Sierra Leone: Past, Present and Future

14 October 2006 at 08:16 | 1033 views

"The government has repeatedly failed to offer a clear direction, and there are consistent signs that donor dependence and old political ways are encouraged by the present government. A patriot should question the government’s commitment and capacity to address the long list of internal challenges, ranging from security concerns, ethnicity, decline in intellectual capital, failing schools, high unemployment, deplorable health system etc."

By Pierre Lightfoot-Boston(Professional Engineer)

ln July 2003, I attended an open house event for the African and African Diaspora studies at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana where I was also a student. I had already heard about a remarkable graduate student in Anthropology by the name of Rebecca Gold who has published several articles on cultural Anthropology. By chance, Rebecca and I were walking in the same direction (towards the event) on that day and she overtook me. We walked together for about twenty minutes, talking during the whole time. Rebecca radiated charisma and energy.

Her eyes flashing in a mesmerizing way,she talked confidently about herself- passion for travelling (she had visited Sierra Leone, Angola, Egypt, Congo and Ethiopia etc) She asked a lot of probing questions and listened intently. It was obvious at this point that Rebecca had an enquiring mind when, with yet another penetrating glance of her flashing eyes, she asked me, What is the problem in Sierra Leone? It was a simple question that went to the heart of life as I have experienced it. Yet Rebecca’s apparently simple question is a difficult one to answer. I didn’t have an answer then. In the years, since Rebecca and I had that conversation, I have studied and written about other aspects of Sierra Leone- culture, history and Music. My ultimate aim is to dissect the dynamics at play, so I can come up with a coherent answer as to why Sierra Leone is in a state of retrogression.

I will examine the historical antecedents to the current situation in Sierra Leone, such as Colonialism, Ethnicity, politics, Land ownership, Institutional corruption etc. The whole project will consist of different parts- Each part dedicated to one subject- Each part will also be titled. The title for elections will be Kleptocracy and Ethnocracy


My Beloved country Sierra Leone, is a human tragedy of massive proportions that is rapidly becoming a nightmare for all Sierra Leoneans. This is a moment of critical choice for Sierra Leone- difficult reforms need to be taken that ultimately will pay in high returns in stability and prosperity for all Sierra Leoneans. It is clear that the present group of individuals that form the executive branch of the government have profoundly, deeply and consistently failed the citizens of Sierra Leone. Since the successful reelection of the SLPP government the people of Sierra Leone have grown increasingly frustrated by stagnating reform and recovery.

The government has repeatedly failed to offer a clear direction, and there are consistent signs that donor dependence and old political ways are encouraged by the present government. A patriot should question the government’s commitment and capacity to address the long list of internal challenges, ranging from security concerns, ethnicity, decline in intellectual capital, failing schools, high unemployment, deplorable health system etc.

Regrettably, President Kabbah appears to have emerged from his victory with diminished commitment to the peace process. He has done little to establish a cabinet that is broad-based, inclusive and designed to promote the goals of national reconciliation. Elections will only become significant (i.e. have positive impacts on the citizenry) if accompanied by fundamental reforms that will begin to change Sierra Leone’s political landscape. It is imperative to note that ELECTIONS ARE NOT A TEST FOR DEMOCRACY, BUT AN INSTRUMENT OF DEMOCRACY.

Elections 2002

The May 2002 elections were the first truly non-violent vote in the country’s history, in large part because of the substantial international peacekeeping presence. However a number of issues need immediate attention. Firstly, the returns of the May 2002 elections revealed potential dangerous divisions between the army and President Kabbah’s ruling SLPP. A large majority of the security forces voted for Kabbah’s opponents, indicating there is at least some animosity between the executive branch and the armed forces.

Secondly, the elections also demonstrated the ethnic tensions between the Temne in the North and Mende in the South and the western part of the country remains significant. This underscores the need for a more inclusive government in Freetown. President Kabbah’s SLPP party swept votes across the South and the East while its main rival, the APC maintained its stronghold in the North.

The results left Sierra Leone dangerously close to single party rule, with an executive branch and a parliament heavily dominated by the SLPP.It is clear that in reality democracy has never been practised in Sierra Leone, but a combination of Kleptocracy and Ethnocracy which has been mistaken for democracy. Democracy will never flourish or practised in a society where there is widespread poverty, rampant illiteracy, and a small middle-class, lack of an independent judiciary, and lack of a free media and intimidation of political parties. The basic tenets of democracy have to be built in order for us to have a political system which will be based on democracy.

July 2007 Elections in Perspective-

Sierra Leone is republic with an executive president and a multi-party system of government with a 124 seat parliament (112 elected members and 12 paramount chiefs) Presidential and legislative elections will be held in 2007. The elections will be preceded by a redrawing of constituency boundaries, not adjusted since 1985. The 2007 elections will also be noted for their shift from the proportional representation system used in 1996 and 2002 to a constituency- based system, as called for in the 1991 constitution.

The incumbent SLPP party has a strong advantage going into these elections and maintains its traditional support in the south and part of the eastern part of the country; however, population increases in the northern part of the country and in the western area(where Freetown is located) will benefit the opposition APC. In 2007 Charles Margai’s PMDC could potentially draw support away from the SLPP. After carefully examining the dynamics - The APC will emerge victorious in the next elections during the second round of voting- The SLPP remaining strong in the south and certain parts in the Eastern district, while the APC remains strong in the North and Western Area.

In previous elections the SLPP wins the south and parts of the eastern district, but with Mr. Margai in the picture- that will definitely change- Margai will split the votes among the Mende in the south and parts of the east while APC wins the North. This is where it gets very interesting. Freetown and Kono have been the tie-breakers for elections in the country for several years. The SLPP is currently very unpopular in the Western Area- this was largely demonstrated by the residents of the Western Area when they decided to elect members of the APC in the last local government elections, which led to the dismal failure of the SLPP.

APC will win Kono- there has been a large migration in the Kono area- most of the migrants are from the north, traditionally the Kono vote for APC. The elections will go on peacefully, but there will be pockets of violence in some parts of the country- probably Eastern and the Southern part of the country. The Western Area will remain calm, in large part because of the 900 troops that Britain will station in the country during the elections and the UN troops in Liberia will be on high alert, so they can be sent to Freetown if needed.

Recommendations -

Endorse a national consultative conference of civil society, political parties and armed groups to develop recommendations on the key issues in the peace process, including the type of electoral system that should be adopted.

Finance study opportunities abroad for potentially troublesome RUF, CDF, and SLA commanders (if possible, in countries that will co-operate if they are indicted at a later date by the Special Court).

Work to develop a ‘Coordinated Security Group’ that includes the British and the SLA, which, in close cooperation with the British ‘over the horizon force’, should include reserve and rapid reaction responsibilities

Disbanding of the Kamajor Civil Defence Forces and continue to ensure that security services are not polarised along ethnic, regional or political lines.

Separate the office of the Attorney General from that of the Minister of Justice in order to limit political influence in prosecutorial decisions

Incentives for Sierra Leonean residents in the U.S.and U.K to participate in rebuilding their home country, for example by not interrupting green card or citizenship application processes if they leave the U.S. to participate in rebuilding, investment, and governance initiatives.

Give prosecutorial powers to the Anti-Corruption Commission on a temporary basis (five to ten years), provide it adequate financial and human resources, and move quickly to implement a comprehensive reform of the judicial system.

Enact legislation to guarantee all citizens (including youths and women) equal access to land use and to prevent rights to such use from being revoked by traditional authorities.

Establish effective control over diamond resources, applying Kimberly process procedures.

. Confirm the long-term "over the horizon" security guarantee to Sierra Leone for a 25-year period from the U.K government.

Photo: President Kabbah of Sierra Leone.