Correspondent Matthew Kanu writes:
In early January 2018 a team from the Rondine International Peace Lab in Italy visited UNIMAK and other stakeholders in Makeni City, Sierra Leone . The week long visit comprised of Rondine staff, International Peace Lab Alumni and a journalist for the implementation of an initiative for a peaceful and democratic elections project in Sierra Leone . During their stay the team held fruitful discussions with various stakeholders in the March 2018 elections.
Meeting With Traditional Leaders
Community leaders after the training in the Kenema District with support from Rondine International Peace Lab
The team met the Paramount Chief of Bombali Sheborah Chiefdom, Bai Sheborah Kasanga the 2nd. Paramount Chief Kasanga praise the effort of the team to facilitate the process of achieving a free, fair and transparent election in Sierra Leone. “Everything we strive to achieve will not hold if our elections are not always peaceful” the paramount Chief noted. He said their role as Paramount Chiefs is to be neutral and to ensure the right of all citizens is respected in any democratic dispensation.
In Sierra Leone traditional leaders play a major role in promoting peaceful and democratic elections because the majority of the people live in rural areas of the country. The chieftaincy institution over the years has displayed neutrality.
Paramount Chief Bai Sheborah Kasangha the 2nd promised to inform fellow Paramount Chiefs across the country about the significance of the visit of the Rondine team in the country.
Visit To The National Electoral Commission Bombali Distrct Office
The team met the Bombali District Electoral Officer, Sahr Samuel Kellie, and his team during the nominations of local councilors contesting the March 2018 local council elections in Bombali District. While covering the nominations process the District Electoral Officer said the team was among the very few international organizations that brought international journalist to cover the nominations process which is key in the electoral calendar of the March 7 2018 elections. He said the commission will do all it can to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in Sierra Leone.
According to the 2015 Sierra Leone Housing and Population Census there are over 7 million people in Sierra Leone. The NEC 2018 voter registrar indicate that there are over 3 million registered voters in the country. Majority of whom are first time voters.
The Association Rondine Cittadella della Pace has been working with Sierra Leone, specifically with the University of Makeni, since 2003. As a result, 9 youngsters from different areas of Sierra Leone have been accommodated at the International Hall of Residence in Arezzo – Italy while completing a Master Degree in Italian Universities. These youngsters have undergone a personal transformation, and now are part of the network of the Alumni Association of Rondine (Rondine International Peace Lab). They are the best resources that will give back to their communities, transmitting the message of peace and dialogue by implementing projects of local development. In this case, they will contribute through preparing the environment for safe, democratic, and informed elections.
Witnessing The First Round Table Discussion For Students Of The University Of Makeni.
Trainer Maddieu Barrie facilitating a session
On the 13th January 2018 the team also witnessed the first round table discussion for students on peaceful and democratic elections in Sierra Leone. The discussion was moderated by renowned and respected independent lawyer in Sierra Leone Solomon Jamiru. Lawyer Jamiru mentioned in his opening remarks that the discussion will help the students to be responsible voters in the March 7 2018 polls . “You have a role to play as young people to ensure non violent elections in Sierra Leone” he emphasized. The discussion was interactive and students were able to make contributions and ask many questions.
Addressing students Rondine International Peace Lab Alumni Manuella Markaj congratulated the students for attending the round table discussion. She encouraged them all to be peace ambassadors and to play their part in ensuring a non-violence democratic and peaceful conduct of the 2018 elections.
Year two law student Paul Kamara commented that the round table discussion was an eye opener for them as students and citizens of Sierra Leone: “The round table discussion will enable us to be peaceful voters. Our responsibility now is to ensure that we transmit the knowledge gained to our people particularly in rural Sierra Leone to be peaceful before, during and after the elections” .
Sierra Leone returned to multi-party democracy in 1996 and then followed by other elections in 2002, 2007, 2012 and now 2018 respectively. Even though Sierra Leoneans have made significant progress in enhancing democratic credentials the country is still regarded as an emerging democracy. Citizens will be voting for local council, parliamentary and presidential elections in less than forty days.
At the end of their visit a spokesperson of Rondine Citta Della Della Pace Mauro D’andrea told this medium that he was impressed with the level of commitment he saw from Sierra Leoneans to ensure a peaceful and democratic elections. He encouraged all Sierra Leoneans to promote nonviolence at all time..
Presently, there is ongoing training of community leaders in all districts of the country. These community leaders will be promoting nonviolence campaigns in their districts. They are drawn from all sectors of development. The format of the training is largely based on participatory methods thereby making the trainings interactive. The project will train a total of 300 community leaders.
Meeting The UNIMAK Vice Chancellor
In a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Makeni, Professor Joseph Turay ( a social scientist) was optimistic that the Rondine International Peace Lab intervention in promoting a democratic and peaceful elections in a war turn country like Sierra Leone is significant and timely. “I think what we are doing as a University is to collaborate with Rondine to protect our hard worn peace before, during and after the March 7 2018 elections” Professor Turay noted.
International Peace Lab Alumni and UNIMAK Director of Human Resource, Veronica Kamara was coordinating and organizing events leading to the successful implementation of the project.