Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sierra Leone Vice President Under Ebola Quarantine Kicked out of Ruling Party

Quarantined Vice President
Alhaji Sam Sumana
After two years of being regularly sidelined, neglected and occasionally being subject to public humiliation, the Vice President of Sierra Leone Alhaji Sam Sumana has finally been kicked out of the ruling party All Peoples Congress (APC) party and his position as Vice President is now tenuous at best. 

Just a few days ago, it was reported that a member of the Vice President's staff had tested positive for Ebola. The Vice President then elected to go into twenty one days of voluntary quarantine in accordance with existing Ebola protocol. Using the opportunity provided by the VP's quarantine, top members of his ruling party have hastily convened a meeting of senior party officials in Freetown and stripped the Vice President off his membership of the ruling APC.

From a graduate of Metro State University in Minnesota, to a job as a parking attendant in Minneapolis, to a stint as a diamond mining CEO in his native Sierra, and then being tapped to be opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma's running mate in 2007, Vice President Sam Sumana's rise in Sierra Leone politics was meteoric and his fall from grace has been equally spectacular.

Convincing some prominent American businessmen of the diamond business potential in his home district of Kono in Eastern Sierra Leone, Sam Sumana a Sierra Leone migrant resident in Minnesota during the civil war in Sierra Leone obtained operational finance from these businessmen in the mid part of the last decade to go back to his country and launch a a large scale mining concern of which he was to be the CEO. The venture had  elements of both a profit motive and a social business, intending to provide needed employment for youths in his native Kono District; at least that is how he sold the mission to his fellow business partners in America.
Ibrahim Ben Kargbo
Pontius Pilate

After establishing himself as a diamond magnate in Kono, Sam Sumana came to the notice of the the leader of the then opposition All People's Congress Ernest Bai Koroma, who was experiencing a growing  populist appeal across the country after years of austerity measures under the late UN veteran turned President Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabba. With Ernest Bai Koroma's fortunes on the rise and the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party having shot themselves in the foot by nominating the sitting Vice President Solomon Ekuma Berewa, a largely uncharismatic and uninspiring individual as the party flagbearer, Ernest Koroma saw his chance, particularly when VP Berewa's arch political rival Charles Margai  decided to break away from the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and form his own political outfit, the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC). Berewa underestimated the potency of his political rival Charles Margai, the son of the  second Prime Minister of the country and nephew of the first. That decision proved to be a strategic mistake.

In the 2007 election Charles Margai came third in the national polls and threw in his lot with the Koroma APC instead of the SLPP party of his father and helped Ernest Koroma secure the presidency in what was described as a loose power sharing agreement. The agreement was maintained briefly, but the two men soon had a falling out as Koroma consolidated his power base and Margai's influence waned within his own party. Ernest Koroma indirectly helped to put the death watch on the PMDC by kicking Margai loyalists out of his government and appointing Margai's rivals within the PMDC to ministerial positions on the condition that they defect from the PMDC.

In the 2012 elections Margai's party was practically voted out of political relevance. To sink the nail in PMDC's coffin further, the President's wife allegedly grabbed a prime piece of real estate in the Aberdeen region of Freetown from Margai,  to which he responded by making some threatening remarks to a group of assembled journalists. The power broker Margai was arrested and detained like a common criminal for a few days, causing his family to go to the President and beg him for mercy. After the incident Margai's political capital plummeted like a punctured tire and many think his political career has lost momentum for good.

Before the 2012 elections, there were persistent rumors that President Ernest Bai Koroma was not going to have the VP as his running mate. However, the president defied expectations and renominated Sam Sumana again. Immediately after the elections however, it seemed as if there was trouble in Paradise, as rumors started to mill around Freetown that the two leaders had had a falling out. These rumors were given credence by the fact that the VP's adversaries from his home district of Kono were given cabinet positions, while he was largely ignored in the conduct of the affairs of the state. The President's newly created Special Executive Assistant, an irascible character by the name of Sylvia Blyden, also used her news tabloid outlet the Awareness Times to rain indirect insults on the head of the isolated VP.
President Koroma and VP Sumana

After 2013 things got from bad to worse and by the period of the Ebola crisis everybody in the country knew that the VP's role had become practically redundant. He was not given any role to play in the Ebola crisis and his family members and supporters were being constantly harassed in his home district. At the peak of the crisis, the VP's sister was allegedly arrested without being allowed to dress up on spurious allegations of assembling in contravention of Ebola regulations. The arrests were supervised by another minster from Kono Karamo Kabbah.

A prominent journalist close to the Vice President, David Tam Baryoh, was recently arrested for allegedly making inciting statements in contravention of emergency health regulations in the country. He spent about 11 days in the country's notorious Pademba Road Prison. When he was released, he went on to the radio and backtracked on all the earlier statements he had made, basically throwing his supporters under the bus. He claimed that he was now a changed man and an agent of peace. Rumors had it that while incarcerated, he had been threatened of being locked up with an Ebola patient and in mortal dread, he had come out singing like a hen.
Born Again David Tam Baryoh

So after a long period of trying to get rid of the Vice President his adversaries have now publicly set the wheels in motion. There was leak two days ago of a telephone recording of an acquaintance of the President stating that they had been all promised twenty five million Leones each, to vote for the removal of the VP. So yesterday top party brass, all handpicked by President Koroma had presided over a meeting agreeing to kick the Vice President out of the ruling party, accusing him of faking his academic credentials when he ran for office, of pretending to be a Muslim when he was in fact a Christian, and making clandestine plans to form his own party.

Only the future knows how this political maneuver will play out. According to the leaked telephone recording, the prime reason why they wanted to kick the Vice President out was that the President did not want someone from the East of the country to head the party going into the next elections. President Koroma wanted to use his influence to appoint a relative of his and a trusted Lieutenant one John Sesay as his replacement,  if the President himself was unable to succeed in his agenda of running for a third term in contravention of the current constitution.
Sam Sumana Supporter Adamu

President Koroma's presidency has been remarkable for the degree of tribalism and regionalism that has infiltrated every aspect of life in the country. A man who grew up in the heydays of tribal politics, he seemed to be stuck in another era. He is paranoid of heterogeneity, preferring to surround himself and give sensitive national offices to only close associates. The president has politicized even the civil service in the country and distributes government and public administration positions on a winner takes all basis, making appointments largely on the basis of loyalty and political patronage. Consequently the level of corruption in the country is at an all time high and accountability is at an all time low.

Nobody knows what the future holds for Sam Sumana,  as he himself is deeply unpopular in his home district and he has never really tried to build a solid political base around the country. He is rumored to be planning to roll out his own political party, but only time will tell if this is just not another political game by his many detractors in the government. By the time the VP emerges from the quarantine, he will come to a country in which he no longer belongs to a registered political party. But as the saying goes, man proposes, God disposes. Nobody knows tomorrow.

No comments: