The results from the second round of presidential elections in Sierra Leone have just been announced: Ernest Bai Koroma, the opposition party candidate, has won. This is what I have been waiting for in order to determine when to arrive in Freetown. In fact it seems that the election results are what every Sierra Leonean has been waiting for in order to resume normal life. A few days ago Shannoh Kandoh, the director of the Goderich Waldorf School, sent me a message saying that although school was scheduled to begin on September 6, parents have been keeping their children home out of concern that violent clashes between the two rival political parties could start up at any moment. Mr. Kandoh has asked that I postpone my arrival so as to allow the atmosphere to calm down after the elections are over. In addition to the start of school being postponed, food wholesalers stopped importing food just before the first round of elections back in August for fear of instability, and prices for imported and domestic food have risen drastically. Civil servants have been staying home from their offices just to avoid potential problems. The country has been described as being at a standstill.
International and domestic election observers have reported rumors of violent threats and occasional fights at political rallies, and the current president announced just before the second round of voting that he would call a state of emergency should the number of violent incidents increase. The incumbent party has made an official complaint about improper ballot procedures in some districts and some ballots have been invalidated as a result. Despite all of these problems, international election observers are reporting that they are impressed at how well the police have handled the threats and fights and how well most of the ballot sites were managed, and they have stated that overall the elections have been peaceful.
That parents are afraid to send their children to school nevertheless indicates that democratic elections in Sierra Leone create a profound uncertainty among its citizens that I have never experienced as a citizen of a country where democratic elections, even when accusations of ballot tampering flew between political parties, have not carried the threat of civil war for over one hundred years. With the disarmament of the rebel army and the various militias in Sierra Leone only five years old and decades of disappointment in a corrupt government that has led Sierra Leone to become by most standards the poorest nation in the world, the uncertainty is no surprise. What does surprise me is how determined most Sierra Leoneans are to carry out a democratic process that carries absolutely no guarantee - not for a fair government, not for an improvement in living conditions. It is exactly this determination stemming from a remarkable generosity of spirit that any visitor to Sierra Leone with whom I have spoken has said makes the country a wonderful place despite its dire situation.
The run-off election was held on September 8; today, September 18, the results are just in, but I cannot tell from the scant reports out of Freetown what will happen next. I imagine most people in Sierra Leone are anxious to know what will happen next. The teachers and students at the Goderich Waldorf School are among those who are waiting, waiting to open the school and waiting to return to class.
If you are interested in seeing pictures of the school, there are some posted on the school's website: http://www.goderichwaldorf.org/index.htm. The website has not been updated in about a year, but the history of the school is there. There is also a recent report from the school posted on the website of a German organization that supports the school http://www.freunde-waldorf.de/en/info/welt/sle-freetown-0707/.