By Amin Kef (Ranger)
In a press briefing held at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Freetown, Sierra Leone on Wednesday, January 24, 2024, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, announced a significant investment of $1.5 million to support electoral reforms in Sierra Leone. The announcement was made in the presence of key stakeholders, including the Ambassador of the United States of America Bryan David Hunt, Dr. Samura Kamara, leader of the main opposition APC, Deputy Minister of Justice, Alpha Sesay, and Co-Chairs of the Tripartite Committee for Electoral Reforms, Dr. Emmanuel Gaima, Dr. Kaifala Marah and the UN Resident Representative, Seraphine Wakana.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield began by expressing her excitement about being in Freetown and shared her personal connection with Sierra Leone dating back to 1978. She emphasized her love for diplomacy and Africa, highlighting the importance of democracy as the cornerstone of a free, fair, and prosperous society.
Acknowledging the collaborative efforts of the Sierra Leonean government and opposition leaders in upholding and expanding democracy, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stressed the need for further progress pointing out how the 2023 election made clear that real electoral and constitutional reforms are needed for the country to continue on a positive democratic trajectory, so that the voices of all Sierra Leoneans are heard.
She revealed that just as the United States was eager to support the signing of the ANU they are also eager to support its implementation.
She commended the historic Agreement for National Unity (ANU), which aims to facilitate electoral reform and inter-party dialogue, and reiterated the U.S. Government’s commitment to supporting its implementation.
According to her the U.S. Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has already allocated $1.5 million to the Electoral Reform Committee making it categorically clear that the funding is currently in the country. She highlighted how the funding will focus on three key priorities: providing technical assistance to the electoral reform process, supporting international and Sierra Leonean legal analysts, who have the expertise needed to support Parliament and Political Parties in implementing reform and engaging citizens through civil society to ensure an inclusive and bottom-up approach to the reforms.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield emphasized the urgency of upholding free and fair elections, citing her visit to the Sierra Leone Peace Museum and underlining the importance of democratic values.
She concluded by stating that their hope is that the technical, legal and civil society assistances will help Sierra Leone model democracy in a moment that so desperately calls for it adding how across West Africa, a number of countries have chosen autocracy over democracy, violence over the rule of law, the interests of the few over the interests of the many – and often to disastrous effects.
Kaifala Marah, Co-Chair of the APC, provided an update on ongoing efforts to address controversies from the 2023 elections. He expressed gratitude for international support, particularly highlighting Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s role in the process.
Marah outlined the challenges faced, including issues of transparency in the tallying process and the Electoral Commission’s refusal to publish results. He reported progress in implementing the ANU’s resolutions but noted challenges under Resolution 4, emphasizing the importance of the Committee of Moral Guarantors.
The scope of the Committee’s examination, covering election results management, electoral laws, observer mission reports, and media coverage, was detailed by Marah. He concluded by thanking the international community for their dedication to Sierra Leone’s democratic future.
On his part, the Co-Chair of the ruling SLPP Government, Dr. Emmanuel Gaima, expressed hope that President Bio had already raised salient and related points with the Ambassador in an earlier meeting she had with him. He pointed out that he would like to remind all that the Tripartite Committee’s mandate, out of the eight (8) resolutions agreed upon, relates to Resolution 3, underscoring that its main import is for the Committee to review electoral systems and management bodies in order to ensure that Sierra Leone does not step out of the democratic pathway. Dr Gaima also mentioned how the Committee’s work is grounded in also ensuring the deepening and strengthening of democracy.
He said the country has gone through war and crisis stressing how the path that the nation has chosen is the democratic route emphasizing that it was in that light why in 2014, the Local Government and decentralization processes were set-in to attack structural poverty and create ways for inclusivity. According to him, the national constitution of 1991 and the Public Elections Act of 2022 make provisions for how electoral protestations could be settled in the court of law. He said, however, this time round they have chosen to discuss, deliberate and collaborate on how to navigate through such future protestations in the interest of peace and national unity.
The Government Co-Chair informed how in the recent past President Bio announced in Parliament the setting up of the Committee and even accepted the removal of the Vice President as head of the Committee with the entire process to be left in the hands of the Tripartite Committee.
He also mentioned how President Bio withheld the vetting of the listed Committee members and approved the list adding that the President also allowed them unfettered opportunity to work together as a Committee without recourse to him or any other authority as indeed clear manifestations of his commitment to ensure that effective electoral reforms do take place or materialize to deepen the nation’s democratic credentials.
Dr. Gaima reiterated President Bio’s commitment to peace and unity revealing that his marching order, as Co-Chair, is to ensure that the process is widely embraced and to work together with the APC to put Sierra Leone first in the spirit of inclusivity as well as ensuring that it becomes a beacon of emulation by other African countries.
Earlier in the day, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield paid a courtesy call on President Julius Maada Bio during which they discussed Sierra Leone’s role on the UN Security Council. The President highly welcomed the Ambassador, expressing excitement about Sierra Leone’s UNSC membership and highlighting the country’s commitment to global peace and security.
The U.S. Ambassador also met with First Lady Dr. Fatima Maada Bio, commending her advocacy for women and girls.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s diplomatic journey in Sierra Leone was part of a broader engagement that included Guinea Bissau and Liberia, underscoring the United States’ commitment to promoting democracy and sustainable development in the region.
The Ambassador also engaged with opposition leaders and members of the international community during her stay in Freetown, which culminates today, January 26, 2024.