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Sierra Leone's Vote of Confidence

Posted: 05/12/2012 15:07

'There will be no violence', Ibrahim our local carpenter told us weeks ago. 'And a run off?' (where neither party achieves 55% majority). 'No, no run off' he told us confidently. Yet the international community braced itself for the worst. Offices were closed, staff pulled back from the field and some even flown out of the country.

When I looked around and observed peaceful processions, people quickly reminded me that one small spark could set everything off. I have even held back writing this article until the SLPP accepted defeat, something that they did on Monday. I think that organisations were right to ere on the side of safety as we did, but when you look back on events you cannot help but wonder what all the fuss was about?

Saturday 17 November was the day the nation went to the polls. With a driving ban in place, we spent the morning walking around the local community. The streets, usually filled with the noise of cars, were uncharacteristically quiet, filled just with the hums of muted excitement. The crowds were orderly and well organised as people gathered outside the local polling station. Exited voters proudly displayed their inked fingers, a symbol of their right to democracy. The day can only be described as uplifting and the people of Sierra Leone were clearly proud of the way it was being run.

The week that followed was one of rumour and intrigue. Everyone seemed to have a new source that could definitely confirm the result, but nothing official came until the following Friday. With news of an impending announcement, we gathered around the television to watch. When Ernest Bai Koroma's victory was confirmed by an impressive 58.7% margin a huge roar went up around the city. Even more impressive was the 87.3% voter participation a figure over double that of the UK election in 2011. People took to the streets, music blaring and pots and pans clattering. It was an amazing display of excitement, relief and joy. SLPP supporters were nowhere to be seen, but they were not going to ruin the party.

The day after the night before saw quite a few sore heads but also a feeling of excitement of what lies ahead. When speaking to SLPP supporters they were disappointed by the result. But they all spoke of a respect for Koroma and delight that the election had passed without problems acknowledging that this was a great day for the country.

Sierra Leone still faces very serious challenges and the next five years will not be easy for Koroma. Corruption is still rife in government, youth unemployment figures are high and education and health care provision are inadequate. But the election signifies that Sierra Leone is heading in the right direction and the world is finally starting to see the country in the same peaceful, welcoming way its people do.

After the results BBC International Development correspondent Mark Doyle tweeted 'After these well run elections I promise never again to use the phrase 'war-torn Sierra Leone'. A big step for the international community, but one that Sierra Leoneans like Ibrahim took a long time ago.

 

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