On Monday 17 September 2007, at approximately 10.30 am GMT, the national electoral commissioner for Sierra Leone, Dr Christiana Thorpe, announced the final results of the 2007 presidential election run off in Sierra Leone.



A great cheer went up in our village accompanied by the horns of cars, poda podas (minibus taxis) and tipper trucks passing on the nearby road into the local town, just to the west of Freetown. It had been confirmed that the APC ‘S Earnest Bai Koroma, had won the presidential election. The cheering did not stop in fact it just kept growing in volume and it lasted for the next few hours as APC supporters prepared themselves and made their way into Freetown to celebrate. There were certainly going to be some big parties in town.



All of the reports about the election have reiterated the comments made by the team of international observers, that the election process has been transparent, fair and on the whole peaceful.



The National Election Commission (NEC), has been praised for the way it has managed and conducted the election. Dr Christiana Thorpe has won tremendous respect both from the people of Sierra Leone and from those in the international community interested in monitoring the progress and outcome of the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections.



The openness and fairness of the presidential and parliamentary election on 11 August and the following run-off election for the presidency on September 8 were seen by the outside world as being the most significant indicators of the stability of present day Sierra Leone. They were identified by the international community as being a barometer on whether the peace in Sierra Leone is sustainable.



Campaigning officially began on 10 July and was open until 9 August when the campaign period officially ended at 6.00pm. This was for the both a presidential and parliamentary election which took place on August 11. The APC gained a majority in parliament on 11 August and although the APC candidate won a majority of votes in the presidential election he did not secure the necessary 55% of votes to gain the presidency. A run –off election was called for 8 September to decide this issue.



All parties continually called for restraint in the campaign and there were tight electoral governance criteria of what was and what was not acceptable during this period. All the newspapers and radio programmes continually emphasised the need for democratic tolerance. This message was reflected on the streets, in the Poda Podas and in the bars, where the election was debated noisily with fervour and vigour but without acrimony.



There were a few skirmishes with odd incidents of stone throwing and a report of a politically motivated stabbing but these were isolated affairs and did not reflect the sheer good natured and humorous way that politics was discussed during the whole of the election period.


What was evident in listening to people was the passion the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans felt for Sierra Leone, the country, sweet Mama Salone.



This election was described as “our own election” it is the first election run by Sierra Leone and not the international stakeholders since the end in 2001 of the very bloody and nasty civil war. There was a collective determination amongst Sierra Leoneans to show the world how this first “ome base” (self governed) election would be conducted in a tolerant and co-existent manner. There was ownership of the election process by the ordinary people on the streets.



Various reports have remarked on the calm and tolerant way that the election campaign was conducted but this does not encapture the vibrancy and the sheer good fun of the whole process.



The campaigning was mainly conducted through the medium of music which brought a joyful, party like atmosphere to each of the main party’s campaign rallies. Songs were written and produced specially for this period. Party colours were worn with pride by all sides, red for the APC, green for the SLPP and yellow for the relatively new PMDC being the main rallying parties.



The rallies were colourful, cheerful and highly musical events accompanied by dancing, singing, the sounding of car horns and messages relayed through loudspeakers. Each party had an equal amount of allocated days to rally and different parties did not rally on the same day.



Quick witted, satirical jokes abounded from both participants and observers of the rallies. Party songs and responses were written which reflected this spirit of humour.


The APC’s main song translates as:


“We are giving you notice, we are giving you notice, we are giving you notice

Pack up your things and get ready to leave

We don’t want you here any more

We are giving you notice we are going to kick you out.”



Within a couple of days the SLPP had an answering song:



“You can’t give us notice, you can’t give us notice

We are the landlords not the tenants

We are here to stay”



The lyrics might not sound much but both songs had fabulous music and they were both good tunes for dancing.



Local musicians also helped in the calls for peace, democracy and a love of sweet Salone. They formed an alliance of musicians called “Musicians for a Peaceful Election”. They wrote their own songs which were widely broadcast and played in the local bars, clubs, poda podas and taxis. One of their main songs which became very well publicised went


“Brother, sister, mother, father listen and listen carefully

We are all one country and all one people

Let’s take care of Mama Salone, and protect democracy”


The Musicians for a Peaceful Election gave a series of free concerts especially for the youth. In a country where music is an important aspect of everyday life and where there is still a lot of poverty, especially among unemployed youths this sent an important message to those who it was felt may succumb to any pressure that may lead them to violence as had happened in earlier elections preceding the war.



As well as the broadcasts of their music these musicians were interviewed frequently on the local radio channels where they reiterated their calls for the tolerance of political differences. Often two or more of them would be interviewed together. One would introduce the other. A typical broadcast from these musicians was broadcast just last week. It went along these lines: “This is my friend and fellow musician xxxxx. We have been friends for many years. He is SLPP, I am APC. We like to discuss politics with each other. We might disagree but we are still friends at the end of the evening. We are both proud to be Salonians and we love our country so we want to protect democracy. We respect each other’s point of view. We can agree to disagree”



In the most reliable indicators of public opinion, the taxis, the poda podas and bars, this theme was elaborated on frequently. People would boast about the political differences within their own family.


“I am APC, my wife is SLPP” one man said “I was happy to pay her transport fare for her to go and rally and she supported me going to my rally.”



One elderly, regular at a local bar said “I am SLPP, my wife and all my children are APC. Now I am retired I only go out of the house to come to this bar, this bar and my house are all I know now. My children know this so they went out and brought me an SLPP hat, tee shirt and poster. They pinned the poster over my chair and made me wear the tee shirt and hat on SLPP rally days, all the rest of our house is in red, they all wear red.”



Another woman in a poda poda was telling everyone in the bus, “I am the only one working in our house; I pay the rent, the bills and buy the food. I am SLPP all my children are APC, we discuss politics every day, we are pleased to be able to talk loud and still be one family. We are grown up in Salone” This was met with verbal agreement in the poda poda and other positive exchanges of family and friends different political views.



Prior to the civil war Sierra Leone had experienced some seriously flawed elections. There were a series of elections that were marred by very obvious election rigging and violence between supporters of opposing political parties. Election rallies were a time people feared because they carried a hallmark of violence towards and intimidation of potential voters.



An older man described his experience of one such election held in 1985. He explained the system of voting then.


“You queued up at the polling centre to cast your vote. Your name was checked and you were given a marble. You were told to enter in the booth and put your marble in the box marked for the person for whom you wanted to cast your vote. I entered the booth wondering what I would encounter. When I entered I saw a gleaming white box on the front table. It was beautifully decorated and it had a large hole in the middle, it was clearly labelled with the name of one of the candidates. At first I could only see this box but I knew there must be another one for the opposition party. I searched around. I found a small black box with the opposition candidate’s name written on it. It was at the back of the booth, tucked away in the corner. I wanted to put my marble in that box but when I examined it, there was no hole in it at all for my marble, there wasn’t even a hole large enough to put a pin into let alone a marble, not only that you were not allowed to take the marble out of the booth, there was security there to stop that.”



It is this history as well as the civil war that has brought the fairness and transparency of the 2007 election to figure so prominently in the hearts and minds of Sierra Leoneans as well as those observing from an international perspective. This was the challenge that the NEC had to meet; it came up with some convincing solutions.



From the registration of voters through to the casting of votes in the two elections the process minimised, if not eradicated, any possibility of double registration or voting. This was achieved by the simple technique of all participants of each of these stages having indelible ink marked on a particular finger nail. No ink, no vote, if the ink was present then the registration or voting had taken place. It was a simple but effective technique that instantly gave Sierra Leoneans confidence that these elections would be open, fair and credible.



There was a very big, multi media campaign to alert people to the importance of both registering and casting their vote instead of merely supporting one of the political parties.



The police and army were seen to be keeping the peace and controlling the rallies in a politically unbiased way. There was one rather heated skirmish in Freetown during the second stage of the elections. It did have the potential to turn into a violent affray. The police moved in quickly and dispersed the crowd and even though they used tear gas they regained control quickly and without resorting to violence.



The following day the police toured the streets of Freetown in buses using loudspeakers to urge the young people to keep the peace for the elections. The notices on the back of the bus read “There is only one Mama Salone” “Keep Salone sweet, say no to violence this election.”



A few people were still a bit anxious and a number of people went to neighbouring countries for the week of the elections but they panicked without reason. Election Day came and passed peacefully. The polling stations were well organised and calm. Most businesses were closed and it was very quiet in Freetown.



The next day was a Sunday and that is when people came out again and started asking each other “Ow di election?” (What did you think of the election?), the response always being “Di election was fine” (The election went very well).



The SLPP did file a last minute injunction to try and prevent the national electoral commissioner publishing the final results. The court case was adjourned until 12.00 noon and the results were announced at 10.30am and accepted by the SLPP. Dr Christina Thorpe has launched an enquiry into 14 cases of alleged election fraud but has stated that these would not affect the final vote. Earnest Bai Koroma was inaugurated as president the same afternoon and the SLPP candidate, Solomon Berewa, announced that he would be pleased to work with Earnest Bai Koroma in order to put the interest of the country first.



The Musicians for a Peaceful Election produced another song for Election Day:


“Let us go, let us go.

The elections are over The elections are over

We are all Sierra Leoneans, we all belong to this country.


So the APC may have won the presidency and a majority in parliament but the real winners of the 2007 general and presidential election in this country are Sierra Leone, democracy and the wonderful people of Sierra Leone.




© Jane Aspden

18 09 07