Ethnic conflicts and tensions are the common characteristic features of all elections across Africa. This is due to the fact that these are periods in which the stability and security of countries hang in the balance, with threat to peace and security. The very recently recorded violent electoral processes took place in Kenya (2008), Zimbabwe (2008) and Cote d’ Ivoire (2011). The mindless thuggery, use of force and dangerous weapons to intimidate voters in what should have been an ordinary peace process forced these nations to move backwards in terms of development, leaving women and children to languish in camps for being internally displaced.
Sierra Leone was not immune to electoral violence. In the past, Sierra Leoneans have witnessed political violence ranging from physical assault, provocative propaganda, loss of lives and properties. As the country once again prepared for it presidential, parliamentary and local elections scheduled for November 2012, a similar trend of pre-election pockets of inter and intra party violence had been recorded in the media and by the security agencies. Civil society groups, women organisations, youth organizations as well as the international community were concerned about the potential for electoral violence before, during and after the elections. What was needed at that moment was a mechanism that could manage the breeding tensions. Suffice to say the manner in which these tensions are managed could make all the difference between an election that would proceed peacefully versus one that would degenerate into violence.
Leading from this, the UN Women Country Office in Sierra Leone in consultation and close collaboration with its West African Regional Office and the UN Gender Theme Group (GTG) and the Angie Brooks International Centre (ABIC) on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security, concurred to setup a Women’s Situation Room (WSR) in Sierra Leone as a coordinating mechanism to ensure enhanced participation of women in a peaceful and democratic electoral process. The WSR-Sierra Leone was also in line with the overarching goal of the UNSCRs 1325 and 1820 to launch preventive measures that would ensure the elections took place in a manner that was free from all forms of violence and fear, it fostered an enabling environment and was an all-inclusive process.
Given the positive role and contribution of the WSR during the Liberia elections in 2011 and its fruitful replication in Senegal in February 2012, the women of Sierra Leone were extremely hopeful that the process would be unequivocally effective in Sierra Leone as well. The November 2012 elections was a litmus test for the country’s democracy, political dispensation, peace and stability. Being mandated with such a huge task, the WSR in partnership with stakeholders, were successful in promoting a collective process that gave value to the power of the masses and wills of political stakeholders and state entities to support a peaceful electoral process, and channeling all grievances through appropriate channels.