As world leaders acknowledge his victory in a bitterly fought election, Sierra Leone’s new President Julius Maada Bio, has affirmed his commitment to “national unity, cohesion and disciplined leadership.”
“(Be) rest assured that I will be President of all Sierra Leoneans. I will promote national unity, cohesion and disciplined leadership,” he declared, shortly after being sworn in late Wednesday.
Apparently due to security concerns, Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm administered the oath of office on the former military head of state and his deputy Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh at a ceremony in a Freetown hotel, after the National Electoral Commission (NEC) had declared him winner of the March 31 presidential run-off election with 51.81% of the votes.
Bio, 53, who has announced a Transition Committee, contested under the platform of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), against Dr Samura Kamara of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), who got 48.19% of the votes. Both men emerged front runners up from the first round general elections of March 7, with Bio scoring 43% and Kamara 42%.
Rtd Brig. Bio, who ruled Sierra Leone for three months as military head of state after a coup in 1996, before handing back power to elected President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, described his election as “the dawn of a new era.”
“We have only one country, Sierra Leone, and we are all one people,” he affirmed.
The new president, a member of the National Provisional Ruling Council after a coup by young military officers in 1992, was also a former presidential candidate in 2012.
Bio has been receiving goodwill messages from world leaders, including from Nigeria, South Africa, and the UN Secretary General. The new president was also received on Thursday by his predecessor in office President Ernest Bai Koroma, who has completed his constitutionally allowed two mandates of five years each.
However, in a continuation of the rivalry that marked the presidential run-off vote, defeated APC candidate Kamara, says his party will launch a legal challenge to the results, citing alleged irregularities in the poll, which international observer groups passed as credible.
Heads of International Election Observation Missions, notably ECOWAS, AU, Commonwealth, and the NGO, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), devoted long hours day and night in marathon preventive diplomacy meetings, that paved the way for the run-off election to even take place.
Originally fixed for 27 March, the poll had to be postponed to 31 March following an interim injunction ordered by a Freetown High Court following a petition filed by a private lawyer.
By the time the order was lifted on 26 March, it was already late for the vote to go ahead on 27 March, resulting in the postponement, amid political tension and anxiety in the country.
Eventually, the election was largely peaceful with minor incidents, but ballot tallying procedure became another sticking point, and this was again resolved with the help of the Heads of International observation missions, before the announcement of the final results by NEC and swearing in of President Bio shortly afterwards, on 4th April.
In total, ECOWAS deployed 110 Long-term and Short-term observers led by Prof. Amos Sawyer, Liberia’s former Interim president for the first round and run-off elections in Sierra Leone. These included some Secretariat staff of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC).
The election exposed serious fault lines and divisions of tribalism, ethnicity and regionalism resulting in over-heating of the polity in Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from the effects of an 11-year civil war that ended in 2002 and the devastations of the 2014 Ebola pandemic and 2017 mudslides.
Sierra Leone is on the bottom of Human Development index, with one of the highest rates of infant and child mortality and about 70% of its seven million population living below poverty line.
To address its huge development challenges and facilitate national healing, development experts have recommended a deliberate policy of national reconciliation. There is also the need for structured and constructive engagement of civil society and the media to tackle hate speech, a rash of fake news from the misuse/abuse of social media during the election period.