|Roadside Sign in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone|
It has been a decade since the official end of Sierra Leone’s civil war. Adults vividly remember the war and can recall specific details as if the war occurred yesterday. The youth, however, were mere infants or young children when war tore apart the country, and the past ten years have only further distanced the memory of the atrocities. This fading from memory of the horrific truths of the civil war makes some fearful of what the future might bring. Will the generational amnesia of the war allow for old resentments to reemerge and reignite another war, or has Sierra Leone truthfully learned from its past and will continue down the path of peace?
Some Sierra Leoneans argue that the key to peaceful elections are peaceful pre-election campaigns. Tony Bee, a Sierra Leonean journalist observes that most people focus their attention of the environment surrounding ballot casting, yet nearly all ignore “…the fact that electioneering campaigns or canvassing are more virulent and more deadly than casting ballots…”.1 If election campaigns are marred by violence, it bodes ill for the actual election process and perhaps for the government that follows.
Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP have accused the APC of arming ex-combatants from the civil war to either intimidate voters at ballot stations or to act up if the election results prove to be unsatisfactory to the APC. Bio claims that he has “enough evidence to prove that the…APC [is] deploying ex-combatants at strongholds of the SLPP (southeast)…”.2 Whether or not this is factual remains to be seen since Bio has yet to present this ‘evidence’.
The (APC) government’s Ministry of Information and Communications released a statement responding to Bio’s accusations, in which it accused Bio’s press release to be a “satanic document aimed at creating a state of instability and uncertainty in Sierra Leone”.3 The Ministry continued to deny the accusation that the APC was arming ex-combatants to disrupt the election and further denied allegedly encouraging non-Sierra Leoneans to register for the November elections.4 Whether or not there is truth to either side of the argument is debatable given the lack of unbiased Sierra Leone news sources. However, the SLPP (and other political parties) have reason to be suspicious of the APC given suspicious recent events.
Suspicions have been raised not only in Sierra Leone recently, but also by the international community due to a recent unexplainable increase in assault weapon imports. A UN envoy to Sierra Leone asked the APC government “to explain why it has imported several million dollars’ worth of assault weapons for a police paramilitary wing” which would otherwise have no use for weapons like machine guns and grenade launchers – both of which have recently been imported.5 The envoy continued to explain that “Sierra Leone is under no arms embargo”, but given its low levels of violence, it seems unreasonable for the government to import such heavy duty assault weapons and the UN envoy has asked the APC to justify and clarify its actions. During my most recent stay in Bo-Town, I discussed these events with many Sierra Leoneans, all of whom agreed that the imported weapons were suspicious and unnecessary for a police paramilitary wing, and all expressed unease at these weapon imports - an understandable reaction given the country's bloody past.
Other suspicious events include the recent dismissal of the UN envoy to Sierra Leone without explanation. In response to his dismissal, the UN envoy wrote a letter stating that his removal will be seen by Sierra Leoneans “…as an effort to remove a potential obstacle to [Koroma’s] re-election and as opening the door to manipulating the election outcome in his favor,” and that Sierra Leone risked losing its “success story” status by the UN.6 President Koroma has yet to justify his actions or give rationale as to why the envoy was dismissed. The choice of timing of the envoy’s dismissal was poorly chosen given that it is an election year and any action seen as attempting to cover up election fraud (or worse) will be poorly received by both Sierra Leoneans and the international community.
Every Sierra Leonean I talked to expressed hope for peaceful upcoming elections. Although many are angry at the current government and want change, they harbor no violent hatred towards opposition parties that might manifest into violence. However, nearly every Sierra Leonean can agree that times are tough - jobs are scare and most are scraping by to provide for their families day by day. Because of the economic problems that the majority of the population is facing, it does provide the opportunity for the current ruling party to use bribery and antagonism as leverage for winning the election should pockets of the population be desperate enough to allow themselves to be manipulated for money. The country has made it past its 10 year anniversary since the end of the civil war, yet the November elections will decide whether this peace is built upon concrete or quicksand.
1 Tony Bee, “A Violent Campaign Begets a Violent Election,” Sierra Express Media, February 28, 2012.
2 Foday Massaquoi, “Bio Damned Police…Says He HasEnough Evidence,” Sierra Express Media, February 20, 2012.
3 Ministry of Information & Communications, “A Response to SLPPs Allegations on Security Situationin Sierra Leone,” Sierra Express Media, February 9, 2012.
5 SAPA, “Sierra Leone Must ExplainAssault Weapons,” News 24, March 22, 2012.
6 Simon Akam, “Sierra Leone President forcedOut U.N. Envoy: Letter,’” Reuters, February 13, 2012.