The year 2023 is a very crucial one for Africa in terms of change of government via election as a total of 24 general, legislative and local elections would take place in the course of the year in Republics of Benin, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.
With Nigeria out already, the above listed African countries can either draw inspiration or learn lessons from how the general elections were conducted. A report by International Foundation for Electoral Systems had said: “The 2023 general elections will have regional implications for West Africa, as successful elections within Nigeria can provide a positive electoral template in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region.”
Although Nigeria’s general elections are now over with minimal violence compared to previous ones, the outcome is still being contested in the court by the major contenders.
In this report, we shift our gaze to neighboring West Africa country, Sierra Leone…
Enter Sierra Leone
Come Saturday, 24th of June, 3.4 million Sierra Leoneans are expected to vote in a general election to elect a new president, members of parliament and local councillors in the West African country with a population of 8.4 million.
The poll is the fifth presidential election since the end of a 1991-2002 civil war which claimed more than 50,000 lives as well as hundreds maimed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Incumbent President Julius Maada Bio, 59, of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) who is seen as the front-runner in the 13-candidate presidential race, is seeking a second and final term of five years. He has promised to prioritise improving access to public education and boosting agricultural production.
His main contender is Samura Kamara, 72, of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party. He had narrowly lost to Bio in the last 2018 election.
According to the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL), there are 3,374,258 Sierra Leoneans registered to vote in the Saturday’s elections — an increase of 195,595 from 2018.
To be declared winner, a presidential candidate must secure 55 percent of the total votes. If this is not achieved in the first round of voting, a run-off election will be held between the two candidates with the highest votes
The proportional representation system will be used to elect members of parliament and councillors. A political party or an independent candidate must meet the threshold of 11.9 percent for members of parliament and 4.5 percent for councillors to earn a seat or a seat share. When the threshold is met, the party or independent candidate then receives a share of the seats based on the proportion of votes received.
The allocation of the 135 seats by region is as follows: 32 seats for the east, 26 for the north, 21 for the northwest, 30 seats for the south, and 26 seats for the west.
Sierra Leone Election Information Ecosystem
As in other climes, Sierra Leone is also experiencing her own share of a distorted information ecosystem in the lead up to the general elections.
Social media and other news outlets have been viewed as the most important players in the drive to influence the outcome of the elections because they guarantee that accurate information get to the electorates.
However, according to VOA Africa, there have been many worries about the effects of fake news misinformation and hate speech during the electoral cycle.
Similarly, Dubawa noted that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are inundated with accounts impersonating the leading candidates.
A social media producer, Larry Tucker also noted that Facebook is one of the main platform where the political parties propagate their propaganda during elections, these incorrect information are then shared by people but majority of people in Sierra Leone – almost three-quarters – don’t have internet access. Instead, they rely on the radio for information.
National Coordinator of the Independent Radio Network, Ransford Wright said: “In Sierra Leone today, radio is still the medium with the largest audience. Over 70 percent of the country’s population continues to listen to the radio for information. Although social media platforms are making waves, users still make up only about 10 percent of the country’s population…”
It is for the aforementioned reason that the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and the Independent Radio Network (IRN), in partnership with BBC Media Action, have launched a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) created platform known as iVerify to strengthen national capacity to proactively identify and respond to misinformation, disinformation and hate speech.
The platform has thus far provided local journalists and social media influencers with the skills to help them understand the tactics, motivations behind information disorder, and how to detect and debunk it – as well as issues of safety and security for those covering elections.
With the iVerify initiative in place and the successes recorded in the fight against election fake news, we can only hope that it would ensure a violent and fake news free environment on election day.