FREETOWN — Tensions are mounting in Sierra Leone as people anxiously await the official results of Saturday’s presidential run-off. Supporters on both sides have already claimed victory, raising concerns of possible unrest.
At the headquarters of the opposition SLPP, women sell posters of candidate Maada Bio, along with green SLPP wristbands, flasks and whistles. A large group of people dances in front of the giant green office.
Inside, Abubakar Sesay, editor of “Unity,” the party newspaper, sits around chatting to his friends. He is confident his party has won based on its private tally but is anxious for the National Electoral Commissionor NEC to announce the official result. He says the rumors are dangerous.
“People just sit there in the comfort of their chairs or their homes and then post all sorts of things — ‘oh, this will happen tomorrow, some people are planning,'” he said.
“And there are people in our society who are very gullible,” he added. “They swallow this information hook, line and sinker, that is what’s creating the tension. We are using the mainstream media to appeal to them to be calm.”
At the headquarters of the ruling APC party, music is blasted from speakers outside, but the mood is subdued.
President Ernest Bai Koroma had to stand down this year, having served the limit of two terms. The first round of voting was close, with ruling party candidate Samura Wilson Kamara trailing Bio by less than 15,000 ballots.
The APC challenged the first-round results, alleging fraud and delaying the run-off by four days.
One APC supporter, Osman Kanu, is ready to protest the result of the run-off if it does not go the way he hopes.
“The APC, the All People’s Congress, won the election, and we the people voted for the All People’s Congress vehemently in all districts,” he said. “If the results are not credible enough, if the NEC officials do not give the people the right choice, we are prepared to protest, and these are our placards: We need credible results in Sierra Leone.”
The rumor mill is working overtime, adding to tensions.
APC supporters claim that members of the international community, specifically Ghanaian President John Mahama and the British High Commissioner, are meddling on behalf of the opposition, accusations those officials have denied.
Most Sierra Leoneans just want to hear the result as soon as possible.
Mohammed Sankoh sits smoking cigarettes with some friends at a roadside stall. He worries that children need to go back to school after nearly a month off, and that parents need to get back to work.
“The common Sierra Leonean doesn’t have money for safekeeping, they only live on a day to day basis,” he said. “People cannot go to work because they are [afraid] of any outbreak. Then they don’t want to leave their children at home when they go to work, so things are just upside down”.
The National Electoral Commission has said it expects to announce results Thursday.
– Olivia Acland I VOA