At the closing ceremony of a two-day stakeholder dialogue forum on the topic 'Elections, Youth Violence and Conflict Prevention in the Mano River Union' held last Friday at the Bintumani Hotel, the organisers urged participants to go out and be peace ambassadors ahead of the November 17 general elections.
The forum which brought together about one hundred and fifty participants from civil society organisations CSOs, youth organizations, media and others from the Mano River Union MRU basin comprising of Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Cote d'Iviore was organized by Campaign for Good Governance CGG and the Centre for the Coordination of Youth Activities CCYA with support from the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO, Trust Africa and Actionaid Sierra Leone.
Delivering the keynote address, Inspector General of Police, Francis Munu, said the Sierra Leone Police has been capacitated to ensure that people operate under the ambit of the law come November and called on the media to focus on impartial reporting in order to ensure peaceful elections.
CGG Director, Valnora Edwin, said the interactive forum was geared towards sharing ideas on how to address youth violence which is becoming a disease in MRU's electioneering process and to provide a vaccine to cure it.
According to Edwin, the role of CSOs in ensuring the conduct of a peaceful non-violence elections come November 17th should not be overemphasized as "elections should not be a recipe for civil war, but a process to build consensus and national cohesion among citizens in order to effect development."
The Director of CCYA, Ngolo Katta, said as the elections draw closer, there is a need to reflect on the activities of youth hence the dialogue forum to enhance a debate on non-violence in the sub-region.
He emphasized on the role of the police to ensure peaceful elections as very important and promised to work closely with partners to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.
National Electoral Commission NEC Commissioner, Miatta French, said NEC recognizes the importance of youth in the electioneering process and noted that MRU countries share similar values and vision hence they could not do things in isolation.
Mohamed Sillah of Actionaid Sierra Leone said series of programs are ongoing to ensure violent-free elections and called on stakeholders invest more in youth issues to effect development in the sub-region. He assured of his organisation's resolve to work with the National Youth Commission to ensure a complete transformation of youth in Sierra Leone.
Dr. Rahman Lamin of UNESCO commended the organizers for the timeliness of the event with the transformation of Africa which has recorded significant improvement in the area of governance wherein the continent is no longer plagued with a single party rule as it was in the 70s.
He added that Africans are now given more opportunities to participate in elections and choose their leaders but election-related violence still remains a threat to the democratization drive of the continent.
"Election itself is not an issue but issues including weak state institutions and youth deprivation which remain unaddressed are deeply affecting the continent. Young people all over the world constitute the vibrant and vulnerable parties who are frequently caught up in the midst of violence as both perpetrators and victims," he said and promised UNESCO's continued support to youth activities in the continent.
Ezekiel Pajibo of Trust Africa sympathized with Sierra Leone for Charles Taylor's hands in bringing war to the country and commended the International Criminal Court ICC for putting him where he is supposed to be - in the prison.
Making a presentation on the patterns of electoral violence in Africa, Dr. Jimmy Kandeh said election is a mechanism for political change but that it could undermine democratization process if fraught with massive irregularities and violence citing exclusion, disenfranchisement and mass-deprivation as some of the causes of election violence.
A communiqué, signed by each participants calling on the government to give strong autonomy to state institutions to effectively and efficiently perform their duties; politicians to stop arming youths for violence; police to improve their communication approach with the public by strengthening the police partnership board; and the Independent Media Commission IMC to develop a comprehensive guidelines for the coverage of elections and government to strengthen youth through the implementation of the national youth policy, was issued at the end of the forum.