Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma was sworn in for a second term on Friday after winning elections, promising to boost foreign investment and crackdown on corruption in the war-scarred nation. Koroma took 58.7 per cent of the ballots in a November 17 poll, just above the 55 per cent he needed to avoid a run-off, election officials announced. His main rival, Julius Maada Bio, a 48-year-old retired army brigadier, took 37.4 per cent. “We will continue to attract investment, we will continue to fight corruption,” Koroma said in a speech to cheering supporters in the ramshackle capital Freetown. “I will make sure that the fruits of … prosperity are equally distributed in every district and every region. The work starts today.”
The election was the third national vote held since the end of a 1991-2002 civil war that made Sierra Leone notorious as a “blood diamonds” battleground for rebels and child soldiers. After Koroma’s win was announced, groups of youths shouted and cheered under a cotton tree in the centre of Freetown, a landmark where slaves were once bought and sold. “I’m pleased, very happy (…) He brings joy in Sierra Leone. Ernest brings joy in the heart of the people,” said Abdul Deen, 41, who runs a decorating business.
At stake in the vote was the opportunity to oversee billions of dollars of investment in the aid-dependent country’s resources that include gold and diamonds, oil and iron ore. Iron-ore shipments by British companies African Minerals and London Mining are expected to buoy the economy to 20 per cent growth this year – below original forecasts of more than 50 per cent, but still one of the highest growth rates on the planet.
Election officials and observers reported a large and enthusiastic turnout in the polls, and observers called the process free and fair. Koroma and his ruling All People’s Congress (APC) faced a determined challenge from Bio, a former junta leader who represents the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Koroma wrested the presidency from the SLPP in a hotly disputed 2007 vote and was considered the narrow favourite above Bio, who was involved in two military takeovers in the turbulent 1990s. Bio supporters were dismayed by the outcome, many claiming the results were fraudulent. “As for me, the election does not go down well with us,” said Frank Mattia, a 28-year-old student. “Ernest Bai Koroma has rigged the election which is not free and fair to us, the people of this country.”