Accepted Paper:

Crisis, scapegoating and 'bad heart' in northern Sierra Leone: discerning the enemy of personal progress  


Michael Bürge (University of Konstanz)

Paper short abstract:

Despite unprecedented economic growth, many people in northern Sierra Leone perceive their lives in constant risk and crisis. Discerning a culprit for their suffering in insecurity, people rather scapegoat their close ones than an elusive ‘chief enemy’, enviously hindering their social mobility.

Paper long abstract:

More than ten years after the end of the civil war, the outcome of a 'crisis of youth' or/and 'of the (patrimonial) state', Sierra Leone's national economy grows in an unprecedented manner. While ordinary people in northern Sierra Leone experience the 'new developments', more often they feel themselves being excluded from their benefits. People acknowledge the local impacts of global financial or food crisis, or of 'bad governance'. In everyday discussions and performances to overcome the stalemate, though, they rather discern and scapegoat 'immediate enemies' for their actual failure to keep up with the speed of development and to participate in obvious improvements. It is their fellow citizens' jealousy, their 'bad at' ('bad heart'), which is responsible for them being stuck in precarity and continuous suffering. Envious practices to destroy other people with 'local practices' recurring to 'wicked forces' and to bemire their reputation with rumors and malicious gossip (bad mot) due to 'bad heart' are generally seen as the social and personal ill hampering the country's progress. Confined in local cosmological work and restricted access to resources, people though recur to the same register of practices to remedy other's envious practices. This leads to a spiral of mutual scapegoating and restricting social mobility, perpetuating the crisis and postponing others' and their own wellbeing. This contribution aims at portraying moments and localities in which people discern and ascribe the reasons for personal suffering and at portraying the sometimes risky practices to escape others' envious seizure and overcome the crisis.

Panel P012
Crisis as ongoing reality: perspectives from different anthropological locations (European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) and the Committee for World Anthropologies (CWA) panel)