Press Review CW 26/2023: Elections and diplomacy
Press Review 23 June 2023 to 30 June 2023

Presidential elections in Sierra Leone

On Tuesday, the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) announced the victory of incumbent President Julius Maada Bio in the presidential elections. He was sworn in the same day to begin his second term in office. According to official results, Bio won the presidential election on Saturday with 56.17% against his main rival Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC), who received 41.16% of the vote, thus avoiding a run-off. In Sierra Leone, a presidential candidate must garner 55% of the vote to win the election and avoid a second round of voting. Kamara, an economist and former Minister of both Finance and Foreign Affairs, proclaimed on Monday after the official announcement of the first partial results that he and his party do not recognise the election results. For weeks, the APC has been accusing the National Electoral Commission of being biased in favour of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and on Monday again questioned the ECSL inclusivity, transparency and accountability. Both national and international organisations also criticised the electoral process.On Tuesday evening, National Election Watch, a coalition of civil society organisations, pointed to alleged irregularities in the data published by the ECSL. According to their own calculations, Bio would have won between 47.7% and 53.1%, Kamara between 43.8% and 49.2% of the votes, while the voter turnout was estimated at between 75.4% and 79% instead of 83% as stated by the ECSL. Election observers from the European Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) also criticised statistical inconsistencies in the presidential election results released by the ECSL and on Wednesday called for the immediate release of data disaggregated by polling stations to allow for public scrutiny of the results. The US, UK, Ireland, Germany and France also expressed concerns about the lack of transparency in the counting process, pointing to significant logistical problems that hampered voting in some areas. Around election day, there were partly violent clashes between security forces and opposition supporters. According to Kamara, security forces fired on the APC headquarters after the weekend election, which he described as an assassination attempt. However, the police denied this, saying that tear gas was only used against protesting opposition supporters who were harassing other passers-by in front of the APC headquarters. The EU EOM condemned the violence by security forces on Sunday, which left one woman dead. However, the serious post-election protests and political violence feared by the population largely remained absent. Saturday’s election was a rematch of the 2018 race in which Bio, a former coup leader who campaigned on progressive policies, won against Kamara. The two parties, SLPP and APC, have dominated along ethnic and regional lines for decades, taking turns to govern. The biggest challenges for the re-elected Bio lie in addressing the country’s severe economic problems. Sierra Leone has been in an ongoing economic crisis since the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and is struggling with high inflation and unemployment rates.

Foreign Minister Baerbock in South Africa

On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock travelled to Pretoria, South Africa, for the eleventh meeting of the German-South African Binational Commission, where she was received by her counterpart Naledi Pandor and later also met President Cyril Ramaphosa for talks. The Binational Commission focused in particular on strengthening bilateral cooperation in the fight against climate change. Within the framework of the Just Energy Transition Partnership, Germany, together with the USA, Great Britain, France and the European Union (EU), is supporting the coal phase-out and the energy transition in South Africa with a total of 8.5 billion US dollars, of which Germany intends to contribute 1.1 billion euros. According to Baerbock, Germany has already supported the stabilisation of the South African power grid, which is chronically overloaded and has been subject to planned shutdowns for years, with 300 million euros. Another central topic was German-South African cooperation in vaccine production. Germany is now supporting the establishment of an mRNA vaccine transfer hub and the development of mRNA vaccines in South Africa. Other points noted in the final protocol of the Binational Commission are cooperation in the areas of skills development and green hydrogen. Both Foreign Ministers stressed the importance of German-South African relations, with the war in Ukraine remaining a key point of contention between the two countries. During her visit to Pretoria, Baerbock again strongly condemned the Russian war of aggression and emphasised the central role of the International Criminal Court in restoring justice, without directly addressing the international arrest warrant against Russian President Putin and the question of its execution should Putin arrive in South Africa for the BRICS summit in August. At the same time, she welcomed the African peace initiative (Press Review week 25/2023) under the leadership of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Meanwhile, her South African counterpart Pandor continued to defend South Africa’s neutrality and stressed that this stance had made it possible for Ramaphosa to launch the peace initiative in the first place. However, the neutral position proclaimed by the South African government is internationally strongly perceived as a pro-Russian position and  criticised by the US and numerous EU member states, including Germany. The US even accuses South Africa of supplying weapons to Russia, which has recently further strained relations between the two states. Before her departure, Annalena Baerbock met with President Ramaphosa at short notice. The meeting, which was originally scheduled to last 30 minutes, lasted over an hour in the end. Baerbock was originally scheduled to travel to South Africa on Monday to visit a local vaccine production facility in Cape Town. However, her travel plans changed due to a last-minute meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday to mark the weekend’s armed uprising by the Russian mercenary group Wagner in Russia, so she shortened her South Africa trip to one day.

In other news

From 22 – 24 June, the Gnaoua and World Music Festival took place in Essaouira, Morocco for the 24th time. Under this year’s motto “Identity and Belongings”, traditional Moroccan Gnaoua music was combined with jazz and blues. Internationally known musicians such as Eliades Ochoa (Buena Vista Social Club), the Pakistani singer Faiz Ali Faiz or the Belgian reggae musician Selah Sue, as well as up-and-coming Gnaoua artists delighted the audience. Gnaoua music, which is recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage, has its origins in the spiritual music of the descendants of slaves in the Maghreb. Through the unique combination of Gnaoua, jazz and blues, the festival reflected the rich musical history and tradition of Morocco. The Festival serves as a platform to celebrate the values of Gnaoua music, such as humanity, coexistence and brotherhood and to promote intercultural dialogue.

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