Alusine Jalloh, Muslim Fula Business Elites and Politics in Sierra Leone.
For more than twenty years, Alusine Jalloh has been engaged in research and writing about the nexus between Islam, commerce and politics in West Africa, and--including his PhD thesis at Howard University--this book is volume three in his useful series of publications. His earlier book, African Entrepreneurs/up: Muslim Fula merchants in Sierra Leone (Ohio University Press, 1999), established the historical context for evaluating the fluid and complex relationships between government, merchants and Muslim leaders in Sierra Leone and in the area of external commercial networks. In this subsequent study he has focused more specifically on three executive administrations that functioned from 1961 to 1992--the Margai brothers (1961-67), Siaka Stevens (1967-85) and Joseph Momoh (1985-92)--and that were terminated by the National Provisional Ruling Council coup d'etat on 29 April 1992.
Although the study examines in detail the crucial role played by the Fula commercial and industrial leadership, the analysis includes a wider exploration of the economic and political activities of other ethnic leaders in Sierra Leone and in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia. The political role of Fula elites increased after independence partly due to their expanded involvement in business and because the contentious issue of national citizenship, which had its origins in the early British colonial enterprise, became a prominent concern in subsequent administrations. The territory known as Sierra Leone was populated by several migratory groups to the extent that the 'original' inhabitants are difficult to identify. During the early colonial period, settlements of 'Strangers' were established in the greater Freetown area: Dalmodia (Susu), Bambara Town (Mandingo) and Foulah Town. Found here were the Muslim traders and scholars who influenced local residents, and the resettled, freed slaves known as Liberated Africans. The colonial attitude toward Strangers was never fully resolved, especially for the Fula. After independence in 1961, Sierra Leone's relations with the Republic of Guinea under the leadership of Ahmed Sekou Toure, who became suspicious of Fula opposition to his rule, exacerbated government policy towards illegal migrants from Guinea. Jalloh provides a careful, detailed evaluation of the development of government treatment of the Fula from the relatively positive Margai era through the administrations of Stevens and Momoh, which developed a variety of hostile actions against suspected illegal migrants, especially in the Kono diamond-mining region. In response, Fula business elites cooperatively worked with the dominant political party, the All People's Congress, to mitigate hostile policies towards their community, although in the end the nationality/citizenship issue was not fully resolved and remained a problem for the Fula after the 1992 coup d'etat.
In addition to Jalloh's excellent examination of the political aspirations and activities of the Muslim Fula business elites in independent Sierra Leone, his analysis of the diamond-mining industry and his consideration of the issue of the borderlands that supposedly define national boundaries will be of interest to social scientists. In his evaluation of the Fula role in the development of the diamond industry, he shows how Fula elites through their contacts with presidents Stevens and Momoh were able to take a leadership position in an industry formerly dominated by European and Lebanese businessmen. In his consideration of the industry--also examined by other scholars, such as Lansana Gberie, William Reno and Ian Smillie--Jalloh indicates how the corruption associated with it provided individuals with the means to obtain capital for other enterprises. The exploitation of diamonds in Kono later allowed the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front to finance their destructive operations after 1991. Immigration associated with the diamond industry and the later Ebola epidemic illustrate the illusion of fixed boundaries between national states that were historically integrated into economic, cultural and political networks. As Jalloh's research on Fula business elites indicates, artificial boundaries continue to plague national governments that are often unable to effectively administer the political, economic and social relationships that developed among communities in precolonial borderlands.
One significant flaw in the book is the absence of serious discussion about the role of Fula female entrepreneurs; while they are discussed in Jalloh's earlier study, they are only mentioned in passing here and their role could have been more prominently evaluated. However, Muslim Fula Business Elites and Politics in Sierra Leone is an interesting and informative study about the participation of entrepreneurs in the political process and is an important addition to the rather small body of literature on this topic.
David E. Skinner
Santa Clara University
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|Author:||Skinner, David E.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 1, 2019|
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