By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The Government of Sierra Leone has reiterated that it is committed to engage in dialogue with the United States Government on the issue of the slamming of visa restrictions on persons that the US believes undermined the democratic process in Sierra Leone.
This comes against the backdrop of the State Department spokeswoman, Sarah Van Horne, Head of Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Freetown, commenting on the 1st September, 2023 that the United States is contemplating additional actions beyond visa restrictions in response to allegations of electoral malpractice in Sierra Leone. She further emphasized the US commitment to upholding democracy in Sierra Leone.
Both developments came on the heels of a recent policy announcement by US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, targeting officials suspected of manipulating the results of the June 2023 elections and engaging in voter intimidation and threats against Election Observers and Civil Society activists.
Van Horne clarified that the US Government’s position remains consistent, expressing concerns about the electoral process and vote tabulation. She stated that the new actions are in line with their commitment to ensuring transparency in the electoral process.
It could be recalled that the June 24 elections witnessed a closely contested race between the incumbent Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC). The APC alleges election rigging and accused the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) Chairman, Mohamed Konneh, of collusion with incumbent President Bio to declare him the winner.
In response, the APC called for international sanctions on the President and his Government. Therefore, the recent US announcement has been welcomed by opposition supporters, who view it as a response to their appeal.
However, the spokesperson did not disclose the names of individuals targeted by the sanctions, citing the US Government’s policy of not revealing the visa status of individuals. Questions regarding whether the sanctions would extend to Government officials or opposition supporters involved in violence and intimidation were also left unanswered.
Van Horne stressed that these measures were not aimed at the Sierra Leonean people themselves, highlighting the US’s continued commitment to supporting democracy in the country.
In a related development, the United States of America Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has confirmed delays in its compact development program with Sierra Leone. These delays are attributed to concerns about the credibility of Sierra Leone’s June 24, 2023, elections.
The MCC, which had previously designated Sierra Leone as eligible for a $450 million grant to support the nation’s development, expressed apprehensions about the integrity of the electoral process. This delay in compact development is contingent upon Sierra Leone’s ability to demonstrate a commitment to democratic governance, transparency, and fair elections. Delayed timeline for compact negotiations and approval is said to be due to concerns about the electoral process’s transparency and the protection of fundamental freedoms and civil liberties.
On his part, President Bio had emphasized the importance of the MCC Compact during his campaign, promising substantial support for energy and water sectors. However, recent events have raised doubts about Sierra Leone’s commitment to these criteria.
However, the President , in response to international concerns, emphasized the constitution’s role in election processes and defended Sierra Leone’s sovereignty adding that his Government has initiated an electoral systems review committee to address those concerns.
In response to the visa restrictions, the Government of has indicated its intention to engage with the US Government regarding these measures.
On behalf of the Government, the Press Secretary, Solomon Jamiru, conveyed their concern and disagreement with what they deemed an unfair characterization.
He emphasized that significant efforts have been made to enhance governance and ensure the protection of civil and political liberties, as well as the delivery of essential services to the people.
Solomon Jamiru pointed out that the recently held multi-tier elections on June 24 were widely acclaimed as the most peaceful in the post-conflict history of the country, further asserting that the polls were free, fair, and transparent.
He said the information was not specific enough, making it challenging to properly evaluate the allegations expressing a desire for clarification on areas that need further understanding, such as instances of electoral fraud, subversion of the democratic process, and threats to Sierra Leone’s peace and democracy.
The Press Secretary pointed out that the election outcome, in which the President won with 56% of the total valid votes cast, was deemed legitimate according to the constitution and relevant electoral regulations.
He reiterated that the Government remains committed to engaging in dialogue with the United States Government to address concerns, seek clarification, and resolve any misunderstandings.
“The upcoming United Nations General Assembly provides a promising opportunity for both sides to engage in productive discussions and find common ground toward a mutually beneficial solution,” he concluded.