Sierra Leone: Violence breaks out in Freetown two days to general elections

Sierra Leone is scheduled to hold elections on Saturday, June 24, 2023. with an estimated 3.4 million registered voters expected to participate. On Wednesday 21, violence broke out in the country’s capital around All People’s Congress (APC) (Sierra Leone’s main opposition party) headquarters on Wednesday, killing at least one person.

Despite fears of unrest in the run-up to the polls, up until now, the campaign period was largely peaceful till complaints were raised by the opposition regarding alleged attacks and harassment by the ruling party. These reported incidents pose a grave challenge to maintaining the integrity of a free and fair electoral process.

Already, a joint statement has been by the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Germany, France, and the European Union highlighting concerns regarding reported cases of election-related violence in Sierra Leone. The statement appealed to all parties involved to remain peaceful and promote a safe and transparent election process.

The West African nation which was established as a colony for freed slaves went through a brutal civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002.  Despite the devastating 11-year civil war, the country has since made significant strides toward peace and democratic stability. However, some challenges remain, and there are ongoing efforts to address issues of economic development, political inclusivity, and social cohesion.

It is vital for a post-conflict country like Sierra Leone to hold credible elections because elections play a critical role in consolidating peace and stabilizing a country. In a post-conflict phase, where Sierra Leone has been plagued by violence and instability, a credible, transparent, and fair electoral process can help rebuild public trust in the government and foster a sense of national unity. This can also enable citizens to take part in shaping their country’s democratic institutions and policies, which can help prevent future conflicts and promote long-term stability.

So far, 59-year-old President Julius Maada Bio, who is seeking a second and final term, is considered to be one of the leading candidates amongst the thirteen candidates contending for Sierra Leone’s presidency. His major competitor is Samura Kamara of the All-People’s Congress (APC), who closely contested against Bio in the previous presidential election in 2018.

Aside from the violence, the role of money in Sierra Leone’s elections has been another long-standing concern, and this year’s election is not any different. Sierra Leone just like many other African nations has a Campaign Finance element included in its Political Parties Act, however, there is non-compliance due to the lack of political will or enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with these regulations.

Secrets Known learned that during the campaign period, several allegations of voter vote-buying where voters receive financial inducements in exchange for their vote were raised against the ruling All People’s Congress (APC). The APC also allegedly used government resources and structures to fund its campaign, including state vehicles and funds meant for disaster relief. These kinds of corrupt practices undermine the integrity of the election and erode public confidence in the electoral process.

In conclusion, the issue of violence and campaign finance among others have always been a significant concern in Sierra Leone’s electoral process, and the upcoming 2023 presidential election is no exception.

The upcoming election will be a critical test for the country’s democracy. It is crucial for all stakeholders involved in the election to uphold the principles of democracy and respect the rule of law to ensure that the upcoming election is conducted peacefully, fairly, and transparently and that the voice of the Sierra Leonean people is heard.

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