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Sierra Leone President Faces Rebuilding Devastated Nation

  • Kari Barber

Former Sierra Leone opposition leader Ernest Koroma was sworn in as president earlier this week. Analysts say the success of the elections and the smooth handover of power are signs that the war-scarred nation may be moving forward. Kari Barber reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar that much still needs to be done to bring development to Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world.

National Election Watch, a non-governmental organization in Sierra Leone, coordinated poll monitoring during the presidential runoff election earlier this month. National Election Watch head Frances Fortune says Sierra Leoneans are relieved the election is over and normal life can resume.

"I think that generally the population was tired of the politicking and propaganda and all of the tension that elections bring," she said.

But she adds, with the election, which was widely praised by international observers, the nation has changed.

All eyes were on Sierra Leone leading up to the August 11 first-round and later the September 8 runoff to see if the country, which emerged from a brutal civil war five years ago, was indeed moving toward peace and stability.

Fortune says by calling all cabinet members back to work, Mr. Koroma is trying to show he is ready to take on the nation's problems and mend the rift caused by the elections.

"Our new president has set the pace by calling the cabinet ministers from the former government and saying, 'Hey, back to work. I am not hounding after anybody. There has been no directions to the police to pick up anybody,'" she said.

Supporters of the presidential contenders clashed in low-level confrontations in several cities prior to the runoff, putting the nation on edge.

Human Rights Watch West Africa researcher Corrine Dufka says Mr. Koroma will need to be careful about who he names to government positions from his All People's Congress party. The party was in power when the nation's civil war began, and Dufka says many still blame it for creating conditions ripe for conflict.

Dufka says Sierra Leone's people do not want a return to violence.

"They are fed up with violence and using violence as a means of affecting change," she said. "I think that will go a long way as well as proper management of the new government of the very high expectations for this new government."

Mr. Koroma has said that in his first 100 days in office he will focus on fighting corruption, alleviating poverty as well as improving electricity, medical care and education.

Mr. Koroma defeated outgoing Vice President Solomon Berewa for the presidency in a runoff after neither candidate got the required 55 percent in the first round.

Sierra Leone's rebel war was fueled by the nation's diamonds and gained notoriety for the use of child soldiers and the thousands of civilians who had their limbs hacked off by machetes.

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