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Misleading! Churches in Kenema were not prohibited from holding services

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Claim: Posts by  Facebook users  Je Suis ProtonicFeeling and Erica Ruth Bangura claimed that churches were entirely prohibited from holding services in Kenema on account of a traditional practice.

Misleading! Churches in Kenema were not prohibited from holding services

Verdict: Misleading! According to the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone, churches in Kenema were not stopped from holding services because of an event by a traditional group.

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Over the past week,  there have been speculations that churches in Kenema were prohibited from holding Church services on Sunday, May 19, 2024, due to a traditional ceremony known as the Bondo Secret Society in Sierra Leone. 

The Bondo Society, also known as Sande, is a women’s initiation society in Sierra Leone. The Sande society initiates girls into adulthood through rituals, including female genital mutilation.

A post by Erica Ruth Bangura on May 16, 2024, and  Je Suis ProtonicFeeling, on May 17, 2024, claimed that Churches were prohibited from holding services in Kenema on Sunday, May 19. 

A press release by the Representatives of the Body of Christ in Sierra Leone, which has also been circulating on WhatsApp, states that the traditional practice scheduled for Sunday, May 19, 2024, will coincide with their Christian worship service.

Misleading! Churches in Kenema were not prohibited from holding services
Press Release from the Representative of the Body of Christ in Sierra Leone. Source: WhatsApp 

DUBAWA decided to investigate the claim to ascertain whether churches were entirely prohibited from holding services in Kenema district on account of a traditional practice.

Verification

DUBAWA spoke with Dr Usman Fornah, the General Secretary of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone, to clarify the allegation in a telephone interview on May 23, 2024.

“No, the churches in Kenema were not stopped from holding services on account of a traditional practice,” he said.

He noted that it was rather the people who were aggrieved that the traditional people chose Sunday of all days to perform their ceremony, which eventually affected their services. He added that the city continued its regular activities, but non-Bondo members were advised to avoid the routes identified for the said procession.

Also, DUBAWA texted Andrew Batilo Francis, a journalist with Gola Agriculture Radio 100.5, Kenema, on Friday, 24 May 2024, via WhatsApp for more information on the issue.

“Church activities were never banned in Kenema last Sunday. The Resident Minister, the Mayor, and other stakeholders held meetings prior to the traditional female procession, including the Inter-Religious Council. They also did radio engagements to get people informed on how the procession would be done and the routes to be engaged. The city was normal with its activities. Nonetheless, Non-members were advised to avoid the routes identified,” he stressed.

“Their procession began at 6:30 a.m. It was peaceful and well organised with security. They mapped out the specific routes in the city centre, basically from the City Plaza, Mission Road, Massaquoi Street to Dama Road, and then headed to the Clock Tower and back to the City Plaza,” he added.

He further said, “The activities in the rest of the city were normal except on those routes indicated. Sunday services were never obstructed, people who were not a part were only advised to avoid the procession routes. It could be noted that churches on those routes were affected by the number of attendants, but they were not stopped as many of their members didn’t attend for fear.”

DUBAWA again contacted Osman Hardy, a resident of Kenema, via WhatsApp on Friday, 24 May 2024, to get an update on what exactly happened in Kenema.

“A  traditional group called Shekui Sande, one of the oldest in the region, had a sell-out occasion on Sunday with the First Lady as the main guest. Consequently, when they’re coming out, everything must be put on hold, including movement of people, business, religious activities, and men should also be indoors, “ he said.

Osman added, “The Christian religious leaders weren’t happy with that and hence held a meeting and communicated their grievance to the Kenema stakeholders, including the Mayor and paramount chief. There was a resolution between both parties that traditional activities must take place from morning to 12:00 midday to allow church services to be held. But on that day, the traditional dance exceeded the time given. They were on the street till around 2 pm.”

According to him, some people, mostly on the outskirts of Kenema, could attend church services, but many others in the city’s centre could not attend church service.

Conclusion

Based on the interview with the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone, a journalist at Gola Agriculture Radio 100.5 at Kenema, as well as a resident who witnessed the event, the claim made by Dunstan Thompson-Fraze whose Facebook name is Je Suis ProtonicFeeling and Erica Ruth Bangura that churches were prohibited from holding services in Kenema is misleading.

This report is produced for the DUBAWA 2024 Kwame KarKari Fact-Checking Fellowship in partnership with Epic Radio to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in Sierra Leone.

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