News / Africa

Sierra Leone Girds for Landmark Elections

A Sierra Leone army marching band parading ahead of Saturday's presidential election, Freetown, November 16 2012.
A Sierra Leone army marching band parading ahead of Saturday's presidential election, Freetown, November 16 2012.
Anne Look
FREETOWN—Hopes are high and the pressure is on as Sierra Leoneans get ready to elect a new president and parliament on Saturday.
 
The country's third national election since the end of its decade-long civil war in 2002—and its first independently organized election since that conflict—many hope the contest will cement the country's democratic standing and stability.
 
Sierra Leone's General Election

  • President is elected by absolute majority
  • A run-off is held if no candidate wins more than 55%
  • Nine candidates are running for president
  • Voters are also electing 112 members of parliament and 12 paramount chief members
  • 10 political parties are fielding parliamentary candidates
  • Citizens 18 years old and older are able to vote
  • 2.5 million voters are registered to vote
Ahead of the polls, officials of all political parties pledged to urge supporters to refrain from the violence that marred elections in 2007, in which President Ernest Bai Koroma claimed a run-off victory. Koroma, whose All People's Congress (APC) currently holds a parliamentary majority, faces eight challengers, including main opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).
 
As nationwide campaigning wrapped up Thursday, analysts said that although they expect a tight race, the incumbent has a good chance of being re-elected to a second five-year term
 
'New Direction'
Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.
x
Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.
Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.
In the capital, Freetown's main stadium was awash in SLPP green as tens of thousands of supporters sang and cheered their candidate to the stage.
 
"President Ernest Bai Koroma done fail," the former military leader declared before the arena, reiterating his belief that the incumbent has come up short on promises to the nation. "He done fail willfully. One country. Statehouse is not a classroom where we allow failures to repeat."
 
Bio, who is running on a platform of change that SLPP supporters call "New Direction," is celebrated by constituents as the "father of democracy" for stepping down in 1996, just three months after seizing power in a coup.
 
A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.
x
A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.
A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.
The 48-year-old candidate's promise to improve the quality of education and make it free is resonating with supporters such as Ishamel Sama, a 2007 university graduate who has yet to find a job in his field.
 
"There are a lot of guys that are on the streets begging," he said, touching on just one of several hot issues in this year's election: high youth unemployment, how best to use the country's substantial mineral wealth, and corruption.
 
"They want to work," he added. "We have a lot of resources, [and] there are people with [lots of] knowledge but don't have the opportunity to express themselves. We are really tired of this government."
 
'I Will Do More'
A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.
x
A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.
A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.
APC campaign billboards around the capital feature the incumbent president, arms outstretched, under the slogan, "I Will Do More."

Koroma, whose backers held their last campaign rally in Freetown on Sunday — part of a carefully plotted rotation of political rallies aimed at preventing clashes between riled-up, rival parties — defends his track record on corruption and the economy.
 
Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.
x
Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.
Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.
"It has been quite a difficult period, a very difficult navigation to do, but we have succeeded: stabilizing the Leone, restoring confidence in the economy, attracting international investment," the president told reporters on Monday. "And with all of what we have been doing that is positive, I am asking for re-election so that we can continue with this process."

Koroma supporters point to improved roads, electrical infrastructure and a free healthcare initiative for pregnant women, new mothers and young children.
 
"He took up the bold step, the strides, despite party affiliation, despite tribal affiliation," said Oumo Mayama Sanko, an APC supporter who emphasized progress in the country's less-developed interior. "So he is a man who is not tribalistic. He works for everybody. He's the president of Sierra Leone."
 
A fierce rivalry
 
Sierra Leone

  • GDP $3.8 billion
  • GDP per capita $621
  • Population 6.15 million
  • Total Area 71,740 square kilometers
  • Languages English, Temne, Mende, Krio
In a place where political allegiance is often based on ethnic and regional identity — often referred to here as "tribalism" — the fierce rivalry between the two main political parties dates back to independence.
 
It has erupted during previous elections.
 
Gregory Houel, who leads election observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center, said this year's anti-violence pledge appears to be working.
 
"We can say with a certain amount of confidence that the campaign period has been much more peaceful across the country, with fewer incidents of violence, fewer clashes between the ruling APC party and the opposition, mainly the SLPP," he said.
 
Sierra Leone's electoral commission says it has taken steps to ensure the polls are credible, including the training of staff and distribution of posters with drawings and text that illustrate how to vote. Commission spokesman Albert Massaquoi said results will be more announced quickly than in the past.
 
"These results at local levels, at constituent levels, and at district levels would be announced no sooner than [when] polls are closed," he said. "So, in a couple of days we would expect to have all the results finalized and announced, which would be the final results."
 
Regardless of educating people how to vote, however, the process, which involves multiple ballots and nearly a dozen steps, worries civil society groups that say it could trip up voters and lead to elevated numbers of null or void votes.
 
Joe Pemagbi, Sierra Leone director for the Open Society Initiative, said voter education started late.
 
"It could have started earlier — I wish it had started earlier. That would have really helped the situation," he said, citing the nation's unusually high illiteracy rate. "Unfortunately, sometimes the educated ones also make some of these mistakes."
 
But for Voters like Sainkudu Mbuya, it's most critical to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
 
"The ten-year rebel war has affected us so much — the transformation is coming out bit by bit, [so] it will take us time to remove that violence out of us, to love one another," he said. "That is what we are preaching now."
 
Hoping to pre-empt a worst-case scenario, government officials have taken precautions: Military, police and election-related officials and observers are the only ones allowed on the roads on election
 
The real test will come with the results, expected by Nov. 26th., when losers must decide whether to accept defeat.
 
If none of the nine presidential candidates wins a clear majority, a run-off is planned for Dec. 8th.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs