D-day for Sierra Leone’s electorate is fast approaching and, while the campaign scene is still dominated by the usual mixed bag of Machiavellian smear tactics, party switching politicians, shifting allegiances and political rhetoric, there is an emerging quality of debate that homegrown observers say is unprecedented.
Behind it all is the sense that Sierra Leoneans expect more from the electoral process, and these elections have been notable for the efforts of civil society organisations, the media, the voting public and the political parties themselves to reconfigure the discourse with genuine political information.
Here are some of the best examples:
1. Launched in July 2017, the first ever Citizens’ Manifesto for Sierra Leone is a non-partisan public-interest initiative intended to allow the priorities and expectations of ordinary people to feed into political party manifestos and the electoral process. It is the result of a long process of collecting the voices and views of thousands of citizens, followed by consultations and consensus building with up to 720 civic leaders, groups and private and public sector workers across Sierra Leone.
2. Among the Tsunami of below average political journalism, AYV TV stands out for the quality of its offering. Its Sierra Leone Decides series which has featured interviews with the presidential aspirants, has become compulsory viewing for Sierra Leoneans in and out of the country. The cherry on their cake has to be the forthcoming Presidential Debate scheduled for 15 February. AYV’s presidential debate may not be a first for Sierra Leone but with AYV’s standard setting approach, it is sure to be a must-watch.
3. This leads us to the Freetown Mayoral Candidates debate, which was indeed the first of its kind. Organised by Sierra Eye magazine and the Institute for Governance Reform, it was intended to give Freetown’s residents the chance to make an informed decision on voting day and by all accounts was a successful affair. Unfortunately, a live-streaming fail from the media partners limited its reach.
4. Sierra Leone’s government has a love-hate relationship with social media, but threats to regulate their reach have not materialised, and WhatsApp in particular is proving to be a major source of information and misinformation for Sierra Leoneans home and abroad, as well as a boon for candidates’ campaigns.
5. And finally, an honourable mention has to be given to Radio Democracy 98.1fm’s Gud Morni Salone programme, which is Sierra Leone’s most popular news programme, providing a platform for regular political coverage, which allows a range of voices to be heard.