On 31, August, 2023, the United States government through the Department of State announced a New Visa Restriction Policy under Section 212 (a) 3 (c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act for undermining democratic process in the June 2023 Sierra Leone Presidential and General elections.
According to the United States Government, through its Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, the move follows the disputed June 2023 elections.
Secretary of State Blinken disclosed on Thursday that the US will impose visa restrictions on officials who were involved in the alleged manipulation and rigging of the electoral process, as well as those allegedly involved in acts of intimidating voters, election observers and civil society activists.
“Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone, including through the manipulation or rigging of the electoral process; intimidation of voters, election observers, or civil society organizations through threats or acts of physical violence; or the abuse or violation of related human rights in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Blinken said, in the statement.
Multiple media reports from neighboring Sierra Leone indicate that the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) came under heavy criticism from Western observers who slammed the process as lacking transparency, even though some local and regional observers, including the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), cleared it as free and fair.
Interestingly, the main opposition party in Sierra Leone, All People’s Congress (APC), believes the electoral process was rigged to favor the incumbent, President Julius Maada Bio, and his party.
Bio was declared winner of the presidential race with 56.17 percent of the vote in the first round, while his Sierra Leone People’s Party won an overwhelming majority in the House of Parliament.
The APC, whose candidate, Dr. Samura Kamara, got 41.16 percent of votes, has refused to participate in governance, boycotting parliament and other lower-level governance structures.
The APC demanded a re-run of the elections, something which, according to some analysts and commentators, appears to be a tall order as Bio has already been inaugurated as President Hours after said elections.
Interestingly, the opposition party also refused to seek redress in the courts, citing their lack of independence.
However, it called on Western governments to impose sanctions on the president and his top officials it holds responsible for allegedly rigging the polls.
But details of the individuals targeted by the US visa policy weren’t immediately revealed by Secretary Blinken, who only stated that the policy will apply to “specific individuals” and not the Sierra Leonean people.
Family members of the targeted individuals may also be subject to these restrictions, he noted.
“Persons who undermine the democratic process in Sierra Leone—including in the lead-up to, during, and following Sierra Leone’s 2023 elections—may be found ineligible for US visas under this policy,” Blinken emphasized.
According to the United States Secretary of State, the decision reflected the commitment of the United States to support Sierra Leoneans’ aspirations to have free and fair elections that “demonstrate the will of the people and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.”
Already, the US government had asked the Sierra Leone government to constitute an investigation on the process and ensure it corrects legal loopholes it believes led to the dispute.
The government appointed a committee to investigate the matter, but US officials however, said the wrong people were entrusted with the task, suggesting instead the constitution of an independent panel.
President Bio in July angrily rejected Western interference in the country’s electoral process, declaring that no outsider had the right to validate the outcome of its elections.
In all of these, we, at The INDEPENDENT Newspaper think that the Liberian Nation, and perhaps the central government, need to take some notes and learn from what is happening in neighboring Republic of Sierra Leone.
Here in Liberia, the United States government, which is Liberia’s leading development partner has been echoing, and /or resounding its strong desire for Liberia to conduct nothing less than free, fair, transparent and credible Presidential and Legislative elections, come October 10.
Moreover, the European Union and its member countries expressed similar sentiments, bordering on the need for the October, 2023 polls in Liberia to meet acceptable international standards.
The EU, US, and other friendly Nations have provided, and continue to provide the Republic of Liberia with many developmental aids; ranging from health, education, peace-building, youth and women’s empowerment in multiple development spheres, and national security.
Perhaps we need not to mention the significance and the indelible positive impacts the efforts of our development partners, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations (UN), World Bank, IMF, USAID, among many others in enhancing the works of Liberia’s civil society organizations in the promotion of the rule of law, free, fair, peaceful, inclusive and transparent elections, good governance-characterized by accountability, transparency and probity, just to measure a few.
All these, in our candid views, demonstrate the determination, and resolve of our international and local development partners and other friendly Nations to help transition Liberia’s towards a fortress of socio-economic growth and progress aimed at guaranteeing a bright future for Liberia, leaving none of its citizens behind.
This is why, we, at The INDEPENDENT, think that taking a positive lesson or prudent cues from the recent Presidential and General elections in Sierra Leone by listening to, and embracing the prudent suggestions from the US, EU, UN, ECOWAS, the Angie Brooks International Center for Women Empowerment, among others about the need for Liberians to embrace the consolidation of its hard-won peace, and eschew acts of violence, intimidation, harassment, arising from political disagreements and or/our differences in opinions cannot be over emphasized.
In other words, we, as citizens must disagree to agree on the governance of the country by critically evaluating all those wanting to ascend to elected public offices in October, this year, by prudently examining their individual and collective development platforms, and how their envisioned development programs and policies can be effectively implemented aimed at attaining a better future for our country.
This way, we strongly believe, will enable us as a Nation to vote rightly by putting good persons in state power, using the 10, October, 2023 Polls, as diametrically opposed to raining insults and invectives on each other, while sidestepping the crucial ‘Bread and Butter’ issues that matter, if we are to experience any improved living standard after the October polls and beyond.