/ 5 March 2018

Sierra Leone presidential election: Meet the candidates

After two terms at the helm of Sierra Leone
After two terms at the helm of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone elects a new president on March 7 to replace Ernest Bai Koroma who is stepping down after two terms.

There are 16 candidates in the fray and here are short profiles of the four most prominent ones:

Samura Kamara: All Peoples Congress (APC)

Kamara, a career politician and economist by training, is outgoing president Ernest Bai Koroma’s hand-picked successor.

He served as the country’s foreign minister until last year when he stepped down to pursue his bid for the presidency under the flag of the ruling party.

During a presidential debate held on February 15, Kamara, 66, offered a political vision that adheres closely to the APC’s platform for the last decade.

He has told voters the party “will do more in the areas of roads, electricity, health and education,” and Koroma has campaigned by his side.

Lansana Gberie, a political analyst and author, said Kamara was “the favourite bureaucrat for army rulers and politicians.”

His lack of visibility – “very few people knew him until President Koroma tapped him as his successor,” said Gberie – means he is relying heavily on his long association with the APC and Koroma to get elected.

Julius Maada Bio: Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP)

Bio, 53, who briefly led a junta government in 1996, is running for a second time after losing to Koroma in 2012.

He has apologised for the conduct of troops who executed more than 20 people after a coup he joined as a young soldier in 1992, and has successfully rehabilitated his image.

The retired brigadier spent time studying in the United States and is known for his outspokenness, calling Chinese infrastructural projects “a sham with no economic and development benefits to the people”.

After Bio hit out at corruption on the campaign trail, Kamara accused the SLPP candidate of stealing $18 million during his three months in power, though his APC opponent faces corruption allegations of his own.

Kandeh Yumkella: National Grand Coalition (NGC)

Kandeh Yumkella split from the SLPP to form his own party last year, offering an alternative to the two-party race that has dominated Sierra Leonean politics since independence from Britain in 1961.

Praised for focusing on the country’s issues rather than appealing to regional and ethnic sympathies, Yumkella has successfully leveraged social media to better appeal to more educated, urban youth.

Yumkella said Sierra Leone’s schools are so poor that he would declare an “education emergency” if he became president and develop technical colleges.

The former UN diplomat developed strong expertise in energy solutions for developing nations and climate change during his years with the world body, and is seen as a sympathetic figure by the country’s large donor community.

He has faced criticism for his dual citizenship with the United States, and was even taken to court by the APC despite renouncing it last year.

Samuel Sam-Sumana: Coalition for Change (C4C)

Sam-Sumana, 55, was sacked as vice-president by President Koroma in 2015 and has since formed his own political party with his few former allies from the APC.

Fresh from a successful court case against his old party in a West African regional court, Sam-Sumana wants to inflict maximum damage against his old boss with a new party focused on better workers’ rights.

“Meagre salaries for government workers is a recipe for corruption,” he told the nation during the presidential debate, promising to increase salaries for all government workers and enforce existing corruption laws.