The small western African nation of Sierra Leone—which nearly collapsed in a brutal and decade-long internal war that ended in 2002—held remarkably fair, peaceful and well-organized elections for president and parliament earlier this month. Visiting fellow Carol Lancaster recently returned from observing the elections. In this CGD Essay she reports on what the election means given the country's troubled history, as well as broader concerns about post-conflict state building, and the meaning of democracy in a country with a history of entrenched patronage politics, only a 35 percent literacy rate, 70 percent unemployment rate, and life expectancy of only 40 years.
The long-term success of the election will depend on the new government's ability to tackle endemic corruption, rebuild infrastructure and encourage investment. It also depends on the emergence of a sizeable and influential constituency within the country that has the knowledge, power and commitment to demand democratic governance from its leaders.