Civic education is needed to consolidate the peace in preparation for general elections in Sierra Leone

Mohamed Kunowah Kiellow

22 December 2011

Mohamed Kunowah Kiellow

 

Next year – 2012, general elections will be conducted in Sierra Leone, where a new president and members of parliament will be elected to represent the citizens.

All political parties are expressing high hopes of winning the election, and are ‘determined’ to change the economic, political and social lives of Sierra Leoneans.

There are however early signs that the election will be marred by violence, as the electorate is ready to stop at nothing to vote for candidates from their region, instead of voting for aspirants that have good programs or manifesto for the development of Sierra Leone.

According to national census report of 2004, Sierra Leone has an estimated population of about six million people, out of whom 52% are women. It covers an estimated area of 72 square kilometres (28,000 square miles).

Sierra Leone has a long history of large political participation and representation, including her inspiration as the “Land of Freedom” in 1787.

In 1895, election of the Freetown Municipal Council took place, through a complex system of representation. The election of three Colony representatives to the Legislative Council started in 1924. Sierra Leoneans participated more broadly with the extension of franchise to the Protectorate in 1957, after which a suffrage became universal for all adults.

Since gaining independence on 27 April 1961, Sierra Leone has shown her political maturity in Africa, especially in the area of electioneering. Sierra Leone was the first African country in which an opposition party came to power by electoral means.

The first election victory for the opposition took place in 1967. Forty years later, history repeated itself when the opposition party took the reigns of power from the ruling party in 2007.

Politicians across the political spectrum have been able to divide their governed along tribal, political and social lines, and rule them in a manner consistent with their whims and caprices. This style of rule has caused untold suffering to the people of Sierra Leone. The politicians are able to appeal to the minds of the electorate by propagating political divide amongst the various tribes.

The gullible electorate therefore, cast their votes based on regional and tribal subjectivity. They do not vote for candidates who have very good programmes (manifestoes) that will improve their lives. The electorate does not get thorough knowledge of the programme put forward by the parties and how those programmes will generally improve their socio-economic lives.

This is because majority of the voters are illiterate, and therefore do not have the ability to critically assess at the programmes and policies of the contesting parties.

Thus, the electorate of Sierra Leone very often votes for people who do not have their best interests at heart. During electioneering, they promise the people socio-economic developments: they will provide clean water, adequate housing, affordable medical care and abundant food supply.

Once the elected politicians are in power, they totally forget to fulfil their promises. Little do they realise that the people have sovereignty rights.

According to section 5 – paragraph 2a of the country’s Constitution, ‘.. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Sierra Leone from whom Government through this Constitution derives all its powers, authority and legitimacy.’ By sovereignty of the people is meant ‘the belief that the legitimacy of the state is created by the will or consent of its people’, who are the source of all political power.

It is only education of the people regarding their civic, human and constitutional rights that will enhance their power against the politicians who have become so powerful that they do not work in the interest of their electorate.

Politicians very well know that, at election they will win votes by simply campaigning on sectional, regional and tribal bases.

The end of the war in Sierra Leone saw the en-masse emergence of human rights organizations in Sierra Leone. Through the dedicated work of these organizations, the human rights situation in the country is a far cry better than it was before the war.

However, most of the human rights organizations lack the legal background that will enable them to use human rights instruments in achieving sustainable development in the country.

Moreover, no human rights organization has conducted nationwide training of citizens, so as to enable them to effectively use their voting rights, in ways that will enhance socio-economic development.

In one of my previous articles I recommended among other things that:

• The people of Sierra Leone should know the constitutional duties of the members of parliament, and be able to hold them accountable for neglect of their constituencies. The constitution of Sierra Leone accords sovereignty right to the people of Sierra Leone, which is why they should be empowered through education.

• The people of Sierra Leone should be educated in the fundamental principles of a good election and the tools they can use in order to send representatives to parliament that are answerable to them.

Moreover, there is growing recognition among nation states that democratic elections are a central element of peace-building in post-conflict societies. This emphasis on election, acknowledges that popularly supported – legitimate institutions, can be a key to lasting solutions to conflicts.

One of the ways of achieving this is through civic education in election processes. Civic education should take the form of awareness building, with respect to the programmes and policies offered by the various political parties.

The electorate must be educated to understand that votes must be cast, based on those programmes and policies, rather than regional or tribal sentiments. This will augur well for development, wherein the ‘governors’ work in the best interest of the ‘governed’.

Given that the majority of Sierra Leoneans are illiterate, it is therefore an indisputable fact that civic education should entail strategies that take into consideration the educational background of the majority of Sierra Leoneans. Put another way, the strategies should reach the illiterate population in the country.

Sierra Leone can only be sustainably developed – socially and economically, when the electorate is aware of the fact that their lives will be changed for better, when they cast their votes for a political party that has a progressive manifesto.

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