Friday, January 3, 2014

Sam Sumana's Golden Boy in Hot Waters

David Monologue Baryoh
David Tam-Baryoh, one of main players in the propaganda machinery of the Sierra Leone government of Ernest Bai Koroma, whose main role in the last election was to get opposition members on the radio in the guise of providing a fair and balanced medium and then proceed to ask them embarrassing or belittling questions, while later having a panel of All Peoples Congress supporters tear apart any point the opposition spokesperson would have made when the person was no longer on the line, seems to be in some hot waters.

In 2012, David Tam-Baryoh's weekend monologue radio program became a political must staple in many areas of Sierra Leone. During the heat of the elections he was effective in minimizing corruption allegations against Vice President Sam Sumana, a personal friend and kinsman of Tam-Baryoh and a politician with a history of shady deals spreading from Minnesota and Missouri in the USA, to timber scandals in the hinterlands of Sierra Leone. Some businessmen in Minnesota who the Vice President defrauded even had a website set up to educate the world and Sierra Leoneans about his history of fraud. The website has since been taken down. 
Balogun Koroma

David Tam-Baryoh was very effective in negating the impact of these various scandals, using his wide radio reach to inform the country's largely uninformed masses that the allegations were the result of a concerted tribalistic campaign against the Vice President and an opposition conspiracy to discredit him, even though the Americans involved in the scandal had no idea what the difference between a Kono, Mende or Temne was. 

However, the largely gullible supporters of the Vice President swallowed Tam-Baryoh's bait hook,line and sinker, and the President reappointed him as his Vice Presidential running mate, a move that has made the international community take a second look at corruption in the West African state with negative consequences. Last year the country got the dubious distinction of being the bribery leader in the world and the government just missed up on a Millennium Challenge Corporation contract grant worth over 500 million dollars that would have helped revitalize public utilities in the country, primarily because of the level of actual and perceived corruption in the country.

However, immediately following the 2012 elections President Koroma had a falling out with his Vice President Sam Sumana over conflicting political ambitions. David Tam-Baryoh seems to have taken the side of his kinsman Sam Sumana, while the President's role in the matter was championed by his newly appointed Special Executive Assistant Sylvia O. Blyden, a political opportunist who had variously been in favor with former rebel leader Foday Sankoh, Ex-President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, Ex-Vice President Solomon Ekuma Berewa and now President Ernest Bai Koroma. Blyden quickly threw the spanner in the works, going after the Vice President and his main supporters, with David Tam-Baryoh as her main target.
State House Freetown

The relationship between Tam-Baryoh and Sylvia deteriorated hopelessly when the former published a story alleging that a lady close to the President had had a bastard child that was the product of incestous rape residing with her mother overseas. One did not have to be a nuclear scientist to see the parallels between the irascible Blyden and the lady in the story and the two then embarked on a public vow of mutual annihilation in which Sylvia seems to be currently winning the current round.

Yesterday news filtered to the Segbwema Blog that the popular radio journalist had been arrested in the capital Freetown over some stories he had been peddling against the champion of a third term for President Koroma, Aviation Minister Leonard Balogun Koroma.

During the early days of the first Koroma administration, Balogun Koroma was a Minister in the office of Vice President Sam Sumana. However, Balogun had mysteriously been unceremoniously fired from the position. A man highly schooled in the back room deals of Freetown politics, Balogun had slowly warmed his way back into the confidence of President Koroma and in recent times his political fortunes have been rising quickly, even while the political fortune of the Vice President has been on a precipitous decline.
The Owl and the Pussycat

Many rumors are swirling around Freetown about the perceived conflict between Tam-Baryoh and Balogun Koroma. Some are viewing it as just another chapter in the internal party struggle to prevent Sam Sumana from running for the APC flagbearer in the next Presidential elections. Some see it as another step in the move by the Koroma political clan to have him get a third presidential term in the face of wide national opposition to the unconstitutional move. There is also another rumor that some international foreign mining magnates were involved in a horrible local boat accident, but the minister wanted to both minimize the role of the businessmen and deflate the number of casualties involved, but Tam Baryoh had been against this and started spreading stories contrary to the official agenda.
Vice President Sam Sumana

More reliable news is that the arrest was the result of the exchange of some text messages between the journalist Tam-Baryoh and Minister Balogun Koroma in relation to some documents that an informant had promised to make available to him. He had reportedly accused the minister of a plan to burn down his radio station and deal with him because he was sympathetic to the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party. It is reported that the minister was not too happy with these allegations and put a hunt out for Tam-Baryoh. Baryoh later made it to CID where he was detained on charges of libel after four hours of interrogation. After almost seven hours in detention reports are that he was released on a bail of 100 million Leones and two sureties.

This current arrest is just the latest in the campaign of harassment and intimidation of journalists that has been the hallmark of the second term of President Ernest Koroma. Having practically bought over most of the journalists in the country, the few that have adopted an independent posture are being routinely arrested over spurious charges, detained for long periods in a stated bid to "sanitize" the country's media landscape of any journalist seen as not toeing the official government line. The influence of the paranoid Sylvia Blyden on a very indecisive President is seen as a reason why the president's second term has been so turbulent.

President Ernest Koroma
Another Gbagbo?
Many independent commentators are however drawing parallels between what is happening in Sierra Leone and countries like The Gambia and concluding that Sierra Leone is gradually seeing the rise of another West African tin can despot who wants to hang on to power when his time is up and is doing everything possible to create an environment suitable for the rise of a dictatorship. Even where those around the President are saying that he is a democrat who has no intention of extending his mandate, many people around the country are growing uneasy over the signs of the rise of tyranny.

The Segbwema Blog will monitor reports on the ground and continue to provide detailed analysis of this developing story.

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