October 23, 2007


Democracy in Sierra Leone: Still recovering from civil war, but looking forward. (Benjamin Alsdurf, September/October, Books & Culture)

These 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections were the first since U.N. peacekeepers left in 2002, following the country's 10-year civil war. The current president, Tejan Kabbah, won the last election with over 70 percent of the vote, having been widely credited for bringing the country to peace. Now five years later, Sierra Leone is in charge of its own election and the international community has been closely watching the outcome. With a population of five million, this country—roughly the size of South Carolina—is situated on Africa's west coast and boasts massive natural resources, including both large mineral deposits and fertile land. It also has the dubious distinction of ranking next to last in the UNDP's human development index.

Voters openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. For some this meant that Solomon Berewa, "Solo B", the current ruling party's candidate, should be given a chance to finish the work that his Sierra Leonean Peoples Party (SLPP) started when peace was established in 2002. In one of the most interesting developments in the lead-up to the election, Charles Margai, frustrated at losing his bid to be the SLPP's presidential candidate, split off to form a third major party, The People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC). With that move, Margai upended what had been a historical rivalry between the SLPP and the All People's Congress (APC). The Mende-dominated SLPP has long controlled the southern and eastern parts of the country, whereas the Temne-dominated APC has fared better in the north and west. Margai's penchant for vitriolic speeches against the ruling SLPP made him the firebrand of the election and a clear favorite of younger SLPP supporters disenchanted with their party's performance.

The APC, which controlled the country for most of its first 30 years of independence, emerged as the front-runner in the first round of elections. Its candidate, Ernest Bai Koroma, once described to me as "a soft-spoken technocrat," succeeded in rallying enough of the APC faithful along with a percentage of disgruntled voters to come out ahead. Constitutionally, to win the first round of voting, a candidate must secure 55% of the vote, and Koroma's 44% was not enough to avoid a runoff election. [...]

In the end yet another twist seems to have determined the result of the election. In 477 polling stations, turnout exceeded the number of registered voters, and the NEC decided that all ballots cast at those stations should be thrown out. Ironically, these stations were in predominantly SLPP areas. Forces that may have been trying to help the SLPP ended up doing their party a great disservice. The outcome of what was predicted to be an extremely close race was 54% for Ernest Bai Koroma and 45% for Solomon Berewa. Many of the polling stations that would have given a majority of their votes to "Solo B" were among those disqualified.

This election was trying for Sierra Leone, with much commerce and many day-to-day activities suspended during the election period. After months of hearing from two candidates who did their best to polarize the electorate, the country now must focus on moving forward. After the election, representatives from both parties spoke with pride and hopefulness about their country. Despite a few hiccups along the way, it seems fitting to congratulate "Salone" on a job well done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2007 7:52 PM

Well with democracy on the move there and the Chicoms involvement in Africa, it could turn into an even more interesting (ie. wacky) place than it already is - I mean it has it all - Mugabes, Mubaraks, Khadaffis, SA, Liberia, Congo, Darfurs, rebels, terrorists, warlords, oil, gold, diamonds, disease, oceans, pirates oh my!

Posted by: KRS at October 23, 2007 11:13 PM