As Sierra Leoneans are anxiously awaiting the peace dialogue between the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and All People’s Congress (APC), Dr. Dennis Bright, a former Minister of Youth and Sports and the ex-director of the Franco-Sierra Leonean Pedagogical Center in Freetown, has shared his perspective on this crucial post-election dialogue.
Following the recent June 24th Sierra Leone presidential election, controversies surrounding the results have arisen. The opposition APC alleged that the ECSL chairman announced fake results, and President Bio’s role in the 2023 election has also been questioned.
Consequently, many elected APC parliamentarians have decided to boycott their government duties for the next five years. This boycott has exposed deep mistrust, a lack of peace, and numerous allegations against the government, ECSL, and the APC. As a result, concerned Sierra Leoneans are urging the Inter-Religious Council, The Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion, and APPA to facilitate a dialogue between the SLPP, ECSL, and APC.
Dr. Dennis Bright, in his capacity as a citizen, with his identification number (NIN) FRIG8TVR and Voter’s ID number 7762931, has penned a letter applauding the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion’s initiative. He stressed the importance of a two-stage dialogue: first, to establish the truth about the election results, and second, to determine the way forward.
Dr. Bright emphasizes the need for transparency from the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) in releasing polling station results to address the election-related crisis. He underscores the significance of national unity and the rule of law in resolving the political impasse and expresses hope that the dialogue will lead to a stable and democratic Sierra Leone.
His letter reads in full below:
I write in my capacity as citizen of the Republic of Sierra Leone with National Identification Number (NIN) FRIG8TVR and voter ID number 7762931 to share my perspective on the proposed post-election dialogue between the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Government and the opposition All People’s Congress (APC).
Let me first of all congratulate the Commission for this historic initiative and I pray that your efforts and the support of external mediators will restore good governance and tranquility to our country. However, I would like make a few observations on the Dialogue which I hope will be of some help to the conversation and would at least clear my conscience.
It is my humble opinion that if this dialogue is not framed properly it will most likely end up in failure. Right now, the dialogue is being carved as a straight conversation between the Government of the SLPP and the opposition All People’s Congress party. Not yet! There should be two stages in this dialogue: 1) establishing the truth about the election results and 2) now that we are here what do we do?
Stage one: the truth about the results.
The fundamental disagreement on the outcome of the June 24th multi-tier elections that is responsible for the current stalemate in the governance process can be summed up in one question:
WERE THE OFFICIAL RESULTS ANNOUNCED BY THE NATIONAL RETURNING OFFICER, MR. MOHAMED KONNEH, CORRECT?
The APC says they are not. Local and international experts who monitored the elections also say they are not accurate; but the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) says they are. This unresolved question is now threatening to undermine public trust not only in elections but in the whole idea of democracy. Therefore, the people are waiting for answers from this dialogue.
We would like to propose that the first stage of this process be a conversation between and among the main participants in the elections, namely the SLPP that has formed a Government, the APC and a few other opposition political parties, elections monitors such as the National Elections Watch (NEW) and other important stakeholders. The primary objective here will be to agree on how to get the ECSL to act appropriately by releasing the official results at polling station level, thereby resolving the crisis once and for all. For once I believe that the SLPP and the APC shall be on the same side on this: the former wants to prove that they actually won the election and therefore as a Government do not deserve the treatment they are currently undergoing at the hands of the opposition and certain sections of the international community, preventing them from having a smooth ride in governance; the latter wants to prove that the results of the elections were stolen and that the SLPP were basically misled by the ECSL into believing they were the winners.
There is no true Sierra Leonean, no believer in the continuation of democracy in this country that can oppose the SLPP, APC and elections observers demanding the release of the polling station results so that people can get on with their lives.
For over three months now, the ECSL has adamantly refused to do one thing: i.e. show the public the arithmetic that produced the official results, show how the results at the polling stations add up to give the totals they announced. This position by ECSL is actually what has caused the near paralysis of the State, the immobility of institutions and the international disrepute that our Government is enduring at this time. ECSL’s position is hurting the Government; it is hurting the Opposition; it is hurting the people; it is hurting the image of the country. Their mandate is not to destabilize the country, so a little bit of transparency will do them no harm. And it is in our common interest as a nation that seeks progress, to combine forces with the Government, the opposition and other stakeholders to make the ECSL realize that if this country breaks, they (not Government) will be held ultimately responsible. The ECSL Chairman and the President of the Republic have on a number of occasions reminded us that ECSL is an independent body that takes no instructions from Government.
The nation should therefore confront ECSL with the question: what harm do the ECSL think they will be doing to Sierra Leoneans if they release the results of the elections at the polling stations where people stood in queues for long hours waiting to cast their votes? Secondly, if the law does not expressly state that they should announce the polling station level results, does it expressly state that they should not? And now that this has become an obstacle to the progress of the State, why do the ECSL not want to release these results so that the nation can finally breathe? I submit that in this first stage of dialogue, all legal and judicial roadblocks must be cleared to allow the results to come out as a major step in the journey to peace in Sierra Leone.
The outcome of the first stage of dialogue will be considered successful when all parties agree that the ECSL should produce the results of the election in its granular form.
At this point there are a number of possibilities:
a) Able and willing: in this case, ECSL realizes that its refusal so far to release the results has brought the country into a very bad place, suffering to the people and disgrace to the Government. It therefore unblocks the situation and causes the blood of the nation to flow again by presenting the polling station results to the owners: the people of Sierra Leone.
b) Able but unwilling: this is where the integrity of ECSL will be questioned; if they have the results but insist that they will not produce them due to some so-called legal hurdle or out of pure arrogance, even at the risk of destabilizing the country, there is every reason to believe then that they are intent on being agents of national insecurity in the country.
c) Willing but unable: if they want to release the results but cannot, we will assume that they do not have them. If they had lost, deleted or deliberately destroyed them that would be a major act of betrayal to the electorate and a grievous offence against the State. It would confirm the belief held by some critics that the ECSL is incompetent and unworthy of trust.
d) Unwilling and unable: similarly, if they do not have the results to give or say they are unable and unwilling to for some reason, it will be clear that we are dealing with an electoral body that is criminally irresponsible and that can represent a clear and imminent danger to national security.
Stage two: where do we go from here?
What happens when the ECSL produces the polling station results? If the results really reflect and tally with what participants and observers recorded and add up nicely to the global results that were announced by Mr. Konneh, Government must immediately resume serious business. The Opposition should then return to Parliament and the local councils and the international community should then resume technical and financial support and lift travel bans and all other forms of embargo. All dialogue will end here as Sierra Leone would have been heaved back onto the track.
On the other hand, if for any reason the results are not produced, the clouds of illegality will continue to hang over our Government, as it would not have been proven conclusively that they really won the June 24th elections. This will be an embarrassing place for the country to be.
However, the State being supreme has all the powers to take appropriate action against those whose decisions and choices led to this catastrophic outcome, and I am perfectly in agreement with friends in both the SLPP and the APC who support this position. In the future, no public official entrusted with such a sacred duty as the supervision of transition processes like elections will trample on and trifle with his or her mandate again.
But there will be the fait accompli to handle: Government has been formed, Ministers and other public officials appointed because it is said that there is no vacuum in politics. Yet the country cannot continue to carry on its neck the albatross of an illegitimate Government. This is where the real dialogue should happen, an all Sierra Leonean dialogue (not just an APC/SLPP affair) that will have as a topic: what do we do now? The people (political parties, civil society including religious, traditional and other opinion leaders) must then have the opportunity to discuss and take a decision that will keep the country stable and democracy intact.
Any attempt at rushing through a cosmetic arrangement that does not satisfy public interest will prove eventually fatal. No citizen, whatever their political party of choice, their ethnicity or region of birth will at this point wish to endure the pains caused by current divisions and fracture in our society. Hardship is now telling us that we are one people. Going forward, no one can be comfortable if our sorrows as a nation are deepened just because a handful of people decide that a whole nation had rather perish than learn the truth of our elections.
Our determination to be a truly united nation that is held together by our belief in democracy and the Rule of Law will be put to the test when it becomes clear from this dialogue whether the SLPP or APC won the elections or that neither the APC nor the SLPP could be declared winner. There must be a way out of this calamity if the soul of our nation must be saved, if this our cotton tree must grow again. “The way out” is what the dialogue will be searching for, but not before the truth behind the election results has been revealed and it shows that there is need for further dialogue.
I have my own idea of a solution.
Thank you in advance for forwarding this note to the Chair and members of the Commission and all those involved in the organization and conduct of the Dialogue.