Two a long time after the top of its lethal civil struggle, Sierra Leone is as soon as once more teetering on the precipice of battle.
On November 26, gunmen attacked a army barracks and a jail within the capital, Freetown, killing at the least 20 folks, together with 13 troopers, and main the authorities to declare a nationwide curfew. In an obvious try and downplay the severity of the risk dealing with the nation, the federal government initially mentioned the incident was only a “breach of security”. It now says it was a “failed coup attempt” which meant to “illegally subvert and overthrow a democratically elected government”.
This raises a lot concern in a area the place progress towards democracy appears to be offset by a wave of coups – 4 nations in West Africa at the moment are beneath army rulers who took energy by means of coups, and apparently don’t have any instant plans of returning their nations to civilian rule.
The armed assault on November 26 was the second “coup attempt” Sierra Leone witnessed within the 5 months because the contentious June 2023 presidential election by which President Bio narrowly averted a run-off. In August 2023, the federal government had arrested a number of people, together with troopers and civilians, and accused them of planning to stage a coup.
It is unclear whether or not the 2 “attempted coups” or earlier violent incidents, such because the antigovernment riots in Freetown in August 2022, which claimed over 25 lives, are in any approach related. Either approach, the simple uptick in violence prior to now few months and years displays Sierra Leone’s persistent fragility after investing in peace and state-building tasks for 20 years.
Especially because the 2023 elections, the state has been exhibiting indicators of deepening fragility. The fundamental opposition All People’s Congress (APC) get together’s boycott of the federal government (and their seats in parliament) on the grounds that the 2023 presidential elections had been “rigged” have stalled the traditional functioning of presidency and undermined President Julius Maada Bio’s legitimacy.
The two sides finally signed an “Agreement for National Unity” beneath which the APC agreed to take up their seats in parliament, but this didn’t totally resolve the scenario, notably as some within the APC continued to voice their dissatisfaction with the phrases of the deal.
This political deadlock, worsened by a biting value of dwelling disaster and declining dwelling requirements, possible helped create the area for dissidents to discover alternatives for unseating the federal government.
No organised political group has claimed accountability for or been linked to the assault on November 26, or the alleged coup plot in August, however each incidents occurred within the context of myriad unsettled political grievances associated to the June 2023 presidential election and had been born of the nation’s deeply polarised, partisan politics.
Despite having established sound authorized frameworks to assist inclusive democracy, the observe of politics in Sierra Leone is a winner-takes-all affair, and partisan affiliation has but to transcend the ethno-regional divisions that emerged within the political contest to exchange the British colonial administration following independence in 1961. Simply put, moderately than representing platforms for the articulation of shared visions and insurance policies, the 2 main events – the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the opposition APC – largely symbolize platforms for the political expression of shared ethnicity.
This division is ceaselessly mirrored in election outcomes, the controversies surrounding inhabitants censuses, authorities appointment and civil servant recruitment, and promotion mechanisms. Although energy has been transferred twice (2007 and 2018) from one get together to a different, shedding an election in Sierra Leone will not be simply accepted as a part of a wholesome democratic competitors. It additionally represents dangers to jobs and livelihood, diminished entry to alternatives, and marginalisation of 1’s ethnic group in public life.
This explains why elections in Sierra Leone are fiercely contested. The current 2023 elections introduced this out extra poignantly, difficult notions that Sierra Leone is a pluralistic democracy. Neither the SLPP nor the APC might freely marketing campaign within the conventional heartlands of the opposite. For strange Sierra Leoneans involved about key problems with governance and repair supply as a foundation for political participation, supporting a political get together that isn’t dominant amongst their kinsmen places them susceptible to being labelled as traitors.
President Bio’s new cupboard consists of comparatively youthful politicians and technocrats from each areas. The inclusion of those younger technocrats, from ethnic teams that hail from each the north and the south of the nation, within the cupboard is probably going a call taken in response to the controversy surrounding the president’s re-election. Yet this didn’t show enough to placate the political cabals on both aspect. The appointments created an upset in Bio’s personal SLPP as senior grandees with deep connections to the get together’s assist base misplaced their cupboard jobs to comparatively unknown younger technocrats. Similarly, the APC leaders don’t settle for the appointment of younger northerners to the cupboard as a transfer towards political inclusion; moderately, they understand these appointments as manoeuvres by Bio to co-opt members of their assist base. Bio, thus, is confronted with the intense activity of sustaining elite stability, along with the common activity of governing and delivering providers for on a regular basis Sierra Leoneans.
The APC’s current determination to just accept the federal government’s legitimacy coupled with the information of the formation of a cross-party electoral reform committee alerts Sierra Leone is lastly on the trail in the direction of political stability, but the “coup attempts” and “security breaches” skilled because the June election display that – with out deeper political reforms and social cohesion – safety threats stemming from persistent fragility and excessive political polarisation are more likely to linger for some time longer.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.