When emerging democracies breed violence: Sierra Leone 20 years after the civil war

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 07 January 2022:

“Sierra Leone is no longer the peaceful country that miraculously buried a violent history during a brutal war. The collected data are an early warning that the country is regressing back into low levels of continuous violence that were typical during its pre-war political life,” says a joint report produced by the ACLED in partnership with Clingendael – the Netherlands Institute of International Relations and the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding-Sierra Leone (WANEP-SL).

Yesterday January 6th, marked 23 years since Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone was destroyed, and its people brutalised by drugged-up rebels, killing thousands as they loot and burn properties.

The report makes for chilling reading, and serves as a reminder of the evil and destruction that citizens can inflict on one another, when rogue politicians turn society and State into their personal asset.

This is what the report says in its introduction:

During the 1990s, Sierra Leone was a synonym for violence, with a major war ravaging the country. It has since seen an increase in public safety and security. Recent assessments have applauded the “little violence since the end of the civil wars” and the country’s peculiar post-war stability, asking: where is the war?

There are early signs, however, that political violence in the country is on the rise. In the middle of 2019, Sierra Leone dropped 10% on the Global Peace Index, and was among the five sub-Saharan countries with the worst deterioration of stability. In early 2020, a new Afrobarometer survey revealed that 80% of Sierra Leoneans surveyed believed that politics “often” or “always” leads to violence.

The survey also showed that more than half of the population experience violence at political rallies and events. The Campaign for Good Governance and Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella — a Sierra Leone opposition leader — have also independently highlighted various incidents of political violence in recent statements.

Yet there is limited evidence to make substantial claims about an increase or decrease of political violence and its drivers. Presently, debates in the country about political violence are often based on perceptions and anecdotes which cannot be taken at face value.

Likewise, any long-term observer of Sierra Leone’s politics can recall brutal incidents of political violence over the past 10 years. Debates over the security situation in Sierra Leone need real data in order to draw strong conclusions about the level of political violence in the country, its drivers, and its perpetrators.

This report makes four contributions. First, it analyzes trends in existing data on political violence in the country collected by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). These data provide an evidence base against which fact-free statements in the country can be judged.

Second, it shows concrete evidence of an increased number of incidents of political violence in Sierra Leone since 2012. This evidence is based on existing ACLED data as well as new data integrated from the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding – Sierra Leone (WANEP-SL) and academic research from the Sierra Leone – Local Event Dataset (SL-LED) as part of a joint project to monitor political violence in the country. The data indicate that political violence levels started to increase around 2014 and 2015 and peaked around the 2018 elections. Violence levels have remained high since.

The third contribution of this report is that it urges peacebuilders and development policymakers to rethink the assumption that building democratic institutions also builds peace. In Sierra Leone, the push for formal and informal government institutions — like political parties, decentralization, and the reinstatement of the chieftaincy — is based on the assumption that this leads to more inclusivity and a better social contract.

Yet, in Sierra Leone, the main drivers for violence are exactly these institutions. Democratic practices such as elections have become more and more institutionalized at all levels, but breed political competition. Political violence has become a tool in that competition. It should remind policymakers that reform is often manipulated and transformed, and can therefore lead to violence and instability.

A final implication of this report, directly following from the above, is that any attempt to engage in early warning activities should not only be informed by good data, but also by good thinking. Political violence is multifaceted and not reserved for conflict and war situations.

In early warning activities, we should not take a dichotomous view of countries in peace and in conflict, but should more generally account for the fact that political violence and forms of disorder are bred in the context of advancing democracies. How to detect these signs and how to respond with early action to keep advancing democracies afloat is a key challenge for the development community. This report concludes with multiple recommendations for how to guide Sierra Leone’s emerging democracy and limit manifestations of violence.

To support these arguments, this report takes the following structure. Section 1 explains the need for better data on political violence and the need to collaborate between organizations to obtain these data.

Section 2 includes data showing trends in political violence in Sierra Leone since 2012 up until early 2020. It compares incidences of political violence in Sierra Leone with those in other countries in the subregion.

Section 3 explores the types of violence and Section 4 examines the main perpetrators of violence.

Section 5 subsequently shows how democratic institution building has become entangled with elite interests and can lead to political violence. The final two sections discuss what national policymakers (Section 6) and international policymakers (Section 7) can do to maintain and promote inclusive governance and deal with the negative side-effects of Sierra Leone’s emerging democracy. 

You can read the report here:


This is a joint report produced by the ACLED in partnership with Clingendael – the Netherlands Institute of International Relations and the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding-Sierra Leone (WANEP-SL).

1 Comment

  1. After four tumultuous years under the leadership of Bio and his one directionless government, every Sierra-leoneans knows, Bio might just turned out to be the worst leader we ever elected in the office of the president. Peace building is not for the faint hearted. You need patience, tenacity, reaching out to your opponents and , knowing your history, learning from our past mistakes , and making sure we take the necessary steps to avoid all the pitfalls that brought up war. And most importantly invite people with different shades of opinions into one big tent to trash out their differences and work out ways on how to improve the quality of life for everyone within their community or country as a whole . So far under Bio’s leadership, we have seen a complete reversals of fortune for our country and its people.

    Our country’s fragile peace clock haven’t struck midnight yet, but every passing day, his policies of divide and rule is pushing our country towards that destination. None of us want that. Bio’s leadership lack the qualities to lead and bring peoples together. What we need in Sierra Leone, is the combination of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s talents to preach peace to peoples that have opposing views and encouraging them to work for the common good. A Mandela mentality that campaign in forgiveness, and encouraging people to work together regardless of their backgrounds. And Colonel Andrew Juxson- Smith former military leader of Sierra Leone that believe in inclusiveness regardless of your tribal and regional make up. Bio’s mentality is none of the above.

    Here is a president that served his country and fought in the civil war, against Foday Sankoh’s RUF rebels, but find it difficult to transition from a soldier fighting to save Sierra Leone from the rampaging rebels without a cause, that wants to destroy our country and its people, but finding it difficult in committing himself as a peace builder as a bridge too far. Bio promised us he will fight against corruption and help a broken country heal, only to turned out to we have more corruption division under his watch than any recent times. And he is not only a breeder of hate, but he wears it like a badge of honour.

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