The election issue -- basic services

Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on 11 August having the second lowest standard of living in the world, according to UN Human Development Report. Of the country’s some six million people, nearly 2.5 million have no access to clean water and even fewer have access to electricity. An estimated 1.5 million live in extreme poverty and at least 4.8 million are jobless. Basic health care remains unavailable to most people. The average life expectancy is just 40 years.

“Everyone knows [that’s] what matters in this election,” said one international official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment on Sierra Leone politics.

"This election is not about what to do but about who is best placed to do it.”

The current government - whose vice president is the frontrunner - has made some strides, according to a July report by the International Crisis Group. Primary school enrolment is higher than it was before the war, 406km kilometres of roads have been built or rehabilitated, and 76 health centres and hospitals have been built or restored.

But efforts to tackle corruption have been disappointing. A June report by the London-based research group Chatham House called corruption “entrenched in society” and said anti-corruption efforts have been hampered by management problems and “the weakness of the justice system”.

Economic reforms have fallen short, according to the Crisis Group, who said that while there have been some improvements in subsistence food production and in the mineral and tourism sectors, “they are not sufficient to substantially alleviate widespread urban and rural poverty.”

Campaign manifestos

The campaign manifesto of the main opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC), calls the past 10 years under President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah "a pathetic and painful picture of socio-economic decline corruption and generally poor governance.”

The defense from the ruling party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), is that since the war ended in 2002 it has been building the foundations of a new society. Vice President and presidential candidate Solomon Berewa says in his party’s manifesto, “I am like the medical practitioner who is about to administer treatment to the ailing patient armed with a precise and accurate diagnostic, analysis and report.”

But a significant portion of SLPP politicians have broken away to form the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC). In its manifesto it laments an “inadequate and ill-equipped health infrastructure” and a lack of investment in education and training. The PMDC slams past leaders who it says “have served only their own self interests with little or no regard for the welfare and well-being of the citizenry.”

np/dh