Governance is one of the most prominent issues in Africa today. Corruption and scandal can be found as regularities in most countries, and the people are the ones who ultimately suffer the most. But last week, a positive advancement in this area was made in the small country of Sierra Leone. Previously associated widely with savage child soldiers and blood diamonds, Sierra Leone held its first democratic elections without the help of the UN, who previously had peacekeepers stationed in the country (right graphic). And most importantly, the transfer of power was peaceful-despite the fact that it was between two opposing parties. This marks the second leader to be democratically elected (the first being while the UN still occupied the country) by the people. This peaceful process has astounded many observers, as Sierra Leone has been torn by bloody civil war since 1991-2002. This week, I chose to investigate what others might be saying regarding this phenomenon through the exploration of the blogosphere. I commented on two pieces of work from different sites, but in reference to the same topic . The first is from the New York Times blog of Nicholas Kristof, on a piece entitled “Africa’s Slow March Toward Democracy: The Latest Step” written by Steve Radelet, a development expert who has resided in both Africa and Asia, taught at Harvard, and worked at the US Treasury, and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington and economic advisor for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. The second is from AgoraVox, a citizen newspaper based out of Europe, on an article entitled, “Sierra Leone: After the Elections…Where to?” by Omar, an African man now living in Hadhramout. My comments on these articles can be seen below, but also in their original full context by clicking on the links above in the article titles.
Response to Steve Radelet’s piece
The people of Sierra Leone are to be commended immensely for this peaceful transfer of power, and I agree it is definitely a step, although slow and tentative, towards societal and political change for Africa as a whole. Considering the country’s previous image, it is remarkable the turnaround this process has signified. Regrettably, I must agree with your point that “Sierra Leone’s elections hardly solve all of its problems”, and expand upon it. Sadly, I find it difficult to be as optimistic about democracies showing “real progress” while people suffer as governments stand by- and in the case of Sierra Leone, aside from its ranking of highest infant mortality rate in the world, 80% are unemployed, and 7/10 live on less than a dollar a day. Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission’s funding has been suspended due to serious lack of progression and effort by the government to utilize the money correctly and efficiently, conveying a lack of dedication to the problem. As you mentioned President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in your article, I believe all African countries can learn valuable lessons from her approaches to governance. She has been extremely effective in tackling with full force issues of corruption by taking hands-on measures, such as firing inadequate “officials”-doing more than just preaching and promising. So yes, this new slowly peaceful democratization marks a positive advancement, but this new regime definitely has much to measure up to before the celebration can really commence.
Response to Omar’s piece
I find your optimism and faith in the country of Sierra Leone inspiring and refreshing. I only wish I could share it fully with you, but I am torn to both sides. I can sense the excitement and change in the air in the transforming image of the country, from “child soldiers who hacked limbs off civilians” to now “secure and peaceful” after these elections and the conclusion of war (left graphic). Yet I cannot help but question that very peace and security. I strongly agree with your statement that Sierra Leone must “reconstruct itself so that it can be secure without outside help”, but I wonder who will lead the country in these efforts? Bad governance is such a prominent issue rampant throughout Africa, and Sierra Leone is no different. In the past, the government has not been fully committed to accountability and transparency, which has made progression difficult to achieve. What Sierra Leone needs most during this period of vulnerability is a strong leader who is willing to fight corruption for the good of the people, and dedicate him or herself to effectively making this happen. It remains to be seen if Koroma can be this man. While it may be true that the people are “serious about the future”, as they proved in these recent elections, the same unfortunately cannot be said yet of the government.