Inclusive elections: promoting youth political participation in Sierra Leone

On 7 March, over 3 million Sierra Leoneans will go to the polls to elect the President, Parliament and local councils. As part of a broader programme to make the electoral process more inclusive, WFD trained 35 Youth Peace Ambassadors to promote peaceful political participation.

Violence marred all previous elections, with young people often behind incidents due to high rates of unemployment and high levels of political misinformation and intolerance. This is why activities to support disengaged young people are at the heart of the WFD Sierra Leone Programme.

The WFD Sierra Leone programme for inclusive and peaceful elections

Ahead of the general election, WFD, in partnership with government, political parties and local civil society organisations, is implementing a comprehensive programme, as a member of the Standing Together for Democracy consortium, to engage youth, women and vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities, in the political process.

Activities included sessions to develop election manifestoes with representatives from 14 political parties, the launch of a National Agenda to involve people living with disabilities in the elections in partnership with the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI) and a nationwide outreach tour in 9 districts to promote tolerance and educate about politics in partnership with Community Agenda.

Engaging young people

In December, WFD organised a two-day National Youth Conference in Freetown in partnership with the Network of Youth for Development Sierra Leone (NYDSL) and the National Youth Commission (NaYCom) and was attended by over 300 young people representing all 14 districts in Sierra Leone.

This conference trained youth leaders on dialogue, community engagement and politics. It brought together political parties, the Minister of Youth Affairs, the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), the Sierra Leone Police and Office of the National Security to discuss the role and commitment of political parties and their leaders in ensuring peaceful elections.

The conference agreed violence-free elections and meaningful youth engagement are a shared responsibility of all: political parties, civil society as well as citizens. Political parties were invited to redouble efforts to conduct drug and violence free campaigns. A group of 35 Youth Peace Ambassadors was selected to reach out to local communities across the country and implement specific action plans.

Over 85% of Youth Peace Ambassadors have been able to take forward the training they received to concretely deliver action plans, as monitored and supported by the WFD programme. The work of young leaders has been integrated by local events involving young people, including a football match in Kabala, and media activity, including the participation in popular radio talk shows to further educate about peaceful political engagement.

In February, Youth Peace Ambassador Matthieu Conte, organised a regional youth non-violence and voters’ education training for 100 young people in Bo City, Sierra Leone. The event, part of Matthieu’s action plan to educate youth in his community, involved speakers from the police and the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and an educational drama performance by Community Agenda.

At the end of the event participating young people made a personal pledge to promote peace and political tolerance in their communities ahead of next week’s election and beyond.

The Sierra Leone elections will take place on 7 March 2018. The WFD Sierra Leone programme will continue its work after the election with activities involving the new Parliament and Government.

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Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in 2018 elections launched in Freetown

On 24 August 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), launched a new National Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral and political process ahead of Sierra Leone’s 2018 elections.

Globally, approximately 15 per cent of the population have a disability, 80 per cent of whom live in developing countries. With a history of civil war and low ranking in the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI), the number of people with disabilities in Sierra Leone is likely to be much higher. They are often the poorest in their community and are rarely empowered to participate politically; Sierra Leone is no exception.

WFD is working with SLUDI and the disability community to ensure that the country’s March 2018 elections are inclusive and respond to the needs of PWDs.

Key to our work is the launch of the PWD Agenda which will serve:

  1. As an advocacy tool for the disability community and disability groups in Sierra Leone. Helping them to advocate for the integration of key public policy priorities in the manifestos of political parties;
  2. As a guide for key organisations interested in engaging PWDs and other institutions on PWD-related priorities for the upcoming elections;
  3. As a national advocacy document that will guide Elections Management Bodies (EMBs), political parties and the next Government on the planning, budgeting and implementation of PWD interventions.

The PWD Agenda is centred on six pro-disability public policy priorities identified by the disability community following inclusive nationwide stakeholder consultations with nearly 1400 persons with disabilities across Sierra Leone’s 14 administrative districts. Seven political parties, four State Commissions, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Sports, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the media and other pro-disability organisations also contributed to the development of the agenda.

Public policy priorities:

  • Enhance the inclusion and participation of PWDS in the political process in Sierra Leone
  • Ensure physical accessibility of public buildings, infrastructure and transportation for PWDs
  • Support the collection of accurate data on PWDs in Sierra Leone for better planning
  • Improve access to inclusive education
  • Enhance PWDs access to health care with additional investment and monitoring
  • Enhance the employment and socio-economic empowerment of PWDs

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) and Political Party Registration Commission (PPRC) also have a role to play in creating an inclusive space for the disabled community to participate in the electoral process. The national agenda calls on them to strengthen their support systems for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

‘Our survey shows it is only by acknowledging the existence and the needs of people with disabilities that Sierra Leone can build a truly inclusive and fair society.’

George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Africa

Investing in disability support will require steadfast commitment if Sierra Leone is to fully align itself with national legislation and Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which states: ‘States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others.’ If PWDs do not have a meaningful voice, choice or control in the decisions affecting their lives, there can be no true democracy.

Launching the PWD Agenda in Freetown, Zainab Kamara from Empowerment of Women’s Social Inclusion, said:

‘We call for a new and inclusive approach that will guarantee Sierra Leoneans with disabilities are part of the long term strategic vision of political parties. We thank WFD, the Standing Together for Democracy Consortium and UKaid Sierra Leone for their ongoing support to ensure as many of us as possible can take part in the March 2018 elections.’

Santigie Kargbo, President of SLUDI, added:

‘Today, 24 of August 2017, we, the disabled community, demand our political parties and new government to integrate the following asks in their manifestoes and for the new Government to deliver on them.’

WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath explained:

‘It is the first time such a broad coalition of people with disabilities, their friends and champions come together in such a significant way to request the attention of Sierra Leone’s political actors.’

‘Our survey shows it is only by acknowledging the existence and the needs of people with disabilities that Sierra Leone can build a truly inclusive and fair society. Our hope is this issue will feature prominently in the upcoming election campaign.’

WFD is implementing this work as a member of the ‘Standing Together for Democracy Consortium;’ a coalition of CSOs funded by UKaid through the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in support of the 2017/18 electoral cycle in Sierra Leone. The coalition aims to create the right conditions for free, fair and peaceful elections in Sierra Leone. Led by Search for Common Ground (SFCG), the consortium is made up of five national organisations – National Elections Watch (NEW), Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Independent Radio Network (IRN), Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) and 50/50 Group – and two international organisations – SFCG and WFD.

This programme forms part of WFD’s work in Sierra Leone.

(Photo: Performance of the PWD agenda song at the launch in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Several key stakeholders including CSOs and Politicians were present at the ceremony.)

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How does the cost of politics impact on marginalised groups?

(Above: Commissioner from Nigeria’s Electoral Commission addresses the Cost of Politics regional conference)

Money remains one of the single most important barriers to political participation, but there are other non-financial costs associated with being active in political life that need to be considered too.

We often forget about who is excluded from politics because they can’t afford to run for office, or who is discriminated against when they choose to engage.

The impact the increasing cost of politics has on marginalised groups such as women and disabled people was explored at Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s regional West Africa conference on 31st January and 1st February 2017. The two-day event explored the West African perspective with case studies from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The term ‘mainstream politics’ and how marginalised groups are thought of as fringe perspectives – to be brought in from the peripheries when needed – it was argued limits the expansion of views in political dialogue, often leading to key issues like healthcare, education and support for vulnerable people being ignored.

As Professor Abubakah Momoh, Director General of the Electoral Institute noted at the conference, anyone who does not have the financial resources or capital to insert themselves in the mainstream is effectively marginalised. The distinction between inclusion and participation is therefore crucial. While inclusion is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunities to all, it does not capture the agency of the individuals involved to actively participate and engage.

Women very often have the social capital – the meaningful relationships and networks within their communities – that is mobilised for their male political peers instead of for their own campaigns. In a workshop carried out in Gaborone, Botswana aimed at supporting current and prospective female candidates, I witnessed just how integral women are to the campaigns of their male peers – organising door-to-door leafleting, rallying, networking and campaigning. The question then is not about whether women are capable of contesting and holding political seats, but rather about supporting women to mobilise the skills they do have, and helping them to identify innovative ways to access the necessary financial resources.

(Above: Representatives of people with disabilities address the regional Cost of Politics)

When contesting a seat women or persons with disabilities are often attacked on a personal rather than a political basis suggesting the cost of politics are not only financial. Prospective women politicians often face higher levels of abuse and scrutiny when compared to their male counterparts. This was a point reiterated by a female MP who spoke candidly at the event of how she and her family had been threatened and a close relative kidnapped because of her frank and vocal political views. Women face far higher risks and are often criticised for defying traditional gender roles like looking after the family. This moves the dialogue away from the political capability of candidates to deliver on electoral issues and promises towards personal characteristics.

Persons with Disabilities, in many countries particularly in Africa, still face a lack of understanding and awareness from other citizens about what having a disability actually means. While countries have ratified international conventions and agreements to safeguard equal rights and fight discrimination, this is too often undermined by a failure to translate these into everyday practices, for example, braille versions of government documents; services for the hearing impaired, wheelchair accessible buildings. Until political and public spaces are more accessible it is difficult to meaningfully facilitate political participation amongst these groups.

The social cost of exclusion, marginalisation and the denial of fundamental rights to equal political participation is a real concern prospective candidates face around the world. Westminster Foundation for Democracy hopes our research into the full cycle of political participation and the costs associated at each stage will encourage active participation and engagement by people from all groups in political life. To do this we need to re-focus on the politics and not the personal.

 

By Tobi Ayeni, Programme Officer – Africa

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Women’s political participation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is expected to hold general elections in March 2018. This provides an opportunity to increase the level of women’s political participation. Women constitute more than 51% of the total population but occupy only 15 out of 124 seats in parliament.

On 20 and 21 February, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) hosted a two-day summit in Freetown with legislators, political party officials, election authorities, UN Women and civil society organisations from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. Organised in collaboration with the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), the event aimed at finding concrete and effective solutions to promote women’s access and participation in political life.

Opening a roundtable on barriers to participation, Dr Fatou Taqi, President of the 50/50 Group said: “women make up over 50% of the Sierra Leone population and when you give them a chance to participate then you will see that half of your problems have been solved”.

As political campaigns continue to be competitive, candidates face a range of issues from financial constraints to political violence, a lack of political mentoring and other immaterial barriers set up to deter women.

“Women need to support each other and mentor each other. We have the strength and we don’t even realise the strength that we have until we face the difficulty” explained Augusta James Telma, Secretary General from the All Political Party Women’s Association (APPWA); “we just have to use that strength”.

Delegates noted that to encourage inclusive and representative democracy, women must be supported in diverse yet sustainable ways. Diversity should be guaranteed at all levels of government: within political parties, national parliament and local authorities.

Sunkarie Kamara, Mayor of Makeni demonstrated this through sharing her story of resilience: “in my council, we have achieved exemplary gender balance of almost 50% men and 50% women” she said; “I would advise women here to take full advantage of their capacities. From my experience, persistence and being adamant is key. I was intimidated and silenced but I remained steadfast. Only then they realised that I was being serious.”

Delegates took part in panel discussions, group work, case studies and sharing of personal stories between participants. Former Ugandan MP Olivia Kawagala, told participants that “stopping women from performing and coming forward is violence against women.” This was seconded by Rose Sakala, former UN Consultant on Conflict Resolution in Zambia , who said “When you stop women from what they want to do and limit them in their homes that is also a form of violence”.

Mohamed Alpha Jalloh, WFD’s Country Representative in Sierra Leone explained that women’s’ political participation is essential to deepen democracy in the country. To achieve greater participation of women in politics a collective effort is required. “We need men who can serve as role models to stand up, stand tall and proudly champion the democratic course of women’s political participation in partnership with women” Mohamed explained, “I am a woman champion and will lead WFD’s support to promote women’s political participation in Sierra Leone.”

WFD continues to support women through its programmes in Africa. Our Sierra Leone activities will support the enhancement of Sierra Leonean women’s leaders in achieving their full potential in politics.

This event was part of WFD’s programme that brings together parliamentary and political party expertise.

It is being implemented in parallel to a parliamentary programme and a DFID-funded elections programme: ‘Standing Together for Free, Fair and Peaceful Elections,’ which we are implementing in consortium with local partners.

 

(Photo: Top: Participants at the end of the two-day summit in Freetown, Sierra Leone)
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The Cost of Politics in West Africa: WFD regional conference

How do we make politics more affordable?

This is the central question WFD’s research into the cost of politics is tackling. The research programme, launched last July in London, will explore the issue in West Africa by convening the region’s experts at a conference in Nigeria on 31 January.

The conference will address the whole cycle candidates face – from securing nomination to campaigning and maintaining a parliamentary seat – and the associated costs individuals face at each stage of this journey.

The variations in social, cultural and political dimensions that exist between Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone will be examined with the aim of exposing the different contexts politicians must operate in, and the impact this has on the incentives which drive MPs.

“Because our work is political, it is most successful when there is political will – a factor commonly driven by incentives. What we’re learning is that a lot of these incentives are set well in advance and the cost of politics plays an important role in determining the incentives” WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath, explained.

To address the issue of incentives in the region, the event will focus on how existing regulations can be enhanced and the role political parties and the media play in shaping them.

The impact this phenomenon has on marginalised groups, such as women and youth, as well as the need for cross-border cooperation will be debated by leading experts from election management bodies, civil society, political parties, MPs, the media, academia and enforcement agencies. By facilitating cross-border learning and an exchange of best practice we hope to identify priority issues that can be addressed in the region, with the long-term aim of developing a regional action plan.

Going beyond an assessment of politicians and political parties, the conference will look at the role citizens and society play within this phenomenon and the broader impact this has on governance. In Ghana, George Kunnath explained “people have done the numbers and realised it is not worthwhile for them to get into politics” – especially when an MP is compelled to spend £750 a month supporting funerals in their communities. These ‘associated costs’ mean political life is intrinsically linked to corrupt practice, whether by securing re-election through the exploitation of state resources or the increased power that comes with the role.

Adebowale Olorunmola, WFD Country Representative for Nigeria, highlights trust as a major issue in the region. Contributing to WFD’s Cost of Politics report he illustrated the “gulf between the parties and people” that currently exists; a gulf created in part by the huge costs associated with selection but also by the motivations of current politicians who “get into political office to serve personal interests, leaving well-intentioned citizens, with ideas to move society forward, without access”.

For more information about WFD research click here. Follow WFD on Twitter for updates on the #CostofPolitics

 

(Above: Photo – Henry Donati captured citizens’ waiting to vote in Ghana’s most recent presidential elections as an Election Observer on the European Union Mission in December.)
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Tynwald offers helping hand to Sierra Leone’s Parliament

(Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone meet with officials from the Isle of Man)

“Hansard is behind, out-of-date, and only a historical record when it is finally produced,” say Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone following their participation in a two-week secondment to the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald).

The backlog that has developed in the Parliament of Sierra Leone means the official record (‘Hansard’) is only prepared after several months have passed – an area Ellen Callister, Head of Hansard at the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald) was keen to support.

“The more up-to-date Hansard becomes, the more people will become interested in the Parliament,” Sierra Leone’s Hansard officials hope. “It may even become a problem to cope with such growing demand!”

Having an official record of what’s been said in a Parliament is fundamental to any democracy. This is why parliaments maintain written records of their proceedings so they can be accessed by citizens, civil society and – of course – politicians.

“At the present time very few people are interested in reading Hansard,” Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson explain. “Typical users are university students, lobby groups and NGOs, looking especially at the controversial issues.

“To find out what is happening currently in the Parliament, people rely mainly on the media – PR and the national broadcaster on radio and TV – to tell the public about the main decisions made.”

As Westminster Foundation for Democracy prepared a broader programme in Sierra Leone supporting the new parliament after elections due in early 2018, it identified an opportunity to help address the limited usage of Hansard.

Thanks to the willingness of Ellen Callister and her colleagues to engage with their Sierra Leone counterparts, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson could discuss ideas about what might help clear the backlog – caused by a lack of good-quality equipment and limited knowledge of best practice.

The fortnight of hands-on, practical training will be followed by a visit from an Isle of Man Hansard representative, alongside a representative from the Chamber & Information Service, who are eager to evaluate progress and to share further best practice regarding research and outreach with the Parliament of Sierra Leone. Learning from smaller parliaments and the devolved assemblies across the UK can be very valuable, and this exchange proved no exception.

Helping the team work better will, as Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson put it, “enable staff to feel less isolated and dispirited at having to do such a huge amount of work on their own”.

But it’s not just the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Hansard team which will benefit.

(Above: Freetown, Sierra Leone)

“The biggest difference if the Hansard service is improved will be to the civil servants and to the general public,” they say. “This will cause people to do things right, effectively and on time.”

“A well-functioning Hansard will enable MPs and the public to access Hansard on time and make quick reference to past debates and follow up where needed.

“If Hansard is more quickly produced and up to date, it is more relevant and there will be greater demand and reliance on it as the official record.

“As a consequence, it will enable more effective lobbying of MPs and Government Ministers.”

In the wake of the Ebola epidemic and in the lead-up to elections in early 2018, Sierra Leone needs its Parliament to be operating at full effectiveness. WFD intends to assist with this by stepping up its engagement in Freetown through a long-term parliamentary and integrated programme to support the Parliament.

It’s an institution which will play a crucial role in Ebola recovery and will require continued and reliable support from the international community if it is to perform its essential legislative and oversight functions.

The Parliament’s most pressing issues, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson, say, are for it to improve financial scrutiny and more broadly its oversight of Government departments; and for the implementation of both Committee recommendations and laws passed by Parliament. WFD’s work will address this need by providing support on administrative capacity-building; financial oversight and internal financial management; providing the Parliament with research capacity; and strengthening the protection of human rights, as well as parliamentary engagement with civil society organisations.

Meanwhile, follow-up planned for later this year will ensure the changes discussed on the two-week secondment at Tynwald become a reality. Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson have already started putting their experience from the Isle of Man into practice. In October, five parliamentary sessions took place in the Parliament of Sierra Leone and all five have been transcribed with four published on the website.

As with all of WFD’s trainings, the discussion on the Isle of Man was very much a two-way process. The same approach will apply for all of WFD’s future work with Sierra Leone’s parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.

“We in Tynwald have learned a great deal about Sierra Leone as a country, about their Parliament and many style points on how to assist in drafting their Hansard reports,” Ellen says.

“We found the experience extremely interesting and rewarding, and recognise the many sustainable and positive outcomes from our joint project. We are looking forward to continuing to work with Musa, Patience and the rest of the team in Freetown and wish them every success.

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