A PRESIDENCY SHARED AND A TRUST REPOSEDDecember 17, 2013
By Titus Boye-Thompson, Strategic Media & Development Communications Unit
When the constitutionality of high office takes precedence, a whole range of negative ablutions are carried away by the gust of the wind. Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma has for some time been rumoured to be at loggerheads with his second in command. That President Koroma has never done or said anything in public to reproach Alhaji Samuel Samsumana is disregarded by those who fester the concept that these are two men who cannot meet or greet each other civilly. The reality is as usual very far from the rumours and so it is that in a recent interview with Vice President Samsumana, he was confident that as long as he enjoys the respect and confidence of his boss in addition to the constitutionality of his position, he would resist any temptation to cause any approbation on his working relationship with the fountain of honour. Vice President Samsumana is adamant that he has found nothing but a mentor in President Koroma and continues to revere him as a kind, gentle and loyal person who would do his utmost to protect those who are closest and most dear to him. A devout Christian in opposition to Samsumana the Muslim, these two personalities have enjoyed a quiet assurance in each other’s loyalty and unflinching reverence and support for each other. Whenever pushed, it has always been Vice President Samsumana’s position is that he won’t abhor any grudge by those who are undoubtedly outside of their relationship.
Those who are close to the two people will attest to the fact that since their coming together to encamp under the same political platform, Vice President Samsumana had been the willing student to the President’s quiet diplomacy and engaging leadership. In the course of their first term, the juggling for positions and other grandstanding usually inherent in African politics mesmerized even by the closest ally of Vice President Samsumana until the day of that announcement by President Koroma that he was minded to select the Vice President to be his running mate. That the President had choices at his disposal was never in doubt but his strong Christian ethic and his loyalty to someone who had done nothing but revere him was a more telling reason to stick with his Vice.
In their journey together along the political track, Vice President Samsumana has been a sober minded and reticent politician, easily succumbing to the concerns and dictates of his boss and never once countermanding his instructions. On his own part, President Koroma has always adorned his Vice with public approbation. At the height of speculation as to whether Vice President Samsumana will succeed him, President Koroma was very diplomatic in addressing the question in terms of party dictates rather than his own personal choice on the matter. President Koroma promised that the question of his successor will be done the APC way and that in his indomitable style put paid to all the speculations and innuendos.
Vice President Samsumana in his own persona has been something of an enigma. A businessman before joining politics, it was widely assumed that he brought his personal resources to a political party that had wallowed in opposition for a while. In addition to whatever his contributions might have been, it was his faith and trust in Ernest Bai Koroma as a winner for the 2007 elections that established his penchant for picking a winner. At a time when other members of the party had access to funds or would have had such access, none was forthcoming in delivering such resources to fight an election from the opposition benches. So it is lamentable now after a period in office, Vice President Samsumana is confronted with a sea of potential challengers to his position and office. That in itself is politics and it would be unworthy of him to allow such trivialities to disconnect him from the aspirations that he may harbour. In any event, this is a man who has vowed to restrain his own aspirations for the good of this country and to subject his future to the dictates of his boss and his destiny. The matter to be considered is the fact that for President Koroma, there may well be some while yet before his active political career comes to an end. He, as all of us have to wait for the final determination of the Constitutional Review Commission and the will of the people of Sierra Leone to determine the future political dispensation of this country. Without such considerations, any attempt to determine political destinies at this point would be subjugating an open and frank discussion on the merits of alternative political systems and approaches to how this country is governed.
As for the Vice President, he admitted that out of the over 50 times that he has acted as President, none is more memorable than the next although as painstakingly as he could, he has meticulously documented the key milestones of each occasion. To the minds of most Sierra Leoneans though, he is mainly remembered for the decision to ban political radio stations on one such occasion when he was acting President. His reactions to a prison break by directly accosting and reprimanding the then Director of Prisons would be another epic instance of his exercise of executive authority.
This has been a working partnership and one full of mutuality of respect and trust. This has been a presidency shared by two men who invariably have different socialization but have managed to engender a practical approach to their collaboration and working relationship. Vice President Samsumana would never be heard to say a word of complain about his boss nor has it ever been recorded that President Koroma said anything but praise for his servitude. President Koroma is almost too well aware of the pressures that his second in command faces, considering that he did not just get to the pinnacle of leadership of the APC by any easy means either. This is a political party with well entrenched bastions and multifarious constituencies. To lead this party would require a lot of skill and dexterity and one would do no better than learn from someone who has mastered the necessary and more particular attributes of inter-personal relationship and network building.
As President Koroma has reposed inordinate trust on his Vice President so would he expect loyalty and understanding, restraint and patience as the political landscape unfolds. It is unarguable that President Koroma would not get this from his Vice President. It would however be signal for the Vice President to champion the emerging constitutional review proposals if such proposals are of a sound and robust nature, well established to secure the democratic credentials of the President and also to guard this nation from chaos and political disparagement as had happened in the past. The test of the relationship therefore would lie on the mechanisms by which both gentlemen of the highest office on the land continue to engage for the benefit of this nation.
The field for political succession is crowded already but that in itself is not a bad thing. There is no mileage in deterring political aspirations but the focus for now ought to be on securing a legacy befitting of President Ernest Bai Koroma. The timetable for succession would be announced in due course so until that time, the constitutionality of the present arrangements should provide the ambience for effective protection and security to incumbents. A good thing about political competition is that it allows the best of men to see the worst in others.