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19 Jul 2007: ISS Today: Sierra Leone 2007 Elections - Hopes and Challenges
19 July 2007

19 July 2007: Sierra Leone 2007 Elections - Hopes and Challenges


On 11 August 2007, the voters of Sierra Leone will go to the polls to elect a new president, in the second major elections since the country emerged from 11 years of catastrophic war. Post-conflict Sierra Leone was socially broken, economically devastated and politically fractured. The 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections ushered in a new socio-economic and political order expected to create conditions conducive to the eradication of the main causes that led to war and instability: endemic corruption, widespread poverty, the absence of socio-economic opportunities for the youth and systematic political repression.


Under the leadership of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, and with massive assistance from development partners particularly the UK, Sierra Leone has experienced five years of relative democratic stability and has initiated a series of reconstruction projects. However, healing the scars of war and addressing effectively social and economic inequalities among citizens to establish a vibrant democracy remain challenges for the country`s political elite.


2007 Elections: What is at stake?


Unlike the 2002 elections, this August`s exercise occurs after Sierra Leone seems to have made noticeable progress toward the establishment of the government institutions, peace and stability needed for a legitimate state. The 2007 elections appear critical for the consolidation of Sierra Leone`s democratic experiment as well as its post-conflict reconstruction efforts. It would be wrong, however, to consider these elections, or even democracy itself, as panaceas for all the socio-economic ills currently facing Sierra Leone. The volatile environment in Sierra Leone, however, suggests that free, fair and non-violent elections are necessary for the completion of the post-conflict reconstruction initiatives, for sustainable peace, stability and sound economic recovery. The ability of Sierra Leone`s political actors, civil society organisations and development partners to work towards the consolidation of democratic institutions will determine largely whether there is lasting peace in Sierra Leone.  


The majority of the people of Sierra Leone are of the opinion that if the gains since 2002 are to be consolidated then those responsible for affairs of state should exercise great prudence by promoting political tolerance, respect for human right, press freedom and adherence to the principles of the rule of law. (1).


As the first elections organised without the involvement of the UN Peace Mission, the 2007 elections present the opportunity to reassure the world that Sierra Leone indeed has come to political maturity and that all political actors adhere to the principle of the possibility of regime change by means of the democratic process.  The reformed National Electoral Commission (NEC) bears the responsibility of planning, organising and delivering a clean electoral contest. Currently, the NEC needs an additional $2million to complete the $20million it requires to run the elections. Should this prove insufficient, the recruitment of polling agents will be constrained by lack of funds or motivation for a job that is temporary and ill-paid in a country affected by high rate of unemployment. There is a fear that the decision to postpone the election from 28 July to 11 August, when the rainy season is at its peak, could affect the voter turnout.


Issues and Actors


Though the imperatives of peace strongly influenced the outcomes of the 2002 elections, socio-economic considerations have been more prominent during the 2007 campaign. The overwhelming disillusionment of the Sierra Leone masses following the inability of the Sierra Leone People`s Party (SLPP) to satisfy the essential needs of citizens may well determine the outcome, and compromise the re-election of the SLPP candidate, vice-president Salomon Berewa.


The SLPP has the advantage of incumbency, with access to resources for a comprehensive campaign. The legacy of having contributed to the return of peace in Sierra Leone reinforces the comparative advantage of the ruling party. However, the arrest and the indictment in 2003 of the Kamajors-turned Civil Defence Forces leader Hinga Norman who fought the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) alongside the government, ECOMOG and the UN forces and his subsequent death created tensions within the party`s Mende electoral base in the south-eastern Bo district. The departing president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah`s anointment of Salomon Berewa as his successor has further contributed to the split in the ruling party. Party dissidents have flocked to the ranks of rivals: the All People Party (APC) and the People`s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC).  These two parties have made clear their intention of challenging the hegemony of the SLPP.


The APC, one of the oldest political parties in Sierra Leone, is now under the new leadership of Ernest Koroma, an insurance executive from the north, and is the principal opposition party in Sierra Leone. In the 2002 elections, the APC won 19.8 percent of the votes, securing 22 out of 112 parliamentary seats. Ernest Koroma won 22 percent of the votes in the presidential race. The strength of the APC is traditionally among the Temne and Limba peoples of the north, but recent developments in the political landscape since the end of the war seem to balance considerations of ethnicity against the personal reputation of the candidates as well as the past record of their parties. The APC is still perceived as the party responsible for the 11-year war, which is seen as a consequence of the dictatorship of its leaders between 1968 and 1992. It remains to be seen whether Ernest Koroma, known for his honesty, will succeed in overcoming that stigma in the upcoming elections.


Disappointed by the inability of the Kabbah-led SLPP to improve their living conditions, and haunted by the past atrocities associated with the APC single-party autocracy, Sierra Leone`s people may seek a new alternative in the newly formed People`s Movement for Democratic Change (PDMC). Led by a dissident from SLPP Charles Margai, the PMDC has established itself as a force for change and a departure from a traditional rivalry between two old parties. The PMDC seems popular among the youth, the largest electoral constituency and the most affected by the high rate of unemployment in Sierra Leone and a refuge of hope for the ex-combatants from RUF and the Civil Defence Forces.




It would be a bold step to predict with any degree of certainty who will emerge as Sierra Leone`s new leader. Salomon Berewa seems to be well-integrated into the donor community, however, and this counts in his favour among the electorate. However, should Salomon Berewa win, it seems unlikely that there will be any significant change in the current economic reform programme, which many allege has benefited only the political elite. An opposition victory, particularly the newly formed PMDC, would symbolise a break with SLPP lethargy and represent an important step toward the consolidation of the Sierra Leonean democratic experiment.


David Zounmenou, African Security Analysis Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria)


1. Abdulai Bayraytay, Sierra Leone at the Cross Roads, The Independent (Freetown), 24 April 2007