Presidential Election Kicks Off In Sierra Leone

All over Sierra Leona, voters have turned out in large numbers to elect a new president. Vying for the post is a total of 16 candidates including 2 women.

A News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) correspondent covering the election, reports that there were long queues of registered voters at various poling units visited as early as 5 a.m local time, waiting to cast their vote at the official opening of polls by 7 a.m local time.

Some of the voters who spoke to NAN said they left their houses early to enable them cast their vote as early as possible and leave.

The Sierra Leone National Electoral Commission (NEC) officers and election materials could be seen at various poling units visited in the City centre.

At the cathedral Central District voting station, the NEC official had already set up.

Also at the Open Field Grass Field Polling Station and the First Baptist Mission Primary School, Accessories Read, Easter Region, the NEC officials could be seen on ground wile voters were already on queue.

The NEC Poll Manager at Open Field Grass, Mr Abdul Tholley, who spoke with NAN said their was no problem regarding the election materials both sensitive and non sensitive received.

Also at Annie Wash Primary School, East region, the voters were already waiting in queue as early as 5 .30 a.m local time.

There was enforcement of vehicular movement restriction as police officers were on strategic road junctions to enforce the restriction order.

There was also presence of police officers at all the polling units visited.

Voting is expected to commence by 7 a.m. close by 5 p.m.

The country has an estimated seven million population and 3.17 million registered voters, who will cast their ballots in 11,122 polling stations nationwide.

Sierra Leone elections are being contested by 16 presidential candidates, including two women, and more than 700 contenders for the 144-seat unicameral parliament.

One hundred and thirty-two of the lawmakers will be elected directly, complemented by 12 slots for Paramount Chief Members of Parliament.


Jonathan Leads Observes For Sierra Leone Polls

Nigeria’s former President, Goodluck Jonathan, will lead a team of observers to Sierra Leone’s general elections scheduled to take place on March 7.

Mr. Jonathan is scheduled to leave for Freetown on Friday as leader
of the Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for
Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

A statement issued by the ex-president’s spokesman, Ikechukwu Eze, said Mr. Jonathan would be leading the mission which has observers drawn from civil society organisations and election management bodies from across the continent.

It said the former president is pleased to be part of the process “in support of a peaceful and transparent election in Sierra Leone.”

EISA is a not-for-profit election-focused organisation that is working with national, regional, Pan-African and global partners throughout the African continent. It is based in South Africa with field offices across the continent and has supported or observed over 100 electoral and political processes in Africa.

A statement from EISA notes that the mission’s assignment is in line with the organisation’s “vision of an African continent where democratic governance, human rights and citizen participation are upheld in a peaceful environment.”

In this regard, “EISA gives focus to the crucial role that election observation plays in promoting the transparency of electoral processes and lesson learning among nations. Consequently, EISA believes that international observers play a crucially supportive role in increasing public confidence and enhancing the credibility of the electoral process.”

Its work extends beyond electoral support to include other democracy and governance fields such as political party support, legislative strengthening and civil society engagement of the African Peer Review Mechanism. EISA has current and past field offices in countries like Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This reflects its broader geographical mandate and coverage.

On The Many Troubles Of Sierra Leone, By Tayo Ogunbiyi

Sierra Leone became independent from British imperialism on April 27, 1961. Based on a 2015 national census figure, the country has a population of 7,075,641, making it far smaller than Lagos State in terms of human inhabitants.

Like many African nations, Sierra Leone has had to contend with numerous complicated challenges of nation building. In contemporary times, however, the country has been plagued by fiery troubles that have threatened its very foundation.

For instance, between 1991 and 2002, there was a devastating civil war that seriously ravaged the country.  The tragic war which resulted in the death of more than 50,000 people also left much of the country’s infrastructure in total disarray. Equally, it led to the displacement of over two million Sierra Leoneans who became refugees in neighbouring countries. In January 2002, with the assistance of Britain, ECOWAS and the United Nations, the destructive 11 years of war eventually came to an end.

As the country was trying to put the misfortune of the civil war years behind her, it was struck by yet another tragedy in 2014 with the outbreak of the dreadful Ebola virus. The deadly impact of the Ebola epidemic led to the declaration a state of emergency by the county’s authorities. By the end of 2014, there were nearly 3000 deaths and ten thousand cases of the disease in Sierra Leone. The epidemic affected nearly every aspect of the country’s life. For instance, sometime in August 2014, national football league matches were cancelled across the country to curtail the spread of the Ebola disease. Unfortunately, the Ebola plague further exerted much strain on the nation’s already weakened medical infrastructure which resulted in more casualties from medical neglect than Ebola itself. It also brought about a huge humanitarian problem which negatively affected the country’s socio-economic development.

While the country was gradually getting over the devastating stress of the Ebola brouhaha, another tragedy of greater proportion recently struck, thereby throwing the now much distressed nation into further anguish. On August 14 this year, the country witnessed three days of torrential rainfall that resulted in devastating floods and mudslides around Freetown, the capital city and its environs.

Though the precise number is not yet certain, disaster-related deaths are estimated at scores of hundreds while thousands of others are either missing or outrightly feared dead. Thousands of people were displaced and hundreds of buildings damaged by the devastating mudslides. Happening especially during rainy season, the catastrophe was further aggravated by Freetown’s peculiar geographical reality of being below the sea level with weak infrastructure.

Initial recovery efforts were spearheaded by local organisations as well as the American Red Cross while the international community has also been assisting with aid. Authorities are still looking for the more than 600 citizens still unaccounted for in one of Africa’s worst flood disasters in living memory. Aid agencies cautioned that corpses trapped in the mud are likely to contaminate water sources and cause outbreaks of disease, but continuous rain has made the search difficult and dangerous. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 3D mapping of affected neighbourhoods was taking place around Sugar Loaf mountain, which partially collapsed, and said voluntary evacuations might extend to more areas, potentially increasing the number of displaced.

According to Amnesty International, international aid is now urgently needed to provide temporary accommodation, proper sanitation and health care to those affected, as it warned that the death toll was likely to rise “substantially.” In a national broadcast, Sierra Leonean President, Ernest Bai Koroma declared a state of emergency and announced the establishment of a relief centre in Regent. He urged the nation, still recovering from the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak, to remain unified: “Our nation has once again been gripped by grief. Many of our compatriots have lost their lives, many more have been gravely injured and billions of Leones worth of property destroyed in the flooding and landslides that swept across some parts of our city.”

The President also addressed the coordination of registries in Freetown that provide aid for residents left without shelter. To really demonstrate the severity of the incidence, on August 15, President Koroma declared seven days of national mourning which was to take effect immediately. He also appealed to the international community for aid. In response to his clarion call, the UN arranged contingency plans to mitigate potential outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera while also allocating $150,000 (USD) in initial-response aid and mobilised personnel in Sierra Leone to assist in rescue operations and distribute supplies to survivors. The World Food Programme (WFP) also provided rations for 7,500 people while the European Union (EU) approved 300,000 (euros) in humanitarian aid.

As if the mudslide calamity was not enough for a nation already in distress, Freetown has also had to grapple with an extremely destructive fire that completely razed over 50 houses in Sunsan’s Bay, a slum located in the east end of the capital. There has been no indication of the cause of the fire yet, and the relevant officials are yet to announce any investigation. According to reports, as at the last count, the inferno had left over 500 people homeless. Sunsan’s Bay is one of several slums surrounding Freetown and it is inhabited mainly by fishermen and petty traders.

Sierra Leone is, no doubt, passing through a very bumpy phase and the distressed nation definitely needs all the help she could garner from the international community and relevant global organisations. There is no better time for all to rally round the troubled nation than now. Her distraught citizens, especially children, should not be left alone to bear the brunt of the several calamities that have befallen the nation. Every helpful measure must be put in place by all concerned global stakeholders to ensure that soccour hurriedly comes to the country and her much troubled citizens. This is truly Sierra Leone’s hour of need and she must not be let down.

Meanwhile, while acknowledging current efforts of concerned members of the international community in ferrying help to a nation in distress, it is expected that the African Union and ECOWAS would equally come to the aid of this brother Africa nation. It won’t really speak well of the African continent if all initiatives and efforts aimed at offering relief to Sierra Leone and her pained people come majorly from outside of the continent. After all, charity, as they say, begins at home. This, indeed, is the time for the African continent to actually extend a hand of love to Sierra Leone.

Over 400 Lives Lost In Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has experienced a black August this year as the country has recorded over 400 dead and 600 people still missing. This is from devastating floods that rocked the country earlier this week.

Britain promised the country £5 million in fresh aid ti help victims of the flood.

The disaster began on Monday when heavy rains hit the city and the partial collapse of a hillside triggered mudslides, engulfing homes and wreaking destruction.

“Today we are counting more than 400 people dead,” the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, Elhadj As Sy, told reporters in Geneva.

Citizens and experts alike have questioned why the government has not done more to tackle illegal construction and deforestation on the outskirts of the overcrowded capital of Freetown.

An unofficial morgue estimate had previously put the toll at around 400 dead, but the figure had not been officially confirmed until Friday.

More than 300 victims were buried on Thursday in a ceremony in the nearby town of Waterloo, laid to rest alongside victims of the country’s last crisis, Ebola. Around a third of them were children.

Sy said the government of the west African country was facing a crisis “way beyond (its) capacity” and appealed to the international community to significantly ramp up its support.

The displaced are still sleeping outside “because there are not enough shelters for everybody,” he said.

Britain meanwhile announced £5 million ($6.45 million) in funding for several charities working on the ground, targeting children’s bedding and clothing and clean water and sanitation for all victims, as well as medical supplies.

“Our new support will provide basic life-saving supplies like food, water, shelter and clothing to people who have lost everything. The international community must follow our lead and step up to the plate,” said Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel.

The Red Cross said it will launch an emergency funding appeal later on Friday, while China has pledged $1 million, Togo $500,000, and Israel and several west African nations have contributed food and cash.

The Red Cross has warned that smaller mudslides have occurred since Monday in eastern Freetown and in Sierra Leone’s second city of Bo, with the rainy season far from over.

So far evacuations have been voluntary from affected areas, which Sy said was “best practice” “Coming by force in the middle of hardship may not be the best way,” he added.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, told reporters the toll “may rise” noting the number of people still missing.

Hundreds Feared Dead In Sierra Leone’s Latest Natural Disaster

Sierra Leone’s latest natural disaster Mudslides has left hundreds dead  near freetown the Country’s capital. A spokesman for the International Committee of Red Cross in the country Abu Bakarr, said 205 bodies have been recorded and the number is expected to rise.

More than 1,000 others have been affected, with “both figures to climb as search and rescue continues,” according to the Red Cross.

The majority of rainfall in the country comes between June and October. This year has been particularly wet. Freetown has received more than 41 inches of rain since July 1 — that’s about triple the average of 13.8 inches, according to the US National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.

The United Nations office in Sierra Leone said on its Twitter account that it was assessing the damage and preparing a response.

Abdulai Bayraytay, spokesman for President Ernest Bai Koroma, told CNN the immediate priority was to help the victims.

“At the moment, we are concentrating on search and rescue and providing medical and therapeutic support to the community affected,” he said.

Bayraytay said the place most affected was Mortema, which is a few miles outside of the capital in the Regent district.

The police, military and the Office of National Security were all involved in the rescue mission.

“We have alerted all hospitals so that those rescued can be provided with immediate support on site or be ferried to hospitals,” Bayraytay said.

Social workers have also been sent to comfort the survivors.

“The whole country is traumatized by the magnitude of the disaster,” he added.


Pastor Wants $50 Million Dollars for Found Diamond

The pastor who found one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds says he expects to get “not less than $50 million” for the 709-carat precious stone, after it failed to reach its minimum reserve price at auction in Sierra Leone today, AFP news agency reports.

“I want my diamond to be sold abroad so I can get the best price to enable many people to benefit from the proceeds,” Pastor Emmanuel Momoh told AFP.

Today’s highest bid, for $7.8m, came from a UK citizen based in Antwerp, the European diamond capital in Belgium, where the next auction is expected to take place in the next few weeks.

Pastor Finds Huge Diamond in Kono

A Christian pastor has discovered one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds in Sierra Leone’s Kono district. The diamond, weighing 709 carats, is now locked up in Sierra Leone’s central bank in Freetown. It is one of the 20 largest diamonds ever found.

Freelance, or artisanal, miners are common in Sierra Leone’s diamond-rich areas, reports the BBC’s Umaru Fofana. But there are questions over whether the community will benefit from the gemstone, he adds.

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh’s discovery, which has not yet been valued, is the biggest diamond to be found in Sierra Leone since 1972, when the 969-carat Star of Sierra Leone was dug up.

It is also the 13th largest diamond ever to be found, says Mathew Nyaungwa from Rough and Polished diamond analysts. Mr Nyaungwa adds that it is difficult to estimate a price as it is “quality not size [that] determines the value of a diamond”. Our correspondent says that the discovery may have a blemish.

Last May, diamond-mining firm Lucara sold a 813-carat stone for $63m (£51m) at a closed auction in London.

BBC Africa

Sierra Leone President Set Date For General Election

Under pressure, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma has finally announced March 7 as the date for the general election next year.

The country will be conducting presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.

“The parliamentary and local council elections will be held a little over one year from now, on March 7, 2018,” President Koroma said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Having consulted with me, the National Electoral Commission will also announce that the presidential elections shall take place on the same date,” he added.

The announcement comes on the back of a relentless campaign by the civil society and opposition political parties for the election date to be declared.

According to the Constitution, the NEC chairman has the mandate, in consultation with the president, to declare the date of the presidential election a month or two before the vote.

But the opposition and civil society groups say the delay in the making the announcement disadvantages prospective contenders by leaving many political parties unprepared.

Speculation had also been rife that the president could have been planning to extend his term in office, fuelling tensions.

The third largest political party, the Alliance Democratic Party, had already threatened to stage mass protests across the country if the poll date remained unknown by February 23.

A nationwide voter registration exercise is scheduled to start in March this year. The listing will be carried out by the newly established National Registration Commission, alongside NEC.

President Koroma also said his government was on the final stages of producing a White Paper for a new constitution, a draft of which was presented to him last month, bringing to an controversial end a review process that took over two years.

The White Paper is expected to be tabled in Parliament, which should call for a referendum.

The president said the referendum is expected to be conducted before the end of September this year.

President Koroma urged citizens to turn up for the voter registration exercise.

He however warned against early political campaigns saying the time to do so will be announced by NEC.

“When that time comes, we expect every party and every individual to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the appropriate authorities. Political activity is no excuse for breaking the law,” he said.

Sierra Leone holds presidential elections every five years.