As widely anticipated, incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma and his All People’s Congress (APC) won another 5-year mandate on 23 November in Sierra Leone’s third general election since the end of the civil war in 2002. Widespread fears of erupting violence have so far failed to materialise. Koroma was firmly challenged by former military ruler Julius Maada Bio and his Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) banking on the support from the Mende-dominated south and east in a poll characterised by a strong north-south ethnic divide. With a history of vicious clashes between the ruling ACP and SLPP, a violence-free poll could considerably enhance democratic credentials and investors’ confidence. However, the SLPP refused to accept the results claiming electoral fraud despite their thumping defeat. The incumbent easily scored 58.7% of the votes while Bio only managed to reach 37.4%. This makes it almost inconceivable that any poll fraud could have made much of a difference. Moreover, according to diverse international observers (EU, ECOWAS, AU, and the Commonwealth), the elections were found predominantly free and fair.

Impact on country risk

Sierra Leone is experiencing times of surging growth expected to reach 21.3% in 2012, fuelled by a minerals boom (iron ore and diamonds) and oil discovery prospects. Thirty years after the iron ore industry collapsed, major investors like African Minerals and London Mining single-handedly delivered an extra billion USD to the economy. This massive inflow of cash will trial the government’s handling of its riches and the APC’s proclaimed banishment from an autocratic past. Tackling corruption, providing jobs to alleviate a 60% youth unemployment rate and equal national development spending remain vast future challenges for President Koroma. By rejecting the election results and withdrawing its representatives from  parliament, ex-military leader Bio is unlikely to have a noticeable impact given the ACP’s clear majority. Yet, he might thwart the hopes of democratic progress.

Analyst: Louise Van Cauwenbergh, l.vancauwenbergh@credendogroup.com