On this day 51 years ago, Sierra Lone was granted Independence from British Colonial rule! This milestone is generally credited to the men.
It makes us wonder, did women play any parts or were they just passive bystanders in the process leading to independence of Salone?
Many years leading up to independence, the men who dominated and controlled Sierra Leone politics were split and in bitter rancor. They could not agree on a constitution that could have hastened the road to independence, the British Governor had to broker negotiations between the two parties – the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and National Council of Sierra Leone (NCSL) – before the 1951 constitution could be effected.
At this point, both parties continued to marginalize women; the 1951 elections had no woman candidate in either party. From this election to the next in 1957, women had become more vocal and insistent on playing roles in politics; some joined the two political parties and played, albeit, marginal roles – e.g. Madam Lerina Bright-Taylor as assistant general secretary of NCSL and Madam Constance Cummings-John as a member of the SLPP executive, the latter subsequently joined by other women, created and became president of the SLPP women’s auxiliary.
The 1957 election held some promise for the women of Sierra Leone who had become more assertive in politics; Madam Cummings-John and Madam Patience Richards gained SLPP candidacies. However, despite impressive electioneering by these two well-qualified women, the male dominated political atmosphere rendered their efforts null.
And so it came to pass that the only woman to be elected to Parliament that year, was Madam Ella Koblo Gulama, Paramount chief of Kaiyamba at the time. Madam Gulama was elected to one of the 12 seats for chiefs and made history as the first woman to be appointed Minister in pre-independence Sierra Leone. Sadly though, neither her educational qualifications nor her proven efficacy as paramount chief of her chiefdom could convince the male dominated party stalwarts to entrust her with a portfolio, but she remained a steadfast supporter of the SLPP.
The men continued their political polarization and rancor through out; the SLPP party at one point broke into two factions when the People’s National Party (PNP) was created only to re-merge with SLPP shortly after; however, one ambitious PNP member, Siaka Stevens, did not re-join SLPP, instead, created his own party, the All People’s Congress (APC). Meanwhile, all this disunity and rancor was causing delays in the attainment of independence; moreover, women continued to be marginalized in all the parties.
As the decolonization process continued, Sierra Leone was on the schedule to appear with a constitution delegation in April 1960, as part of the requirement to attain independence. Even though women had proven their worth in the political parties, when the delegates were selected for the trip to England, no woman was among them. Well, women had been through enough and were not going to put up with further marginalization; they protested and in the end, Madam Cummings-John and Madam Etta Harris were included as advisers to the delegation, which turned out to be the best decision.
Phew!! Why did it have to take such tooth pulling efforts to get very capable women to join a delegation that was negotiating the independence for a country of which they made up 50% of the population?
In the end, these two women played a role no man could have played; they became the peace mediators between the two feuding parties – SLPP and APC – at the negotiations in London. Despite the feuding of the party men, a date for independence was agreed to be April 27, 1961.
This incident alone should tell every politician that the progress of Sierra Leone will remain stalled until women, who make up 51% of the population, are fully engaged in the socio-political transformation efforts.