“Tribalism is showing its ugly head in our Church”: Catholic Archbishop in Sierra Leone

Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of the Archdiocese of Freetown during an interview with ACI Africa at his office in Freetown. Credit: Caritas Freetown

The Archbishop of Sierra Leone’s Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown has decried favouritism in the West African nation based on tribal lines, and expressed concern that the vice is now manifesting itself among members of the Church.

In the Church in Sierra Leone, people are denied leadership positions just because they belong to a particular tribe, Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles said in his homily during the Lenten Pilgrimage of his Metropolitan See that was held on Sunday, March 17.

Archbishop Tamba Charles said that in Sierra Leone, tribalism is a sin that must be confessed.

“In our country, obedience to the will of God and to his radical command to love all men, women, and children, without regard for their tribe, nationality, race or moral status, requires that we renounce tribalism as a sin against God who created all men and women in his own image and likeness,” he told pilgrims at Regent in the Archdiocese of Freetown.

The Sierra Leonean Catholic Archbishop added, “Sadly, the sin of tribalism is showing its ugly head in our Church, because people are rejected for a particular leadership simply because they belong to the other tribe in the country, to the other people perceived as enemies.”


Archbishop Tamba Charles went on to describe tribalism as a “cancer” that he said is “eating gradually into the fabric” of the Sierra Leonean society.

He said he found it regrettable that the vice has also been introduced into the country’s political discourse. 

“Faithfulness to God requires us to call it by its real name, sin, and fight for its eradication or at least to somehow put it under control,” he said.

According to the Local Ordinary of Freetown since his Episcopal Consecration in May 2008, tribalism hates the diversity created by God Himself as a source of mutual enrichment.

Instead of multi-ethnic cohesion, those who promote tribalism put their own tribe at the centre of the world and make every other tribe subservient to it, he said, adding, “That is a sin because it is against what God wants for his sons and daughters; namely, to live together in peace and enjoy their glorious liberty as children of God.”

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Tribalism, Archbishop Tamba Charles explained, is against the Church which was “established by Jesus Christ as a community of his disciples to serve as a sacrament and sign of union with God and of unity among men and women.”

“All our efforts in favour of national unity and cohesion will fail if we do not identify the sin of tribalism and its accompanying evils, like regionalism and favouritism, by calling it its real name, sin, and committing ourselves to fighting it unrelentingly,” the Catholic Church leader, who also serves as the President of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) warned. 

He continued, “In varying degrees, we are all guilty of the sin of tribalism, on account of which we exclude people of other tribes in favour of our own tribesmen.”

In Sierra Leone, the Catholic Archbishop said, tribalism now borders social and political intolerance.

“People eject those of other tribes from their houses or refuse to give their empty premises to people of other tribes because they suspect them to be members of one political party or the other, simply on the basis of their tribes,” he lamented. 


He added, “Intertribal marriages are common in Sierra Leone, but some families and relatives are undermining that enviable practice in favour of national cohesion by telling their children not to marry people of this or that tribe because they are our enemies.”

“The memories of the 1994 ethnic massacres in Rwanda are still fresh in our minds,” the Sierra Leonean Archbishop who will turn 68 next month said, recalling the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed and millions displaced.

“To guarantee a healthy future for this country, to continue to build on what we have established, let us have the courage to call tribalism by its name, sin, evil, and anti-progress, and so confess it to God, to ask him for mercy and forgiveness for the harm that we have done to this our beautiful country by treating others badly, simply because they belonged to some tribe or tribes that we do not like,” Archbishop Tamba Charles said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.