The Sierra Leone Web


The Voter Registration Process


A Report by Monitor

A Project of the Campaign for Good Governance




Meaningful elections in Sierra Leone are rare. For over two decades under one-party rule they were a sham, recycling loyal politicians and removing those who had fallen out of favour with the hierarchy. In 1996, the country held its first multi-party elections for nearly thirty years. However, the presidential component of the elections was tainted by accusations of vote rigging. The belief in disgruntled circles that the elections and the Government were therefore illegitimate was partly responsible for the AFRC coup the following year.

Sierra Leone is at a defining moment in its history. For the maintenance of peace and the development of our democracy it is vital that the May 14th elections are conducted freely and fairly so the incoming government is both legitimate, and perceived to be so. Voter registration is the first stage of the election process. If it was flawed, the whole process will be flawed; if it is tainted, it will cast a shadow of illegitimacy over the elections and the next government. The Monitor Project of the Campaign for Good Governance therefore undertook to monitor and investigate the registration process.

Our Goals

Our work has had two goals. First, to help the National Electoral Commission (NEC), International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) and policy makers to identify and understand the process’s problems in real time so that they could both address them as they occurred and learn from them so as to get things right on Election Day itself. Second, to contribute to an accurate public assessment of the registration process so that it cannot be unfairly criticised or de-legitimised.

What We Did

We deployed a team of 14 trained and NEC accredited monitors across 10 of Sierra Leone’s 12 districts, plus the Western Area. They worked from January 24th to February 10th inclusive - i.e. throughout the registration period and the extension - and visited 1046 centres (19.4% of the total). They combined conventional monitoring with deeper investigations of key problems to provide daily reports to our core team in Freetown who analysed them and released them to the press and key institutions.

This Report

This report contains a summary of our findings, outlining the key problems as we observed them and suggesting lessons which should be learnt. It then explains our methodology, and summarises our findings from each district. We have focused on the shortcomings of the registration process and highlighted worrying incidents or things we thought praiseworthy. We have not commented where registration ran smoothly.

The Purpose of Registration and How it Was Meant to Work

The Government of Sierra Leone charged the NEC with registering all Sierra Leoneans aged 18 and over to vote in the May elections. Registrants were to be issued with Voter Photo-ID Cards and their names put on the electoral role. Only people on the electoral role and in possession of a Voter Photo-ID Card will be allowed to vote on May 14th.

Registration was scheduled for January 24th to February 7th inclusive. NEC pledged to operate 5400 registration centres and 600 photo-centres across country, ensuring that no one had to travel more than 3 miles to a registration centre. At a centre, a person would present her National ID Card, birth certificate, or two witnesses who could identify her as an adult Sierra Leonean. Registrars would then record her name, age and address on a registration form, which they were to keep, and give her a registration slip with this information on it. To guard against the possibility of the person registering more than once, registrars were to check her left thumb and, if it was clear, mark it with indelible ink. The person would take the registration slip to a photo-centre, either attached to the registration centre or nearby, where the officials would check her thumb for ink, take her photo and give her her laminated Voter Photo-ID Card.

The Challenges the NEC Faced

In conducting the registration process, the NEC faced two main challenges. First, to educate the entire, largely illiterate, adult population of Sierra Leone about a sophisticated democratic process to the point where they could effectively participate. Two obstacles to this were the limited communication infrastructure at their disposal and the fact that people’s only experience of voter registration was in 1996 when the system was different - registrars went house to house. Second, the logistical task of setting up and transporting staff and supplies to 6000 (5400 + 600) centres spread evenly across the country, despite the absence in many areas of useable road networks or communication facilities.

These were significant challenges, but ones which NEC, assisted by IFES and large amounts of donor money, had to meet to do its job of registering the adult population of Sierra Leone and pushing forward our country’s democracy.


Summary of Findings and Recommendations


The registration process failed to give hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans a realistic opportunity to register because of a lack of public education and a combination of significant administrative problems and resource constraints. We met widespread ignorance of what the process was about, how it worked or even that it was going on. The blame for this failure to educate and mobilise voters lies partly with the political parties and civil society, but the lion’s shares must fall to NEC. On the administrative/resource side, we observed hundreds of centres that were forced to close or prevented from functioning properly because of various ‘hiccups’, from the absence of registration forms and ink, to a lack of transportation, tables or remuneration for the registrars. The extent to which these problems stemmed from poor administration or a lack of resources is currently unclear. Equally, the degree of responsibility NEC should bear for these failures as opposed to its international advisors and funders is a question that needs answering. The net result however is that, even by NEC’s own projections, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Sierra Leoneans have been denied their right to vote in May because they were not registered in February.

The three-day extension of the registration process was a largely empty gesture. During the second week of registration, Monitor called on NEC to institute an "Extension Plus" Plan that included not only adding days but also ensuring that adequate personnel, registration forms, and ink were supplied to centres. Yet, the extension period suffered from the same supply shortages and personnel errors that kept registration from functioning during the normal period. In Kenema, our monitors visited 37 centres during the extension, of which 30 (81%) were closed, and in Kono the registrars spent the entire extension demanding their delayed remuneration. Our monitors found little evidence that anything had been done to address the complaints that created the need for an extension in the first place. Without the "Plus" part of the plan, the extra days merely extended the problems without providing solutions.

On the positive side, we saw no evidence of high-level sabotage or corruption of the process. We observed widespread underage and multiple registration, particularly in Bo and Makeni, but neither appeared systematic nor to favour any particular region. Both could have been largely prevented by better administration of the registration process.

Finally, some registrars, community leaders and members of the public made significant efforts and personal sacrifices to ensure the process worked effectively, educating citizens, travelling long distances to work or to register and being vigilant about underage and multiple registration. However, many officials were more interested in petty, personal concerns than doing a good job and many citizens appeared unwilling to expend even small amounts of time or energy to ensure their participation in their country’s democratic processes


On Election Day, NEC will have only one day to get it right, not 14 plus an extra 3. Monitor believes that the problems in the registration process must be investigated in detail to minimise the chance of repeating them. We can only learn the proper lessons when key actors - NEC, IFES, international donor institutions, civil society & the political parties - recognise the depth and scope of the problems, identify causes, and generate effective responses. We therefore call on:

· NEC and the international community to analyse the causes of the administrative/resource problems and honestly acknowledge the extent to which different actors were responsible. They should produce a plan of action that specifically addresses how to they will avoid a repetition of these problems on Election Day.

· The police to prioritise the investigation of all small scale and systematic abuses of the registration process. If they find that any agents were behind the underage and multiple registrations, those perpetrators must be prosecuted before the elections.

· NEC, Paramount Chiefs, civil society groups and others to launch massive public education efforts about the exhibition period of the registration rolls and subsequently about the election itself. People must be encouraged to challenge any errors on the exhibited rolls so that the final list can be as legitimate as possible.

· The people of Sierra Leone not to use administrative problems as an excuse for disengaging from this vital national election. We all must take the initiative and demonstrate the patience to make this system work.


We deployed a team of 14 trained and NEC accredited monitors across 10 of Sierra Leone’s 12 districts, plus the Western Area. They worked from January 24th to February 10th inclusive - i.e. throughout the registration period and the extension. They visited 1046 centres (19.4% of the total). Each had the NEC Registration Centre Guide for her/his district(s) listing the names and locations of all the centres. We asked each monitor to visit at least 6 centres per day and to cover as wide a geographical area as transport and accommodation would permit. Monitors visited over 55% of the centres in certain districts and covered over 90% of chiefdoms in others.

Our team did not aim to make a scientific appraisal of the registration process, but rather to uncover, understand and make public key problems and constraints. This aim determined their style of "monitoring". At a centre they would observe and interview the public, registrars, assistants, NEC officials, local chiefs, party representatives, police and other registration observers/monitors to get a developed and balanced understanding of the process and its constraints at that centre. Each day they communicated reports to our core team in Freetown who analysed them and released them to the press and relevant institutions, e.g. NEC, IFES and NDI.


District Findings


Bo District



Two monitors covered Bo, working from January 25th to February 10th inclusive. They visited 218 (42.5%) of the district's 513 centres, covering 12 (80%) of its 15 chiefdoms. They also made multiple visits to several dozen centres.


  • Large number of centres stopped functioning, particularly during the extension period, because of a lack of registration forms. For example, of 8 centres visited in Bo Town on February 8th, only 2 (25%) were functioning.
  • Large numbers of people wanted to register but could not find a functioning centre.
  • The Public complained of a lack of education about the process and its importance.
  • There was widespread underage registration, for example at Bo School, Commercial Secondary School and Kassama Village. In Tinkoko Chiefdom, registration was suspended because of the levels of underage registration.
  • Multiple registration was also common. Our monitor met one man towards the end of the process with four ID cards. The practice of putting Vaseline, oil or nail varnish on fingers so that ink could subsequently be removed was also widely observed.
  • Registrars complained of a lack of pens, chairs and tables and of not having been paid their allowances.
  • Many centres opened late and closed early.
  • Registrars at several centres left completed and blank registration forms unattended while they went for lunch.
  • At two centres at Gondama, registrars refused to register non-Mende speakers. When asked why, they said they needed to conserve registration forms.
  • At several centres, registrars and chiefs demanded people pay to register. Charges ranged from 2 cups of rice to Le3, 000 at centres in Sarabuand and Bumpe Gao. The proceeds were given to registrars as "incentives". Registrars justified their actions on the grounds that NEC had not paid them their allowances. In some instances payment was "voluntary", in others non-payment meant not being allowed to register.


  • At Gambia, a man threatened to attack the registrars if they didn’t take the centre to his village 5 miles away. The registrars reported the incident to the police but nothing was done.
  • At Fullawahun village, registrars allegedly accepted money in the place of an ID card or 2 witnesses.



  • Our monitors found no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the widespread rumours that registration began early in the district.
  • Many chiefs made significant efforts to educate people and encourage them to register.
  • Many people thought that the Voter ID Cards were National ID Cards.



Bombali District


One monitor covered Bombali, working from January 25th to February 10th inclusive. He visited 80 (20.9%) of the district's 382 centres, covering 5 (35.7%) of its 14 chiefdoms and visiting at least 2 centres in every major town.


  • General poor level of public awareness and understanding of the registration process. This led to low turnouts in the first week.
  • Many centres did not function throughout the 17-day process, others closed well before February 10th. These "closures" were predominantly due to either a lack of supplies or a lack of transportation for registrars/assistants. NEC failed to effectively address the situation. For example, 2 (50%) of the 4 centres in Kamakwie town ran out of registration forms and ink in the first week and did not receive replacement materials despite continually reporting the situation to the district Registration Officer and other NEC officials.
  • There were widespread ink shortages. This meant that many centres registered people without inking them, notably in Kamakwie. This encouraged what we observed as widespread multiple registration.
  • Underage registration was also widespread, for example in Makeni, Kamakwie, Batkanu and Bumbuna. In Kamakwie (centre N212004), in the space of 1/2hr our monitor observed 12 suspected underage people registering. Registrars also generally neglected to ask for ID or witnesses to confirm people’s age and nationality.
  • Distances of up to 20 miles between centres meant many people in more remote areas were unable or unwilling to register. For example, a single centre at Libeisaygahun Batkanu Town served 10 surrounding villages, many of whose populations refused to walk the several miles to register.
  • There were several instances, for example at Bumbuna, of registrars and photographers demanding "payments" - ranging from Le100 to 2 cups of rice - from people before processing them. Those who refused to pay were not registered/photographed.
  • Poorly trained registrars/assistants at several centres resulted in many registration forms being discarded because they had been incorrectly filled out. For example, 104 forms were discarded at a centre in Gbendebu Town on February 2nd. Our monitor was not aware of registrars making any effort to re-register people whose forms were discarded.
  • Registrars in Makeni refused to work during the extension because NEC did not contact them about it.


  • In Binkolo, registration officials claimed they were threatened by APC supporters after they refused to register underage people.
  • At DEC Primary School in Kamakwie, officials told our monitor they had received threats from "APC thugs".
  • 11 centres sited on property owned by the Catholic Church had to be relocated because NEC had not officially asked The Church’s permission.


  • Many centres stayed open later in the day than scheduled to allow more people to register.


Bonthe District


One monitor covered Bonthe, working from January 25th to February 9th inclusive. He visited 90 (55.9%) of the district's 161 centres, covering 11 (84.6%) of the 13 chiefdoms. He made follow-up visits to a number of centres.


  • Underage registration happened at a significant number of centres, including two centres in each of Tormabum, Yargoi and York Island and 6 (66.7%) of 9 centres visited in Beudu.
  • Transportation for registrars was a problem, delaying the start of registration in many areas. For example, officials only arrived in Kanleh Regis on January 30th.
  • Several centres closed because of a lack of registration forms, including UBC Church, Gbamgama, Moriba Town and two centres at Mogbemoh.
  • Registrars closed many centres early in the process because they claimed everyone in the area had registered. For example, 13 (50%) of 26 centres visited in Boum Chiefdom on January 31st were closed for this reason. It is impossible for registrars to have been sure that no one else would have registered during the remaining 10 days of the process.
  • Many centres opened late and closed early. For example, on January 29th centre S402005 on York Island opened at 2pm.
  • Photo centres complained of shortages of batteries and films but continued to function.
  • Registrars and assistants complained of not having been paid on time and claimed they received smaller salaries than they had originally been promised.
  • No sign of police, UNAMSIL or NEC officials in 75% of centres visited.


  • There were allegations that people wanting to be registrars or assistants bribed officials for these appointments. When they were not employed they demanded their bribes back. This caused a row, which was eventually resolved before registration began.


  • Registrars and assistants, independent of NEC, took the initiative to move several centres to where people in more remote areas could access them.
  • Many chiefs made significant efforts to educate people and encourage them to register. One chief refused to give his four wives any rice until they brought him their completed registration slips.
  • Many secondary and tertiary educational institutions were disrupted because teaching staff was working as registrars.
  • The extension period was relatively quiet, as most people who wanted to register appeared already to have done so.
  • Unlike in many districts, photo-centres opened on the 26th of January.


Kailahun District



Two part-time, roving monitors covered the district for the period February 2nd - February 5th inclusive. They visited 12 (3.5%) of the district's 344 centres, covering 9 (64.3%) of its 14 chiefdoms.


  • Registration did not start on the 24th as scheduled. The majority of centres visited did not open until the 1st week of February.
  • Lack of transportation for registrars was a major reason for this and continued to be a problem throughout the process. MILOBS in Kailahun reported that they were asked to ferry registrars and photographers in their eastern region of the district but were not given sufficient notice, nor did they have the capacity to do it.
  • 4 (33%) of the 12 visited centres were not functioning.
  • Several registrars reported that the Le15000 allowance they had been given for transport, food and accommodation (for 2 weeks) was insufficient.


  • Many registration officials showed significant determination and initiative in getting to their centres and subsisting while there.
  • There were functioning centres in many extremely remote and difficult to access places, such as Dawa on the Liberian border.


Kenema District



Two monitors covered Kenema, working from January 25th to February 9th inclusive. They visited 248 (49.5%) of the district's 501 centres, covering 11 (57.9%) of the 19 chiefdoms.


  • Late start to registration across the district, for example centres in Tongo Fields and Panguma (lower Bambara Chiefdom) opened on January 28th. This was in part caused by NEC’s late paying of registrars’ transport allowances.
  • Poor level of public awareness and understanding of the registration process. This led to low turnouts in the first week.
  • During the extension period the majority of centres did not function. Of 13 centres visited on February 8th (first day of the extension) in Kenema Town, 9 (69.2%) were closed. On February 9th, 21 (87.5%) of 24 centres visited were closed.
  • This lead to widespread disenfranchisement. For example, in Dodo Chiefdom our monitor met scores of people prevented from registering because centres were closed.
  • The main reasons found for centres not functioning were that they had run out of materials and that registrars/assistants refused to work because NEC had made no contractual arrangement with them for the extension.
  • Widespread underage registration.
  • Poor distribution of centres meant that many people in rural areas were unable or unwilling to travel distances of up to 5miles to their nearest one and some centres could not cope with demand. For example, at Blama IDP Camp there was one centre for 15,000 people.


  • Allegation that the RUFP were giving people "incentives", in the form of food and wine, to register in the Tongo Fields area.


  • Many Chiefs played a significant role in mobilising people to go and register,

employing "hailers" to explain the process and encourage people to go to the centres.

  • Many centres stayed open later in the day than scheduled to allow more people to register.





One monitor covered Koinadugu, working from January 25th to February 9th inclusive. He visited 80 (28.6%) of the district's 280 centres, covering 10 (90.9%) of the 11 chiefdoms.


  • Transportation problems meant registration started late in many areas such as Mongo and Yiffin; in Kurubonla, centres did not open until January 28th. Road travel in Koinadugu is extremely difficult and UNAMSIL, who airlifted materials, would not transport officials because it was not part of their mandate.
  • There was a poor turnout in many areas due to very poor citizen awareness of the process and people’s reluctance to travel to centres (see below).
  • Efforts by NEC to raise awareness through employing hailers foundered on a lack of mega-phones and transportation.
  • Photographers complained that many registrants did not have ink on their fingers, suggesting either widespread failure to ink registrants and/or that registrants had removed ink from their fingers.
  • Many citizens were unable or unwilling to travel the significant distances - up to 6miles - on foot to register, particularly the elderly and the infirm. This problem was most pronounced in places like Mongo Bendugu, Kuruborla and Gbrinba along the Guinean border. Koinadugu is the largest district and sparsely populated so it was a challenge to locate centres close to everyone, but one which NEC was clearly obliged to meet.
  • The problem of distance was more pronounced with respect to photo-centres of which there were significantly fewer than registration centres, being up to 18miles (the distance from Tanenh village to its nearest photo-centre at Falaba) from the populations they were supposed to serve. However, people’s desire to get a photo ID (with the emphasis on "photo") somewhat ameliorated the situation.
  • 16 (17.8%) centres reported shortages of basic materials, predominantly ink and pens.
  • People were concerned whether those displaced by the war, who had not yet returned, would be registered elsewhere and if so, where they would be allowed to vote.


  • Several Paramount Chiefs tried to ensure that their people registered, for example the PC at Bafodia wrote to NEC requesting that photo-centres be roving to facilitate people’s access to them. Other PCs employed "hailers" to educate people about the process and encourage them to go to centres.
  • A number of centres, for example in Foria, stayed open as late as 7pm to give people a chance to register after finishing their (largely agricultural) work.





One monitor covered Kono, working from February 1st to February 8th inclusive. He visited 79 (15.8%) of the district's 501 centres, covering 5 (45.5%) of the 11 chiefdoms.


  • A number of complaints from registrars and citizens of the poor to non-existent sensitisation about the registration process, particularly in Tankoro & Kamara chiefdoms.
  • Registration centres did not function during the extension period because of officials' refusal to work (see below).
  • There was widespread discontent among registration officials. Their grievances included: having inadequate allowances for food and lodging (the majority of officials came from Freetown or Kenema); receiving appointment letters dated 28th of January stating that registrars were to be paid Le80,000 (assistants Le60,000) contradicting what they were told in Freetown, i.e. Le100,000 for registrars and Le80,000 for assistants; or not getting an appointment letter at all. Some threatened to stop working (see below), others to not hand over completed registration forms.

Things came to a head over the extension period. Registrars and assistants held a meeting on February 8th at the TNA Court Barri, Tonkoro. They claimed they had received no communication about the extension and that they were not contracted to work during it. They refused to work until the question of salaries had been cleared up, they received new contracts, their food and lodgings were covered and they all received an appointment letter.

  • There were no registrars at many centres, for example at 8 (32%) out of the 25 visited in Gbense Chiefdom and 3 (38%) out of the 8 visited in Nimikoro Chiefdom on the 3rd of February. In some cases the centres were closed, in others assistant registrars worked alone.
  • Widespread ink shortages meant that many centres registered people without inking them opening up the possibility of multiple registration. This was the case at 2 (25%) of the 8 centres visited in Nimikoro Chiefdom, 6 (21%) of 29 in Tankoro Chiefdom and 2 (8%) of 25 in Gbense Chiefdom. At the majority of centres this had been going on for several days.
  • Our monitor witnessed underage registration at 4 centres: E104039, E104048, E113032 (at this centre there was a "steady stream of children"" registering) and E113039.
  • Widespread shortage of instruction manuals for registration officials and a lack of training led to continually poor filling out of registration forms. For example, at centres E112074 and E113050 people were registered without their names being put on the forms.
  • No reports of party representatives or registration monitors: except for two sightings of UNAMSIL personnel and one of an APC representative in Gbense Chiefdom.
  • Photo-centres were few and far between. Many people refused to travel (walk) the necessary distance to get their ID despite having already registered. In Koidu Town there was only one photo-centre, which, on the 1st of February at least, opened only from 11.30am to 6pm.
  • One of the results of this was an apparent low turnout at many centres, which several people commented was also due to a lot of people not yet having returned to the district. This was mentioned in particular in Gbense & Kamara chiefdoms.
  • Widespread reports that there was no provision of tables, chairs or pens.
  • We saw no security provision at any centres, despite the recent violence in Kono and the tangible hostility to registration officials in some areas (see below).
  • Several reports of fewer women registering than men.


  • There was some hostility towards registration staff. Youths at NDMC Camp 1, Tankoro verbally threatened officials, while locals in parts of Nimi Yama chiefdom gave them, what one registrar described as, a "poor reception".


  • The arrival of photo-centres boosted turnouts. This was apparently in part due to many people's misconception that the ID cards were actually national ID cards.
  • We had one report (at centre E104035) and witnessed one instance (at centre E113033) of people being refused registration on the grounds of age. In the case of the former, a chief presented three children for registration who were turned away.





One monitor covered the district for the period January 24th to January 27th inclusive. He visited 20 towns, 28 (7.7%) of the district's 363 centres and covered 8 (61.5%) of its 13 chiefdoms.


  • The public complained of a lack of education about the process. They also complained that it was not "house-to-house" as it was in 1996. In Lekpeyama village, people refused to register, demanding that registrars come to their houses.
  • The distance between registration centres put many people off registering, particularly the elderly and infirm.
  • Many registrars opened their centres late in the day either because it was too cold to open as scheduled or because of the time it took them to walk (up to 5 miles) to their centres each morning. This latter cause also resulted in centres closing early.
  • Widespread shortage of basic materials, particularly tables, chairs and pens.
  • Registrars threatened to withhold completed registration forms at the end of the process until they were paid their allowances.


  • Our monitors found no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the widespread rumours that registration began early in the district.


Port Loko


Three monitors based in Freetown covered Port Loko District. Over the period February 2nd - February 6th, they visited 38 (9.6%) of the district's 396 centres, covering 4 (40%) of its 10 chiefdoms.


  • Shortage of registration forms disenfranchising citizens: 14 (37%) out of the 38 centres our monitors visited were not functioning because they had run out of forms, in Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom the figure was 6 (75%) out of 8. Some had run out as early as the 30th of January.

Unfortunately large numbers of citizens were still trying to register. At Rossint our monitor met a large crowd who had formed around the non-functioning centre. Some people said they had come every day for the previous five days. Most registrars said they had complained to their superiors about the shortages but no supplies had yet been forthcoming. The lack of forms had sparked fighting at some centres where frustrated citizens, some of whom had walked over 5 miles in the hope of finding a functioning centre, clashed with equally frustrated registrars.

  • Shortage of ink opening possibility for multiple registration: A number of centres had run out of ink so registrars were registering people without inking them. Registrars universally claimed that it was more important to risk registering people twice than robbing them of their right to participate in the election.
  • A number of registrars complained that they had not been paid their allowances, this was on the 6th of February


  • Underage registration: youths in Sawama and Flemingo villages boasted they had registered despite being under 18.


  • Several centres, for example Marforki New Town A and B, reported they had been given extra registration forms.
  • Registrars from Gere Kambangura, according to their assistants, were biking from village to village registering people.
  • Several photo-centres became mobile, moving from centre to centre, in an effort to cover as many people as possible.





Two roving, part-time staff covered the district for the period February 5th - February 7th inclusive. They visited 7 (3.1%) of the district's 227 centres, covering 2 (16.7%) of its 12 chiefdoms.


  • 3 (43%) of the 7 centres visited were not functioning.
  • Returnees from Liberia heading for Kailahun, were unsure whether they could register in Pujehun but vote elsewhere. Registrars were equally unsure. Many returnees consequently did not register.
  • We saw 4 clearly underage children queuing to have their photo ID cards made up during a 1 hour period at a centre in Zimmi. They had obviously already successfully registered.


The Western Area



Three monitors covered The Western Area, which was divided into East and West Districts. Over the period January 24th - February 10th inclusive, they visited 166 (31.9%) of the Area's 521 centres, covering 10 (90.9%) of its 11 chiefdoms/wards. They also made multiple visits to several dozen centres.


  • Generally poor levels of public awareness and understanding of the process. This contributed to what people at many centres described as a low turnout, particularly early on.
  • Many centres did not start on the 24th of January. Some began as late as the 28th.
  • Shortages of basic supplies such as pens, forms, ink and batteries and films at photo-centres were widespread, found in over 25 (15.1%) of 166 centres visited.
  • NEC generally failed to address the supply shortages. One centre, which reported being out of registration forms on January 31st had still not received any by February 9th.
  • A significant number of centres (19 (11.4%) of 166 observed) closed well before the end of the registration period, most had run out of forms, the remainder out of ink. We observed 15 centres not functioning because they had no forms, some from as early as January 30th. Closure during the extension was most common. On February 10th, 7 (70%) of the 10 centres one monitor visited were closed because they did not have forms.
  • Other centres, for example those at the Youyi Building and City Hall, closed sporadically while registrars and assistants left to watch African Cup of Nations’ matches.
  • Seven centres visited had run out of ink, some on as early as January 26th. A minority of these centres continued to register people without inking them, opening up the possibility of multiple registration.
  • Ink shortages led some registrars to either water down the ink (making removal reasonably straightforward) or put only a very small amount on. One registrar, to save ink, did not ink old people because he felt they could be trusted not to register more than once.
  • Monitors witnessed one instance of multiple registration.
  • However, they observed a number of people employing a variety means to avoid being stained by registration ink, perhaps with the intention of registering several times. These means were: putting either Vaseline or car oil on nails so the ink is put on the oil not the nail and simply wiped off again; wearing nail varnish (often clear) which can be removed after being inked (we witnessed women putting clear varnish on just before registering); wearing coloured varnish over an already inked finger; or rubbing the ink off before it dries, which, as one registrant demonstrated to our monitor, was easy to do.
  • Most registrars did not check people’s fingers for ink before registering them.
  • We witnessed underage registration at 12 (7.2%) of the centres visited. At several, including those at Methodist Boys’ High School (Kissy), parents acted as witnesses for their children, prompting registrars to claim that they had no choice but to register the "voter" because she had two witnesses. At other centres, e.g. St. Theresa School, registrars bored by low turnouts said they didn’t care whom they registered since it was better than doing nothing .
  • The majority of registrars did not ask for people’s ID or for two witnesses to identify them.
  • Many registrars illegitimately delegated their duties to others, many of whom were untrained. Investigations suggest they often left to do other jobs (most commonly teaching, since the majority of registrars were teachers). Replacements were often incompetent. We observed a "boy" who couldn't spell at the centre at Janday Clinic acting as a registrar. We are unaware of the number of registration forms spoilt through this practice.
  • Complaints that centres were too geographically concentrated forcing many people to walk long distances and under-utilising resources at grouped centres. For example, in Freetown, some locations had up to 6 centres e.g. Muslim Congress Secondary School.
  • A number of centres were effectively hidden from view, for example the one at Mabela Fishing Compound, and consequently got a very low turnout.
  • Many displaced people did not know if they would be able to vote somewhere different to where they registered. Registrars/assistants did not know either.
  • General absence of party representatives and other monitors. In total, monitors saw only one UNAMSIL official and one PDA party representative at the 166 centres they visited.


  • Near fight at centre in Tengbeh Town between registrars and a group of people queuing. The former refused to register the latter unless they produced ID, claiming they were APC "rabble-rousers", while the latter accused the former of only registering SLPP supporters.
  • Eldred Collins, of the RUFP, apparently tried to register at the Youyi Building during the first week of registration, shortly after the centres there ran out of registration forms. He was furious. The dangers of giving grounds to members of the RUFP on which to challenge the legitimacy of the registration process and thus the elections are obvious.
  • Complaints of a registrar registering people he knew before registering people who were queuing at a centre at King Fahad Islamic Secondary School.
  • Several registrars confessed that they were deliberately registering people slowly in the hope of getting the process extended and therefore receiving extra salary.


  • Despite the widespread non-functioning of centres, fewer citizens were disenfranchised than might have been, because most people (especially in Freetown) were able to find a functioning centre reasonably near by.
  • This resulted in very high registration in some centres - e.g. Annie Walsh Memorial School (2 centres) reported 1800 registrants by February 6th.
  • Widespread reports of registrars moving around their areas educating people about the process and encouraging them to register. These efforts, by partly compensating for poor sensitisation and a lack of citizen mobilisation by NEC, political parties or civil society, are commendable, but they raise the question of partisan mobilisation by supposedly impartial officials. In Hastings, registrars asked the town chief to get the crier to inform and mobilise people, which he did to apparently good effect.
  • Several cases of people refusing to register until photo-centres were up and running.
  • Some reports of centres staying open late to register people after they finished work.
  • Several examples of school children trying repeatedly to register at the same centre (often located at their school) and being rejected. It appeared this was basically for fun, but also in the hope of getting a photo ID (with the emphasis on "photo").
  • We observed two further instances of registrars rejecting underage would-be registrants.
  • Our monitors heard two accounts of police arresting people for attempted multiple registration, including one case at City Hall. At 3 centres we observed registrars refusing to re-register people.
  • Our monitors reported a general excitement among people about getting a photo ID card. Indeed registration rates surged at many centres once photo-centres began working.
  • The registrar at one of the two centres at Huntingdon Primary School removed nail varnish from people's fingers before inking them.
  • We visited 5 centres that had received extra registration forms after requesting them, 4 on the 5th of February, 1 on the 8th.




The Monitor Project would like to thank: the National Democratic Institute and in particular its National Director, Joe Hall for generously funding this project; the SLP for kindly allowing our monitors to pass messages to Freetown via their radios; UNAMSIL for assisting some of our monitors with transport; and PakBatt II and III for their gracious hospitality in Kailahun.


The Monitor Project

The Core Team

Abdul Kpakra-Massally has recently worked as Executive Secretary of PRIDE, an organisation working with ex-combatants. He has a BA in Politics and History from Fourah Bay College, where he was Secretary General of the Students Union.

Shirley Osho has a BA Hons in Political Science from Fourah Bay College, where she served as a Minister in the Student Union Government.

Ricken Patel has worked for Harvard University and the International Crisis Group. He has a BA Hons in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Balliol College, Oxford University and a Master of Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Tom Perriello is a visiting teaching fellow of Yale Law School currently attached to Fourah Bay College. He recently worked as Assistant Director of The Center for a Sustainable Economy in Washington DC. He has a BA Hons and a Juris Doctorate from Yale University.

Tom Pravda has recently worked as a Consultant at the United Nations Development Program in New York. He has a BA Hons in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Balliol College, Oxford University.

Lena Thompson is a Lecturer at the Political Science Department, Fourah Bay College. She has a BA Hons in Political Science from Portsmouth University and an MA in International Relations from the University of Kent, Canterbury.


The Monitors

Abdul-Gibril Bah recently graduated from Fourah Bay College with a BA Hons in Political Science. He worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Zynab Binta-Kamara is an actress at Spence Productions. She has a BA in English and Political Science from Fourah Bay College. She worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Lovette T. Braima has worked as a teacher and as a volunteer with SEGA, an NGO working with socially exploited women in Bo. She recently graduated from Fourah Bay College with a BA in Sociology and History. She worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Adama Kamara-Harding has recently worked at the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning. She has a BSc in Accounting from Fourah Bay College. She worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Randolph Katta has worked as a teacher, a Supervisor for Catholic Relief Services and a reporter for Radio Democracy. He has a BA Ed. in Linguistics from Njala University College. He worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Jarrah Kawusu-Konte recently graduated from Fourah Bay College with a BA Hons in Political Science.

Allen Lahai Murana has worked as a teacher and recently graduated from Fourah Bay College with a BSocSc. (Economics). He worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Albert Moody is currently studying Law at Fourah Bay College, where he is a member of the Human Rights Clinic. He has a BA from Fourah Bay College.

Caleb Michael Thomas is a graduate of Fourah Bay College, where he gained a BSocSc. (Sociology). He worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Celia Thompson is an agent at Spence Productions. She recently graduated from Fourah Bay College with a BA Hons in Linguistics. She worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.

Vincent Williams has recently worked as a columnist and a librarian. He has a BA in Politics and History from Fourah Bay College; he also has a Diploma in Library Studies from the same institution and a City and Guilds of London Institute in Librarianship. He worked as an interviewer on the Monitor Poll of Freetown residents in December.