Friday, September 21, 2007

Peaceful transfer of power in Sierra Leone brings hope

On Tuesday, September 18, 2007, Sierra Leone made history. One of the war-torn countries of Africa is now on the first steps towards a weak democracy. While it has been a quasi-democracy in the past, they were constantly at war with Charles Taylor, war-lord ousted of Liberia by the USA.
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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- War-ravaged Sierra Leone's peaceful transfer of power through the ballot box bodes well for a continent that has struggled against repression and conflict for half a century.

But violence often simmers behind the democratic facade in Africa, where corruption is rife and a dying breed of tyrants remain.

Sierra Leone's run-off, in which Ernest Bai Koroma defeated Vice President Solomon Berewa, saw the opposition oust the ruling party -- a rare occurrence in a region where power-hungry leaders keen to stay on have long used the machinery of state to their advantage.

Observers praised the relatively smooth transition, though street brawls accompanied campaigning and looters ransacked Berewa's party headquarters Monday as Koroma was sworn in. Police fired into the air to disperse the crowd and two people were electrocuted in the melee.

Still, Sierra Leone's vote strengthens hope for democratic change in Africa.
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Hope is the backbone of many beginnings. Just as important as peace, let us not forget about Sierra Leone is our prayers.

Prior to the election, however, there was some very nasty assualts and riots. I didn't have the time to write it down because I was busy moving, but I do remember reading about it. I knew there was something, and here it is! This is when the president was threatening to call a state of emergency. I would still offer caution.

Here is some more background:
After the brutality of the colonial era and the coups and dictatorships that followed, democracy began making inroads on the continent in the early 1990s, when the end of the Cold War spelled the collapse of support from the West or Moscow that had propped up so many tyrants. Leaders allowed opposition parties and held elections to show they were changing, but many were shams.

Today, the state of democracy in Africa is mixed. Sierra Leone's two neighbors provide an illustration: Liberia, emerging from its own civil war, held elections two years ago and has become a shining example of good governance. Guinea, on the other hand, is ruled by Lansana Conte, an aging dictator who has clung to power for 23 years through fear and fraudulent elections.

Don't Miss: Sierra Leone's new president inaugurated.
To understand the significance of this election (or the problems that may lay ahead), I have decided to 'borrow' the rest of the article. Most of time, CNN moves its articles, and I want you to have a place of reference. :)
"We're not out of the woods yet," said Charles Doukubo of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu, a Cameroonian who works for the Washington-based democracy advocacy group Freedom House, said there had been "notable progress" in the last few years, citing recent elections in Liberia, Congo, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania that have been deemed free and fair.

When Freedom House began ranking global levels of political rights and civil liberties in 1977, only three African nations were considered free. "Today there are 11," Agborsangaya-Fiteu said. "There's definitely movement in a positive direction, but we need to see more."

Freedom House's 2007 report lists 23 other countries on the continent as partly free, with 19 more "not free."

"Democracy means more than being able to hold a peaceful election," said Gross-Umstadt, Germany-based Eric A. Witte of the Democratization Policy Council, a nongovernmental advocacy group.

The biggest challenge for Sierra Leone now is what happens after the vote. Will Koroma's administration be able to tackle corruption and ease massive unemployment? Will it be able to keep the peace?

Koroma's party, in power for the first time since a 1992 coup, carries with it the baggage of years of mismanagement and corruption allegations.

Witte said the elections largely reflected "ethnicity and patronage politics," with Berewa doing well in ethnic Mende strongholds in the south, and Koroma doing well in Temne areas in the north.

The vote "did not revolve very much around the very important issues that face Sierra Leone. It was more a popularity contest, a test of loyalties among different ethnic factions," Witte said.

Similar criticisms have been made against upcoming elections due by year's end in Kenya, where the governing party is running on the endorsement of the corruption-addled party it defeated five years ago -- back when it was hailed as the clean opposition.

Witte said Sierra Leone's people were unanimous in their widespread disgust with the ruling party's failure to curb corruption. Carolyn Norris, Dakar-based West Africa Project Director for International Crisis Group, agreed.

"They voted for substantial fundamental change -- but actually instituting that change is the challenge now," Norris said. "The new president will have his hands full."

The vote also reinforced the idea that a sitting president can stand down, Norris said. "There are still people around the continent who aren't prepared to do that."

Sierra Leone's departing President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was barred by law from running for a third five-year term. Other countries have put constitutional caps on terms in office, including Nigeria and Mauritania's former military junta, which organized a free vote and returned power to civilian rule earlier this year. Gabon, Uganda and Chad, on the other hand, have gone the other way, amending constitutions so incumbents can stay on.

And many have.

Cameroon's Paul Biya has held power since 1982, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe since 1980, Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang since 1979. Gabon's Omar Bongo has been president since 1967, the longest-serving head of state in Africa, second in the world only to Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Successful elections don't always herald peace -- and can sometimes be divisive.

Burundi's 1993 vote installed an ethnic Hutu in power, but the president was killed shortly after, sparking a civil war that only ended recently. A long-awaited presidential poll in Ivory Coast has twice been delayed because of the cocoa-producing nation's civil war. The vote, expected next year, is likely to be tense, and a test of whether the country can turn its back on conflict.

Nigeria's elections this spring were deemed flawed by local and international observers who cited ballot-box stuffing, vote-rigging, lack of ballots in polling stations and voter intimidation.

"Democracy in Africa is a work in progress. You can take a step forward, then take two steps back," Doukubo said. "Africa is trying to embrace change, but ... it needs time."
Sound familiar? I hope no one intends on 'helping' these people. They must learn to work out their problems on their own, and they are off to a great start. They have Charles Taylor incarcerated, he will face a court of some sorts (although if it's from the UN? Don't hold your breath!). Of course if they ask and the need is great, can we turn such a blind eye as we did in Darfur? Think about it...

Sources: CNN. Digg!

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