Fairness and Firmness in Sierra Leone Elections

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The 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary elections held in Sierra Leone this year worked.   It was the second election since end of the hostilities that tore the country apart and the third multiparty election since the mid 1990’s.  This bodes well for stability, as fragile as it may be.  Much has been written about the candidates, the voters, and the threats of violence, both in the build-up to the election as well as in the aftermath.

What has not been acknowledged, and something that AFJN wishes to raise, is the role that Ms. Christiana Thorpe played in the election.

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Christiana is a Sierra Leonean woman from Freetown, a Catholic, a teacher, in her earlier years a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny and headmistress of one of the premier schools in Makeni.  I was the chair of the Board of Governors for that school, and at the time I was Education Secretary for the Diocese of Makeni. Christiana was a good friend of mine.  I always admired her passion for students, teachers, and staff, her fairness and firmness in running the school as well as her cheerful nature.  She later served in the Ministry of Education and in mid-90 became the Minister of Education for the AFRC Government.

I returned to Sierra Leone in 1995 to find Christiana there, doing her best to root out the culture of corruption that was present and so corrosive to education and development.  During that time, she was able to bring FAWE (Forum of Africa Women Educationalists) to Sierra Leone, raising the profile of women teachers and girls in need of education.  It is no surprise that President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah named her the Chief Election Commissioner for these 2007 elections.  She was able to set the dates for the election, both the general election in late July and the run-off two weeks later. She personally visited many of the polling stations around the country and as votes were being counted, nullified 100 polling stations that received more votes than the number of voters who registered.  She would not let corruption hold court over these elections.

In the words of Bishop George Biguzzi, s.x., Bishop of the northern Diocese of Makeni, “If there was any doubt, she looked into it.  She did not bend to pressure and followed the book. She ran the elections fairly and openly, clearly and peacefully.  She made Sierra Leone proud.”  In the end she received high praise for her firmness and fairness, those same characteristics I knew in her when she was headmistress of St. Joseph’s Secondary School.  Christiana is for me an example of the many women, trained by our women religious, who are making significant impacts on Africa today.  Congratulations, Christiana and congratulations to the many sisters who formed these women.  Your investment and love is contributing to justice and good governance as African nations grow.  AFJN salutes you all.

Fr. Rocco Puopolo, s.x.
Executive Director

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