5.28.2012

Sierra Leone's 2012 Elections at a Glance

The People's Movement for Democratic Change Headquarters in Bo, Southern Province
The Candidates
The upcoming November elections will once again put Sierra Leone’s peace and democracy to the test as incumbent APC President Earnest Bai Koroma runs for reelection and as his opponents harshly criticize his first term in office.

As the strongest opponent to the ruling APC party, the SLPP hopes to regain the Office of the President in November with their candidate Julius Maada Bio. A reported 19 candidates ran for the position as the SLPP’s “flagbearer” for the 2012 election, which ended in Bio’s victory. As previously mentioned, Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio1 was involved in the 1996 coup that overthrew President Joseph Saidu Momoh and later returned Sierra Leone to civilian rule just months later. During my interview with Francis Ansumana, he referred to Bio as the “man of peace” for Sierra Leone – referencing Bio’s political move to return Sierra Leone to a democratic and civilian government.

Julius Maada Bio selected Kadiatu Sesay as his running mate – making her the first female running mate the country has ever seen, which can be considered a large step towards gender equality in a country where domestic violence is high. In an article written by Bio for the Huffington Post he argues that “… the APC…has not been as supportive of democracy as people once hoped”.2 Furthermore, Bio attests that the current economic situation of Sierra Leone is contradictory to the economic growth story that the APC espouses.  Bio states that, “For ordinary Sierra Leoneans, life has become much harder. Rice, flour and fish - the essential foodstuffs of our people - have doubled in cost since 2007. Fuel prices have rocketed.3 Five million Sierra Leoneans remain in desperate poverty. This decline is in contradiction to a Government that portrays itself as spearheading an economic boom”.4 Bio’s rhetoric on economic struggle resonates with many Sierra Leoneans who are struggling to afford basic living necessities. Whether or not Bio’s promises of a return to democracy and economic prosperity will win him the election remain to be seen, since many attribute the Chinese-development projects as a success by the Koroma government.

Many believe that the voter turnout will be high in the November 2012 election because “people want to change the government”.5 Although Koroma has built roads, improved infrastructure with immense help from the Chinese, and expanded the mining sector6, he has failed to create jobs, provide food, and improve electricity.7 People in Bo argue that Sierra Leoneans are ready for a change because there are still “so many people languishing in town, [there are] so many thieves, and cannibalism, and other things”.8 Koroma can claim to have brought improvements in infrastructure and roads, but the average Sierra Leonean will make their decision based on how their life has been directly impacted by Koroma – if they see no improvement then they will likely vote for the opposition.

The third strongest political party, the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), has elected Charles Francis Magrai as its candidate for the November election. However, many remain doubtful that the PMDC will pose a significant threat to the two main political parties.9 Donstance Koroma, a contributor to the Sierra Leone media outlet Sierra Express Media, argues that the PMDC “…currently lacks what it takes to secure a vote that will cause a run off because the membership of the party is politically devastated and malnourished, hence it cannot create the desired impact compared to what it did in 2007”.10 I would argue that the PMDC stands no significant chance of winning the Presidential election since it draws from the same constituency as the SLPP. Since both parties draw from the Mende majority Southern and Eastern regions, they cut each other’s constituency in half which prevents either party from posing a large threat to the still unified APC party. Furthermore, the SLPP/PMDC split might assure future APC victories if the PMDC continues to throw its support behind the APC candidate during runoff elections. If this continues to be the case, APC victories will be facilitated in the future and the ethnic makeup up APC voter base will begin to be diversified with the increase in Southern Mende supporters.


1 During my interview with Francis Ansumana, he consistently referred to Bio by his full title as “Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio”. Whether this is a mere formality, coincidence, or an example as to what the full title entails – I do not know. However, for what it is worth, Francis Ansumana also repeatedly referred to Bio as “the most handsome man in Sierra Leone”. My interview with Ansumana was conducted in Bo, Sierra Leone which is an SLPP ‘stronghold’; therefore, his reverence towards Bio might well be an illustration of Bo’s loyalty to SLPP politics.
2 Julius Maada Bio, “2012: The Year for Change in Sierra Leone - and Africa,” Huffington Post, February 22, 2012.
3 During my stay in Sierra Leone, Bo-Town ran out of petrol. We were often left stranded halfway through a car ride somewhere and the driver would always shrug and say, “Da fuel lef wi” – 'We ran out of fuel'. In order to get around town, we had to purchase oil off the ‘black market’ which was sold clandestinely by roadside venders in one litre bottles. Sierra Leone’s okada drivers also had to purchase oil off the black market in order to keep their business going. The lines at petrol stations were city blocks long if there was oil, and when there was oil, they would be deserted.
4 Julius Maada Bio, “2012: The Year for Change in Sierra Leone - and Africa,” Huffington Post, February 22, 2012.
5 Francis Ansumana, interview by Karen Kilberg, Bo, Sierra Leone, December 11, 2011.
6 African Minerals and London Minerals are Sierra Leone’s two largest mining companies. Both have participated in the recent “iron ore renaissance” that has taken place and which is putting to the test the ‘resource curse’ in Sierra Leone. Many believe the recent expansion of mining efforts could significantly aid in bringing development, yet others are skeptical. Some Sierra Leoneans believe that Koroma will cite the expansion of the mining sector as a reason why he she be reelected: “Koroma will be arguing…'I created the enabling environment that allowed these companies to operate', but [the] failure to deliver on promises of jobs could be dangerous, setting up the possibility of unrest while the number of unemployed youth is ballooning.”; Simon Akam, “S. Leone in Uphill Battle to Avoid ‘Resource Curse,’” Reuters, January 25, 2012.
7 Sierra Leone is still nearly completely run on generators. Even in the capital of Freetown, once the sunsets the city becomes dark with the exception of a few houses who have generators. The rest of the city is lit by roadside candlelight.
8 Francis Ansumana, interview by Karen Kilberg, Bo, Sierra Leone, December 11, 2011.
9 While driving out of the capital of Freetown to Bo, my driver, Tony, was discussing the upcoming elections with a fellow passenger. Discussion of politics was heated while driving through the congested streets of Freetown and Tony stated that if the APC and SLPP prepare themselves for runoff elections, then runoffs will not occur. However, if they do not then he believe the PMDC would garner enough votes to result in a runoff election; Tony, interview by Karen Kilberg, Freetown, Sierra Leone, November 17, 2011.
10 Donstance Koroma, “PMDC and the 2012 Election,” Sierra Express Media, September 8, 2010.

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