A tweet by the US Embassy urging Sierra Leone’s main opposition not to boycott government has stirred a huge debate online, prompting accusations that the superpower deliberately fueled tension following disputed elections in the West African country.
“A vibrant democracy needs a strong opposition,” the tweet from the official twitter handle of the embassy, USEmbassyFreetown, said late Wednesday evening.
It was made on the day the country’s new parliament was official inaugurated, about two weeks after the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) announced the results of the June 24 elections.
As their party had promised, elected members of the All People’s Congress (APC) stayed away from the ceremony in parliament.
The APC had said it would not take part in the governance process of the country in protest against what it considers as a rigged electoral process.
Incumbent President Julius Maada Bio was declared winner of the presidential race with 56.17 percent of the votes, narrowly avoiding a run-off with APC’s Samura Kamara.
The opposition insists that the figures were cooked up, calling for fresh votes.
Besides the presidency, the SLPP also won majority of the parliamentary seats.
Thanks to the newly introduced Proportional Representation system of election, only the two largest parties – APC and SLPP – won seats.
But APC’s decision to boycott therefore means that only one party will run the affairs of the country.
Supporters of the opposition party were hoping for international isolation of the Bio administration as one of the actions to force it to heed to their demands.
The tweet by the US Embassy suggested otherwise.
In response, some disappointed APC supporters even called for the replacement of the ambassador, accusing him of reneging on his responsibilities as a neutral entity.
One opposition supporter going by the name SLFreedom Fighter called for a retraction of the statement.
“You know the issues very well and we are expecting you to side with the people. Democracy has been broken,” it said.
Another opposition supporter, Umar Hardy Bah, shared a tweet by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking member who had earlier decried the electoral process in Sierra Leone.
Bah called for the replacement of the ambassador “as soon as possible.”
For SLPP supporters, it’s a sudden change of tone.
In the last two weeks, they have been bashing the embassy for its position on the outcome of the elections.
The US embassy, alongside other western diplomatic missions, had questioned the lack of transparency in the tabulation of results in the aftermath of the voting.
The embassy’s twitting of a statement by the National Democratic Institute backing a local elections observation group which disputed data from the ECSL further fueled the debate.
And for Bash Bah, that emboldened the opposition.
“It’s too late to say that now Mr Ambassador (because) you already added fuel to an already volatile situation,” he said, adding: “You gave them hope by asking for disaggregated data, you made them feel they won the election, they relied on your tweet that’s why they are doing all those things.”
On Tuesday, the embassy issued a statement denying reports that Ambassador David Reimer had been transferred amid allegations of interference in domestic politics of the country.