THE deadly crackdown on opposition supporters on the eve of elections has cast doubt over the prospects of Sierra Leone conducting credible polls on Saturday.
Tensions are elevated ahead of the watershed polls in the West African country, and matters came to a head in the capital Freetown this week when security forces forcibly dispersed a political gathering held by the All People’s Congress (APC) opposition party.
Police have reportedly used live ammunition at the gathering near the APC headquarters. Casualty figures remain unclear, but a protester was confirmed to have
been shot dead at the opposition gathering in the Brooksfield area of the capital city.
The Crisis24 security think tank forecast security forces would likely maintain an elevated security posture across the capital over the coming days.
“Heightened security measures and potential protests will likely cause transport disruptions in the vicinity. Further clashes with security or between rival political supporters remain possible in the near term,” it stated.
Some of the tensions have been blamed on the First Lady, Fatima Bio, who has been quoted as inciting violence against the opposition APC.
Led by 72-year-old former finance and foreign affairs minister, Samura Kamara, APC is the main rival of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), led by the incumbent Julius Maada Wonie Bio (59), who has been in power since 2018.
She has been quoted as saying the APC must not have offices in the southeast, a development that is attributed to the burning of the regional office of the APC.
The think tank, Sierra Leone and Current Issues and Affairs, said this created an unsafe environment in the southeast for political parties other than the SLPP and tribes other than the Mende to participate in political activities.
About 18 ethnic groups inhabit Sierra Leone. The two largest and most influential ones are the Temne and Mende people.
“The words of Fatima are totally unacceptable and toxic in a democratic environment. Those words are derailing the democratic processes in Sierra Leone,” the organisation stated.
Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice as well as Anti Corruption Commissioner, decried the clampdown on the opposition.
“Violence perpetrated against the opposition in Sierra Leone can no longer be shrugged off as typical offences. Gruesome attacks, collective punishment and terrorizing civilian populations, are in themselves crimes against humanity, which are now seemingly widespread and systematic,” Kamara said.
The Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion (ICPNC) condemned acts of violence and called on citizens to maintain a peaceful environment throughout the electoral period.
It denounced the burning of houses and party offices in different parts of Sierra Leone.
“These actions not only undermine the democratic process but also pose a serious threat to the stability and unity of the nation,” ICPNC stated.
The West African country had its first general elections as an independent nation in 1961. The upcoming ones are the fifth since the end of a civil war in 2002.
Elections come on the back of economic problems in the nation of over eight million people, more than 3 million of them registered to vote.
The 2018 poll was a close contest as Bio secured 51, 8 percent of the vote to Kamara’s 48,2 percent.
At least 17 registered political parties are contesting presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.
– CAJ News