Politicians must talk and do the peace 

This week, political party leaders and presidential candidates came together in Freetown to sign the Election Pledge. It was all smiles as rivals—big and small got together to commit to peaceful elections. Organised by civil society; paid for by the Commonwealth; attended by citizens, young and old: and witnessed by diplomats and international organisations, the event was made for TV as President Bio and his main challenger, Samura Kamara exchanged jokes and a handshake. The images went viral, quickly. A peace pledge has been signed but the real task is to do peace; and the fact that a lot of time and resources go into peaceful election campaigns and mediation says a lot: about the leaders, their parties and our democratic processes. 

Does it not bother the politicians that in every election, someone—other countries, NGOs and religious leaders have to keep reminding them about their obligation to conduct themselves peacefully and control their supporters? This will be our sixth election in the second wave of democracy and to our credit, we have had successful elections, transfer of power and transitions. But in all of these elections, politicians need to be told that the people they are seeking to lead need and deserve peaceful elections. It has become so normal, and it must not. It is ridiculous that this has become a permanent feature of our elections and the international community and civil society need to keep an eye on the polls otherwise politicians and their supporters would reduce it to a violent affair. 

Of course, the stakes are always high in elections, but the more elections you hold, the better you are supposed to become in your electioneering—well, if you want to. That folks had to be lined up to sign a peace pledge or make a commitment to peace reflects the level of maturity of our democratic processes. And that we have to deal with these same challenges every time we hold elections does not indicate progress. Our hands have to be held throughout the process, otherwise, it will fall apart. Come on! This is 2023 and we are a nation of about eight million people only. 

Peace is priceless. Definitely. But we must not forget that when we spend all of our time worrying about SLPP and APC doing violence as politics, we lose sight of the many other issues that we need to deal with. The fear of violence and the peaceful elections campaigns drown out most of the other legitimate concerns that the people have. We should be having townhalls and debates all over the country, challenging politicians on their programmes. We should be discussing the agenda of the young people. Just last week, the Women’s Manifesto was launched. It is a document that should trend throughout the elections, but we seem to have moved on. Climate change and the environment are real issues for Sierra Leoneans, whether politicians acknowledge it or not. The rains have started and very soon we will be responding to disasters. What are the candidates saying? All these issues, as important as they are, get drowned in the peaceful election campaigns just because SLPP and APC can turn the country upside down with the flick of a switch. 

In recent weeks, there have been reports of violent attacks on opposition supporters in some ruling party strongholds. In the Tonko-Limba by-elections last year, it took the EU to get us to finally let people to vote after episodes of violence. And there are so many examples. The same parties and the same candidates (Julius Maada Bio and Samura Kamara) committed to peaceful elections in 2018? Do they need a refresher on the basic principle of peace every five years? 

It is easy to sign a pledge. It is easy to talk about peace. The difficult part is to do peace and as hard as it is, the political leaders are capable of delivering it if they want to. It is just sad that they need reminding every time there are elections and the conversation is always about preventing violence. We need to grow up. 

Whatever you are up to this weekend, peace be unto you.