Freetown, Sierra Leone-The election in Sierra Leone in July of 2023 might have come and gone but the ramifications of managing a fraudulent election still looms over the tiny West African nation of over 5 million population. The first round was held on June 24, 2023 and the runoff was held a month after in July amidst several reports of electoral irregularities and vote rigging.
The presidential race was between incumbent Julius Madaa Bio of Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and Opposition Leader Samura Kamara of All People’s Party (APP). And amidst several complaints from the opposition APP and International partners including the United States, Great Britain and the EU, the election body pronounced incumbent president Julius Madaa Bio winner with 56.2 % while opposition leader Samura Kamara was believed to have accumulated 41.2% of the total votes cast in the runoff.
Kamara and his party, the All People’s Party cried foul, and immediately demanded re-run due to what they considered “glaring irregularities” a plead that was also echoed by western observers including the US, EU and Great Britain. A coalition of over 450 domestic and international civil society organizations which deployed several observers across the country raised similar concerns.
One of the main concerns and contentious issues raised by domestic and international partners came from the background that electoral body did not publish detailed and disaggregated result from polling places around the country.
Despite all of the criticism of statistical inconsistencies by International observers, Bio was sworn in few days after and he immediately began to make appointments across government. While APC still refutes the election result and promised it won’t take part in government at any level including parliament and municipal council. The United States, European Union and other international partners are yet to congratulate embattled president Bio.
Over all this lurks the shadow of violence. The scars of the country’s 1991 to 2002 civil war, when tens of thousands were killed, still run deep, and any outbreak of violence sparks fears of an escalation.
Now the US State Department has taken the board step by announcing sanctions on some government officials of Sierra Leone. The European Union and Great Britain are expected to follow suit in the coming days.
In a press release dated August 31, 2023, and under the signature of the United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken Department-the release reads:
“The United States is committed to supporting and advancing democracy in Sierra Leone and around the world. Today, I am announcing a new visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act for undermining the democratic process in the June 2023 Sierra Leone election.
Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone, including through the manipulation or rigging of the electoral process; intimidation of voters, election observers, or civil society organizations through threats or acts of physical violence; or the abuse or violation of related human rights in Sierra Leone.”
“Family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions. Persons who undermine the democratic process in Sierra Leone—including in the lead-up to, during, and following Sierra Leone’s 2023 elections—may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy.
The visa restriction policy announced today will apply to specific individuals and is not directed at the Sierra Leonean people.
This decision reflects the commitment of the United States to support Sierra Leoneans’ aspirations to have free and fair elections that demonstrate the will of the people and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.” the release ended.