Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: Nation Building participants keep the peace

Originally published
Paramount chiefs are the traditional rulers of Sierra Leone whose rule is an important part of local governance in the Sierra Leonean provinces. With the exception of three vacancies, Sierra Leone has now elected 60 paramount chiefs, who were congratulated personally by President Tejan Kabbah, who toured the provinces at the end of January 2003 to give each elected Paramount chief his official ruling "staff," and to congratulate each one on their victory in what were largely viewed as successful, democratically-run local elections.
Overall, the elections were orderly, and violence-free. In Kabala, however, the Sengbe Chiefdom heated up at one point after the first round of elections since no candidate had received the requisite 55 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. Alie Marah, a youth leader, claimed victory after winning in the first round of voting and demanded that the chief's staff be handed over immediately. His disgruntled supporters marched and ended up throwing stones at the home of parliamentary leader S.B. Marah, whom they accused of supporting Alhaji Balasama Marah, Alie Marah's principal opponent.

"The situation was really fearful, said Saran Koroma, Kabala Women's Agricultural Representative and a former Nation Building participant. "During the day, when we saw the boys so adamant, we used the "tortoise technique" in resolving conflict. That is, we kept back. After the tension had cooled down a bit, UNAMSIL sent a delegate to ask our group of former Nation Building participants to intervene in helping to calm down the situation. We went to meet with Aly Mara the youth leader but unfortunately, he wasn't around. I was able to meet with his mother though, and through her we convinced Aly Mara to talk to the youths to calm the situation.

"We ourselves spoke to the youths by telling them that we have already got a handful of right in this nation, and that if they are destructive, then our right will escape from us again. They understood what we were saying and they left, and UNAMSIL came in to move out with the Paramount Chief. All this took place in our presence and it was resolved peacefully."

Aly Jawara, an Administrator in the local court and another former Nation Building participant, was also close by while the events unfolded, and intervened along with Koroma to talk to the angry crowd. "We went all round to educate the people that there was still a need for a second round of voting. Most of them understood, and the whole process and calmed down." Jawara said he continued to speak to the protesters in the days following the initial rock-throwing incident to assure them that the government would soon be sending in representatives to conduct the second round of elections. He also convinced them that violence would not resolve the problem--it would only make matters worse. The joint interventions of the Nation Building participanats successfully diffused the tensions, and a second round of voting was held on January 24, 2003 without incident, and with Alie Mara winning by a wide margin.

Says Jawara, "We were able to resolve the matter in such a way because of this training we attended. Otherwise, I might have joined the crowd myself. The training helpd me keep my emotions under control and gave me a better perspective on the situation."

Story by Laura Lartigue