• May 22, 2023


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With pre-election atmosphere in Sierra Leone continues to be extremely hostile and toxic, Sierra Leoneans the world over, are calling on the authorities to demilitarize the electoral process. These concerns emerged in the wake of high security deployment ahead of Saturday 24 June 2023 elections.

Safety of the people amidst military deployments, especially on polling day, remains a challenge that will cause to voter apathy.

The presence of heavily armed state security personnel has already scare voters away from the toxic electoral process. And making things worse than they are now, the National Security Coordinator, Office of National Security, Abdulai Caulker has recently unveiled plans by his sector to invoke Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP) on elections aimed at imposing firm restrictions on the movements of people which implies that with MACP, nobody is expected to be out on election day. And whoever brave it out to vote, as soon as you cast your vote, you are forced to return home.

It is against the backdrop of the emerging worrying situation that everybody is calling on government to demilitarize the June 24, 2023, elections, restore confidence of peaceful elections, which all stakeholders in the contest have reassured the nation of.

Legitimate calls for the withdrawal armed security personnel from civilian communities, particularly prior, during and even after the elections, is key in bringing out large voter turnouts, as it was demonstrated during the voter registration process. It will also help in creating restoring confidence of a peaceful election and voting atmosphere throughout. Such approach can go a long way in restoring trust and public confident in democratic institutions, systems, and processes. Thus, government and development partners however encouraged look into review of specific security approaches gear towards demilitarizing the situation to enable the electorate turnout in their numbers on election day to vote and go about their normal businesses freely without restrictions by security forces.

The demilitarization of the process before the elections is key because Sierra Leone is not at war anymore, compared to what it currently looks like as if the nation is on high alert. The country though faced with trending economic hardship challenges, yet remains peaceful, amidst the proliferations of arms and armed security personnel everywhere. Arms proliferations to a considerable extent threatens the whole electoral process and the hard-earned peace of the people the very security forces claimed to be providing. In fact, over protection by firearms is no protection but a mere threat to peace. Hence with the current atmosphere seems as if there is no peace in the country.

Sadly though the more security deployments and roadblocks, the more kush, narcotics, cannabis trades and intoxications get out of hands. These are happening so because security personnel also take part in the consumption and trading of these drugs for financial benefits. One wonders what exactly the security forces mount checkpoints to look for. To compromise national security procedures for their personal gains? No wonder Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces personnel are always lobbying their bosses to deploy them permanently at some of these checkpoints. And security guards’ constant deployments at checkpoints earn them many advantages to be engaging in all sorts of unlawful conducts and opportunities to violate the rights of civilians.

Similarly, all out armed security deployments prior and during the election and after also raise suspicions of foul play with ballot boxes, especially where probable apathy may emerge. And in any case authorities push further with the deployments of armed security will prevent so many people from voting, thereby denying certain people their democratic rights.

Electoral processes are conducted for the full participations of all eligible voters with the expectations of 100% voter turnouts. This is not in the case of Sierra Leone’s June 24, 2023, multitier elections and if the security situation is not professionally managed as it should be in any periodic democratic elections, it will not yield the desired outcome of the process.

In circumstances wherein pre-election atmosphere and processes have become highly militarized, with the tendencies of causing huge voter apathy, will not yield the desired outcome of the elections due to instilled fears in the hearts and minds of the people. Fears of armed security presence at polling centres will discourage voters, as they will certainly be afraid of coming out to cast their votes. Thus, the call for the demilitarization of the entire electoral process makes much sense because peace has been in Sierra Leone since 2002.

Armed security personnel are deployed everywhere, controlling roadblocks, conducting vehicle and other forms of searches. The extortions of cash from motorists and committers formed key aspects of their deliberate misconducts. And those who resist to comply with their handshaking arrangements of extortions of cash from drivers and commuters are delayed at every checkpoint. Drivers and committers who comply with their extortion rules are hardly searched. And are immediately granted safe passages with whatever they may be carrying. No matter the goods one is travelling with to wherever, if anyone fails to comply with the extortion measures, you won’t be allowed to cross the checkpoint. But if you shake hands with security personnel at any checkpoint, then you are good to go unsearched with whatever you are carrying. These unlawful practices are the same all over the country and it is even worse at nights in Freetown, as if extortion is reason mounting checkpoints by armed security forces everywhere in the country. A difficult political situation which citizens are fed up tired with hence calling on government to review it before the polls.

The electorates can be only confident to turn out in their Chinese numbers to vote on polling day, if only they are not constantly scared by the presence of heavily armed state security personnel.

Roadblocks are everywhere in the country, restricting the movements of people, goods and services on the pretext of conducting security checks and searches, but that is not realized at all. Selective searches are conducted on certain commercial vehicles who resist to pay money. Private vehicles and containers go unsearched. Though the law does not exempt, security personnel deliberately ignore containers and pay keen attention to commercial and some private vehicles for reasons best known to them.

Every public institution, marketplaces, transport terminals, banks, public offices to name just a few littered with armed security personnel in the name of providing security details amidst civilian vulnerabilities. Again, such imposed tension by government have instilled fears in the minds of so the people, to a point that most people this page spoke to randomly, have resolved not to venture out on polling day, Saturday 24 June 2023. They have decided not to risk their personal safety.

So going by commitments made so far by contenders in the electoral process, of ensuring free, fair, transparent, credible, and peaceful elections, then there is no need to create tension with the deployments of armed security personnel that have already started restricting the movements of people far before polls.

The more reasons people are worried and are therefore imploring government to demilitarize the electoral process, restore public trust and confidence of lasting peace.

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