By Amin Kef (Ranger)
A high powered delegation of Members of the West African Elders Forum (WAEF) led by former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, which is currently in the country to monitor the June 24th multi-tier elections, on Thursday 22nd June, 2023 paid a courtesy call to the Situation Room of the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion widely known as the Peace Commission at the Bintumani Conference Center in Freetown.
The delegation which also included H.E Kadre Ouadrego, Former Prime Minister of Burkina Faso and former President of ECOWAS met members of the National Mediation Team, comprising the Chairman and Board Members of the Peace Commission and representatives from Civil Society Organizations, the Human Rights Commission, the Police and Legal Aid Board.
The Board Chairman, Rev Shodankeh Johnson, in his welcome statement catalogued the numerous activities that the Commission has undertaken since its recent formation as well as the various interventions it has made that are all geared towards the enhancement, consolidation of peace and national cohesion.
He made mention of the recent dialogue between the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) and the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) that was jointly facilitated by the Commission and the Political Parties Regulation Commission ( PPRC), which according to him was aimed at addressing a number of concerns and dissatisfaction raised by the opposition APC regarding the general electoral process.
According to the Chairman, the Peace Commission was gratified that the dialogue turned out to be successful in resolving over 70 percent of the contentious issues raised, even though he noted that there were a few sticking matters which still required continuous engagements.
He , however, sagely insinuated that the prevalence of peace goes with some sacrifice of rights buttressing that “if everybody is right, achieving peace would prove difficult”.
In his response, the Chairperson of the West African Elders Forum, President Goodluck Jonathan, congratulated the people of Sierra Leone for maintaining democracy despite the country’s ugly past, and commended President Bio for creating such an important infrastructure, (the Peace Commission), a move according to him, that should be emulated across Africa.
He praised the commitment of the Peace Commission team with special reference to their recent engagement with the opposition in trying to resolve some very contentious issues with respect to the June 2023 elections.
Giving a synopsis of the WAEF, President Goodluck Jonathan stated that it was set up few years ago to assist the ECOWAS leadership in mediating conflict situations in the sub-region, adding that too often when conflicts occur in the region, sitting Presidents find it difficult to intervene. He made it quite clear that they as WAEF are not core observers even though their presence would add immense value to the entire process.
He said their visit is also centered on identifying the role they could play in order to consolidate the peace before, during and after the June 24 General Elections.
H.E Kadre Ouadrego, on his part, reiterated the importance of peace and stability in the West African sub region, noting however, that peace cannot be achieved without free, fair and credible elections.
In her contribution, the Executive Secretary of the Peace Commission, Hawa Samai, asserted that the Commission doesn’t work in isolation but has been collaborating with other stakeholders including the Inter-Religious Council, the Paramount Chiefs and Traditional Leaders, whom she noted, due to the high respect accorded to them in their communities, they have also been appointed to form part of the district mediation teams.
The district mediation teams, she added, are permanent structures set up to address emerging issues even after the elections.
Madam Samai hinted the delegation about further plans of the Commission to conduct fragility studies in all hundred and ninety chiefdoms to deepen the Commission’s knowledge of the root causes of issues happening in those communities, with the aim of addressing them ahead of the next elections in five years.
WAEF is made up of former Presidents, Vice Presidents and former ECOWAS Presidents.
In another development, a team of mediators from FemWise, has arrived to support the Peace Situation room and are now working alongside the national team in mediating on issues around the elections.
FemWise is a network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation. Their role is to strengthen the role of women in conflict prevention and mediation efforts in the context of the African setting, peace and security architectures.
Also, a delegation from the African Union Elections Observation Mission to Sierra Leone also made a visit to the Peace Situation. The team led by the former Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said the visit is to see what the Commission has been doing to ensure the elections were peaceful.
With Sierra Leone being a signatory to the African Charter on democracy and Human rights, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the AU desires free, fair and transparent elections.
The African Union Commission has been very instrumental in the setting up of the Peace Situation room through capacity building for the staff and the provision of computers and other logistics.
Executive Secretary ,Hawa Samai, was full of appreciation for the AU, noting that Sierra Leone was the second country in Africa to acquire the kind of software provided by the Union for the establishment of a Pace Situation Room Call Center. She also commended them for making available a team from FemWise to be part of the Mediation team. Their presence, she added, would give added credibility to the work of the Peace Situation Room.
Hitherto, the Peace Situation Room has been visited by the Commonwealth Observation Mission, led by former Nigerian Vice President H.E Prof Yemi Osinbanjo and a team from ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissioners (ECONEC).