Opposition contests Bio’s election victory in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's presidential election results spark dispute and doubts over transparency, fuelling potential protests and economic challenges for the new president.



Sierra Leone’s incumbent President Julius Maada Bio emerged victorious in the country’s presidential race on Tuesday, defeating his main challenger Samura Kamara by a wide margin, the head of the electoral commission said.

Bio, of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, was re-elected with 56.2% of the vote, while Kamara, who leads the All People’s Congress, secured 41.2% in the June 24 contest, according to the commission.

But as the 59 year-old former soldier was sworn in for his second and final five-year term on Tuesday night, Kamara cried foul, calling it “a sad day for our beloved country”.

“It is a frontal attack on our fledgling democracy. These results are not credible and I categorically reject the outcome so announced by the electoral commission,” he tweeted.

Kamara says his electoral agents were not permitted to verify the ballot counting process. International observers and the United States have voiced concerns about a lack of transparency in the electoral process.

Observers at the Atlanta-based Carter Centre, an NGO founded by former US President Jimmy Carter, reported that the ballot counting process “lacked adequate levels of transparency”, while its observers directly witnessed “instances of broken seals and inappropriately open ballot boxes in three of the five tally centers.”

Kamara’s rejection of the results could lead to a challenge in the country’s Supreme Court.

But it is unlikely such attempts would succeed, says Maja Bovcon, a senior Africa analyst at risk Verisk Maplecroft.

“Overturning election results is rare in Africa, making it unlikely that the Supreme Court will reject the electoral outcome.”

The court’s previous endorsement of Bio’s controversial decision to change the election process also raises doubts about its independence, she adds.

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Deepening discontent

Set against a backdrop of spiralling inflation that hit 43% in April, opposition discontent over the election result could spill over into protests, says Bovcon.

Kamara’s upcoming court trial on corruption allegations in July threatens to mobilise protests among his supporters, especially if he is found guilty, she adds.

Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption commission indicted him on corruption allegations in 2021 related to the renovation of Sierra Leone’s chancery building in Manhattan, when he was foreign minister, along with five other officials. The trial is ongoing and he has denied any wrongdoing.

As voters awaited the results of the fiercely contested election on Sunday night, police fired tear gas and live bullets as protests at the opposition party’s headquarters in the capital, Freetown. A 64-year old nurse and party volunteer was later reported to have died of her wounds.

Bio, a former army brigadier, was military ruler for two months in 1996 during which he helped pave the way for free elections that year. He returned to power in a democratic election in 2018 when he defeated Kamara.

Yet the retired army general faces daunting hurdles ahead such as voter alienation and the soaring cost of living.

In his period in office, Bio has reviewed and audited government mining contracts, ministries, and other agencies in a bid to restore transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.

But the moves have dampened investor sentiment, cautions Bovcon.

“The revocation of mining licences and the enactment of new legislation that complicates large-scale project development have negatively affected investor sentiment and contributed to the economic downturn.”

Sierra Leone languished at 163rd out of the 190 nations in the World Bank’s 2020 index on Ease of Doing Business despite its brutal civil war ending two decades ago.

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Shoshana Kedem

Shoshana Kedem is the Head of Digital at African Business.