BO, Sierra Leone - Ahead of November’s general elections in Sierra Leone, paramount chiefs are receiving training as electoral educators and promoters of political tolerance. It’s part of a joint UN and civil society initiative aiming to ensure peaceful, credible and transparent polls in November.
Joe Kangbai, the southern region chairman of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs, announced in April the decision by the group to be neutral and encourage political tolerance leading up to the country’s November 17 elections for president, parliament and local councils.
He made his remarks shortly after the end of a three day regional conference co-sponsored by the UN, civil society groups and politicians.
The meeting also offered training in mediation and conflict prevention as part of an enhanced role in the country’s polls. The chiefs will help ensure a fair campaign season for candidates and a safe turn-out for the country’s two million registered voters.
They have their own local administration, are represented in the house of parliament and take part in parliamentary debates. But they’ve agreed to work with the government and all partners to ensure political tolerance, non-violence and free, fair and peaceful elections.
Some political parties and civil society activists are doubtful about enhancing their role. Their main complaint is that some chiefs have not been neutral.
The southern region public relations officer of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party ,Kanji Daramy, said chiefs have shown favoritism toward certain parties. He said this contradicts the political party code of practice that was produced by the political party registration commission, a body created by parliament.
According to Daramy Chiefs are not neutral, which is bad for democracy especially when voters are on the verge of having general elections. He says “They should guide the process and be accommodative to all political parties. “
The political parties he goes on to say are not the only ones grumbling about chiefs. Even the civil society and the political party registration commission continue to pressure paramount chiefs to hands off active party politics he asserts.
The chairman of Council of Paramount Chiefs in Sierra Leone, Charles Caulker, disagrees.He says, “there is no part in our law books that say chiefs should not take active part in politics, it is just a general concern posed by electoral stakeholders that chiefs should maintain neutrality. Besides, as long as we chiefs can vote means we are not neutral…
However, Chief Caulker said he would support efforts to ensure that all political parties can campaign freely, and that the polls are peaceful.
The UN is encouraging the paramount chiefs to talk with other electoral stakeholders such as the political party commission, political party youth groups, police and the electoral commission to help end political violence that is common in Sierra Leone.