ELECTION observers have arrived ahead of general elections in Sierra Leone, the West African country considered an excellent example of conflict resolution, but facing economic challenges.
Polls, the fifth since the end of a civil war 21 years ago, are scheduled for Saturday. At least 17 registered political parties are contesting local council, parliamentary and presidential elections, with approximately 3,37 million registered voters expected at the polls.
Incumbent Julius Maada Wonie Bio (59), the retired brigadier who has been in power since 2018, is seeking a second presidential term.
The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) candidate’s main rival is again the 72-year-old economist, Samura Kamara, of the All People’s Congress (APC), the governing party between 1968 and 1992.
The African Union Commission (AUC) on Tuesday announced the arrival of the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), at the invitation of the government the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone.
Chairperson of the AUC, Moussa Faki Mahamat, approved the deployment of the short-term mission to assess and report on the conduct of this election.
Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia leads the mission of 50 observers drawn from ambassadors accredited to the AU, election management bodies, civil society organisations, election experts, human rights specialists, gender and media experts as well as representatives of youth organisations.
The observers are drawn from 20 African countries including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Observers will be deployed to all six electoral regions, namely, Eastern, Northern, North-Western, Western rural, Western Urban and Southern where 13 of the 16 electoral districts will be covered.
The Mission will release a Preliminary Statement of its overall findings and assessment of the conduct of elections on June 26. A final and comprehensive Report will be released within two months from the date of the announcement of the final election results.
The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) has also launched election observation activities in Sierra Leone with a call for peaceful elections. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, former Vice President of Nigeria, is leading the COG.
“The eyes of more than 2.5 billion people of the Commonwealth – more than 60 percent of whom are young people under the age of 30 – will be upon Sierra Leone, watching, in solidarity and in hope,” Osinbajo said.
He arrived in the capital, Freetown on Saturday, and is leading a group of 11 other international experts. The COG plans to issue an interim statement on its preliminary findings on June 26, before members depart Sierra Leone by June 30.
“As this great nation expresses its will for its future, may peace, justice and national unity prevail above all,” Osinbajo appealed.
The country of 8,4 million people, independent from Britain since 1960 suffered a civil war that left over 70 000 people dead between 1991 and 2002.
An outbreak of Ebola between 2014 and 2016 claimed over 3 000 lives. Lately, Sierra Leone’s economic challenges have intensified.
Inflation has continued to rise. The leone currency has depreciated sharply and debt related risks have increased. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the economy to grow by 3,1 percent in 2023.
Bio has come under criticism for the economic setbacks. Security forces have cracked down on protests, which peaked in 2022.
Last August, six police officers, more than 20 protesters and bystanders were killed during demonstrations in the capital and northern towns of Kamakwie and Makeni.
– CAJ News