carries for people who find themselves in the same circumstances everywhere else. It has always meant and it will always mean the fight that a people put up against their oppressor.
The Hut Tax War was precipitated by the oppressive demand of the British on the people of Sierra Leone to pay housing tax to the mighty British Empire. Bai Bureh and many other heroes fought bravely against this unfair demand and resisted the British take over of our land.
Basu also fails to point out that scores of Sierra Leonean lives were lost during the Hut Tax War as the British use of firearms caused much more casualties for our people than for theirs and at the end of the war, all Sierra Leoneans who were captured by the British were hanged by the British. Talk about a heritage of violence and conflict. Whose heritage is Basu referring to, REALLY?
Basu tries to make some arguments to support his claim that Sierra Leone did not fall into a senseless bloody war by accident, that we had it coming because it is in our heritage DNA and he belittles the methods of the TRC and suggests an alternative,
The question is, however, whether it is not better to acknowledge such difficult heritages rather than using the neglect of heritage as an excuse to rewrite history in the name of truth and reconciliation. Better, surely, to negotiate a heritage of conflict than to build a post-war society on a flimsy myth of peace (p. 246).
Meanwhile, Dr. Basu is in England making a career and much profit from hijacking our “cultural heritage.” While our national museum in Freetown languishes for lack of resources, Basu travels to Sierra Leone frequently to steal our artifacts, including still and video images of our people, he has gathered much for his exhibitions in London and probably in other parts of the western world.
At our expense, Dr. Basu is gaining career advancement, which comes with substantial financial rewards. This is what the Mende people of Sierra Leone mean when they speak of a ‘person who is being carried on one’s shoulders and complains that your hair smells badly.’
Sadly though, Dr. Paul Basu is not alone in this pursuit by so-called “scholars” who by virtue of their seeming scholarly work are in a place to spread such poisonous information about our country and her people; since the war, our country has become an open football field where everything within our borders is fair game for all who claim to be “helping.”
Sierra Leone, like the rest of the African continent, has always been a major topic of research for western scholars; however, it is becoming more and more clear that many of these scholars are burdened with and are never able to shed their pre-conceived racist notions of who we are as a people. The more they dig, the less they know and the more ignorant they remain about Africa and her people.
What is more obvious is how this scholarly digging has become so profitable for them – books, museum exhibits, etc., have extended the many other ways our land, people and natural resources are being exploited. Of course, none of these happens without the help of some of our compatriots who are ill with the diseases of greed and elitism, albeit diseases brought on by the same western vultures.
Dr. Basu is forecasting a future of conflict for Sierra Leone not because of what he has failed miserably to prove as our ‘heritage of conflict,’ but because of the knowledge he has of the ability of Europeans and other western vulture capitalists to engineer such conflict so that our natural resources could be more accessible for them – conflicts in our land mean high profits for these adventurers.
Just as the supply of arms and mercenaries into Sierra Leone in the 1992 to 2002 war were from outside, Dr. Basu knows it could happen again if the world’s watchful eyes are shifted in another direction. Dr. Basu is trying to create this diversion, but we are not shifting our gaze from this, if another such conflict ever recurs in Sierra Leone, it would be solely because of the adventures of these outside profit mongers and not because of Dr. Basu’s so called “heritage of conflict.”
Mama Salone is determined to continue to watch out for and set the record straight on such false knowledge and verbal violence; we have no control over the profiteering that is going on, for that, we believe the day will come when our greedy compatriots will realize that no amount of money is worth sacrificing our dignity, natural resources, birth rights and our true cultural heritage for.
Even a small child in Sierra Leone knows that the decade long war was an unusual happening for our country; our true heritage is a peaceful co-existence of over 16 groups of peoples who call our Blessed Native Land HOME. Being of such diversity is an asset for us, we have been living together as one people for thousands of years and no matter what divisive evil seeds of conflict Dr. Basu and his like try to plant among us…
…OUR HERITAGE OF PEACE WILL ALWAYS PREVAIL in SIERRA LEONE!