VENTURES AFRICA – A decade after Sierra Leone’s gruesome civil war ended, the tiny West African nation of about six million people has always been linked to its ugly past; a past defined by atrocities committed by rebels which included the hacking of feet and hands of young and old, rape of girls and women and wanton destruction of life and property.
With the just concluded 2012 general elections, the third after the ten year war, and one widely acclaimed by international monitors as free, fair and transparent, the people of Sierra Leone have demonstrated to all and especially the international media that, it is about time their country be seen and described in a new light.
The new description, as Sierra Leoneans proudly say, must include among others one that speaks to their nation’s credentials as peaceful and democratic. The description must also point to a nation that is making genuine efforts to charting its future and ensuring that Sierra Leone becomes one of the most prosperous and modern nations in Africa.
But, that is not all! It is also a country that has regained the confidence of the international community and has opened its doors to genuine investors amidst slow but sustained economic growth.
It is a country that is poised to exert its influence around the continent and the world especially other war-torn nations as a shining example of what second chances mean. Anything less than that, would not only be a disservice but an unfair, unjust characterization of the hard work every Sierra Leonean at home and abroad has put in the rebuilding and rebranding of a new Sierra Leone.
The just concluded elections saw Sierra Leoneans overwhelmingly re-electing the incumbent president, Ernest Bai Koroma of the All Peoples Congress. For the last five years, Mr. Koroma has offered a sense of new direction and has been credited with fulfilling some of the promises he made when he took office as part of his “Agenda for Change.”
This includes restoring electricity to a country once dubbed “the darkest,” rebuilding roads around the country, the provision of free healthcare for pregnant women and children under 5 years of age and other initiatives.
Garnering about 59 percent (58.7 percent) of valid votes cast, President Koroma avoided a run off and easily won against Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) who secured only 37.4 percent of the votes. Mr. Koroma, who has since been sworn in is poised to continue leading the new Sierra Leone.
In a speech to the nation, Mr. Koroma noted that the electorate not only endorsed the goals his government set and achieved outlined in his “Agenda for Change” manifesto but has in fact been given a renewed mandate to forge ahead with his party’s “Agenda for Prosperity,” one designed to build a prosperous and modern Sierra Leone.
To achieve his new agenda, President Koroma noted that his re-elected government will “focus on creating jobs for the youths and training our youths to seize the immense opportunities we are creating in the construction, mining, agriculture and other sectors.” We will continue to fight corruption, we will continue to protect and promote the rights of every woman, man, youth, child, journalist and civil society activist,” he maintained.
Mr. Bio, who is not a stranger to controversy, has had to contend with allegations throughout his presidential campaign. They include financial impropriety associated with sale of Sierra Leonean passports, human right abuses, the execution of his fellow Sierra Leoneans when he and members of the military took power forcefully and overthrowing the then government of President Joseph Saidu Momoh. He ended up serving as Head of State albeit briefly, after another palace coup, before he handed over power as part of a deal. In fact, it is believed by many that he bulldozed his way into securing the presidential candidacy of his party.
A day after the presidential elections were announced, a press release purportedly written and signed by Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie, National Secretary General of the SLPP noted “with utter dismay the announcement by the Chairperson of National Electoral Commission on 23 November 2012 the result of the presidential Elections held on 17 November 2012.”
The press release further states that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) made the announcement despite their party’s (SLPP) concerns about “incidences of systemic and widespread irregularities, malpractices and injustices that occurred on polling day which undermined the credibility of the results.”
While urging all members, supporters and sympathizers “to remain calm and peaceful and refrain from any action that might bring the party into disrepute,” the press release further indicates the convening of an emergency meeting of its National Executive Council to determine its course of action.
According to Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Chief Electoral and Chairperson of NEC, “any citizen of Sierra Leone may challenge the validity of the elections of the president by petition to the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, within seven days after the declaration of the presidential results.”
By next Tuesday when the emergency meeting would have taken place, Mr. Bio will have had five days to strategize and decide whether one of his options will be to contest or not to contest the validity of the results.
Until then, President Koroma will continue his business of leading while acknowledging congratulatory messages from colleague heads of states around the world, development partners, the diplomatic community and from Sierra Leoneans at home and in the Diaspora.
Going forward, Sierra Leone is basking in its newfound stardom as it continues to be lauded for conducting “free, fair, transparent and credible” elections and has now become the envy of other nations trying to emulate its flourishing democratic ideals.