By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK | FREETOWN, 26 June 2023 (IDN) — Presidential and parliamentary elections are under way in Sierra Leone amidst a crippling cost-of-living crisis.
Soaring food prices have sparked deadly riots and are a key issue for many voters in the import-dependent nation of eight million people.
Some 3.4 million people are registered to vote, 52.4 percent of whom are under 35 years old.
This year’s general elections will be held with over eleven thousand ballot boxes borrowed from Guinea.
Mohamed Turay, Director of Operations at the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, confirmed the unusual arrangement. “It’s free and loaned, and after the elections, we are going to return them to Guinea again.”
The election comes months after a landmark law which says women must make up 30% of all positions in both the public and private sector – including in parliament.
But according to Sierra Leone’s Institute for Government Reform (IGR) not enough women placed high enough on the lists to make sure the 30% threshold is crossed. Out of the 13 candidates running for president only one is a woman—the little-known Iye Kakay nominated by the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP).
While poverty is rampant in the country, Sierra Leone is known for its vast endowment in minerals including diamonds, rutile, bauxite, gold, iron ore, limonite, platinum, chromite, coltan, tantalite, columbite, and zircon, as well as promising petroleum potential, according to the International Trade Administration.
The country is also home to what is considered to be one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits at the Tonkolili mine, which contains an estimated 12.8 billion tonnes of iron ore deposits.
A major producer of gem-quality diamonds, the country has struggled to manage its exploitation and export.
Experts believe that four primary factors contribute to Sierra Leone’s levels of poverty: government corruption, a lack of an established education system, absence of civil rights and poor infrastructure. These factors make poverty difficult to beat, according to The Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization that addresses poverty and hunger and works towards ending them.
The absence of funding for educational programs contributes to gender inequality and the marginalization of women.
The effects of gender inequality include women’s inability to join the workforce and a cultural view of women as servants for men. These ideas inhibit Sierra Leone’s development in a world that values education and women’s rights.
Thirteen candidates have tossed their hats into the ring, including incumbent President Julius Maada Bio. However, it’s likely to be just a two-horse race between President Bio—elected in 2018 and fighting for his second term—and Samura Kamara, the head of the All People’s Congress Party, Sierra Leone’s main opposition camp.
“We have one chance, the chance to drive away this difficult regime that has put us through suffering in the last five years and added to our misery,” said candidate Kamara in a video message released by his campaign team.
This would mark the country’s fifth presidential election since the end of a brutal 11-year civil war more than two decades ago which left tens of thousands dead and destroyed the country’s economy. Violence is again on the rise, according to the West Africa Network for Peace-building Sierra Leone which has counted 109 violent incidents since April.
“All I want is peace,” a student from Freetown told the Reuters news service. “I am scared by the high level of hatred I see being exhibited on social media by political extremists on both sides.”
“What a shame for Sierra Leone,” Mohamed Kamara wrote on SierraLoaded. “A small populated Country like Sierra Leone to borrow ballot boxes from another nation. What a shame.” [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Hundreds of supporters of the opposition party, All People’s Congress (APC), hold up signs calling for the Chief electoral Commissioner, Mohamed Konneh, to step down. Credit: Africa News
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