March 16 (GIN)—An internal war is roiling the administration of President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, with Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana at dead center. The vice president, expelled last week from the ruling All People’s Congress, is said to be forming a rival political movement from his home district in Kono, the country’s raw diamond capital and an election decider.
Tensions grew so hot this week that Koroma sent soldiers to surround Sam-Sumana’s home. This action prompted the vice president to put in a hurried asylum request with the U.S. Embassy, which has taken no action on the matter as yet.
“I have fled my house and am with my wife in a place I cannot disclose, waiting to hear from the U.S. ambassador, whom I have asked for asylum,” Sam-Sumana told local media.
“I don’t feel safe this morning as vice president,” he told the AP news agency by phone. He said he had spoken to U.S. Ambassador John Hoover and was waiting for a response.
It’s not the first crisis for the vice president, son of an influential ruling family. In 2011, his office was identified in a TV documentary investigating illegal logging. The matter was dubbed “Timbergate” by the press.
Other serious problems with the vice president were quietly dismissed by the president. This policy became an irritant for the Campaign for Good Governance, a civil society group, which asked why Sam-Sumana had not “cleared his name from the many allegations, such as the cocaine trade and illegal timber logging, that were brought against him while he was vice president in the last five years.”
“As an independent organization, we want to see people with integrity and a clean record in our governance system,” Valnora Edwin was reported to have said.
In the decision to expel Sam-Sumana after a three-month investigation, the vice president was accused of “inciting anti-party activity, fomenting violence, deceit, false statements amounting to fraud, inciting hate, threatening the personal security of key party functionaries, flouting of rulings and decisions of the party, carrying out anti-party propaganda and engaging in activities inconsistent with the achievement of the party’s objectives.”
Furthermore, the vice president was alleged to have falsified his academic qualification by claiming that he has a graduate degree, to have lied when he said that he was Muslim before his selection as running mate in 2007 and to have been the mastermind of political violence against party comrades in the volatile Kono district.
On the announcement of the expulsion, a large crowd gathered at party headquarters to celebrate despite the ban on such events under public emergency laws to control the spread of Ebola. The president himself was seen smiling and waving as his motorcade slowly made its way through the cheering crowd.
Under the constitution, Sam-Sumana cannot be fired, but only impeached or removed for sufficient cause.
“Whatever way this political struggle for power and influence goes, it serves as an unnecessary distraction to our fight to end the Ebola outbreak,” observed Abu-Bakarr Sheriff in a Concord Times editorial. “Most significantly, it would vindicate the view that President Koroma committed an error in judgment by retaining a man with more than a fair share of scandals as the second gentleman of the republic.”