Unveiling the Illusion: Analyzing Sierra Leone’s Democratic Shortcomings

by Sierraeye

Sierra Leone’s transition from a one-party system to a multiparty democracy in 1991 marked a significant milestone in the nation’s history. However, despite this achievement, the country has struggled to fully embody the principles of democracy over the past 27 years. As the upcoming elections approach, it is crucial to examine the various aspects of democracy beyond mere electoral processes that need attention and improvement. This article explores the deficiencies in Sierra Leone’s democratic framework, focusing on the violation of fundamental human rights, the imbalance of power among government branches, and the urgent need for constitutional reforms.

The Importance of Upholding Fundamental Human Rights
While elections play a vital role in democracy, they are just one aspect of a broader framework that includes the protection of fundamental human rights. Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution enshrines 30 articles related to human rights, but the country has primarily neglected these provisions. Citizens’ rights, such as protection against arbitrary arrest or detention, freedom of movement, and freedom of expression and assembly, are frequently violated without accountability. The limited attention given to these rights undermines the true essence of democracy and hampers progress in the nation.

The Imperative of Separation of Powers
A crucial democratic principle is the separation of powers, which ensures checks and balances among the three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial. In Sierra Leone, an imbalance of power undermines the independence of the judiciary, preventing it from effectively checking abuses of power by the executive branch. This excessive concentration of authority negatively affects state agencies, departments, and institutions. The executive’s dominance also compromises the neutrality, professionalism, and merit-based functioning of the public service, as stipulated by the Civil Service Code of Conduct.

Fragilities in the Constitution and the Need for Reform
Sierra Leone’s democracy is significantly hindered by the inherent weaknesses in the 1991 constitution. To address these issues, the Constitutional Review Committee proposed various recommendations. Some notable recommendations include separating the positions of Minister of Justice and Attorney General, removing the president from Parliament to uphold the separation of powers, and ensuring an independent judiciary by limiting the president’s influence over the appointment of judges. Implementing these recommendations is paramount to fortifying the nation’s democracy, as the current constitutional framework leaves room for undue executive control and undermines the effectiveness of other branches of government.

The Call for International Support and Political Will
To rectify the shortcomings in Sierra Leone’s democracy, it is essential for the international community, academics, scholars, and civil society organizations to advocate for implementing the Constitutional Review Committee’s recommendations. The continued focus solely on voters’ rights neglects the comprehensive reform required for a functioning democracy. Without addressing these constitutional deficiencies, citizens will remain vulnerable to violations of their rights, while institutional heads will prioritize instructions from above over fulfilling their responsibilities.

Sierra Leone’s democracy faces significant challenges, from the violation of fundamental human rights to the imbalance of power among government branches. It is crucial for the country’s leaders, irrespective of political affiliation, to prioritize constitutional reform for good governance, economic development, social cohesion, security, and justice. The international community must lend its support to ensure the implementation of the constitutional review committee’s recommendations. By addressing these issues, Sierra Leone can overcome the hurdles and pave the way for a more robust and inclusive democratic system that safeguards the rights and aspirations of its citizens.

Mohamed Sesay is a student of the Faculty of Economics and Development Studies at Fourah Bah College (FBC), and holds BSc Honors in Public Sector Management, both University of Sierra Leone.

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