13 December 2011
Sierra Leone’s general and presidential elections will take place in November next year, and already both the two main parties – APC and SLPP, are raising the stakes to a level not previously witnessed in the country’s most recent electoral history.
The unprecedented early pre-election campaigning has already started. And the SLPP leader – Maada Bio, is upping the ante by raising his international profile and democratic image.
President Koroma’s grip on power is becoming highly uncertain, as the opposition SLPP strengthen their bid to build on the more than 40% votes, they garnered at the 2007 elections.
The president’s ‘whiter than white’ image and zero tolerance for corruption mantra are now in the spotlight, and beginning to appear very flaky.
Writing in the British Guardian Newspaper yesterday, Bio delivered a scathing attack on president Koroma’s government mismanagement of the economy, corruption and tendency to stifle democratic freedoms.
He called upon the British government to ensure that their investment in Sierra Leone to end the brutal ten year war and return the country to democracy must not go in vain. He said that; “Democracy is under attack. All those with influence over the government must help ensure a peaceful political process.”
In this his first address directed in particular at the British public and coalition government, Bio presented himself as a credible and trusted pair of hands into which the helm of governance in Sierra Leone can be entrusted by the people at the polls in 2012.
This is what he told readers of the British Guardian Newspaper:
“There have been many criticisms of British overseas intervention in recent years, but one truly altruistic engagement for which the UK can be proud was its military intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000.
“This event, where a renewed British presence brought stability to a nation in the throes of a devastating civil war, allowed Sierra Leone the hope that the cycle of power-hungry military rulers may finally end.
“The UK’s intervention under Tony Blair helped to bring about one of the key milestones for Sierra Leone’s recovery – the ending of conflict – and allowed the return to democracy begun some years earlier to fully take root. Now, new elections are due in 2012. But recently things have taken a turn for the worse.
“I am the opposition’s presidential candidate for next year’s election, and in September, the national police intervened in a rally my party was holding. I was assaulted with stones and hospitalised.
“Many of my supporters were refused even basic medical treatment. Following this, the police imposed an indefinite ban on political rallies across the country.
“The danger that a free and fair election may not materialise this time in Sierra Leone is a tragedy not only for the country but also for Britain, which has invested so much in aid and support to the country in the last 11 years.
“Similarly, it is an uncomfortable development for Blair, who ordered the original military intervention, but who lauded the current president, Ernest Bai Koroma, as one of the “visionary African leaders” tackling poverty, while members of his political party and the police were breaking up and banning democratic rallies.
“In Sierra Leone democracy is still fragile. It has not yet been embedded in the national political consciousness as the only acceptable form of governance. Some political leaders believe its foundations can be removed and still it can flourish.
“As a former head of state who in 1996 handed power over to civilian, multi-party rule and then chose willingly not to contest the subsequent election, I know from experience this is not the case.
“Next year’s presidential election is therefore a crucial milestone for Sierra Leone, and for its democracy. Not least because in 2007, when my Sierra Leone People’s party lost power to Koroma, international observers widely commended the country for a poll that was free and fair.
“Next year’s ballot must be managed under similar conditions because the only way to ensure peace and development after decades of war is through government that has gained the expressed will of the people.
“So what of our current president? He may be visionary to Blair, but the experience of everyday Sierra Leoneans tells a very different story of life under Koroma. When he assumed office in 2007, our country held a modest position in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
“Today according to the same index, Sierra Leone ties with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
“Last month al-Jazeera made allegations of corruption in the heart of the vice-president’s office when it secretly filmed two people claiming to be his advisers accepting cash payments from undercover journalists in return for a promise he would support an illegal timber project.
“US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks said that in 2008 Koroma’s minister for transport, Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay, was questioned by the police for cocaine trafficking and then released and that the president had given direct orders for him not to be arrested, despite public statements that those with political connections accused of drug trafficking would not be given protection.
“These levels of favouritism are devastating, but they can be reversed. This must start by those holding influence with the current administration – such as Blair – repudiating all anti-democratic measures and being publicly honest about Koroma’s record in government.
“The UK, which supplies 60% of the Sierra Leonean government’s budget through aid, must demand change.
“But, ultimately, the country’s future must lie in the hands of its own people. Opportunities will come if we focus on growing our economy in a sustainable way that benefits all. This means freeing ourselves from the shackles of foreign aid and building stronger foundations for development.
“We face serious challenges, in education, the economy and democratic reform, but these can be overcome with a transparent political process. We remain positive, yet there are signs that the ghosts of the past may return to manipulate the fair elections we all deserve.
“One thing is for certain: all political parties must ensure that any transfer of power is peaceful. This will require an unwavering determination among those of us campaigning for an honest and accountable democracy. It is something the British government bravely advocated in 2000. Over a decade later, we must not let that intervention be in vain.”