Dual citizenship a sticking point in Sierra Leone’s election

Critics say the ruling party could be targeting opposition leaders with dual citizenship.

Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

IN SUMMARY

  • During ongoing primaries to pick candidates for local and parliamentary seats, the ruling All People's Congress (APC) party invoked a constitutional provision that bars individuals with foreign citizenship from running for office.
  • Critics say the ruling party could be targeting opposition parties whose leaders reportedly hold dual citizenship.
  • In December, when dissolving parliament APC’s President Ernest Bai Koroma criticised people “who stayed away from the country” while his government went through the trouble of developing it for now seeking to govern it.

Advertisement

Dual citizenship has become a political hot potato for Sierra Leoneans ahead of the General Election which is less than two months away.

During ongoing primaries to pick candidates for local and parliamentary seats, the ruling All People's Congress (APC) party invoked a constitutional provision that bars individuals with foreign citizenship from running for office.

The move has sparked heated debate nationwide as dozens of people, including prominent politicians, were disqualified.

While APC has said the country's law must be followed, many are asking questions about the party's motive.

Targeting opposition

Critics say the ruling party could be targeting opposition parties whose leaders reportedly hold dual citizenship, and in particular the presidential flagbearer of the recently formed National Grand Coalition (NGC) party, Dr Kandeh Yumkella.

NGC split from the main opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and appears to have changed the political dynamics from a two-horse race to a three-horse race. APC and SLPP have dominated Sierra Leone’s politics since independence in 1963.

Mr Yumkella is rumoured to hold Austria and the United States citizenship.

The former UN official has kept mum over the issue which has dominated the airwaves for nearly a month.

Support

But NGC officials have been quoted admitting to the fact that Mr Yumkella held a US citizenship until November last year when he revoked it.

Mr Yumkella also hails from the north of the country, where the APC enjoys its strongest support.

In the northwest, which includes the capital Freetown, another traditionally APC stronghold, Mr Yumkella also appears to appeal to the youths and the elites. These has fuelled speculation over the APC's motive to invoke the law on citizenship.

In December, when dissolving parliament APC’s President Ernest Bai Koroma criticised people “who stayed away from the country” while his government went through the trouble of developing it for now seeking to govern it.

President Koroma's remarks were widely viewed as directed at the former UN official.

The President will not be contesting after serving his second and final five-year term.

Debate

In the public debate over citizenship many have wondered why APC invoked the law just before the elections yet President Koroma’s Cabinet has more than half a dozen ministers known to hold dual citizenship as well as a number of aspirants who lost in the APC’s primaries.

According to the law, ministers only qualify for appointment if they also qualify to be elected as MPs.

“The APC party did not just drowsily stumble upon this novel idea, or simply deviate into lawfulness overnight; they realise that there is a new sheriff in town,” suggested one Mr Umarr Kamarah, a commentator.

Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on March 7 to vote for the president, MPs and local council representatives.

Presidential candidates

Nominations for presidential candidates are ongoing.

So far National Electoral Commission (NEC) has cleared five candidates including APC's Samura Kamara, ex-junta leader (Rtd) Brigadier Julius Maada Bio of SLPP, Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray of the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), Musa Tarawallie of the Citizen’s Democratic Party, and Mr Yumkella.

Sixteen registered political parties have been certified by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to contest the polls. But a few of these parties have indicated the possibility of alliance.

More From The East African
This page might use cookies if your analytics vendor requires them. Accept