“While other voters squeezed into polling stations and stood for hours in the Sierra Leone heat to cast ballots in the country’s Nov. 17 general election, John Mussa moved straight to the head of the line. One advantage to having only one arm, he said, “is you don’t have to wait in the queue to vote.” Mussa, whose arm was amputated during the West African nation’s bloody 11-year civil war, voted in recent presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections observed by The Carter Center. “I voted because it is my right as a citizen,” said the 27-year-old husband and father of a newborn boy, adding that he trusted the elections to be fair and believed the candidates would accept the results.
At the invitation of the National Electoral Commission, The Carter Center monitored the elections to help ensure citizens like Mussa were able to cast their ballots in a peaceful, orderly, and transparent manner. The Center deployed 40 observers across all 14 districts for this important election—the first the country has organized with little international assistance since the civil war ended a decade ago—and found the process to reflect the will of voters, a promising sign for a country struggling to build a democratic society.
Mussa said he found hope in the election even though the nation still faces challenges. He is a member of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club, playing on one of several amputee soccer teams in Sierra Leone. One-armed goalies and single-legged players train each week on a long stretch of beach in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Most of Mussa’s teammates lost their arms and legs to bullets or landmines, or were victims of random mutilations by rebel forces employing brutality to silence opposition and coerce supporters during the war.
The captain of the Freetown soccer team, who calls himself “amputee Kalon,” was shot in the leg when rebels attacked his village in 1999. “I hid all alone in the bush for more than a week with no medical facilities,” he recalled. “After one week my leg was dead.” The amputee football club gives him confidence and purpose, the 35-year-old said. He and his teammates want to use soccer to build peace in communities around the country and promote acceptance of those who are disabled.
Like John Mussa, Kalon is optimistic about the democratic developments in his country,
especially following the election of a person with disabilities to Sierra Leone’s parliament in 2007. “Things have improved in Sierra Leone since the war. I am confident these elections will be fair and peaceful,” he said on election day. “But we continue to organize amputee football games in communities so we can have everlasting peace in our country”.