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Africa

Sierra Leone president and ex-deputy caught in a political quagmire

President Ernest Koroma has sworn in a new deputy after sacking Vice President Sam-Sumana. Koroma and Sam-Sumana are locked in a party leadership battle.

In a move civil society described as unconstitutional, President Ernest Bai Koroma swore in veteran politician Victor Bockarie Foh as his deputy on Friday (20.03.2015). Foh was Sierra Leone’s ambassador to China.

The replacement of Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana came a week after the governing All People’s Congress (APC) expelled him from the party. Koroma issued a statement on Tuesday that he had relieved the vice president off his duties citing sections 40 and 41 of the national constitution. These sections stipulate a vice president must belong to a political party.

In a press statement, Koroma said Sam-Sumana had abandoned his office when he went into hiding and asked for asylum at the US embassy in Freetown. Sam-Sumana however rejected the allegation and accused Koroma of acting unlawfully.

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President Ernest Koroma is barred by the constitution from contesting another election after two terms in office.

A civil society activist working with Campaign for Good Governance Valnora Edwin said the constitution does not make any provision for the president to sack his deputy. She told DW the president and the vice "can only be impeached by an act of parliament".

"Campaign for Good Governance believes the procedure for the removal of the vice president was not followed according to the constitutional provisions," she said.

But senior editor of the All People’s Congress (APC) party newspaper Cornelius Deveaux believed “by seeking asylum the vice president made his position vacant”. "The president, in fulfillment of the constitutional provision, appointed someone qualified for the position instead," Deveaux said.

Sam-Sumana was expelled from the APC after the party had accused him of planning to form a new breakaway faction. The party’s National Advisory Council also said he had given false information about his academic qualifications and religion.

According to the party’s constitution, Sam-Sumana could appeal his expulsion but Deveaux said the APC had not received any communication from him to this effect.

But critics argue on social media that the ousting of the vice president is political than constitutional issue. Koroma’s presidential mandate ends in two years and he is barred from contesting another election after two concurrent terms. It is widely believed he does not want Sam-Sumana to lead the party after his term.

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Sierra Leoneans are shocked by the dispute between the president and his deputy.

The vice presidency of Sam-Sumana has been marred by series of allegations. In an al-Jazeera documentary, filmed by Sierra Leonean filmmaker Sorious Samura and Ghanaian investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Sam-Sumana was shown negotiating a timber export deal after the country had placed a ban on the trade. President Koroma however stood by him.

Political pundits said Sam-Sumana had a strong footing within APC because he helped financed the party’s activities before the 2007 polls.

Prior to that election the APC had lost popular support in the country. Its 22 year rule under the regimes of Siaka Stevens and Joseph Saidu Momoh had been marked by mass corruption, violence, suppression of dissent, authoritarianism, and the mass disappearance of opposition supporters.

In the 1996 and 2002 multi party elections, APC contested the polls but lost to the Sierra leone People’s Party (SLPP). The party was not even among the first five major parties in the 1996 polls.

Koroma’s first presidential bid was in 2002. After failing in the polls, he embarked on an international mission to galvanize support for the party. Sam-Sumana, who was living in Minnesota, USA and whose father was a staunched APC member and friend of President Stevens, aligned himself with Koroma.

Much to the disagreement of APC party stalwarts and to the disappointment of Victor Foh, Ernest Koroma named the unknown businessman as his running mate. The APC ticket defeated the incumbent SLPP. Sam Sumana became vice president.

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Koroma select Sam-Sumana as his running mate in the 2012 polls against much criticisms.

After the al-Jazeera film was released, critics called for the resignation of the vice president but President Koroma said his deputy had not done anything wrong. The government filed court charges against al-Jazeera.

The film did, however, sour Koroma’s relationship with Sam-Sumana. In the 2012 elections, experts speculated Koroma would not name him as his running mate in his bid for a second term. They were wrong. Although Koroma did choose Sam-Sumana as his deputy, local media reports raised questions about their working relationship.

The reason Sam-Sumana gave for absconding from office was that he had been tipped off that soldiers were on their way to arrest him. The government denied this saying he was not in any danger. According to the government press release, the soldiers were simply going through their normal routine of rotating the shifts that were guarding the home of the vice president.

When Sam-Sumana announced on March 6 that he was putting himself under quarantine for 21 days after one of his bodyguards had died of Ebola, local media showered him with praise. However, he was in the middle of his self-imposed quarantine when the APC party announced his expulsion from the party.

The opposition SLPP issued a statement condemning the actions of the president. The party’s secretary general Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie told DW that the sections under which Koroma sacked Sam-Sumana were "inapplicable and irrelevant" in this situation.

"We have asked the president to withdraw his press release in which he announced the sacking of the vice president," Tejan-Sie said. "He has not heeded to that and he has gone ahead to select a new vice president again contrary to the constitution."

Tejan-Sie said Koroma’s action has breached the mandate of the people. He maintained the SLPP was considering several actions including seeking for a "parliamentary impeachment of the president, a court action for a declaration on the violations of the constitution and civil disobedience [of his mandate]".

Sierra Leone is currently trapped in a political battle at the expense of the fight again Ebola. The government has announced a three day anti-Ebola lockdown on March 27, which will affect the lives of about 2.5 million people.

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