At last, the long awaited day is upon us. With a reported 1,000 local observers and contingents of Election Observers from the EU, ECOWAS, the African Union, The Commonwealth and the Carter Centre, it is undeniably true that once again, the citizens have another opportunity to tell the world that Sierra Leone and its people have come a long way. The atmosphere is palpable and one does not need to be on the ground to feel it. The unprecedented media exposure that this election has gained has been relentless. Unlike other elections that were characterised by voter apathy and violence, indications are that there is mass awareness and participation from the electorate. The electorate has been energised tenfold, which in itself is a marker of our collective political maturity.
There are many factors responsible for this, and it will be disingenuous to attempt to put it down to one. However, the role of the social media cannot be overemphasised in this matter. Journalist, radio stations, newspapers, and social media like facebook have all played their role in making the election a national and international issue. Supporters of various parties have taken advantage of the power of the social media to put their ideas across. Facebook in particular has served as a vital forum in sensitising the populace. The renewed interest has been very significant, to a point that some have even modelled their interpretation of the elections on the format of other countries. People have gone as far as trying to organise presidential elections, which though well-meaning, was seen as based on the American model; a sign of exuberance of youth. My opinion on the idea remains an open secret.
Thanks to the technological advances, Sierra Leoneans are ready to take advantage of the situation in participating in the process. It is undeniably true that with such technology, we have seen changes all over the world. Call it over enthusiasm, but the creation of a CNN style “situation room” may sound like the best thing that happened since gari or sliced bread. The idea behind it is laudable. BBC Media Action “is partnering Independent Radio Network (IRN) and Cotton Tree News (CTN)”to bring live and up-to-date commentary of the election. The “Situation Room” is reportedly implemented by the National Elections Watch, (salonevote.com). To all intents and purposes, it is meant to improve, among others, the voting experience and to add much needed credibility to the whole election process. Bravo to all the well meaning Sierra Leoneans and counterparts for that.
Like the situation room in the US, only barriers of democracy will fail to see the benefits of such a brilliant idea. This is no attempt to cast aspersions on the organisers or the idea. But the hope is that, this will be handled with the highest degree of integrity and credibility. Truth, fairness, accuracy, trust and many other attributes are the yardsticks by which the integrity of such organisations and ideas are measured. It is therefore incumbent on those taking direct roles as analysts, reporters, observers, counters, twitterattis etc to exercise their remit with perfect, if not near perfect impunity and diligence. There is no reason to doubt the integrity of those that will be directly involved with this exercise, but many will agree that we have seen enough press coverage from various news outlets to hold our breath; not in relation to the “situation room” though. It is no secret that journalists, newspapers etc all have their favoured candidates, but at a time like this, let’s just say: SALONE FIRST.
The need for accurate reporting has never been more important. If I my “civics” lessons serve me correctly, it is the NEC that has the constitutional authority to call the results. “The people’s right to obtain information does not, of course, depend on any assured ability to understand its significance or use it wisely. Facts belong to the people simply because they relate to interests that are theirs, government that is theirs, and votes they may desire to cast; for they are entitled to an active role in shaping every fundamental decision of the state” (E. Cahn).This does not mean that exit polls, or opinion polls could not be used by independent media. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to get it wrong or end up feeding the masses with mixed messages. Against the background of heightened interest from all over you know where, it is imperative that we make this maiden but brilliant idea to work. With measured enthusiasm, we can still aspire to curb the excesses that make the outsider cry more than the bereaved.
As we go to the polls today, we just need to remind ourselves that “Salone First, Comes First.” We would be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties, if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections. We have to accept that to govern according to the sense and agreement of the interests of the people is a great and glorious object of governance. This object cannot be obtained but through the medium of popular election.
Let us keep it real.
Don’t forget to tick that box before you leave the room.
Lest we forget, the people of Sierra Leone express their sincere condolences to former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and his family for the loss of his father Leo Blair, who passed away today. Tony Blair said that he was “privileged to have him as his Dad”. I am sure that many Sierra Leoneans shared that privilege and may his soul rest in peace.
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