Julius Maada Bio, the presidential candidate for Sierra Leone’s opposition party, Sierra Leone People's Party, has called for a change in government, accusing the ruling party of derailing democratic progress as well as economic mismanagement. “I am here to tell the international community that we have had some reverses as far as good governance and democracy is concerned, because of the way the government handles state matters,” said Mr Bio. “[Sierra Leone] is in a state of [economic] depression because of mismanagement by the government.”

Mr Bio expressed concerns to fDi Magazine that Sierra Leone’s ruling party, the All People's Congress (APC), may use heavy-handed tactics to secure victory in the upcoming elections, which will take place in November 2012. “It would seem to us, as part of the opposition, that the government in power wants to stay against the will of the people by using different tactics and interfering with justice,” said Mr Bio.

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“Recently, for example, more than $4.5m-worth of ammunition was imported, which [the APC] claimed was meant for the police. Later on, with pressure from the opposition parties, the civil society and the international community, [the APC] could not give plausible reasons [as to] why it was bringing in ammunition prior to elections. It was forced to transfer those arms to the military, which will exercise stricter controls in terms of using them. This gave us strong reason to believe the government was not preparing for elections, but to ensure that it stays in power.”

Although Sierra Leone’s real GDP growth is projected to increase from 5.7% in 2011 to 6.2% in 2012, according to the African Economic Outlook – a report produced by the UN, the UN Development Programme, the African Development Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – Mr Bio held that economic mismanagement continues to hold the country back from achieving its full potential. The African Economic Outlook contends that while there have been some improvements, Sierra Leone’s social indicators are among the lowest in the world. The inflation rate rose from 17.8% in 2010 to 18.1% in 2011, and the current account deficit as a percentage of GDP was -55.7% in 2011.

“The quality of life has degenerated in the past four years,” said Mr Bio. “The prices have gone up extensively for a lot of the essential goods and commodities. What we want to do is provide a better economic environment. We are going to tackle corruption. We are going to manage the natural resources efficiently so that we can get the most out of it and also make sure that those who invest in the natural resources such as gold, iron ore and diamonds, also have returns on their investment and are able to repatriate it to their countries of origin. The rule of law is sometimes taken for granted and we want to strengthen [it] to give investors a level of confidence.”

If successful in his presidential bid, Mr Bio would be in office for the second time following a brief stint as Sierra Leone’s president in 1996, at the height of the country’s 11-year civil war. Although he was keen to point out the country made significant strides in establishing democracy, he warned that any reversals would be a cause for concern.

“We know elections can be a causative factor for war and as we have witnessed, like in Côte d’Ivoire, we have to fight very hard to have the sort of democratic dispensation we now have and we will not allow any group of people to derail that process,” said Mr Bio. “The need for a change is quite strong. I have confidence [that] we can instil change. We are asking for a level playing field and we want democracy to thrive.”