President Bio’s desperation to win Freetown creates tension as electoral body makes constituency boundary changes

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 August 2022:

President Bio’s victory at the last elections in 2018, was hailed by opposition parties as the result of massive voter fraud and ballot rigging by elections officials sympathetic to the SLPP party. This accusation which almost brought chaos and violence to the streets, prompted the intervention of ECOWAS elections observers in the country, pressing on President Ernest Bai Koroma and his ruling APC to accept the results so as to avoid violent conflict.

In the wake of those elections in 2018, many analysts concluded that given a level electoral playing field – characterised by free and fair polling, President Bio cannot win elections in Sierra Leone because of his brutal military past and poor leadership.

Four years on, and with less than a year to go before the people of Sierra Leone go to the polls once again, President Bio is being accused of desperately embarking on a dangerous and gigantic mission to change the country’s constituency boundaries and elections laws to remain in power.

With the passing last week in parliament of the 2022 electoral laws, more powers have been granted to the head of the country’s elections body to annul election results and create new constituencies that will give huge electoral advantage to the ruling SLPP party, using the seriously flawed and heavily condemned provisional results of the 2021 population census.

The decision of leaders of the main opposition APC party to call on their members and supporters  to boycott the 2021 census, left whole swathes of constituencies across the country uncounted, and now facing the prospect of seeing the total number of people registering to vote next year far higher than the provisional 2021 census data.

In order to avoid chaos next year, some analysts are calling for the registration of all eligible voters for the 2023 elections to be used as  the correct basis for delimiting or redrawing electoral ward boundaries, if at all there is to be changes to constituency boundaries across the country, which successive governments have used to their political advantage.

Take the country’s capital Freetown for example, where President Bio is desperately aiming to garner at least 40% of votes if he is to remain in office, as well as an average swing of 15% in constituencies in the opposition northern half of the country; using the seriously flawed provisional results of the 2021 census would be electorally fatal for opposition parties, especially the main opposition APC.

The provisional results of the 2021 mid-term census show an incredulous 42.5% reduction in the population of Freetown (from 1,055,964 in 2015 to 606,701 in 2021). This could mean fewer electoral wards in the capital, should the Electoral Commission go ahead with the use of these figures to redraw elections boundaries.

The major financial sponsor of the census – the World Bank, pulled out of the census last year and withdrew its funding, citing concerns about technical unpreparedness of Statistics Sierra Leone as well as inadequate training of enumerators.

The World Bank was also seriously concerned that there had been no evaluation of the pilot census which is required before the full census was rolled out

There is substantial evidence and testimonies of many living in Freetown, showing that they were not counted because no one went to count them, even after calling the helpline.  Entire communities in Freetown (particularly informal settlements) reported that no one went to count them.

Many of the census enumerators have still not been paid. They have stated in public that the lack of resources hindered their work and their ability to move around.

In June this year, Mayor of Freetown – Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr wrote a letter to Statistics Sierra Leone, calling for a review of the 2021 census data. This is what she said: 

Dear Statistician General

CONCERNS RE ACCURACY OF MID-TERM CENSUS RESULTS FOR WESTERN AREA URBAN (FREETOWN)

I have seen on social media the provisional results of the mid-term population and housing census which indicates that the population of the capital city, Freetown (Western Area Urban), has decreased by 42.5% from 1,055,964 in 2015 to 606,701 in 2021.

As the Mayor of Freetown, I am extremely concerned about the accuracy of this data and the significant additional development challenges that would result from the adoption of inaccurate data in respect of  Freetown’s population.

I wish to bring to your attention published and/or independently verifiable data points which strongly suggest that there has been a substantial undercount of Freetown’s population in the mid-term population and housing census. I set these data points out below with brief explanations of how they relate to the provisional results of the Freetown mid-term census population:

  • The total number of voters in Western Area Urban registered by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for the March 2018 general elections was 606,939 (https://nec.gov.sl/uploads/files/Completed_RegistrationPressRelease2017.pdf). NEC registered voters are 18 years old and over and are thus a subset of the entire population. But this number is greater than the mid-term census provisional Freetown population of 606,701 which is meant to reflect the entire population.
  • The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) 2020 school census1 confirmed that there are 413,407 pupils enrolled in Western Area Urban (pre-primary to senior secondary) (https://www.dsti.gov.sl/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/ASC-2020-Report.pdf). The number of school pupils in the MBSSE school census gives an indication of those in the Western Area Urban between the ages of 6 years and 18 years, but it must be noted that: (i) it does not include those under the age of 6 years; and (ii) there are many children in Western Area Urban who are not enrolled in school so the total number of those between 0 and 18 in Freetown is in fact greater than the 413,407 recorded in the MBSSE 2020 school census.
  • The combination of the school pupils recorded in the MBSSE 2020 school census (413,407) and the number of NEC registered Western Area Urban voters (606,939) effectively covers those between 6 to 18 years and those 18 years and over who chose to be registered giving a total of 1,020,346.
  • Freetown City Council introduced a digital property rate system in 2020 which used satellite images of the city to capture all properties in the city for inclusion in our property database. A distinction is made in the property database between formal structures (properties with foundations, walls, roofs etc) which are assessed for property rates and informal structures (those without foundations) which are not assessable for property rates.

As at 8th June 2022, Freetown City Council has 107,526 assessable domestic properties (formal structures) in our property database. Based on the 2015 National Census data, Western Area Urban has 9.2 population per house (https://www.statistics.sl/index.php/census/census-2015.html), so it could be assumed that there are approximately 989,239 people (107,526 x 9.2) living in the domestic properties in Freetown City Council database.

  • Slum Dwellers Association’s partner organization, the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA), conducted population profiling of 58 slum communities in Western Area Urban between November 2020 and May 2021 and recorded 344,147 people.

The vast majority of these people live in informal structures which are not assessable for property rates.

  • Combining the estimated 989,239 people that live in the Freetown City Council assessed domestic properties with the 344,147 people profiled as living in 58 slum communities, gives a total of 1,333,386 people.

With rapid rural-urban migration and in the absence of development controls (land-use planning and an effective building permit regime) Freetown has in recent years experienced an exponential growth in the number and size of informal settlements (slum communities) with many of these, unfortunately expanding into the coastal mangroves and up onto the hills around the city.

1 The MBSSE 2020 school census was funded by the World Bank and the European Union

2 The population profiling was funded by the World Bank and Slum Dwellers International

The Migration and Urbanization Report published by Statistics Sierra Leone in October 2017 states “The percentage of lifetime in-migrants shows that the most migrant-attractive region in Sierra Leone is the Western Area, where a little more than half of the enumerated population were born outside the region.…. The influence of the capital Freetown certainly plays a major role in making the Western Region attractive to migrants. This city is the economic, financial and cultural centre of Sierra Leone. Most of the country’s largest companies and international companies locate their headquarters in Freetown. Furthermore, Freetown has the most functional harbour, around which its economy revolves, is home to the Government, and has the best social and economic infrastructure”.

The Statistics Sierra Leone findings resonate with the findings of our work on rural-urban migration at the Freetown City Council. Related to membership of the Mayors Migration Council, Freetown City Council conducted a survey of members of sanitation tricycle groups in 2020 and confirmed that over 40% of the existing members were rural-urban migrants.

Similarly, through our work on informal settlement upgrades and related surveys conducted in 2020, we note that 37% of people living in Cockle Bay and 35% of people living in Kolleh Town are rural-urban migrants. (Survey results are available for review).

Furthermore, ariel images taken between 2015 and 2022 and provided below, show the physical expansion of four informal settlements (slum communities) from year to year as more and more people have moved into Freetown. This physical expansion of slum communities is replicated across all 74 slum communities in Western Area Urban.

The delivery of services and much needed infrastructure for the residents of Freetown is already a significant challenge due to serious financial resource constraints including but not limited to fiscal transfers from the Government of Sierra Leone. Approximately 55% of Government fiscal transfers are allocated to cover the operations of Freetown’s secondary hospitals (Macauley Street Hospital and Lumley Hospital) and the District Health Medical Team (DHMT).

Government fiscal transfers to Freetown City Council have already been subject to substantial reductions in recent years, including a 90% reduction in the administrative grant allocated to the Freetown City Council from 2018 to 2022. (It should be noted that no allocation has yet been disbursed to the Freetown City Council and other local councils for 2022).

If the mid-term provisional Freetown population result is adopted, it would trigger a commensurate reduction in the Government of Sierra Leone fiscal allocations to Freetown as well as a potential reduction in other financial inflows(overseas development aid, foreign direct investments, private sector funds etc).

This would be a great injustice to the well over 1 million Freetonians living in this very overcrowded city with a high demand for and right to improved services.

The purported 42.5% reduction in the population of Freetown suggested by the provisional results of the mid-term census is not consistent with independent verifiable data points as highlighted above, nor with the visible physical experience of informal settlement growth within the city.

In the light of all the above, I would be most grateful if Statistics Sierra Leone could urgently review the provisional results for the midterm census for Freetown as the current results clearly significantly undercount the city’s population.

Assuring you of my highest regards

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE

Mayor of Freetown

cc

The Minister of Development and Economic Planning

The Minister of Western Region

The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development

The Chairperson, Budget and Finance Committee, Freetown City Council

The Chief Administrator, Freetown City Council

4 Comments

  1. Owing to the fact that census in our nation have always been conducted every 10yrs like the world over, the opposition knew all along the idea of the current regime conducting a midterm census, just after one was held barely 5yrs past, was all a ploy for the PAOPA regime to clandestinely redraw the political map in their favor. The fake census was never conceive for national benefits but for PAOPA political motives. The goals and objectives were already set in stone before even the first person was counted.

    Using the so called first ever digital census as a deceptive selling points, the number of population count were bound to be skew and manipulated to achieve the objective. So regardless of whether the opposition have cooperated or not, the result would have never go against what the PAOPA regime have planned behind the scene. So bravo to the world bank and opposition parties in opposing such a sham exercise that will go down in history as the worst census ever. Thankfully, the real census is fast approaching, 2025, ten years after the last real census in 2015. All of this madness will be corrected!

  2. Egregiously skewed census results. Paving the way for illegitimate and shameful gerrymandering. All in a climate of generalised suspicion and heightened party-political rancour fuelling and in turn fuelled by ethnic and regional divisions and tensions.

    Surely, the incubation and parturition of the politically unspeakable – a military coup – are a likely outcome. Sadly, our beloved homeland on President Bio’s watch possesses all the unholy ingredients of turbulence and instability and is heading inexorably towards the obvious and the abominable: another round of k(h)akistocracy.

    Barring divine intervention or the intervention of Sierra Leonean voters themselves, the forces of institutionalised violence and coercive control are again lurching towards Romarong to be reborn.

  3. Many concerned Sierra leoeans and international organisations are warning our country is heading in the wrong direction. Over the last four years , the Bio government have weaponised ethnicity and tribalism with the sole purpose it will work in his favour to decide the future outcome of the 2023 presidential election. The rigged census, the appointment of yes men and women in the national electoral commission, the body responsible for organising ,overseeing and ensuring we have free and fair elections , the appointment of SLPP sympathetic judges that hear cases of elections outcomes challenges ,and above all else the redrawing of consistency boundaries didn’t all happen by share coincidence, but calculated to the maximum effects .More like making sure all areas are covered .And complacency is thrown out of the window .Politicians of all colours knows due to the numerical advantage of their tribe have always been a decisive factor in deciding elections outcomes in the country.Mende and Themene heavyweights politicians have always managed to draw their support from majority of their tribesmen and women to score political advantage over others ,who might be best place or more qualified to run the affairs of the State .

    Mayor Swayer , Dr Yumkellah, Dr Bright etc .And this is the political quagmire our country finds itself .One is quick to make the assumption once in power, social and economic opportunities for their tribesmen and women are skewed towards helping them climb the economic ladder in our societies .But the reality speaks for itself .The people of the South and East of the country share the same economic hardship that you will find in the North and West of the country. I think the residents of the south have always had it bad regardless of who is in office .

    The Dougbouwusu uprising of 1982 was a case in point .The fact Copral Foday Sankoh used the South to lunched his RUF wars and was met with sympathy, tells you Kailahun and Pujehun haven’t always been the most advantage economic regions in Sierra Leone. Decades of neglects by all colours ,regardless of who is in power shows the forgotten people of South that government is not working for them .The only people that seemed to take advantage of our political polarisation are our corrupt politicians and foreigners that are making millions of dollars out of our country’s natural resources ,whilst we indulge in the blame game and political finger pointing.The only solution is to address the mismatch of the economic opportunities that exist amongst us all regardless of tribal and regional affiliation.And create more jobs and offer training to all not based on their tribe . I don’t think Bio is the right candidate to deliver on that .

  4. Those politicians who were inciting people not to come out and be counted are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Their selfish actions were meant solely for their own benefits and not for the general populace.

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