Swings and roundabouts: the vagaries of democratic consolidation and ‘electoral rituals’ in Sierra Leone

Felix M. Conteh, David Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The history of the electoral process in Sierra Leone is at the same time tortuous and substantial. From relatively open competitive multi-party politics in the 1960s, which led to the first turnover of power at the ballot box, through the de facto and de jure one-party era, which nonetheless had elements of electoral competition, and finally to contemporary post-conflict
times, which has seen three elections and a second electoral turnover in 2007, one can discern evolving patterns. Evidence from the latest local and national elections in 2012 suggests that there is some democratic consolidation, at least in an electoral sense. However, one might also see simultaneous steps forward and backward – What you gain on the swings, you may lose on the roundabouts. This is particularly so in terms of institutional capacities, fraud and violence, and one would need to enquire of the precise ingredients – in terms of political culture or in other words the attitudes and motivations of electors and the elected – of this evolving Sierra Leonean, rather than specifically liberal type, of democracy. Equally, the development of ‘electoral rituals’, whether peculiar to Sierra Leone or not and whether deemed consolidatory or not, has something to say as part of an investigation into the electoral element of democratic consolidation. The literature on elections in Africa most often depicts a number of broad features, such as patronage, ethno-regionalism, fraud and violence, and it is the intention of this article to locate contemporary Sierra Leone, as precisely as possible, within the various strands of this discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-70
Number of pages14
JournalCritical African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2014


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