October 1, 2022

By Mohamed Jaward Nyallay

On Tuesday, the 27th of March, 3.1 million Sierra Leoneans will queue up in more than 11,000 polling stations across the country to decide on who is going to be our next president. This is the second time that we are exercising our franchise this month.

A key difference between this election and the last one is that, we have trimmed the numbers down, from 16 candidates, we will now have to decide between just two.

The final two are Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and Dr. Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC).

Once again, APC and SLPP have proven their resolve to get to this stage. Both parties accounted for 86% of the total votes in the first round. This will go down in history as one of the closest elections this country has ever seen. This was the election where there was a real threat of one of these two political parties to be extinguished from the main stage.

Months before now, some 7of us wrote about how difficult it is going to be for any party to even secure 40% in the first round of the ballot. Whiles others predicted a first round win in exuberance of the crowds that they saw in rallies. Here we are, hours away from a second ballot and it is as true as we predicted- the runoff is on.

SLPP and APC came in to this second round just scraping past the 40% threshold that we predicted. SLPP entered the second round with 43.7% whiles APC came through with 42.7%.

The Good

No matter who wins this election, serious political parties should sit back and evaluate their performances.  If there is one thing that this election has thought us is, that political rallies are no longer an event for a show of strength, instead it is a social event for the electorate.

For better or for worse, politics will never be the same again in this country. The new parties did not just take numbers away from the established parties they also added a lot of good things to our democracy.

In the next election, a lot of parties would focus more on door to door campaigning than organizing big rallies in urban townships. More young people are now serious enough about change in their communities that they are joining politics to lead that change. Because they are new, breaking in to established parties has been a problem, but most of them were given symbols in new parties like the National Grand Coalition (NGC) and the Coalition for Change (C4C). That is surely a good change.

Our politics is still heavily saturated with ethno-regional divisions. Experts will try to sanitize this but that is just the fact. You just had to look at a parties like NGC and C4C and where they attracted more votes. No one was sure about the stronghold of NGC until the elections. Kambia gave the highest vote to NGC (43% of the total votes in Kambia) because it is the birthplace of the presidential candidate.

Kono did the same for C4C, with 84% of the total votes in Kono, because Alhaji Sam Sumana was born there. Look at their votes in these districts and compare their votes all across the country.

This analogy is not to say that people did not vote on issues. People did and this shows a very slight shift from just ethno-regional style of voting. A study launched by Institute for Governance Reform shows that people in Kono voted against the APC because they were angry about how little they get from the mineral resources they give to the country. In Pujehun, independent candidates won local council seats because they campaigned on land rights. So these communities resonated with the message.

The bad and the ugly (tribalism)

This election has brought out the worst in some Sierra Leoneans, especially politicians. Since the declaration of the run off by the Chief Electoral Commissioner, the rhetoric of politics in the country has drastically changed. The tone is no longer about development, credibility or accountability it is now about nepotism, cronyism and tribalism.

The tone is harsher and at other times even nasty. It’s all a sordid affair.

In the face of it all, the biggest disappointment has been the media. They have been caught pants down. Every training, discussion or meeting that was held to strengthen their professionalism has been a complete waste.

We have seen newspapers print lies, hate speech, propaganda and even abusive pieces on their papers. The same has been done with radios and a Television station. This is what happens when gatekeepers become rubbish pickers. The whole professionalism standard has been eroded.

It is only a handful of media establishments that have stayed above board.

The media will need a thorough soul searching going forward. Media bodies like the Independent Media Commission and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists have been culpable to some extent.

Before the start of these elections, almost all the campaigns focused on preventing violence during and after elections. That campaign has succeeded to a very large extent, despite reported clashes in various places in recent weeks. The reason there was less campaign about tribalism was because almost no one thought that people could go that low, considering how interwoven our society is. But by all indications, we were all wrong. There are people who can really go that low.

Shamefully, tribalism is alive and kicking. It is indeed making impact in remote communities across the country. With this trend, whoever wins will be bound to inherit a divided nation. This country could be another Kenya or Nigeria where religion and tribes are so important that some sections of their societies are actually carved on those differences.

The road ahead

Looking forward to Tuesday, the only way for Sierra Leone should be going forward. In a time like this, it is difficult to get three random Sierra Leoneans to agree on which road is bound to take us forward as a country. Depending on who you talk to, you will get different answers.

No matter what happens on Tuesday, or who is announced as the President by Thursday or Friday, we all should make sure that there is no bigger winner than Sierra Leone.

This country is polarized; whoever wins it must unite it.