- Sierra Leoneans are going to the polls next month, but International Crisis Group has advocated for the process to be free and fair, otherwise heightened political tensions could destabilise the country.
This was contained in a report - Sierra Leone: The Election Opportunity - issued by the International Crisis Group (ICG). The report examines the strains emerging prior to presidential and legislative elections and the impact they will have on the country’s delicate peace-building.
The Crisis Group believes that peace in a fragile state like Sierra Leone that had gone through a decade of civil war would only be consolidated unless the new authorities tackle sources of popular discontent such as corruption, chiefs’ abuse of power and youth unemployment.
“The 2007 elections are a crucial opportunity for Sierra Leone to definitively turn its back on conflict,” said Carolyn Norris, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director.
“But if the new administration does not start with a strong reform program, the population’s tolerance of bad governance and uneven economic development is unlikely to last much longer, and a return to conflict would be a real possibility.”
A split between the ruling officials and President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah over a successor has become a source of worry for many people because it followed heightened tensions in the party's strongholds. The divisions have also resulted to arson attacks on some houses. There has been no prosecutions of these attacks thus undermining confidence in the re-establishment of the rule of law in Sierra Leone.
The Crisis Group would not categorise Sierra Leone under failed states, it has however said serious threats such as youth unemployment and disillusionment and core institutions remain untested. The country is also threatened by a conflict between the customary and statutory laws and that the electoral system leave traditional “Paramount Chiefs” with powers that are frequently abused in the countryside.
Corruption in public services is extensive, security and justice sectors still require several years of external oversight in order to become self-sustaining, ICG warned.
The group is inspired by the work of the new National Electoral Commission, but added that it must promptly and fairly adjudicate allegations of fraud. It called on the commission to engage in effective coordination with the national police to allow prompt reaction to security incidents.
The electoral commission has also been asked to instruct all political parties that acts or calls for violence would be appropriately punished and that they need to commit themselves to a comprehensive post-election reform program.
It urged Sierra Leone's international partners, including the UK and the UN Peacebuilding Commission to engage immediately with the new administration to make clear that tackling corruption is a prerequisite to long-term support.
“There are healthy signs of generational change within political parties,” François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Director of Africa Program, said.
“But whoever wins must commit to substantial government reforms to win back the population’s trust in the future of the country.”
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