A new survey by the Afrobarometer has revealed that social cohesion should be a concern for Sierra Leoneans ahead of the country’s national elections. The Institute for Governance Reforms (IGR) findings revealed that welcoming attitudes towards people with different religions, ethnicities, and political preferences declined sharply.
The survey suggests that welcoming attitudes towards people of different religions declined by 16 per cent, (from 92 to 76), ethnicities by 20 per cent (from 93 to 73) and political preferences by 25 per cent (from 83 to 58).
According to the publication, most observers premised the decline on two factors.
First, the media reports about the sacking of perceived opposition members from formal sector jobs, as well as the court ruling that removed 10 opposition members of parliament and replaced them with members of the ruling party, after the change of government in 2018. Jobs and opportunities were also considered centred in so-called ruling party strongholds. And President Julius Maada Bio was accused of retaliating against perceived discrimination by his predecessor, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.
Second, opposition leaders used ethno-regional rhetoric to mobilize voters in their direction. For instance, in July 2022, a recording made rounds on social media where the All People’s Congress (APC) flagbearer, Dr Samura Kamara, told his supporters that only the ruling party supporters are able to access jobs.
A 2020 report by the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL), also suggested that some people believe that the elites have exacerbated these divisions by exploiting the economic hardship generated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.
The August 10 protests which demonstrators said were against the rising cost of living and alleged human rights abuses were described by the government as “terrorism at the highest”, that was caused by “self-seeking politicians”, in the words of the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray.
The report summarized the country’s problems as being enveloped in a “us vs them” narrative embraced by both sides of the political divide. The most recent Afrobarometer survey data shows that this is reflected in a decrease in trust and social harmony, which may contribute to a tense atmosphere ahead of the general elections in June 2023.