Claim: Viral news articles published by “The Indiana Express, Dhaka Tribune” stated that the Bangladesh language named: ‘Bengali/Bangla’ was announced as the official language of Sierra Leone in 2002 by late former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
Verdict: False. Bengali/Bangla, spoken in Bangladesh, has never been declared Sierra Leone’s official language. It is neither recognised nor spoken anywhere in the country, as claimed by the referenced media organisations.
Two popular news outlets in Asia, namely, The Indiana Express, an Indian-based media house and Dhaka Tribune, a Bangladesh-based media organisation, on varied dates — February 23, 2017 (Dhaka Tribune) and February 21, 2017 (Indiana Express) have published an article with a similar statement.
The media houses in their publications noted that the Bangladesh language called ‘Bengali / Bangla’ was declared an ‘official language’ to be used by Sierra Leoneans by the late former president of the small West African nation — Dr Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (of blessed memory).
“Soon after peace was restored in 2002, the country’s president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah announced that Bengali would henceforth be considered an official language of the Republic of Sierra Leone in recognition of the work done by Bangladeshi troops in restoring peace to the region.
“We might reflect upon the example set by Sierra Leone to understand that celebrating languages from different countries goes a long way in building a strong bond among global powers,” — Indiana Express further indicated.
The bilateral relationship between Sierra Leone and Bangladesh
The bilateral relationship between Sierra Leone and Bangladesh has been long and cordial. Bangladesh has not only helped Sierra Leone to defeat its rebels. Still, it has equally made some huge social, economic, and infrastructural developments which the country is enjoying even to this present period.
Bangladesh made its way into the heart of Sierra Leone and its people when the Asian nation committed itself to be part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces that helped to redeem the country from the hands of the rebels who invaded the country in 1992, stating further that, Bangladesh provided one of, if not, the largest contingent of military personnel to help Sierra Leone’s military to curb the civil conflict.
The 11-year civil war left the country’s economy and infrastructure with shattered hope of rekindling. The conflict took away thousands of precious lives, and properties worth millions of leones were destroyed.
DUBAWA’s research discovered that Bangladesh had not only helped to redeem Sierra Leone from the civil conflict but has also made immense contributions in the business and NGO worlds in Sierra Leone, as evidenced here and here.
But was the country’s Bengali language adopted by the people of Sierra Leone as its official language?
The issue of Bengali being an official language in Sierra Leone had engaged the minds and attention of researchers in Bangladesh. One of them, Sayeem Hassan, Head Researcher, Rumor Scanner — a fact-finding organisation based in Bangladesh, contacted DUBAWA to investigate the viral claim made in the referenced publications.
He added that he had yearned for a while now to ascertain if Bengali is used as the official language in the far-way West African nation once colonised by England.
Hassan told DUBAWA that many citizens in Bangladesh believe that ‘Bengali is used as Sierra Leone’s official language’. It is for this reason that DUBAWA decided to investigate this claim.
The claims made in viral publications by the three Asian media houses have been made for over a decade, with no real evidence to support the same.
The official language of Sierra Leone
The small British colonised nation has numerous languages. However, none of these numerous languages is used as the country’s ‘official language’; instead, the language of the nation’s colonial masters, which is ‘English Language,’ is the officially recognised and/or accepted language used in all formal gatherings within the borders of Sierra Leone.
DUBAWA’s desktop research results show that the official language of Sierra Leone is “The English Language.”
According to the World Atlas, Sierra Leone’s official language is ‘English language’ – a language left behind by the country’s colonial fathers is predominantly spoken in formal functions and/or settings, which include: schools, government institutions, the Court of law, and the media.
Did late Kabbah announce Bengali as Sierra Leone’s official language?
There is no data nor proof to ascertain that late president Kabbah ever made such a statement or declaration for ‘Bengali/Bangla’ to be used as the official language of the former British colony.
What the experts say regarding Bengali’s announcement as Sierra Leone’s official language
The Institute for Sierra Leonean Languages (TISLL) is based in Freetown and educates citizens and foreigners who wish to acquire more in-depth knowledge of the country’s various languages. It also serves as a resource centre for research purposes concerning spoken languages in Sierra Leone.
DUBAWA contacted the Program Director — Mr Lamin H. Kargbo of The Institute for Sierra Leonean Languages (TISLL), to know if Bengali/Bangla is Sierra Leone’s official language. The Director refutes the claim, adding that ‘Bengali/Bangla’ has never been used nor announced as Sierra Leone’s official language.
Asked if the late former president ever declared or announced that Bengali would be used as an official language in the country, Kargbo noted that — all that he is aware of is that the late president did mention that ‘Bengali’ would be considered or included as a language of Sierra Leone, but not as an official language, he added.
DUBAWA probed why the late former president could make such a statement when Bengali has never been part of the numerous languages spoken in the small West African nation; the expert reliably said that the late president made the said statement to commend Bangladesh Government and its people for the great contributions and support rendered to Sierra Leone during the country’s civil war, which commenced in 1991 and ended in 2002
“Bengali was never declared as an official language of Sierra Leone. However, late president Kabbah in one of his numerous statements after the war, mentioned that Bengali would be considered and/or included as a part of Sierra Leone’s languages.
“The late president made the statement due to Bangladesh’s immense contributions to putting the senseless 11-year civil conflict in the country to an end. Ironically, since the announcement was made, Bengali has not even been recognised as a language by Sierra Leoneans, nor has it been spoken as a language in any part of Sierra Leone,” he narrated.
He noted further that the country has only one official language — the ‘English language’, stating that, other than English, all other languages in the country are only used for informal communication in places such as homes, mosques, churches, villages etc.
Ms Sia Tengbeh, a teacher of over 25 years, also told DUBAWA that in her over 25 years of a teaching career, she is unaware of a point in time any president or authority of any sort announced that the country’s official language would be changed. She averred that Sierra Leone’s official language has always been the English language.
Languages that are spoken in Sierra Leone
Despite Sierra Leone’s small geographical location and its 6.5 to 7 million population, according to the 2021 Mid-Term Housing & Population Census conducted by Statistics Sierra Leone (Stats-SL), the country can boast approximately 16 national languages/ethnic groups spoken predominantly in different areas nationwide.
National languages spoken in Sierra Leone and by Sierra Leoneans includes the following: Temne, Mende, Krio, Kissi, Fulla, Soso, Yalunka, Kono, Limba, Sherbro, Loko, and Madingo; these languages are only used in informal settings, such as — homes, in the streets, religious gatherings, and in a host of other non-formal settings.
Each of these languages has locations/areas where Sierra Leoneans residing in those places predominantly speak either one or two of the mentioned languages. According to Family Search’s recent data on Sierra Leonean Languages, ‘Temne & Mende’ constitute the lion’s number of speakers in the country, with ‘Temne’ speakers constituting 37% of the country’s population, and it is predominantly spoken in the Northern province; while speakers of ‘Mende’ constitutes 31%, and it is mainly spoken in the Southern & Eastern provinces of Sierra Leone.
Bangladesh played a significant role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone during the 11-year civil conflict. However, it is false that Bengali, the language of the people of Bangladesh, was announced and/or adopted as Sierra Leone’s official language.