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The Krio of Sierra Leone: Back Home, Not Yet At Home

The Krio of Sierra Leone have waged a battle against centuries-old statutes that treat them as non-natives in their own country.

Over two centuries after the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the Creoles of Sierra Leone still do not enjoy full citizenship recognition in their country.

Their forebears, shipped out of Africa as slaves to Europe and the Americas between the seventeenth and the end of the eighteenth centuries, were repatriated back to the continent and settled by the British at the coast of the Anglophone West African country as freed slaves.

That settlement of the Krio, originally called Creoles, at the coast between 1787 and 1808 with the full status of free people, subsequently founding Freetown, facilitated the establishment of the first Brutish West African colony.

However, unlike other descendants of the freed slaves repatriated to Africa who feel at home wherever they domicile across the continent, centuries-old statutes and ‘discriminatory’ government policies in Sierra Leone since the colonial times, have rendered the Krio a pathetic exception.

The Krio ethnic group is a blended assortment of, first, the Black Poor, initially comprising some 411 Black American, African, Caribbean and Bengali folks; the Nova Scotians; Maroons, who are a caste of ex-slaves from the Jamaican mountainside; and, lastly, the Liberated Africans or ‘Recaptives’ who were so termed because they were a population rescued from the slave ships on their way to the shores of the Americas.

A substantial population of these Recaptives, of Yoruba, Igbo, Bakongo, Lembe and sprinkles of several other West African, Central African ethnic communities origin, were shipped out of Nigeria, Congo, Cameroon and Senegal during the slavery and slave trade centuries.

They collectively forged a distinct and striking potpourri of cultures, speaking the Creole language, the third most-spoken language in Sierra Leone after Mende and Temne.

A sizeable population of them dispersed at later dates in the 19th century to coastal and a few hinterland locations of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Cameroon and Fernando Po.

A substantial number of them notably rose to historic and exalted positions in the various spheres of development largely contributing to the prosperity of their chosen countries of domicile since the colonial times.

In Sierra Leone, the Krio are still regarded as the minority ethnic group, denigrated and statutorily categorized as non-natives.

They seem to have very little to do with politics in the country. They are well educated and found in senior positions in the civil service. A substantial number of them engage in commerce, competing with foreigners, mainly the Lebanese and Indians.

As non-natives, in spite of what they argue as forming a significant component of the Sierra Leone society over the last two hundred years, the Krio complain of centuries-old statutes sustained by policies since the colonial times and subsequent constitutional enshrinements, denying them legal acquisition and full ownership of land, freedom of association and other fundamental rights enjoyed by their fellow citizens.

With the instrumentality of a lawsuit, they are now up in arms for the repealing of such legislations to guarantee them all such rights and legal acquisition and full ownership of such property in their provinces of domicile.

This, perhaps, is a remarkable start of the process of their integration and recognition as bona fide Sierra Leone citizens statutorily equal to their fellow countrymen.

Their umbrella union, the Krio Descendants Yunion (KDY) recently dragged the Sierra Leone government to the country’s Supreme Court specifically over the Provinces Land Act of 1960 precluding them from acquiring and owning land in their province of domicile, as well as other infringements of the rights of the Krio.

“On Friday, 28th August 2020, the Krio Descendants Yunion (KDY), in collaboration with the Krio Community and the Renner family, filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone challenging the validity of the Provinces Lands Act 1960, a discriminatory colonial statute inherited from the British,” according to the KDY Public Relations Officer (PRO) Dr. F Dove-Edwin.

In the press statement on behalf of the KDY, Dr. Dove-Edwin had said that the Krio were seeking reparations from the government and an allocation of 100 hectares of land in each of all the districts in the provinces as compensation.

“The Plaintiffs,” Dr. Dove-Edwin explained, “are claiming that the Provinces Lands Act, Cap. 122 of the Laws of Sierra Leone along with other specific definitional statutes are inconsistent with the 1991 Sierra Leone constitution in that it discriminates specifically against Krios, whose place of origin is in the Western Area of Sierra Leone.”

He argued: “This statute precludes Krios from acquiring any customary land rights or freehold title in the Provinces, restricting them to acquiring only leasehold interest of a specific duration.”

According to one of the leaders of the KDY, “This (statute), the plaintiffs contended, is in violation of Section 27 (1) of the Sierra Leone Constitution which prohibits discrimination on the basis of tribe or place of origin.”

The Krios, he said, “are statutorily classified as “non-natives” which definition also includes those persons of European or Asiatic origin. No other tribes in Sierra Leone are subject to such statutory restrictions.”

For the over 200 years of their domicile, the Krio have been holed up in, and restricted to, their Western Province, denied free movement out and settlement in other provinces without due permission by the tribal chiefs of the provinces they wish to move out to.

They, consequently, are now resolute on deploying legal arsenals to combat this restriction.

“It is also argued that Cap. 122 (of the statute) violates their right to freedom of movement guaranteed by Section 18 (1) of the Constitution, as they cannot reside or settle freely in the provinces unless the consent of a tribal chief is secured,” the KDY lamented.

The Sierra Leone Krio statute-imposed travails include other denials confining them to a form of solitude in relation to their fellow countrymen in all matters pertaining to freedom and livelihood within the country.

“Lastly,” Dr. Dove-Edwin explained further in the release, “it is contended that the statute unduly impacts on their freedom of assembly and association in violation of Section 26 (1) of the constitution as the Plaintiffs ability to live with, associate or spend time with their brothers and sisters from the Provinces is constrained.”

The Krio demand reparations

“The Plaintiffs are seeking a declaration from the Supreme Court that those portions of the Provinces Lands Act that impact upon Krios be declared unconstitutional, stricken and rendered null and void.

“They also seek substantial damages against the Government of Sierra Leone for failing to repeal this statute since independence and retaining the same as part of the laws of Sierra Leone for the last 59 years despite its patently discriminatory effect on Krios,” the KDY spokesman said in the release.

“Alternatively, the Plaintiffs seek reparations from the Government and an allocation of 100 hectares of land in each of the 12 Districts in the Provinces as compensation,” he concluded.

This Supreme Court case was filed by the law firms of Garber & Co and Campbell & Co based in Freetown.

Solicitor and principal partner with the Barber & Co law firm, Maurice Garber, vowed to go the extra mile in order to get justice over the discriminatory Colonial Land Statute.

Garber revealed that the legal struggle for the rights of the Krio began in 2003 when a letter was written to the Attorney-General’s office as a precursor to the lawsuit now filed before the apex court.

He said he had hoped that successive governments in the country ought to have repealed those ‘obnoxious’ sections of the statute.

Amidst this situation, many of the Krio are reportedly losing hectares of inherited lands in the land redistribution exercise conducted by the Ministry of Lands in the Western Province.

Although the struggle for the Krio rights was ignited in 2003, clear 17 years before the Lands Ministry exercise, Garber frowned at the manner in which the ministry is carrying out the land reclamation and re-distribution exercise, describing it as a source of concern to not only the Krio community but other Sierra Leoneans who lose huge chunks of land in other provinces.

He said the land reclamation and re-distribution matter was also part of the lawsuit.

“This statute precludes Krios from acquiring any customary land rights or freehold title in the provinces, restricting them to acquiring leasehold interest of a specific duration,” he complained.

“It is sad, discriminatory and demeaning that for centuries such laws still operate in the 21st century, so this is a clear case for a lawsuit,” Garber noted.
Arguing in support of this demand, Garber said his client, the KDY, did not want to be greedy by asking for more than 100 hectares, considering the quantity of hectares leased or bought by other Sierra Leoneans from the provinces in the Western Area.

He, however, hoped that the Supreme Court, in its sittings on the case, would be discretional on the quantity of land to be allocated to the Krio in other provinces.

Garber said the Office of the Attorney-General has been served a copy of the law suit and is expected to respond within 21 days, wherein the apex court would schedule a briefing where both parties would present all relevant papers and fix a date to commence hearing on the suit.

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