Sierra Leone will elect a president and parliament on June 24, its fifth election since a devastating 10-year civil war ended in 2002. Incumbent Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is seeking re-election in a two-horse race against Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC). The contest is a re-match of the 2018 vote, when Bio won 51.81% of the vote to Kamara’s 48.19%.
Like the rest of the continent, the country is facing a cost-of-living crisis exacerbated by global economic shocks. In August 2022, protests in this regard in Freetown, Makeni, and Kamakwie triggered a crackdown from the state, and 20 people were killed. When Bio came to power in 2018, having succeeded APC president Ernest Koroma, he promised to undo the legacy of heavy-handedness and intolerance to criticism that Koroma’s presidency became associated with. Now, many Sierra Leoneans are seeing more of the same.
Ahead of the elections, restrictions on gatherings have been enforced, as well as a change to the voting system which is causing confusion. Kamara is also facing corruption charges originating from his time as foreign minister under Koroma, and the glacial pace that the case is moving through the courts has resulted in suspicions that Bio is weaponizing the state apparatus to frustrate Kamara’s candidacy.
This week on the podcast, we are joined from Freetown by Sierra Leonean and American author Ishmael Beah to discuss the elections. Does Kamara represent much of a difference to Bio? How strong are Sierra Leone’s ethnic divisions, which inform most voting preferences? And, what of the youth who led the country’s cost-of-living protests? Ishmael, is the New York Times bestselling author of A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Radiance of Tomorrow, A Novel, and Little Family released in 2020. AIAC director of operations, Boima Tucker, also joins as a special guest.