- Paradoxes of History and Memory in Post-Colonial Sierra Leone ed. by Sylvia Ojukutu-Macauley and Ismail Rashid
The editors of this anthology, both historians, deserve special commendation for bringing together a multi-disciplinary and cross-generational group of Sierra Leonean scholars from Africa, the United States, and Europe. The volume provides a much welcome and diverse indigenous perspective on the construction of historical knowledge and memory of Sierra Leone and its diaspora from the period of British colonialism to the present. The genesis of the volume was an academic panel commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Sierra Leone’s independence from the United Kingdom at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Washington, DC, in November 2011. The editors and two of the contributors were participants on the panel. The book contains twelve chapters with a broad temporal, thematic, and geographic spread. Its wideranging themes include colonialism, slavery, race, ethnicity, nation building, gender, Pan Africanism, politics, and culture. While some of the essays are based on original research, others are interpretive, reflective, and biographical. Collectively, they help to make a strong case for history and historical thinking in the country’s discourse. The quality of the essays may vary, but they convey a remarkable breadth and insightful account of Sierra Leone’s past, present, and future.
The strengths of the book are four-fold. First, the volume provides a detailed synthesis of the pre-independence and post-independence historiography of Sierra Leone. In doing so, both Ismail Rashid and Sylvia Ojukutu-Macauley rigorously examine important gaps in the literature, including subalterns, peasants, enslaved ethnic groups, and women. Furthermore, Ojukutu-Macauley highlights the long-standing male domination of the production of scholarly knowledge on Sierra Leone. Second, the volume, with fresh evidence and interpretations, situates Sierra Leone’s history in the broader context of Atlantic history and the African diaspora. Building on the history of the early beginnings of Sierra Leone and the emergence of Krio society, Nemata Blyden, Tamba M’Bayo, Gibril Cole, and Ibrahim Abdullah cogently argue for a new perspective on the interconnections between Sierra Leone and Atlantic history and the [End Page 259] importance of ethnicity, class, and culture in understanding colonial and post-colonial Sierra Leone society. Cole, for example, provides new insights to illustrate the historical contradictions within the Krio community. The third merit of the book is a detailed discussion of violence, protest and popular culture. Rashid and Abdullah make a compelling argument for the inclusion of subalterns as a legitimate subject of scholarship in Sierra Leone studies. Drawing on local cultural traditions and practices, artistic expressions, recent political history, and popular politics both authors illuminate the richness and complexity of understanding the country’s historical past from below. A fourth strength of the volume is an insightful analysis of some of the key challenges, such as political instability, governance, ethno-regional division, human capital, and gender disparities facing contemporary Sierra Leone. In addition, the eleven-year civil war exacerbated some of these difficulties. The historical roots, as well as the evolution and long-term impact of these problems, are examined from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Looking to the future, both Ojukutu-Macauley and Yusuf Bangura provide useful pathways for actualizing solutions to important aspects of the country’s troubled past.
This anthology, however, could have been improved by a chapter-length essay on the Sierra Leone economy since it remains at the core of the country’s post-independence challenges. In particular, a broad examination of key ethnic minority business groups such as the Lebanese and Fula would help one better understand the complex entrepreneurial landscape of contemporary Sierra Leone. The role of the indigenous business class in capital accumulation and economic transformation is central to the business narrative because of the intersection of business and politics, which continues to influence national debates. Nevertheless, the book is a major intellectual achievement by Sierra Leonean scholars. It is provocative, engaging, extensively researched, and elegantly written. And it is a landmark contribution to Sierra Leone and diaspora...