The 2018 Sierra Leone election process has started. The country is looking to elect a new parliament and most importantly, a new president.
After 10 years as president, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma, is looking to step down from power when a winner emerges from the country’s 2018 elections. This year, the country has 16 presidential candidates hoping to lead the once war-torn country.
For whoever emerges victorious in this year’s Sierra Leone election, a lot would be expected of them. But what are the potential issues the incoming president would have grapple with?
One key issue on the ground is the youth unemployment. Recently I read a fantastic piece about the state of youth unemployment in Sierra Leone. And it was horrible. There is so much unemployment and restlessness amongst Sierra Leone youths that the country looks eerily similar to Middle Eastern countries in 2010. Youths are uneducated, marginalised and are heavily bitter. In the Middle East, the Arab Spring occurred for precisely these issues. And it was key to Sierra Leone’s own civil war between 1991 and 2002.
In 2017, the country was judged the most dangerous place for young people (between ages of 15 and 29). In 2015, one in every 250 youths died; that’s surprisingly worse than the case for war-torn Syria.
Amongst male youths, gangbanging has become very popular. The country has become very notorious for gang related conflicts. Wearing the wrong colour into a particular location is enough to get a person killed.
With 60% of its population under 25 years, tackling youth unemployment should be a top agenda for Sierra Leone’s next president.
Maintaining A Stable Democracy
Now, Sierra Leone has managed to develop a very stable democracy. Since 1996, when the country began its return to democratic life, it has made notable strides to ensure it doesn’t slip back into a web of coups and instability.
Yet the country’s democracy has been tested recently. In 2015, Sierra Leone president, Ernest Bai Koroma, dismissed his deputy, Sam Sumana, during the middle of the ebola epidemic. He effectively placed politics over the health of the nation.
In what looked similar to dictatorship, the president single-handedly appointed his party’s presidential candidate. This issue obviously led to division’s within his party.
Worse still, the president nearly altered the constitution to extend term limits. That’s right! Using the propaganda of “more time”, Koroma’s support tried to convince the country to give the incumbent more time to fix the country. Thankfully that campaign failed due to foreign and internal pressures, but it does show how lax democracy is in the country.
For a country that has witnessed several coups alleged coups and a terrible civil war, the above issues are extremely sensitive. Strengthening the rule of law and other institutions should be top agendas for Sierra Leone’s incoming president.
Health and Infrastructural Policies
If the world learnt anything from Ebola, it is that health facilities and infrastructures must be strong to stop disease from spreading in the first place. The country’s under par health care was significantly overwhelmed during the outbreak of Ebola. For this reason, the country was the worst hit.
Strengthening the health facilities should be a key issue for the incoming administration.
Also important, should be infrastructural polices. In 2017, mudslides claimed no fewer than 400 lives and ruined the homes of many. Had the government listened to civil society groups, mudslides would easily have been avoided. These groups have repeatedly warned that houses are being built in illegal areas, which increases the risk of flooding. Failure to tackle these issues placed people at people of mudslides.
As a result, tackling illegal structures and reorganising infrastructural policies should be an important pursuit of whoever wins the 2018 Sierra Leone election.
Corruption and the Economy
Overall, Sierra Leone has a very promising economy. Over the last 10 years, the country has had one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Its growth rate peaked at 20% in 2013. But due to the Ebola epidemic, the economy contracted by as much as 20% in 2015.
But since the crisis has been tackled, the economy has been on the rise once again. In 2018 the economy is projected to grow 6.1%.
However though, Sierra Leone’s growth depends on the growth of the mining industry which collapsed when Ebola struck. Falling commodity prices combined with the effects of the Ebola virus to halt mining processes in Sierra Leone temporarily.
Even though a large portion of the population is into agriculture, mining accounts for large portion of foreign revenue. Getting the industry buoyant again should be an important objective of the incoming president.
Additionally, corruption represents the biggest issue to doing business in Sierra Leone. Corruption remains widespread in the country, and the government has made little efforts to curb it. For instance, in 2015, a report by the country’s Auditor General showed that the country had failed to properly account for almost a third of the money allocated to fight Ebola. Some $14 million went missing.
Although, most of the candidates have vowed to clean up the mess, I am not the one who would trust a politician. Corruption is the top agenda for very politician across the continent. But nothing happens at the end. Just look at Nigeria.
Nevertheless though, we can only hope the 2018 Sierra Leone election brings a capable administration that would tackle the challenges in that country.