Mar 19, 2015

President Koroma Sacks Vice President, Appoints Replacement

Sierra Leone President Ernest KoromaIn a late night announcement from State House on Tuesday, March 17, President Koroma announced that he had dismissed Vice President Alhaji Sam Sumana. Two days later, on Thursday March 19, the President appeared on SLBC TV in a State House ceremony swearing in a replacement, Victor Foh, erstwhile ambassador to China.

Just two weeks ago Sam Sumana seemed secure in his position as Vice President of the republic. There had been reports of differences between him and his boss for years, but all conventional wisdom was that he could not be easily removed from his position even if that were the wish of the President. The Sierra Leone Constitution specifies only a limited number of ways in which a sitting vice president can vacate the office, and these do not include dismissal by the President.

Events moved with remarkable rapidity after the ruling All Peoples Congress voted to expel the Vice President from the party on March 6 (Sierra_Leone_APC_Sacks_Vice-President). At the time the spin doctors assured that this was purely an internal APC affair, had little to do with President Koroma (although it later emerged he chaired the meeting that took the decision), and Sam Sumana had the right to appeal this decision within 30 days, which right would be respected by the party. Even if this appeal was lost, the conventional wisdom went, and even if the Sierra Leone Parliament found sufficient grounds to impeach him, the matter would still be required by the Constitution to be inquired upon by a panel of judges, a process that might take months, even years. As observers looked to see whether the Sierra Leone Parliament might take up the matter speedily, there was a lull for a few days. News from Parliament was all about the ongoing investigation into misuse of Ebola funds. It appeared Parliament would not move on the matter speedily. Then, late last week there were increasingly loud calls from politicians close to the center of power, notably UDM's Mohammed Bangura, for the Vice President to voluntarily resign (one of the other methods the Constitution specifies for the Vice President to leave office). It emerged that a group of senior politicians led by former Vice President Soloman Berewa had met with Sam Sumana and pressured him to resign: he could voluntarily leave office gracefully, with all his benefits intact, but if he chose to resist and was removed he would lose these entitlements. According to Berewa, Vice President Sumana agreed to go upon certain conditions and these were approved by President Koroma in a late night meeting the same day, then Sam Sumana reneged.

 At the weekend came dramatic news of an asylum request by the Vice President to the US Embassy in Freetown, prompted by a rotation of his securitySierra Leone Vice President Sam Sumana guards. Sam Sumana was reported in hiding. Some reports even had him in Guinea. Again, the official spin doctors went into action, painting a picture of an innocent President, hard at work in the Provinces fighting Ebola, and an erratic, panicky Vice President, seeking to embarrass his boss, oblivious to the damage to the nation. The change of security guards was a normal routine affair, they assured, regularly authorized by security commanders. The Vice President's safety had never been an issue. It emerged, however, that the President was indeed instrumental in the decision to rotate security and this was prompted at least in part by concerns for his own safety.

Demonstration by APC Kono youthsEarly this week saw demonstrations by busloads of "Kono youths", allegedly from Sam Sumana's home district, all in freshly minted T shirts calling for Sam Sumana to go. And then, for the first time in the saga, at a meeting with  political party leaders, the President revealed that, contrary to what everyone had thought, there was an additional option by which the Vice President could be removed from office. The additional option was that he, the President, could simply sack him, by virtue of his supreme authority. Within 48 hours came the late night announcement from State House announcing the dismissal of the Vice President. Two days later the swearing in of his successor.