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Online resources for the 2012 Sierra Leone elections

October 28, 2012  »  News & WebNo Comment

2012 has been a busy year for elections in Africa. Senegal and Egypt held presidential elections in the first half of the year, with varying degrees of success. Lesotho and Angola held much-discussed general elections. All four nations actively used the Internet to campaign and distribute information about election day. Social media (Facebook and Twitter) was especially active for weeks surrounding the elections.

On November 17th, Sierra Leone will hold first round presidential elections for the third time in history (the first was post-war in 2002). Campaigning began on October 17th and will continue through November 15th.


The two main political parties: APC and SLPP

Given a lower Internet penetration rate, how extensively will Sierra Leone utilize the Internet to promote safe and informed presidential and parliamentary elections in 2012? Online activity may not be as intense as that surrounding other upcoming elections (ie. Ghana), but social media is becoming increasingly active with mentions of Sierra Leonean politics.

Our research finds a variety of newspapers actively posting information, stories, opinion, and photos online. In addition, Facebook pages for the main political parties are quite lively. Twitter, is much quieter, although official Twitter accounts for the Office of the President and the Communications Unit provide pro-APC updates. Also, the pending launch of the opposition party (SLPP) website highlights how technology that wasn’t used in 2007 is being utilized in 2012.

Official accounts:

  • On August 26th, State House SL, the Office of the President, started a Twitter account to share news of President Ernest Bai Koroma. The account operates in conjunction with the Communications Unit (which has a WordPress blog). There have already been nearly 300 tweets.
  • The ruling All People’s Congress Party (APC) has nearly 1,500 likes on Facebook. SLPP Unity Online, the newspaper of the SLPP party, has 1,725 likes and counting.
  • Opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party Online launched a website for North America this week. The national site will go live shortly with a message to “Check back for the new era in Sierra Leone Politics.”
  • Richard Howitt MEP, EU Chief Election Observer, is providing a steady stream of updates via Twitter.

SL online news:

  • At least four key online newspapers in Sierra Leone are providing extensive elections coverage: Awoko, Awareness Times, Cocorioko, Sierra Express Media.
  • SLPP’s Unity Now Online posts news on behalf of the opposition party.
  • A poll of 2,315 respondents on Awoko Newspaper’s site shows incumbent Ernest Koroma with a slight lead over Maada Bio (49% to 47%).
  • Sheku Kallon, CEO of The New People Newspaper, shares SLPP-leaning news, information, and opinion.

Other resources:

  • African Elections Project does a good job covering larger stories intended for an international audience, as does Vote4Africa.
  • For a history of elections and politics in post-war Sierra Leone, turn to an article by Africa Research Institute.
  • Journalists have been trained to report on facts and not rumors. However, journalists face numerous challenges, including threats, bribes, and during the 2007 elections, beatings and thefts. Journalists for Human Rights is helping to ensure journalism for human rights remains safe during the election period. The group recently produced a video on the issue.
  • Moiyattu Banya, Founder of WomenChange Africa has written the top four ways Sierra Leonean women are changing the 2012 elections.
  • Restless Development, a youth-led agency, released a manifesto for the 2012 elections. Research by the group revealed a picture of a highly engaged youth electorate who intend to exercise their civic rights actively and peacefully.

Twitter highlights:
Thus far, we’ve counted somewhere around 200 Tweets from 22 sources on the election from people with direct ties to Sierra Leone. Most include SL newspapers. No account has more than 500 followers. In addition, Twitter searches for Ernest Koroma or Maada Bio yield a limited number of Tweets. Searches for the APC or SLPP yield a few more. Highlights are:

Expect an increase in online activity as November 17th nears. Reports already suggest growing tensions within the country. Isolated incidents of violence have been reported, for example. Hopefully all involved in the electoral process – leaders, election monitors, and citizens – can ensure safe and fair elections.