Sierra Leone Decides…

Sierra Leone will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on November 17, 2012. With the civil war having ended in 2002, the political discourse has shifted firmly from that of peace and stability to that of inclusive economic growth, infrastructure development and tackling corruption. However, despite the considerable progress made over the last decade, the country has been unable to shake itself free of a legacy of political violence. Indeed, there are still concerns about Sierra Leone’s ability to conduct peaceful elections. Although different political parties have emerged victorious in the last two consecutive elections, this belies a fraught political situation.

The 2007 general election was marred by fighting between supporters of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) and the leading opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Violence also overshadowed by-elections in December 2011 and January 2012. While ten people were injured in late October 2012 as campaigners clashed with police in the Kono district in the north of the country, the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary election on November 17 has been largely free of violence.

Nevertheless, the combination of partisan local media outlets, opposition mistrust of the national electoral commission (NEC), and ethno-geographic divides between supporters of the APC and the SLPP means that risks of a flare-up, both prior to and following the polls, remain significant.

While incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma remains likely to prevail over former junta leader Julius Maada Bio, the vote will be a closely contested one that could well go to a presidential run-off on December 8 if neither candidate receives the required 50% of the votes on November 17.

Implications For The Mining Sector

BMI notes that the mining sector has, unsurprisingly, been a key area of debate, although details of both candidates’ respective policies have been less than clear. While headline GDP growth has averaged a relatively healthy 6.8% per annum between 2003 and 2011, wealth creation has been far from broad-based. In 2011, Sierra Leone was ranked 180 out of 187 in the UN Human Development Index, while youth unemployment is, at 60% according to the World Bank, among the highest in West Africa. With this in mind, talk has centred on how best to harness the country’s vast mineral wealth to improve the livelihoods of Sierra Leoneans.

A central policy challenge for whoever emerges as the winner will be how to boost revenues from mining, which currently account for around 20% of government revenue. Neither candidate has provided much clarity however, with both men heavy on rhetoric and light on detail. While Julius Maada Bio has declared that he will conduct a review of all of Sierra Leone’s mining contracts, we believe this is likely to be an attempt to boost his popularity ahead of the polls, with Bio having accused the government of ‘raping’ the country at the expense of its people. President Koroma, meanwhile, made the vague announcement in his manifesto that he will aim to impose ‘optimal taxation on mineral assets’ as well as set up a sovereign wealth fund (again light on detail). Having made infrastructure a key tenet of his election campaign in 2007, Koroma has only partially succeeded in meeting these goals and his track record in power has, on balance, been widely perceived as mixed.

Further analysis of Sierra Leone’s politics and economy, as well as Africa’s mining sector, is available to subscribers at Business Monitor Online.