||Despite global progress in reducing inequalities for women and persons with disabilities (PWDs) under the Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 10, in Africa progress has been slower for these two groups. Social movements are often successful in redressing these inequalities as they are affianced in activism and try to represent a group’s collective grievances to governments. Collective identity (CI), or individuals’ shared aspirations, values or interests, is known to play a key role in their success. The more individuals identify with a movement, the more it is able to mobilize and achieve its aims on the ground. Yet, there is a paucity of literature on CI processes from African contexts. Building upon Della Porta & Diani’s (2006) concept of CI formation and maintenance, this study compared how two key social movement organizations of the disability and women’s movements in Freetown, Sierra Leone—the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI) and the Women’s Forum (WF)—form and maintain their collective identities (CIs) to see if the same processes work in African contexts. The research is based on a six months field work and a range of qualitative methods. Using Grounded Theory and Historical Methodologies approach, the study reveals that both groups formed and have maintained their CIs similar to Della Porta and Diani’s theory. Both groups formed during the brutal eleven-year Civil War (1991-2002) on the basis of their social traits, or physical/biological characteristics, and a common solidarity. They have been maintained post-conflict (2002-present) through (i) face-to-face interactions at the community level and everyday spaces in order to foster relationships and build new networks, and (ii) creating common meaning and experiences over ‘time’ and ‘space’. This suggests that Western CI concepts do work well in African contexts. Yet, different from the authors, I discovered that both CIs are maintained through information sharing via information communication technologies (ICTs) which help engender a ‘online’ CI, organize and spur lobbying and advocacy events. Within this information sharing tool, I discovered that only the WF uses monthly meetings and it helps engender CI by reinforcing the group’s cultural rituals and symbols. Also, I discovered that despite having CIs, fragmentation has been part of both group’s formation and maintenance processes based on (a) intergroup competition; (b) diversity related issues; and (c) ideological differences. The above listed discoveries as well as conflict is a catalyst in bringing social actors to form a CI are my contributions to the literature. The paper calls for identity work, for key organizations to take better stock of their members interests and for future comparative research to devote equal and more time between organizations, focus on current CI formation processes and use research tools that help to verify information.
Key Words: collective identity; disability movement; movement formation and maintenance; movement fragmentation; Sierra Leone; women’s movement