A Brief Political Dialysis of Sierra Leone: ‘The Journey So Far’!

During the weeks gone by, I have observed trends in the government of Sierra Leone, so I decided to pen down some information that will give you an idea of how far this nation that was depleted by a decade plus of civil war has come since the war ended.

There is an emergence of new ideologies and a sense of patriotism that is brewing amongst Sierra Leoneans proactively going forward as the people of this tiny West African nation gathers the remnant of war converting it vices into building a united Sierra Leone that will detest the idea of war in its future lifetime and cling on to vices of peace nation that it was known for.

The re-emergence of the two historically dominant parties – SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party) and the APP (All People’s Party) has brought a new era in the political stratosphere of Sierra Leone. The SLPP had been prescribed by the one party constitution of 1978 and the APC was overthrown in 1991. With the reintroduction of multi-party governance, both parties have revamped, and power has since been alternated between them. The SLPP under the leadership of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah won the President and Parliamentary Elections of 1996 and 2002 and captured the majority of local councils in the 2004 local government elections. The APC won 6 seats in parliament in 1996, 28 in 2002 and won the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections of 2007, and the majority of local councils in the local government elections in 2008.

Another progressive development in Sierra Leone is there are also a plethora of media supporting organizations. Before the mid 1990s, there was only one media supporting organization – the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist. Presently there are over ten media supporting organizations ranging from associations of journalists, reporters, women in the media to organization supporting the production of radio programs, training journalist, and regulating the practice of journalism in the country.

Presently there are over 25 radio stations, with the government owning and controlling only one of these in Freetown. The majority of these are community radio stations increasing spaces for inclusion of local voices in issues affecting various communities and the country at large.

Another significant development for the advance of Democracy in Sierra Leone has been the establishment of novel institutions leveraging the accountability of public officials. The institutions include the office of Ombudsman, the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC), The Human Right Commission (HRC), and the Independent Media Commission (IMC). These institutions are post 1996 institutions. The office of the ombudsman provided for in the 1991 constitution but was not established until 2000 after the passage of enabling legislation by parliament. There was no Anti-Corruption Commission before its creation in 2000. The Human Right Commission is a result of the recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2004 and was only established in 2007. Whilst these organizations suffer from many institutional deficits, their existence has widened opportunities for exacting accountability and transparency in the country. Accompanying the establishment of the institutions have been an impressive number of legislations and process for addressing transparency and accountability in the public financial management, money laundering, regulations and supervision of insurance, banking and other financial activities.

Two forms of local government structures exist in Sierra Leone, traditional local government structures comprising of 149 Chiefdoms in the country and modern local government structures consisting of elected city and district councils. Elected districts and town councils had been abolished since 1972, leading to over-concentration of authority to the central government in Freetown and constriction of spaces for participation in democratic structures at local levels.

With restoration of multi-party governance in 1996, the new government held wide ranging discussions of the restoration of elected local government structures. This culminated in the Local government Act of 2004 and local government elections the same year for 19 local government structures. This increases the number of elected officials in the country and created spaces for participation (through ward committee) of many ordinary citizens in the governance of their localities.

The 2007 elections were the third general elections conducted by (National Electoral Commission) NEC, NEC is generally considered credible and independent. The Commission has however relied heavily on international financial, logistical and technical assistance. This could adversely affect NEC’s institutional capacity to hold credible elections in the future.

Women constitute slightly more than half the population; but are grossly under-represented in composition of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government grossly under-represents this. Only 16 women are in parliament out of the total of 124. There are 3 women ministers of a cabinet of 20. None of the 14 local councils are headed by a woman.

Sierra Leone is a country moving forward. It might be fair to say that many institutions for delivering the state’s good governance and economic development obligations are new. The challenge ultimately however is to maximise and combine the work of these emergent institutions.

@DanteBello on Twitter

Some of the information and stats on this piece was courtesy of the Standard Times Sierra Leone.

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