An Election Postponed = Education Deferred
Today, would have marked the 2018 presidential run-off elections of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The first elections took place on Wednesday, March 7 2018. Sierra Leone’s constitution states that a political party needs to have 55% of the votes in order to be declared the winner, however the ruling party All Peoples Congress (APC) gained 42.7% (1,082,748 votes) and the opposition: Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) gained 43.3% (1,097,482 votes) winning by a mere 14,734 votes thus resulting in a run-off between the two. On election day, 16 political parties contested for the 2018 presidential seat.
However, on Saturday, March 24 2018 lawyer Ibrahim Sorie Kamara filed an injunction against the elections thus rocking the boat of our young and already shaky democracy. As a result, the run-off election that were scheduled to take place today, Tuesday March 27 2018; which should take place within the time frame of 2 weeks when the election results were announced (Tuesday, March 13 2018) according to the 1991 Constitution was halted.
Sierra Leone is a small, peaceful and beautiful West African country that is rich in minerals and natural resources. Though plagued with decades of corrupt political regimes and administrations, Sierra Leoneans have endured and come out resilient in the face of adversity. From 1991 to 2002 Sierra Leone was afflicted with an 11 year civil war and in May 2014 it was engulfed by the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic until November 2015 when Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Yesterday, Monday, March 26 2018 — the High Court Justice lifted the interim injunction on the National Election Commission (NEC) to conduct the elections and the new date has been set for Saturday, March 31 2018. NEC stated it was not able to conduct the elections as planned due to logistical reasons and the Supreme Court sanctioned Saturday as the new run-off date.
This month alone, school going children have missed over 2 weeks of learning time. That is over 110 hours of classroom activities and over 6,720 minutes (and counting) of valuable teaching time gone down the drain. In a country where the educational system is already failing and flawed, how and why is this happening? And the irony of it all is that students are not going to school because their education is in the hands of whoever wins.
“MAAADAAA BIOOOOO! MAAADAAA BIO EEHHH!”
This infectious and catchy chant could be heard belted across the streets of Freetown the morning after the results of the first elections were announced on Wednesday, March 14 2018. I was on my way to work and stopped at the St. Mary’s Supermarket at Hillcot Road to buy some water. I was greeted by cheshire smiling SLPP supporters who were dancing and singing, I just shook my head and chuckled.
The large Maada Bio poster at the Hillcot Road roundabout was being washed and given water to drink (yes, apparently that is a thing — I kid you not) and I decided to talk to these two young men who were cleaning the poster. After I introduced myself, they told me their names were Mohamed and Hassan and they were die hard SLPP supporters. They said they support Maada Bio because he has promised to invest in the educational sector and eradicate the dreaded SS4 (12th grade, US equivalent). I asked them what made Maada Bio different from the opposition leader Samura Kamara. They then proceeded to tell me their various reasons as to why Maada Bio was their candidate. I told them that I am voting for the candidate/party that will bring about a real change to the Republic and all I wish for is a prosperous Mama Salone. I bid them farewell and took a couple of pictures with them.
This encounter with Hassan and Mohamed played in my mind when I was outside the court yesterday in the heart of Freetown near the historic Cotton Tree. Peaceful demonstrators gathered at the base of State House to demonstrate against politicians who are using Tribalism and Regionalism as a tool to solicit votes. I was fortunate to talk to the leader of this organized group about their stance and reasons for coming out yesterday.
Foday Moriba Conteh is the Executive Director of Active Youths for Sustainable Change (AYSC). Conteh told me that his organization decided to peacefully demonstrate and voice their condemnation for the election related violence that has ensued over the past couple of weeks, the hate speech and the closure of schools. I also spoke to Fatu, one of AYSC active and budding members who strongly stated that she is tired of sitting at home and fears young girls will fall pregnant because they’re not involved in any school activities, reminiscing painfully to Ebola times where teenage pregnancy saw an alarming uprise and thousands of girls were banned from returning to schools after the epidemic because they were visibly pregnant.
Peaceful demonstrations could be seen across the city yesterday condemning violence and hate and advocating for a peaceful elections process and for a united nation.
This election is the most anticipated and important one in years and the fact that scare tactics, propaganda and closure of schools has threatened the peaceful state of this country could and will jeopardize peace. With the international community having both eyes on us, we have to do this right. We have so much to learn from countries like Liberia, Kenya and The Gambia, yet we have so much to lose if we don’t. On Saturday, March 31 2018, we will head down to the polling stations in numbers to cast our vote (yet again) for the next president of the Republic of Sierra Leone. I only ask fellow Sierra Leoneans to vote with a clear mind, a healthy body and a peaceful soul to help elect the person who will continue to keep Sierra Leone peaceful and have our students back in school.
Land that we love, our Sierra Leone.