Pre-Election Violence in Sierra Leone

September 2011 Bo ‘Fracas’
            Election-related violence began late last year in September between the two main political parties – the SLPP and APC. However, these incidents were not the first. Ever since President Koroma was inaugurated in 2007, APC “thugs” have participated in several violent incidents with SLPP party members.

            On September 9, 2011, Bo was taken by surprise by violence after Julius Maada Bio was elected the flag bearer of the SLPP. Bio traveled to the SLPP stronghold of Bo where he was on a ‘thank you’ tour for his supporters. While traveling down Mahei Boima Road in Bo where the APC regional office is located, a stone was thrown at Bio whose head was sticking out of the roof of his car. As explained to me by Francis Ansumana, “This [incident] led to ‘fracas’ in the town where there was [then] fighting and infrastructure damage”.1 Although nobody saw who threw the stone, bystanders said it came from the direction of the APC office. Tear gas and live bullets were used to quell the crowd after the ‘fracas’ broke out. As a result of the police response, 22 people had their feet shot at and 1 died on the spot – Bio was hospitalized.2 In response to the incident, angry SLPP members burned down a “pa eyai3 office, and as a result of the incident, political candidates can no longer hold rallies and party supporters can no longer wear political attire - although that does not stop many.4 All campaigning is now down through the radio in order to prevent further violence from breaking out.

            After the incident, Bio offered to pay the bills for the 21 SLPP supporters who were hospitalized and an investigation committee was created to investigate the ‘fracas’; however, the committees are all controlled by the APC, so it is assumed that the findings will be falsified and corrupt.5 Furthermore, during the violence police arrested 15 SLPP supporters including one SLPP parliamentarian, despite the fact the violence incident was presumably instigated by APC members. Bio paid bail for his incarcerated supporters.6 The Bo incident illustrated the potential violence that could ensue in November; however, it also put to the test the integrity of the political candidates, especially Bio. In response to the violence, Bio could have easily told his supporter to take revenge on APC members, but instead he firmly reprimanded APC members for resorting to this kind of violence and then called for a return to peaceful election campaigns. This incident, however, highlighted the intense political allegiances that people hold close.

2012 Freetown Violence
            Sierra Leone was incident free in the months that followed the Bo ‘fracas’, but in January during a by-election in the capital city of Freetown, violence ensued yet again. It was reported that a crowd was preventing voters from entering a polling station and accusing them of not being “residents of the community” and “voters [of that] constituency”.7 The group responsible for starting the violence differs depending on which Sierra Leonean newspaper you read. Some claim that a former supporter of the SLPP crossed over to the APC was calling “constituents along Canteen Street to exercise their franchise” after the APC lost the by-election in this former APC stronghold. The angry group stabbed the newly elected SLPP Chairman in the thigh with a horn. If this account is accurate then it would be APC members who once again were responsible for the violence.

            However, other reports claim otherwise. Some attribute the violence to the newly elected SLPP Chairman who was “seen leading a gang of mobs” who then “wounded scores of APC sympathizers” with machetes.8 This account would place the blame upon the SLPP. From the varied information coming from Sierra Leonean news sources, it is evident that the media holds a strong political bias to either one side or another. Regardless of who initiated the violence, it once again illustrates the tensions between both the SLPP and the APC. To stop the violence, police once again used live bullets and tear gas.9 Both the Freetown and Bo incidents could either be isolated incidents of violence that occurred simply because those who were present were party extremists, or it could be a signal for what might be at stake in the November election. Either way, it is clear that what was meant to be a non-violent election has not yet been as such.

1 Francis Ansumana, interview by Karen Kilberg, Bo, Sierra Leone, December 11, 2011.
2 Ibid.
 Pa Eyai - translated from Krio as 'Father Eye' - is the name for offices set up around the country by the government to act as 'eyes' for the President. 
4 Although political attire is technically forbidden, I still saw a handful of people who sported SLPP pins and hats during my stay in Bo after the ‘fracas' and in full APC garb on street corners in July.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 AFP, “Police Quell Sierra Leone By-Election Riot,” Google News, January 16, 2012.
9 AFP, “Police Quell Sierra Leone By-Election Riot,” Google News, January 16, 2012.


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