Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 July 2023
Since removing his military uniform to become a civilian politician in the late 1990s, there have been calls for the Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio to be put on trial for the State assasination of 29 citizens of Sierra Leone, including senior military and police officers whom the Bio-led military junta had executed in cold blood without legal due process. The whereabouts of the graves of those 29 are still unknown.
In 2014, in the face of a raging Ebola pandemic in West Africa, killing thousands of people in Sierra Leone, former President Ernest Bai Koroma invited Julius Maada Bio to State House in Freetown to help the government in its nationwide Ebola sensitisation programme. Koroma gave Bio thousands of Dollars in public funds to take the Ebola awareness campaign to his southeastern homeland. Many in Sierra Leone including senior APC officials criticised Ernest Bia Koroma for this decision, accusing him of naivety.
The ‘unholy’ Ebola deal struck between Ernest Bai Koroma and Julius Maada Bio in 2014, was to herald the beginning of the end of the APC’s hold on power in Sierra Leone. In 2018, Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio was elected President.
During his five years in office, President Bio destroyed every hope of Sierra Leone becoming a true democracy with a vibrant and prosperous economy, and a society that can enjoy the fruits of enduring and sustainable peace after a bloody ten year civil war.
The extra-judicial killing of over one hundred civilians in the last two years alone is another dark chapter in Sierra Leone’s history of state impunity and abuse of human rights.
On 24th June 2023, the people of Sierra Leone went to the polls with the hope of removing President Julius Maada Bio from office but they were disappointed. The president’s insatiable appetite for the abuse of power ensured that opposition parties were prevented from fully and freely campaigning without violence and intimidation from security forces and ruling party agents.
Not even the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone remained sacred. Acting under the influence and grip of the ruling SLPP party, the Chief Electoral Commissioner – Mohamed Konneh, could not resisit the temptation of manipulating the election results in favour of President Julius Maada Bio and his SLPP party.
But this grotesque rigging of the results have not gone unnoticed. The world is watching. Whilst the coronation of President Bio has granted him another five-year term in office, Sierra Leone is fast becoming a pariah state, with Western nations distancing themselves from the June 24 elections results.
Sierra Leone’s democracy is on trial and President Bio and his chief electoral commissioner – Mohamed Konneh are in the dock for abuse of office and falsification of election results.
Last week (16 July 2023) Wealth Dickson Ominabo, communications officer at the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation published a story: “The trial and temptation of Sierra Leone’s democracy” in the Cable Nigeria Online Newspaper. This is what he said:
Sierra Leone’s recent election has brought to the forefront the challenges facing democratic governance in Africa. The electoral process was marred by violence, a lack of transparency, allegations of malpractice, brutality by security agents, and hate campaigns. These issues have had significant repercussions, including loss of life, damage to property, threats to peace and national stability, and setbacks in the nation’s years-long investment in national reconciliation.
On June 24, Sierra Leoneans participated in the general election for the presidency, parliament, and local council positions. These elections marked the fifth consecutive election since the country’s civil war ended in 2002 and the second since the completion of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) mandate in 2014.
The incumbent President, Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), was declared the winner of the presidential election by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) on June 27. President Bio secured 1,566,932 votes, surpassing his closest rival, Samura Kamara of the All Peoples Congress (APC), who received 1,148,262 votes.
President Bio was inaugurated for his second and final five-year term shortly after the announcement of results. However, Samura Kamara and the APC have vehemently rejected the results, alleging an attack on democracy and refusing to accept the outcome declared by the electoral commission.
According to the ECSL, the SLPP won 60% of the parliamentary seats, securing 81 out of 135, while the APC won the remaining 54 seats. Additionally, the SLPP gained control of 14 out of the 22 local councils, with the remaining eight going to the APC.
Public opinion among citizens is divided, with APC supporters criticising the electoral body for failing to uphold its role as an independent commission and accusing it of being influenced by the government. Conversely, SLPP supporters believe their victory is legitimate, attributing the APC’s defeat to internal party conflicts and asserting that the opposition had slim chances of winning.
The announced election results have triggered a wave of distrust, discontent, and resentment among political actors. The opposition parties have strongly rejected the results declared by the ECSL. The APC referred to the announcement of results by ECSL Chairman Mohamed Konneh as a “rogue announcement of fraudulent election results,” claiming that it poses the greatest threat to the country’s democracy.
The National Election Watch (NEW), a coalition of civil society groups in Sierra Leone, has raised concerns about result tabulation, arguing that the announced results do not align with reality. Despite calling for transparency and the publication of detailed results, the electoral commission has disregarded these demands.
International stakeholders who observed the elections acknowledged the presence of challenges, including logistical difficulties, violence, and a lack of transparency. The lack of transparency in the announcement of results by the ECSL has significantly contributed to the contestations, as the opposition party continues to assert that the declared results do not reflect the will of the people.
The APC has called for a rerun within six months, urging the involvement of credible individuals and institutions to oversee a fair and transparent election. The party declared its non-participation in any level of governance, including the legislature and local councils, claiming that the results have already been tampered with to grant an unjust majority to the SLPP.
The recent election in Sierra Leone has put the country’s democracy to the test and faced it with temptation. It will require deliberate action to address these challenges and prevent them from escalating into a full-fledged democratic crisis.
Analysts warn that the APC’s decision to boycott governance in the parliament and local councils could lead to a constitutional crisis, as the SLPP lacks the required two-thirds majority to pass legislation. Furthermore, this action exacerbates divisions among citizens and deprives a segment of the country of representation and participation in daily governance.
The lack of transparency observed during the recent election has eroded citizens’ trust in the democratic process and widened the legitimacy gap between certain sections of the country and the government. This situation has the potential to disrupt social cohesion and revive sentiments of the civil war era. The concluded elections have disrupted the country’s peace and undermined the faith and hope of many citizens. These developments are counterproductive to democracy, as elections should be an opportunity to foster civic engagement, unite the nation, and mobilise toward nation-building.
Instances of contestation arising from electoral outcomes have previously led to unrest and setbacks to democracy in Africa. The lack of transparency displayed by the electoral management body in Sierra Leone when announcing the results should be a cause for concern among democratic stakeholders.
Election manipulation and violence undermine the essence of democracy. The government of Sierra Leone and other stakeholders in the region must engage with opposition parties and members of civil society to seek political solutions and address the grievances expressed by various stakeholders.
Justice, freedom, and fairness are fundamental requirements for democracy. The absence of these elements compels citizens to take matters into their own hands. Access to justice is crucial for the stability of a state. Unfortunately, justice is often sacrificed for the sake of peace and stability.
Peace and national stability are outcomes of justice, fairness, transparency, and accountable leadership. In Africa’s zero-sum game of politics, the pursuit of national stability can only be achieved through fairness and justice in the political sphere. African leaders must rise to the occasion and insist on upholding democratic justice in their nations. Failure to do so will perpetuate the regression of states into anarchy.