Kabbah looks to rebuild shattered Sierra Leone

Sierre Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah looked on Monday to rebuild his civil-war shattered country, after winning landmark elections. Kabbah was sworn in on Sunday to a new five-year term after sweeping to victory in the first post-war elections, appealing for the west African state to unite behind him.

He secured more than 70% of the vote in the first presidential and parliamentary elections since the end of the war that cost the lives of up to 200 000 people.

“The people have spoken and made the most far-reaching decisions in the current history of Sierra Leone,” said Kabbah, whose Sierre Leone People’s Party (SLPP) also won a strong parliamentary majority.

In a sign that the country sought to put the past behind it, the notoriously brutal rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), whose former militants hacked off the limbs of civilians during the war, failed to win a single seat.

It had transformed into a political party for the poll. Thousands of other victims were kidnapped, raped or forcibly enlisted to fight during the decade-long civil war launched by the RUF in 1991.

In his swearing-in speech, the 70-year-old veteran former UN diplomat called for unity and pledged to battle corruption and hunger and improve human rights in this impoverished country.

“I appeal to you whatever your party affiliation or party symbol or ideology to join me in building a new coalition for national development,” said Kabbah, who first came to power in 1996.
He said his new term in office would also focus on improving basic human rights and creating jobs for women and youths.

“With my new mandate you have given me I should make another pledge, this time to do everything in my power to ensure that within the next five years, no Sierra Leonese will be hungry. We must have the capacity to feed ourselves,” he added.

The results showed Kabbah stormed ahead of his closest rival, Ernest Bai-Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC), who gained about just over 22% of the vote.

His victory was greeted with dances and songs by jubilant supporters of the SLPP, which won 83 seats in the 124-member parliament against 27 for the APC.

One-time junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who toppled Kabbah in 1997, captured three percent of the vote in the presidential election, while his party took two seats in parliament. During his previous six years as head of state, Kabbah survived a number of attempts to topple his government, including Koroma’s May 1997 coup which ousted him from office for nine months.

Kabbah, who faced eight challengers, launched a peace and disarmament programme last year before the war was formally declared over in January after UN peacekeepers were brought in.

Last Monday’s elections were the final step in the transition from war to peace and regarded as critical in helping Sierra Leone, today ranked as the world’s poorest country despite rich reserves of diamonds, gold and rutile, to lift itself out of its misery.

The elections were generally described as free and fair by international observers, while UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described them as “an important milestone in the peace process.”

Since 1961, the mainly Muslim former British colony has suffered at least nine coups or attempted coups. ? AFP

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