In a press release issued by the EU-EOM Observer mission in Sierra Leone, tasked with monitoring the country’s recent elections, the Chief Observer of the mission, Richard Howitt, was quoted as saying “An unequal playing field was evident throughout the campaign period, according to the assessment. Although the ruling APC and the main opposition SLPP dominated the political arena, APC clearly benefited from the advantages of incumbency by making use of state resources and enjoyed more media coverage. The public broadcaster Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) gave access to political parties and candidates through free-airtime programmes. Nevertheless, in key areas like news bulletins and election related programmes SLBC showed biased coverage in favour of the ruling party”. It is clear that Mr Howitt’ comments are contrary to those made by other observer missions accredited to monitor the elections, as both the African Union and ECOWAS observer mission statements, made no mention of incumbency advantage.
Even in Britain where Mr Howitt hails from, what the party in government has at its disposal in an election, is a far cry from what the opposition could benefit from, as the BBC is a state broadcasting entity that enjoys tax-payers money and indirectly regulated by the government. Mr Howitt failed to comment on the lies peddled by the opposition media in a press statement that depicted a disturbing picture of how a rejected political party at the polls would go to extra lengths in deceiving the international community. The Chief Observer is also accusing the state broadcaster of bias on how it covered the elections. This is a serious allegation against a state entity that has often been professed to be independent, and one that has time and again been used by the opposition to attack the APC-led government. Mr Howitt may have also failed to realize that the board of the state broadcaster is made up of some of the most vociferousness critics of the sitting government, like SLAJ, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist, a derelict organisation that has traded the tenets of the profession with the most organised administration of press abuse ever seen in sub-Saharan Africa. To suggest that the broadcaster became biased, is indeed laughable.
Richard Howitt is an outstanding MEP who has done so much for his constituency back in Britain, and has been working assiduously to effectuate change in some deprived communities across the world; but whether Mr Howitt recognizes the impact his comments would have or not on the international community, I don’t know, but if not, one thing is for certain, the people have spoken, and they have done so in style, voting overwhelmingly to keep the incumbent in power. The result may not be what some people were expecting, but it sure does convey an element of surprise to some diplomatic and political circles. We wish Mr Howitt and co. a pleasant journey back to EU-EOM HQ.
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