It is barely 24 hours to go and the world’s beady political eyes are firmly trained on the conduct and outcome of the Sierra Leone General elections. In the months running up to the elections, Sierra Leoneans have seen an unprecedented number of International Observers descend on its shores. Election observation is a vital EU activity aiming to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide. As part of its role to maintain peace-building, the EU contributes to strengthening democratic institutions, helping deter fraud, intimidation, violence and building public confidence in the electoral process. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)
On the invitation of the Government of Sierra Leone, the EU Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) has 28 long-term observers, 50 short-term observers and 7 election analysts from different EU member states. With a total of 86 observers, and a delegation of 4 Members of the European Parliament due to join the EU EOM on Thursday 15 November, the Chief Observer of EU EOM has recently assured the public that it is now at “full strength to observe the 17 November polls and the counting and tally procedures across the country”. The African Union and the USA have all sent representatives to help oversee free, fair, and more equally important, peaceful elections.
Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs said, “The forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone, the third since the end of the civil war, will be very significant for the stability and the democratic development of the country. I hope that all institutions will prove that they have the capacity to organise credible and transparent elections, and that all stakeholders will engage in the process in a peaceful and democratic”. There you have it. The world has thrown down the gauntlet and it is up to us Sierra Leoneans, to demonstrate that fifty years after being politically weaned from our colonial masters, we are now capable of taking the mantle of self rule and political actualisation.
The role of these observers has not been limited only to see a free and fair election on the day. The observers have as part of their remit, to monitor the media coverage of the elections. This includes monitoring the amount of air time that radio and television outlets accord to the various political parties, the length and other details of newspaper articles to determine whether journalists or newspapers are fair in reporting the activities of the respective parties.
This is a far cry from the days, when barbarism and political decadence was the order of the day. This is a momentous opportunity, and as citizens, we all have a collective responsibility to demonstrate that we have finally graduated from the Institute of Applied Barbarism and into the realm of civil order. In days gone by, our elections would have been seen as a domestic issue that was not worth the effort. In the last decade, the name Sierra Leone was synonymous with war and all its attendant atrocities. Many Sierra Leoneans from the Diaspora will attest to this fact that in the past, the country was best described by its violent past. I recall the days when introducing one as a Sierra Leonean to a Westerner was usually, quickly followed by “Is that the country where they are killing people and hacking off their limbs?” “How is the war now in your country?” The atmosphere thus generated then was one of palpable despondence from the Sierra Leonean and empathy from the enquiring westerner. But those days are long gone and the country is no longer a domestic affair but a worldly agenda.
The unprecedented media coverage of our election may sound surprising to many, but to the trained political mind, it is a reflection of how far we have come from the doldrums of political interregna, to take our place on the world stage. Sierra Leone is now a political phoenix that is on the verge of rising from its ashes. While as Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair was roundly accused by many in his party opposite of using Sierra Leone as his political pet project. His efforts to end the war, famously remembered for his intervention against the Westside Boys, was a turning point in our history. He has since continued to be involved in our journey from perdition.
The country had historically languished in the lower rungs of the ladder of failed states. With the restoration of peace, it was imperative for all stakeholders at home and abroad, to not only ensure that the country recovers from its problems, but to serve as a beacon of hope in the new world order. With a third democratic election underway, it is understandable to feel the eyes of the world on our shoulders.
This apparent and surprisingly new found attention should be seen as a manifestation of the good governance our country has enjoyed in the past decade. It is tempting to attribute this to the Koroma’s APC government. Former President, Ahmed T. Kabba had laid the foundations and together with the people of Sierra Leone, it has now become our collective responsibility to ensure that we maintain the status quo. As citizens, we need to show the world that we have come of age, and the least we can do is to vote wisely and peaceably for our individual choices. “A vote is like a rifle (pardon the imagery): its usefulness depends upon the character of the user. We have to remember that “elections belong to us, the people. It’s our decision. If we decide to turn our backs on fire and burn our backsides, then we will just have to sit on our blisters”.
With the world’s spotlight on us, let us take this opportunity to remind ourselves of our responsibility, to not only ourselves but to posterity. The world is ready to calibrate our moral and political maturity within the next 24 hours. We all know that in politics, “when one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall a state” (Euphrides). We should therefore endeavour not to blow off another’s candle, for it won’t make ours shine brighter. If we want to actualize our great dreams and attain greater heights for the nation, LOVE is the key word; for politics is the art of the possible, the attainable.
As citizens, we have to remember that although our interests vary, each one is an artery to the heart that pumps life through the body politic, and each is important to the health of democracy. But this democracy can only work when we claim it as our own. Now is the time to claim it, let’s do it. Remember that the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Let the games begin so we can live happily ever after.
Don’t forget to tick that box before you leave that polling booth.