Friday, November 23, 2012


The 1960's in Sierra Leone was a period of intermittent political conflict between the two major political parties - The SLPP seemingly supported by the Mende and with strong support by the Kenema area where we lived - and the APC* which was mainly supported by the Temne of the north and by other groups. We arrived in 1968 when Prime Minister Siaka Stevens and his APC was in power, and the SLPP** in our area seemed to grumble about their plight.  For the most part the grumbling remained and undercurrent of trouble with only rare overt activity directed against the APC. I remember Siaka Stevens having Limba roots (I will leave it to Sierra Leone readers to correct me in this regard).  In Kenema there was one period of trouble when fighting erupted throughout Kenema and houses were burned, cars were also tippped over and set on fire, and government soldiers were met and attacked at a bridge on the western edge of the Kenema District. It was rumored that many soldiers disappeared. I had been downtown (in Kenema) at the Post Office just before all the 'palaba'  broke out in Kenema. It was at the post office that I was confronted by the Kenema postmaster who was horrified that I was in town, and without spilling the beans as to what was about to happen, advised me in no uncertain terms that I better get out of town and head home. I remember that this man who liked us and frequently made efforts to talk to us when we picked up our post, wanted me to get out of the area before the fighting started. I heeded his advice, although I remember being mystified by all his puzzling intensity. He would not tell me what was about to happen - but given his obvious worry - I headed back home, a distance of almost two miles. I told Susan about the postmaster. I think it was about a half hour after getting to our house that all hell broke loose downtown.  Soon there were people from Kenema heading by our Dama Road house and into the bush to get away from the fighting.  Fires broke out in town and from our plateau overlooking Kenema we could hear the fighting and see multiple areas of smoke and fire. Peace Corps Eastern Province director Jim Alrutz arrived in his Peace Corps jeep to let us know that we better stay in until further notice.  That night the fighting spread and at one time very late in the night the men's Poro Society passed by on Dama Road headed to town for heavens knows what.  We took Jim's advice and stayed indoors. We personally were never threatened, but our neighbors scattered to bush villages, and downtown the sounds of conflict echoed up the hill to where we lived. It was a week before things quieted down in town and the uprising by the SLPP in our area was over. 

*APC = All People's Congress      ** SLPP = Sierra Leone People's Party

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