Sierra Leone has achieved significant institutional reforms in democratic governance, human rights, transparency and accountability, including the convening of three successive peaceful and credible elections since the end of its civil war in 2002. The withdrawal of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone in 2014 was a strong indication of the international community’s confidence in the gains the country has made towards peace and equitable prosperity. Despite these achievements however, Sierra Leone’s peace and sustainable development remain fragile. In this context, the 2018 electoral cycle was to be the first elections without a Security Council mandate since 2002 and following the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Towards a Solution
The “Conflict Prevention and Mitigation during the Electoral Cycle” project supported the Government, the people, electoral-management bodies and other institutions in Sierra Leone to ensure that the 2018 elections could be prepared and conducted peacefully. Given the low level of civic awareness expressed in previous elections, particularly concerning citizens’ rights and responsibilities, and those of the Government and elected politicians, attention was focused on human rights and the representation of women, youth and people with disabilities (who are often excluded from political processes), and their roles in preventing violence. Training and logistics were provided for early-warning and response systems, including the strengthening of a national situation room, along with support to the judiciary to enable the rapid resolution of election-related disputes, and the creation of high-level platforms dedicated to preventing violence.
An independent Political Parties Registration Committee (PPRC) was supported to facilitate the signing of codes of conducts for political parties, women and youths, followed by the establishment of District Code Monitoring Committees (DCMCs) across the country to provide oversight and monitoring of political parties’ compliance with the codes of conduct. The PPRC hosted in February 2018 a high-level dialogue that was led by the former President of Ghana, H.E. John Mahama, with the top leaderships of political parties, which resulted in the signing of a peace pledge by the presidential candidates.
The Eminent Persons Group (EPG), an independent assembly of individuals with no political affiliation, was also established. This structure was instrumental in enhancing dialogue and mediation between political parties and significantly contributing to high-level prevention and mitigation of electoral violence. Given that the EPG was stationed at the national level, it played a significant role in creating a link with the local-level DCMCs to promote effective communication, dialogue and mitigation of electoral violence across the country.
A Women’s Situation Room (WSR) was also established to provide a platform for women’s groups to strategize, lobby, plan and refer potential violence against women rapidly and in a coordinated manner. The WSR established a network of women peace activists (national and international) who were equipped with the required skills and knowledge to prevent and respond to violence during elections. This network played a significant role in constructively launching preventive measures to ensure elections took place in a peaceful and all-inclusive manner.
A study tour involving the Government and implementing partners was conducted to Ghana in September 2017 to better understand election security and preparedness. The Sierra Leonean group met with a wide range of Ghanaian governmental and civil-society actors, having been impressed by their long-term preventive pre-election activities. The group noted, in particular, the full-time continuous work of the Ghanaian National Peace Council and the Inter-Party Advisory Committee, providing a platform for political-party dialogue, conflict resolution and transparency to improve public trust in the electoral system. The group raised its awareness regarding the avoidance of private armed bodyguards during the electoral cycle, engaging instead with political parties on finding alternatives. The discussions also reaffirmed the necessity of key elements already planned in the “Conflict prevention and mitigation” project, for instance an electoral court to administer timely judgments, adequately funded election-management bodies, media monitoring, inclusive early-warning mechanisms, and election and civic education that continues beyond the electoral cycle.
The visit also included fruitful exchanges with:
- five main political parties in Ghana, through UNDP Ghana’s political-party strengthening project;
- the Electoral Commission of Ghana, who shared their experience on managing political competition and engaging with political parties; and
- the Ghana Police, who shared their experience on working with political parties on the security of candidates and the use of non-government security operatives.
Countries/territories involved : Sierra Leone
Supported by: United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), Department for International Development (DfID, Government of the UK), Government of Norway and Government of Canada
Implementing entities: UNDP, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Ministry of Internal Affairs of Sierra Leone
Project Status: On-going
Project Period: 2017 –2019
Name Agus Wandi
Title Chief Technical Specialist, UNDP, Sierra Leone