The latest report published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned that political tensions could lead to Sierra Leone’s destabilization if elections next month are not free and fair.
“The 2007 elections are a crucial opportunity for Sierra Leone to definitively turn its back on conflict,” says Carolyn Norris, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director.
Adding that if the new administration does not start with a strong reform program, the population’s tolerance of bad governance and uneven economic development is unlikely to last much longer, and a return to conflict would be a real possibility.”
The report, aims at examining the strains emerging prior to presidential and parliamentary elections and the impact they will have on the country’s delicate peace building.
Sierra Leone it was revealed “is still a fragile state in which peace will not be consolidated unless the new authorities tackle sources of popular discontent such as corruption, chiefs’ abuse of power and youth unemployment.”
While the country is no longer a failed state, youth unemployment and disillusionment are serious threats and core institutions remain untested.
The report states that a customary law system which is parallel to statutory law and the details of the electoral system leave traditional “Paramount Chiefs” with powers that are frequently abused in the countryside.
Corruption in public services the report states is extensive, and the security and justice sectors still require several years of external oversight in order to become self-sustaining.
Recent house burnings attributed to the division within the ruling SLPP have not resulted in convictions, undermining confidence in the re-establishment of the rule of law therefore coordination with the national police is needed to allow prompt reaction to security incidents.
The new National Electoral Commission (NEC) the report states, has started well and broadly inspires confidence, but allegations of fraud or malpractice must be adjudicated promptly and fairly the report advised.
The report further urged all political parties to instruct their officials that “violence, and calls to violence, (should) be investigated and appropriately punished, and they should commit to a comprehensive post-election reform program.”
“There are healthy signs of generational change within political parties,” says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Director of Africa Program. “But whoever wins must commit to substantial government reforms to win back the population’s trust in the future of the country.”