The women of Sierra Leone in concert with the youth invited the Angie Brooks International Centre (ABIC) to replicate the Women’s Situation Room (WSR) in the period leading up to the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections. The rationale was to adopt a peace and security mechanism that would mitigate violence and enhance women and youth participation in the elections process through the employment of early warning mechanisms that have worked in several other African Countries where the process has been replicated.
The March 2018 elections in Sierra Leone was symbolic and significant for the country’s democratic and political transition for the myriad reasons enumerated below;
- the first election to be conducted under the revised 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone;
- the first election to be conducted since the country’s 2015 population census
- the first election to be conducted following the restructuring of electoral constituencies in 16 political districts and the 190 administrative chiefdoms, which was passed into law on Tuesday 4th April 2017.
In addition, the incumbent president was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office. This opened the presidential race to a fiercer competition, including both intra-party and inter-party conflicts. The popular political narrative, debates and analyses continuously suggested the 2018 presidential and parliamentary election would be conducted in an atmosphere of uncertainty with threats to the fragile peace the country has enjoyed since the end of the civil war in 2012. Early warning indicators reported escalating intra and inter-party violence with some resulting in deaths, injuries and destruction of properties.
From a gendered perspective, women candidates were reported to be experiencing politics of insults, sexist and misogynistic undertones and intimidation as they prepared their candidature for the nomination process. Although Sierra Leone had a state institution mandated to mediate grievances with all stakeholders especially the political parties, the Political Party Registration Commission (PPRC), was unfunded and, to a large extent inoperative. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) was not exempted from these challenges. It was operating under capacity and public confidence in the institution was failing day by day.
The continuous and historical challenge of some youth recruitment by politicians and leaders of political parties to perpetrate violence was alarming. Political intelligence reportage actually identified some youth groups, cliques, gangs etc across the country who had been hired by politicians to serve as security at political rallies and to “exert muscle” against supporters of opposition political parties. There were also unconfirmed police reports of firearms being smuggled across Sierra Leone’s porous borders with Liberia and Guinea; a serious security threat during sensitive times as the country prepared for elections.
The manner in which the media sensationalised it stories compounded issues as media houses were generally perceived as politically biased. Social media, particularly WhatsApp and Facebook, due to ease of access and widespread patronage was routinely used to spread falsehood, ethno-tribal and hate speeches thereby threatening the peace and security of Sierra Leone.
In view of all the aforementioned challenges, the aim of the WSR-SL was to contribute to ongoing efforts by Civil Society Organizations and the International Community by supporting the creation of an enabling and peaceful environment before, during and after the elections for all Sierra Leoneans either as voters, candidates, elections staff etc.
Major Highlights of the WSR-Sierra Leone 2018
The Eminent Women Mediators intervened and resolved a standoff between the Flag-bearer of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the Police which could have escalated into violence.
The WSR engaged International Elections Observer Missions and diplomats to mediate an impasse between the two political parties and the National Elections Commission before the runoff elections could be held.
The Eminent Women Mediators have become proactive and established the WSR-SL Eminent Women’s Group to continue to intervene and mediate all post election threats and incidents of violence. They have formally written to inform ABIC about the existence of the group and requested its technical support to run the group.