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Politics

Sierra Leone looks ahead

Sierra Leone's third democratic elections since civil war ended in 2002 mark a new beginning for the scarred nation. Many Sierra Leoneans say they voted for a better future for their country.

Observers say the November 17 elections in Sierra Leone demonstrate the progress the country has made in strengthening its democratic institutions since the end of the civil war a decade ago. The country now needs to focus on economic and social development in the next five years to strengthen social cohesion and prevent any re-occurence of its brutal past.

"We will focus on creating jobs for the youths,” re-elected president Ernest Bai Koroma promised in a swearing-in ceremony held less than two hours after the election results were announced in his favor.

Opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio Photo:Rebecca Blackwell/AP/dapd)

Opposition leader Bio says the poll was flawed

The official announcement by the National Electoral Commission gave Koroma an outright victory over his opponent Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), thus avoiding a run-off. But the opposition candidate Bio refused to concede alleging the elections were not free and fair.

Need for national cohesion

According to Chief Electoral Commissioner Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Koroma won 58 percent of all votes cast while Bio received only 38 percent. The president's All People's Congress Party (APC) also won 67 of the 112 seats in parliament with the SLPP winning only 42 seats.

As a protest, the opposition party has ordered its parliamentarians and councillors to boycott sessions. Frantic efforts are underway to reconcile the two parties.

"These elections seem to be one of the most peaceful the country has had for decades,” Dr. David Harris, political analyst and author of a yet to be published book on the history of politics in Sierra Leone, told DW. But there is a problem, he added. “The country largely votes along regional lines.”

Koroma got more votes in the northwest whilst Bio's highest number of votes came from the southeast.

Achieving national cohesion will, therefore, be a challenge for the new government.

Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koromah waves to supporters Photo: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Re-elected President Koroma should make national cohesion a priority

“The government should get the balance between satisfying its supporters and being a government of the whole country. "Stability is what Sierra Leone needs” said Dr. Harris.

The war which ended just over a decade ago was one of the most horrific in recent times. It left thousands dead and many limbless. Many of the victims are young people who still face problems even now.

Youth unemployment a risk

Over sixty percent of Sierra Leone's young people are unemployed, which is seen as a security risk. Most lack education and the skills needed to enter the country's job market.

"The government needs to concentrate on giving education to young people," Micheal Monnerjahn, spokesperson for the German-African Business Association (Afrika-Verein) told DW. It needs to tackle the high rate of unemployment, something Koroma has pledged to do.

"We will train our youths to seize the immense employment opportunities we are creating in the construction, mining, agriculture and other sectors,” President Koroma said, adding, "we will continue with our infrastructural development programmes.” Koroma's 'agenda for prosperity' program also wants to continue to attract foreign investment into the economy.

Young people in one of Sierra Leone's slums in Freetown. (Photo:Ute Schaeffer)

Many young people lack education and basic skills

In 2012, the country was ranked as one of the world's top reformers in the World Bank's Doing Business index.

If the business and economic sectors are to improve, the right environment should be created. One that is free from corruption.

Corruption keeps people poor

“We will continue to fight corruption," Koroma stated in his speech. In his last term in office, some of his ministers were prosecuted for corrupt practices by the country's Anti-Corruption Commission.

Corruption has been a force that has robbed Sierra Leone of much-needed revenue. The country is one of the world's richest in mineral resources but its people are among the world's poorest.

It boasts diamonds, gold, rutile and massive iron ore deposits that the International Monetary Fund expects to add 21 percent growth this year to its 1.7 billion euro ($2.2 billion) gross domestic product. If managed well, these resources could change the economy of Sierra Leone.

Michael Monnerjahn is optimistic that the country will develop if it strengthens its existing mining laws - a project that has German backing. " Sierra Leone should work on making its mining transactions transparent," Monnerjahn told DW.

Child miners near a poster we buy all colors Photo: Les Stone +++(c) dpa

Sierra Leone is rich in minerals, including diamonds

He says the government should also invest in its population. "The most important thing is that money from the investments in the mining sector should go into the right direction," in other words, towards improving people's everyday lives.

Koroma's last five years

More than sixty percent of the population still live on less than a dollar a day. According to the UNDP's Human Development Index, the country has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the world.

Empowering women through skills training and education will reduce infant and maternal mortality, gender activists say.

“We will like to see growth in the economy and service delivery improved” Valnora Edwin, a civil society activist in Sierra Leone told DW.

In the next five years the new government will face pressure to maintain national cohesion, minimize corruption and convert the mineral riches to improve livelihoods and increase prosperity for its six million people.

This is the last five-year term of Ernest Bai Koroma. His actions will determine which direction Sierra Leone will take in future.

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