The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

‘There's no bad bush to throw away a bad child’: ‘tradition’-inspired reintegration in post-war Sierra Leone

Laura Stovela1 c1*

a1 Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6, Canada


Government and civil society leaders in African transitional states often use rituals and expressions inspired by tradition to facilitate the integration of ex-combatants and displaced people. In Sierra Leone, the expression ‘There's no bad bush to throw away a bad child’, conveys a vision of African society as inherently forgiving and inclusive, and of Africans as needing to be amongst their own people. This ideal was perfectly suited for the needs of an impoverished state seeking to ease the strain on cities, and relying on communities' organic capacities to absorb their own people. This research draws on interviews with diverse Sierra Leoneans to examine the assumptions behind this communitarian ideal. It argues that while ‘There is no bad bush … ’ promotes a form of reconciliation defined as peaceful coexistence, it lacks the elements of justice required for deep reconciliation to occur.


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* I would like to thank the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for funding this research.