Sierra Leoneans are headed to the polls as voting gets underway to elect the country's next president and parliament..
At Polling Station No 1 at the Wilberforce Hockey Pitch in the west of Freetown, for instance, some voters spent the night there on queues to ensure they vote early.
The Mission heads with Candidate of the main opposition party, Sierra Leonean Peoples Party (SLPP) Brig.
The incumbent, Ernest Bai Koroma, has served two terms and is barred by the constitution from running again. But it is the first the government is presiding over without total support from the worldwide community. The National Grand Coalition, a newly-formed political movement, is expected to shave off significant amount of votes from the major candidates, raising fears that a runoff might be necessary if none of the candidates scores 55 per cent of the votes in the first round.
The economy is in a dire state following the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and a commodity price slump that drove away foreign investors, and living conditions are among the poorest in the world.
"These elections should be seen in the wider and broader context of advancing peace and stability in Sierra Leone and the ECOWAS region", the Head of Mission said in Freetown on Saturday 3rd March after a meeting with the leadership of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), part of his continuing engagement with stakeholders ahead of the elections.
"When an APC rally through the city centre is marked by supporters waving large Chinese flags, not many questions need to be asked", said Catherine Bolten, a professor of anthropology at Notre Dame University.
Sierra Leone, battered by a horrific 1991-2002 civil war, is sharply divided along regional lines that overlap with ethnicity. The APC broadly relies on the Temne and Limba people in its northern strongholds and the SLPP is more popular in the south with the Mende ethnic group.
The Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), a Freetown-based think tank, said in a report that voters were showing a "growing willingness... to consider policy proposals over ethnic considerations".
Women staged a "Peace March" on Tuesday to call for peace after minor clashes were reported in some areas.
"The security forces must ensure the protection of voters observers, journalists and human rights defenders" throughout the election, he added. While Mr Bio is accused of stealing $18 million (Dhs66.1 million) from state coffers in 1996, Mr Kamara has attracted the epithet "Mr 10 per cent", following accusations of skimming from government contracts.
Meanwhile, outgoing president Koroma's increasing reliance on China for infrastructure, including a new airport and adjoining toll road, have raised concerns Beijing is seeking to keep the APC in power.