Analysis

Sierra Leone: Booby Traps in the Next Elections

19 August 2006 at 21:54 | 341 views

"Sierra Leone has gone through a crucial period and is still creeping. There is the hope that NEC would try to hold the balance, so that even if there was suspicion on what they do it would be minimal. Sierra Leone is a great country and has the potential to develop. Because of her mineral wealth and human resources, she has the potential of becoming one of the leading nations in Africa."

By Alpha R. Jalloh, Vanguard Freetown Bureau Chief.

The way the National Electoral Commission referees the 2007 race will determine the fate of Sierra Leoneans in the near future.

In any competition the judge(s) or referees should be fair, objective and pragmatic in their approach to issues.

The fate of 4.9 million people now hinges on the National Electoral Commission, especially the chairperson Christiana Thorpe(photo), a one-time nun, who many perceive as a woman who should fear God and obey His commandments.

Even though it is too early to judge her, some of her acts have raised suspicion. First has been the redrawing of constituency boundaries and imposing a criterion that for any former constituency to quality for declaration as a constituency in 2007, it must have a population of not less than 44,000. Most of the inhabitants of sparsely inhabited communities have migrated to urban areas. These are communities that have been neglected in terms of development. The push factors are so numerous that a large percentage of youths and even adults prefer to live in urban areas where many become squatters in public buildings, adding to the social problems and crime rate.

This is an indication that they need development opportunities and should therefore be treated on equal terms like those that are densely populated in the Sierra Leonean context. NEC under Thorpe has decided to merge these communities with other constituencies that are densely populated. This action has far reaching consequences.

First, all development funds channelled will not reach the other communities’ which in the past had been different constituencies. The case of Waterloo and Newton are a typical example.

Second, because these communities would be deprived of development opportunities, there would likely be confrontation and mistrust and even in extreme cases de facto conflict.

Third, when it comes to elections, the candidates from the densely populated or head constituency would obviously triumph over the candidate put up by the sparsely populated communities that still consider themselves a constituency.

What many have thought was that the constituencies whose population had dwindled would have been given equal prominence like the densely populated ones so that all of them would benefit from development opportunities. There is even the suspicion now that the areas which did not ’qualify’ to be declared constituencies, were those, which have less or no support for the ruling party. It might sound baseless, but this suspicion has been widely expressed.

The second thing that has aroused suspicion is Christiana Thorpe’s intention to postpone the election dates. Even if she has all the good intentions, she will be suspected of allowing herself to become a screwdriver of the ruling party. She is now walking on a tight rope and no matter where her predilection is; she has to be very careful not to expose herself.

There has been so much talk of a fair election. To ensure that no eyebrows are raised or accusing fingers pointed, all counting in polling stations should be instantly announced instead of waiting till they are taken to NEC for ’recounting’. In the previous local government elections, the instant reporting and deployment of observers by the Independent Radio network enhanced a fair election. Even if there were discrepancies, these may have taken place where IRN was unable to deploy observers and reporters. All media organisations and rights organisation should emulate such a good work.

Sierra Leone has gone through a crucial period and is still creeping. There is the hope that NEC would try to hold the balance, so that even if there was suspicion on what they do it would be minimal. Sierra Leone is a great country and has the potential to develop. Because of her mineral wealth and human resources, she has the potential of becoming one of the leading nations in Africa.

However, having sustainable peace after the elections should not only be hinged on the fairness of NEC, but on the role of the watchdogs like the media and independent human rights organizations.It is expected that the media would make provision for contemporaneous reporting.

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