Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sierra Leone and the Missteps of Executive Arrogance

Beleaguered VP Sam Sumana
Sometimes news from Sierra Leone flows so fast that it is occasionally hard to keep up with the mix of health system horror tales and comedic political relief. The past few weeks, events in Freetown Sierra Leone have been fast and furious.

On the bright side,  new incidences of Ebola infection around the country are at their lowest rates since the disease peaked around the end of the previous year. Many districts have reported no new Ebola cases for some months now. Residents of the northwestern area of the country who have been hardest hit finally seem to be winning the battle against this horrible infection.

So we finally expect some smiles and tranquility to come back to Sierra Leone after a period of unimaginable tales sickness and death. Well if that is what you are expecting, sorry to disappoint you, because the political clowns in Sierra Leone will not  give you even one that moment of peaceful bliss. As the news on the Ebola front starts to be really great, juvenile political  maneuvers by the President and his cronies are now setting the stage for another round of instability in the country, as if the people have already not had enough.
Top Presidential Adviser
Ibrahim B. Kargbo

In Freetown, the Vice President Sam Sumana seems to have been the last obstacle to the President's total dominance of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) party. Having filled the party executive with hand selected loyalists and individuals whose political destinies are tied to his waist coat, President Koroma has more or less guaranteed that his wishes are party policy. Anybody who tries to go against Koroma's wishes now face the wrath of the President's hand picked party secretary general Ambassador Yansaneh, who is only too quick to brand such individuals as pariahs and have them booted out of the party. From the young and ambitious Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray to Vice President Sam Sumana, anyone having a contrary opinion in APC these days is guaranteeing themselves of the surest way to be expelled from the party. Yansaneh is now kicking people out of APC with such mercernary zeal, that you would be forgiven for assuming that the party was his grandfather's last earthly investment.

About two weeks ago, as we reported, the Vice President Alhaji Sam Sumana was booted out of the ruling party on seemingly bogus charges that; he had falsified his academic credentials to gain office, he was fomenting violence in his home district, he was a Christian who had opportunistically claimed to be a Muslim to get the VP position and he was secretly trying to form his own party. These alleged anti-party activities had warranted an emergency meeting called while he was under self-imposed Ebola quarantine and the officials of the party had decided that these charges were serious enough for him to be kicked out of the party, even when he was physically unable to be present to mount a defense. Unfortunately for Yansaneh and his conspiring group, there had been a previous clandestine meeting held, the details of which were leaked online before the VP's expulsion, in which the real reason for the VP's expulsion was exposed as a way of paving a way for someone from the President's  region of the country to lead the party into elections, in case he was unable to accomplish his plan of going for a third term. All those voting to remove Sam Sumana were promised hefty sums of money, as several attempts to get rid of him in the past had failed.
Trading Places Koroma, Sumana
"Sumana watch you back"

Then last week the President put out a press release stating that he had dismissed the Vice President from office, on the basis of the allegations of the APC party elders, even when the quarantined VP had publicly gone on air refuting all the allegations and promising to defend himself against these charges as soon as he was out of quarantine. President Koroma also accused the VP of trying to seek political asylum in America, an act that according to the President was tantamount to an intent on the part of the VP to give up his official duties and responsibilities. The President used an ambiguous reference to "supreme executive authority" in the Constitution as justification for dismissing the VP, even though the Constitution is very clear on how a VP can be removed, and no where does it say the President has any such authority.

Many Sierra Leoneans are wondering why the President did not give the VP the privilege of due process to determine whether there was any substance to these allegations before he was removed. Why the haste? The other question was why the President did not send the matter to a Parliament that was full of loyalists of his who are always too willing to do his bidding, thus at least giving the pretense of following constitutional guidelines. What was the reason for this executive arrogance? Did President Koroma so underestimate the Sierra Leone people that he expected such a violation to go challenged? Was the fact that the President surrounded himself with admirers and people who only said things that he wanted to hear blind him to the reality that there were still people in Sierra Leone who do not want to go back to a past era of constitutional violations and one man tyranny?

Many prominent private citizens, politicians, civil society organizations and almost all the respected lawyers in the country, including over 85% of the members of the country's Bar Association have come out against the President's move as a blatant violation of the Constitution. The only major group that has endorsed the move as constitutional has been the Motor Driver's Union. But on matters of the Constitution, many in Sierra Leone would rather listen to the Bar association than the Driver's Union.

The All Peoples Congress' party Secretary General, Ambassador Yansaneh, does not even seem to understand why many people who are not APC should care about the VP being dismissed. He considers their action, "internal party business." Whatthe Ambassador does not seem to understand is that even though many of us think Sam Sumana was a lousy choice as a Vice President, the Vice Presidency is a national institution whose duties and responsibilities are enshrined in the country's constitution. Nobody raised a fuss when the APC decided to get rid of Mohamed Kamaraimba Mansaray just when his growing popularity was seen as a threat to the APC political establishment. Yansaneh should however realize that a Vice President, even an unpopular one, is no Kamaraimba. The Vice President is elected directly by the people, on the same ticket as the President. If the rights granted by the Vice President under Sierra Leone's Constitution can be taken away by Ibrahim Kargbo or Ambassador Yansaneh, what guarantees the rights of the ordinary citizen?
Karamoh Kabbah
The Instigator

I am no fan of Vice President Sam Sumana. I think the VP and the other ministers from Kono should have spent all these months helping the people of their heavily exploited district instead of engaging in daily quarrel and petty political rivalry. With Kono having so many ministers in the current government and the district being the bread basket of the country, there is very little the people of the district can boast of in terms of either infrastructure or long term development projects. However, I believe that the way the Vice President is being removed sets a very bad precedent for our still evolving democracy. If this travesty is allowed to stand, then not only are future VPs not safe, even Presidents can then be removed by the same process. In the future a group of the members of any President's party who are unhappy with him will get up one day, concoct some bogus allegations and use it to dismiss the President from his party. Will the President then be dismissed for not "continuously" belonging to a party?
Supreme Executive Authority
Ernest Bai Koroma

One of my favorite quotes comes from a favorite musician, Joseph Hill of Culture. He said, "when you dig a hole for your brother, remember to always dig two." I hope the Karamoh Kabbas and Konomanyis of this world would understand the meaning of this quotation. Through their sustained efforts they have taken the Vice Presidency and probably a future presidency away from their home district to the small village of Jimmy Bargbo, albeit temporarily. When brothers fight, others benefit.

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