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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
The ex-nun running Sierra Leone's polls
By Umaru Fofana
BBC News, Freetown

Christina Thorpe (photo: UNDP)
So far, so good for Sierra Leone's second post-war polls

When Christiana Thorpe was appointed Sierra Leone's chief electoral commissioner two years ago, many doubted whether this petite woman could rise to a mammoth challenge.

She was after all the third choice for the unenviable job, but so far it appears she has, with the first round of elections passing off smoothly as the country chooses a new president.

Ms Thorpe, who celebrated her 49th birthday this week, was born a teacher, bred a disciplinarian, groomed an administrator and perhaps by divine intervention became a nun.

Her 20 years at a convent, she says, accounts for her extra energy in these challenging times.

She was born and grew up in Freetown's most deprived community, Kroo Bay and Kroo Town Road.

The area, known as the angle of poverty, inspired her to fight deprivation.

For this, she is grateful to her maternal grandmother who inspired godliness and instilled discipline in her and preached compassion to her.

SIERRA LEONE KEY FACTS
1787: Set up as a freed slaves' settlement which became a British colony
1991:10-year civil war began
50,000 people killed in the conflict
Thousands more had limbs chopped off
2002: Post-war elections organised by United Nations
2005: 17,000 UN peacekeepers left
This poll run bynew electoral commission
2.6m voters
566 parliamentary candidates
112 parliamentary seats
Seven presidential contenders
Front-runners:
- APC's Ernest Bai Koroma
- PMDC's Charles Margai
- SLPP's Solomon Berewa

"Grandma deprived me from playing so that I would not be deprived of a good life later on in life," she told me.

At age 12, she persuaded her peers at Kroo Town Road to join her for studies where she would teach them what she had learned in school.

Unsurprisingly she later became a headmistress, running St Joseph's Secondary School in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone, and later minister of education in the mid 1990s.

She also founded the Forum for African Women Educationalists and still sees teaching not only as her passion, but her first love.

In fact, she cannot wait for the election process to be over so she can return to teaching, she says.

"I have no political ambition and do not wish to become a minister again," she told me.

Integrity

Ms Thorpe left the convent after 20 years as she puts it "quite regretfully, to be able to achieve more".

She has no biological children but is proud of the many she has looked after over the years.

Her partner is an outgoing member of parliament for the ruling party though she insists he has never sought to influence her.

In fact, when the ruling party raised objections over constituency boundaries, she refused their overtures.

When the main opposition All People's Congress's radio station started broadcasting what many referred to as reckless propaganda, Christiana Thorpe hit them hard.

No wonder all the political parties respect her neutrality and integrity.

What is less known about her is an athletic prowess.

For three years running, she held the national record in the 300 metres.

A pace and energy she will need as the elections look set for a run-off.



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