Opposition-led protests broke out in Sierra Leone on Wednesday amid growing tensions surrounding the country’s presidential elections, set to take place next weekend, according to local JURIST sources.
In support of the All People’s Congress, Sierra Leone’s leading opposition party, protesters in the capital city of Freetown demonstrated against the country’s election authorities. The APC and its voters accuse the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) of serving as a puppet of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Some violence was reported during the event, including the use of tear gas against protestors.
Wednesday’s demonstrations were the latest in a series of increasingly tense interactions between APC and SLPP supporters.
Jonathan Rubin, a Freetown-based writer embedded with the opposition, said he witnessed an ambush on Sunday. He said several hundred supporters gathered in the rural district of Pujehun to watch an address by APC presidential candidate Samura Kamara. The candidate had just finished his remarks, when he, his team, and a group of supporters were ambushed by dozens of teenagers and a handful of adults.” The assailants, who Rubin believed to be supporters of the ruling SLPP party, “stoned the vehicles and clashed with Kamara’s supporters. … Kamara has focused on addressing massive inflation, rising costs of living, and national unity. The police and military responded by filling the streets with tear gas, causing the combatants as well as many residents to flee the city, by road or into the bush.”
On Monday, APC headquarters were burned to the ground in Bo, Sierra Leone’s second-largest city. Armed soldiers were seen arresting civilians throughout the week.
News reports have detailed myriad similar attacks in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s elections — the fifth since the end of Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war in 2002.
Incumbent President and SLPP member Julius Maada Bio is hoping for re-election on Saturday. President Bio is a former military officer who served as head of state during the military junta of 1996. While Bio has implemented some popular social reforms, such as increasing education for girls, his opponents have blamed his administration for soaring inflation, which has reached 40%.
In 2020, Mohamed Konneh, was appointed Chairman of the ECSL and has since steadily replaced ECSL staff with SLPP loyalists, opposition groups claim. In an address delivered on June 14, APC candidate Kamara outlined a series of complaints about the electoral process under Konneh’s ECSL. These include concerns about the integrity of ballot boxes, the issuance of poor-quality voter IDs, and an abrupt change from a “First Past the Post” to a proportional representation system. Dr. Kamara claimed that the ECSL had manipulated census and electoral data to rig the election in SLPP’s favor.
The SLPP has denied claims of electoral foul play. “The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is gravely concerned about the deliberate attempts by the All People’s Congress to disrupt the peaceful elections and reverse the democratic gains Sierra Leone has made,” the party said in a statement, according to Reuters.