The (Semi?) Success of Sierra Leone
December 5, 2012
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Sierra Leone, a country formerly ravaged by faction and a slumping economy, recently held a presidential election. The Economist published a piece describing the significance of this latest election, which resulted in incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma accreting 58.7% of the vote, clearing the 55% needed to win outright. The election proceeded without much of the internal violence predicted by the international community, and Koroma has now been democratically installed at the helm of a country that is beginning to show real signs of progress.
More importantly, the peaceful election speaks to the relative success of Sierra Leone’s two transitional justice mechanisms: a truth commission (Sierra Leone’s TRC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), the latter of which was created to try those most responsible for the crimes committed during the country’s devastating civil war between 1991 and 2002. Perhaps the most important decision handed down in that court was one already discussed on this blog – the 50-year sentencing of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.
The article linked to makes a good point, however, in noting that Koroma “deserved to beat Julius Maada Bio, a former junta leader. However, the APC [Koroma’s party] is still the same party that in 1978 converted Sierra Leone into a one party state. The election campaign suggested that its autocratic streak has not been entirely banished.” This dichotomy is reminiscent of many of our readings on state-run transitional justice mechanisms, such as their role in perpetuating certain political parties or narratives. In Koroma’s victory, one can see both the blossoming of peaceful democracy and the slippery slope from a one-state system to the first omens of dictatorships and oppressive, unilateral regimes.
Examples like Sierra Leone are our first empirical look at how what we term “transitional justice” – a still-developing idea, to be sure – influences not only the process of reconcilation, prosecution, and reform, but also how it fundamentally alters, for better or worse, the political trajectory of a nation. Thoughts? Is Sierra Leone’s progress a strong case for truth commissions and UN special courts? Should their model be adopted further? Is Koroma’s re-election an indicator of genuine democracy, or is it merely the beginning of another African leader who refuses to cede power?