“The more things change, the more they stay the same”, the saying goes. This is so true about post-war General Elections in Sierra Leone and their aftermath. In each of the elections in 2007, 2012, 2018 and 2023, the results were vehemently contested by the “losing” party, in some cases followed by either seeking legal redress in the courts or having incessant complaints from the opposition about how some purported egregious acts by the Electoral Commission affected the outcome. These were often accompanied by a hostile post-election atmosphere until things cooled down for the government to embark upon its proper functioning.
Christiana Thorpe was SLPP’s villain in 2007, with the infamous cancellation of the Kailahun votes and “Go Police” advice to them, an anathema to party purists to this day. Even though Solomon Berewa was most gracious in defeat and attended Ernest Koroma’s swearing in ceremony, he would always blame Thorpe for being “unjust”.
After the 2012 elections, the SLPP actually filed a petition in court to unseat Ernest Koroma and cause a Presidential election to be held within a month, only to have the petition get struck out by the Supreme Court in June 2013. The SLPP Press Release after the judgment stated that the party was “disappointed that once again substantive justice has been sacrificed at the altar of procedural technicalities” and that Sierra Leoneans had been “denied the opportunity to know the scale and magnitude of the widespread and systemic electoral malpractices perpetrated by the National Electoral Commission in collusion with other state actors”.
In April, 2021, some three years after the 2018 elections, the Supreme Court dismissed the Presidential election case brought by the leadership of the APC which claimed that the conduct of the election was “improper and fraught with irregularities”.
All of these happenings did not deter the government from functioning normally and there seemed to be support from the international community, whatever the misgivings in election observer reports.
The situation now seems to be a lot different. There has been no election petition filed by the opposition APC, which has nevertheless implemented a total boycott of participating in government. International observers, usually quite mild in their reports, have been pointed in raising concerns about the process. The United States and several European Ambassadors have expressed concern about “the lack of transparency in the tabulation process”. Demands from the US government and some of our traditional development partners about the need to carry out impartial investigations into the conduct of ECSL have grown persistently louder, accompanied by conditionalities related to various forms of assistance. The US government has announced that it will not issue visas to those believed to be “responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone, including through the manipulation or rigging of the electoral process”. Individuals who had intimidated voters, election observers or civil society organisations or violated or abused human rights in Sierra Leone would also be denied visas.
The future of the MCC compact has been called into question. Those in the know about how MCC functions know that any threat of the cancellation of the Compact, however veiled should not be taken lightly. Being deprived of the MCC compact to fix our electricity sector would be, as one observer has noted “throwing out a $450m gift that would fix the electricity sector for good.” This, in the present situation in which the highly subsidized electricity supply is causing immense economic concerns will be “manna from heaven”. The MCC has been known to cancel compacts before for various reasons. The Madagascar compact, a five-year $110m poverty reduction compact was cancelled in 2009 due to “the recent undemocratic change of government.” Tanzania’s compact in 2016, worth $470m for electricity in rural areas was cancelled in 2016 because the Zanzibar Presidential vote was “neither inclusive nor representative”. A Philippines Aid package was not renewed in 2016 because of “significant concerns about the rule of law”, after the previous grant of $433.9 had expired earlier in the year and in 2012 the $460m Mali compact was cancelled because of a military coup.
Serious students of our economy know that any bombastic talk at the moment of self-sufficiency is an empty boast. The Finance Minister in his recent budget speech spoke with candour about our difficulties. Higher imports of fuel, food, machinery and transport equipment have resulted in a widening of the trade deficit. International reserves of the Bank of Sierra Leone have declined. This, combined with an appreciating US dollar and sharp depreciation of the exchange rate make for a precarious situation. Furthermore, development aid will be required and we will still continue to a large extent to depend on grants from the World bank and other bodies for budgetary support.
Right now we are in an era of several uncertainties:
The Economic uncertainty, caused by skyrocketing prices for food, fuel and transportation may to a large extent be global, but the populace is uncertain as to when the current hardship which is really biting will abate.
The Political uncertainty is several fold. Lingering concerns by the US and EU countries in particular over the conduct of the elections by ECSL may have led to uncertainties about the MCC compact and continued availability of adequate budgetary support, unless some preconditions are met. The APC’s non- participation in governance, for whatever reason is not a good sign that there is national cohesion in the country.
There are also uncertainties related to appointments which keep trickling in at a snail’s pace with many people heading Government Agencies and parastatals not sure about whether or not they will be replaced.
Then there is the new phenomenon of the uncertainty related to instructions coming from faceless individuals calling for strikes that paralyze normal working life and functioning of businesses. Unfortunately, this has sometimes led to confrontation with security forces and loss of life.
The combination of all these factors helps drown the government’s messaging and affect its strive to implement its priority projects. Irrespective of who is to blame, these events are happening under the government’s watch. The government has the responsibility to assuage the fears of our development partners and ensure that there is national cohesion and peace and stability in the country. Government will undoubtedly strategize to decide on what line of action to take on each of these concerns. Admittedly, these are not easy and some solutions may not be palatable to some stakeholders.
President Bio’s recent meeting with representatives from the Commonwealth Secretariat and the leadership of the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion (ICPNC) and other mediating parties, including the ECOWAS in which he expressed his Government’s willingness to collaborate with all Sierra Leoneans, including the APC is a step in the right direction. His government needs to assuage the fears of our major development partners. This must be done circumspectly, without fanfare or bravado and in a measured way, putting the national interest before personal idiosyncrasies.
It is heartening to note that some Senior Journalists like Sorie Fofana and Thomas Dixon are calling for such. In a widely circulated article, Fofana indicated how President Kabbah had gotten over his problem of rapprochement with Iran, viewed by the West with disdain and laced with threats, by engaging through quiet diplomatic channels. Dixon has advised in favour of the government hanging heads with the APC and on the need to maintain political stability and not deter investments.
In the final analysis it would seem prudent as a nation with incessant problems surrounding our election bodies and judiciary over the past sixteen years, that have at one stage or another affected both major parties and are a major source of our national divisions, to take a fresh look at our entire electoral and governance systems.
We are no doubt currently experiencing an uneasy calm in an era of unpredictability. Let us hope things do not boil over. It behooves the government to address the unprecedented large number of threats to our peace stability and prosperity.
Ponder my thoughts.