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News release

As elections approach in Sierra Leone, citizens’ attitudes raise warning flags

27 Mar 2023 Sierra Leone
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News release
Key findings
  • For almost nine out of 10 respondents (88%), their identity as Sierra Leoneans is at least as strong as their ethnic identity; very few say they feel exclusively (7%) or predominantly (5%) attached to their ethnic identity (Figure 1).
  • About one-third (35%) of citizens say the government treats members of their ethnic group unfairly, at least occasionally – a 22-percentage-point increase compared to 2020 (13%) (Figure 2).
  • Citizens from opposition-controlled areas are more likely to say they experience unfair treatment when their party is not in power. In 2012, under the All People’s Congress (APC) government, one in four (25%) respondents from the East said members of their ethnic group “often” or “always” experienced unfair treatment, compared to 5% in the North. In 2022, under the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) government, one in four respondents in the North (26%) feel discriminated against, compared to 13% in the East (Figure 3).
  • While almost nine in 10 respondents (86%) say they trust their relatives “somewhat” or “a lot,” far fewer express trust in people of other religions (65%), their neighbours (60%), other citizens (55%), and people from other ethnic groups (53%) (Figure 4).

As Sierra Leoneans approach a crucial election in June 2023, popular attitudes recorded by the latest Afrobarometer survey raise several warning flags for leaders committed to peace in a fragile post-war state.

While overall survey findings portray a country that is more unified and tolerant than divided, they also highlight trends toward polarisation and intolerance. These include a decrease in the proportion of citizens who identify more strongly with their country than their ethnic group, and a growing number – especially in the North and North-West regions – who say the government discriminates against members of their ethnic group. This perception of unfair treatment mirrors the situation in 2012 when identity groups in the Eastern region felt unfairly treated by the then-ruling party.

Although a rise in tolerance was recorded in 2020, this was lost as a result of renewed feelings of unfair treatment in opposition areas.

In the wake of violent anti-government protests in parts of the country last August, these findings point to risks of playing on political divisions along ethno-regional lines in the run-up to the election.

For more detailed analysis, see Afrobarometer’s latest dispatch.