By Bian Elkhatib and Meggie Morris
Sierra Leone isn’t in the news often. When the West African country makes an appearance in mainstream U.S. media, it’s often in relation to Ebola, a disease that is reported to have killed almost 4,000 people in the country.
But the country currently ranks 79th in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters without Borders, a non-profit organization that promotes freedom of the press. and 119th in terms of corruption, according to Transparency International — a not-for-profit organization that monitors corruption around the world.
Its population of about 6 million is 60 percent Muslim, 30 percent indigenous beliefs, and 10 percent Christian, according to the CIA World Factbook.
“It’s a very corrupt judicial system. It does whatever the executive wants,” said Professor Jimmy Kandeh, who teaches African politics at Richmond University.
The current president is Ernest Bai Koroma, who is serving his second term, and has been in power since 2007.
By law, President Koroma’s time in office is to end after this term. However, “Koroma is trying to extend his term,” Kandeh said.
There are two main political parties in Sierra Leone, the SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party), and the APC (All People’s Congress), which is currently in power.
Kandeh said President Koroma’s government has been arresting people for speaking out at a higher rate than his predecessor.
Alie Kabba, a Chicago-based community organizer announced his run for President of Sierra Leone from Chicago in November 2014. Within days of arriving in his homeland a year later to campaign on the ground, he was arrested and charged with bigamy. Kabba’s ex-wife Diana Konomanyi currently serves in the President’s cabinet.
Kabba’s arrest and imprisonment has been largely ignored by Chicago media. It’s primarily being covered by international news outlets and media organizations in Sierra Leone and West Africa.
A friend of Kabba’s in Pennsylvania said he is worried about the political situation in Sierra Leone. He wishes to remain anonymous because he’s concerned for his family’s safety there. “Our people don’t want to go back to war,” he said.
In 1991, Sierra Leone’s political controversies led to civil war that lasted 11 years. The attempt by a rebel army to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government resulted in more than 70,000 casualties, according to a 2006 United Nations report.
“The majority of the people are fed up. The factors that caused the war are being repeated today,” Kandeh said.