Is the Sande Society More Powerful than the Liberian Government?

Welcome to November!

The same question has been asked time and time again, “Is the Sande Society more powerful than the Liberian Government?”  Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation has decided to ask the same question to the Liberian Government, with the hope of receiving an answer to give to our readership.

The first shipload of settlers arrived from the United States to what was then called the Greenland in West Africa in 1821.  The forty-three thousand square foot parcel of land earned the name because of its fertile soil.  Although the settlers met inhabitants upon arrival in the Greenland, they established a country and named it Liberia.  Those inhabitants the settlers met in Liberia continued to practice their tribal rituals and animistic beliefs.  One of the many animistic beliefs was female circumcision (female genital mutilation/cutting).  At the time, no laws were enacted in the nineteenth century to prevent the original inhabitants from practicing their tribal beliefs.

For example, in the twentieth century, then President William Tubman discovered that one certain ethnic group was still practicing cannibalism in their villages.  During one of his several visits to a village, he noticed that this particular village did not have a cemetery where they buried their dead.  He questioned the chiefs in charge and made the discovery that this particular ethnic group ate their dead instead of burying them.  He then gave strict orders that the particular ethnic group was expected to have a cemetery on his next visit to that village.

Because the early settlers in the nineteenth century were ignorant to most of the tribal practices of their newly found fellow citizens, many atrocious and heinous practices went unnoticed, even if and when they resulted in fatalities.  It was not until the early to mid-twentieth century when the descendants of those early settlers learned that girls were taken through a special tribal initiation, which included removing parts of their genitalia.  The question remains, “Why did the lawmakers, who were descendants of the early settlers not enact a law against removal of female genitalia or female circumcision?”  Perhaps they did not want to antagonize the inhabitants’ ethnic practices; therefore they left them alone and allowed them to practice their beliefs, especially since there was no proper medical record-keeping to reveal fatalities.

Well, it is no longer the nineteenth or the twentieth century; it is now the twenty-first century.  However there is one difference with the Liberian Government.  In the last two centuries, the Liberian Government was run mostly by the descendants of those early settlers.  There has been a huge shift in the Liberian Congressional, Judiciary and Executive Branches since entering the twenty-first century.  Today, all three of those branches of government in Liberia are densely populated with descendants of those original inhabitants; the same inhabitants that continued to practice their animistic beliefs and tribal rituals from 1821.  Now in the year 2016, majority of the Liberian Congressional Branch comprises of members of the Poro Society, which is the male version of the Sande Society.  A little more than a year ago, the Liberian Ministry of Gender put forth legislation to the Liberian Congress, which included the ban of the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting.  The Congressional members approved and passed all other clauses in the legislation, with the exception of the FGM/C clause; they removed it and dismissed that clause.

It was only a month ago when Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation held a conference call with a Liberian Senior Senator.  Executives of the organization met with him to advise him of recent concerns in that country surrounding the violent practice of FGM/C.  The response and reaction the organization received from the Liberian Senator left them flabbergasted.  The Liberian Senator told them that he had no intention of working against the practice of FGM/C.  He said, “In fact, I am offended that you would refer to it as female genital mutilation or cutting.  It is female circumcision, and that is what you need to call it.”  He continued, “I cannot go to the circumcisers and asked them to cease the practice, then go back to them and ask them to support me during elections.”

One of the executives from the organization remarked, “So this is all about politics?”  The senator became defensive and somewhat hostile, “No it is not about politics!”  The conversation became unpleasant before they decided to end the call.  The senator told the executives of Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation that it is up to them to proceed with their planned program for former circumcisers.  He said, “The women will take your money, they will even attend the training you are planning to do and at nighttime, they will go to the bush and still practice what they practice.”  The senator let the executives know in no uncertain terms that the practice will never be banned in Liberia.

Is the Sande Society more powerful than the Liberian Government?  Are the Poro and Sande Societies the stronghold in the Liberian Government?  Whether or not they possess that much power in that government, it is evident that there is more than enough influence from those societies to sway major decisions to ban the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting.