President Koroma weathers political storm in Sierra Leone

President Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone’s visit to Washington has been viewed by his supporters as a triumph over adversity following the political crisis that the country was plunged into over the departure of Vice President Samuel Sam-sumana.

Mr. Koroma, who was in the US capital last week for the Annual Spring Meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), also met President Barack Obama in the presence of Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Alpha Conde of Guinea.

The leaders of the three worst-hit Ebola countries had a meeting with Mr Obama to assess progress in the fight against the deadly virus and to look ahead on how to deal with its aftermath.

A White House statement said Mr Obama remarked: “Under extraordinary circumstances, the people of these three countries have shown great courage and resolve, treating and taking care of each other, especially children and orphans.

“The United States has been proud to lead an international effort to work with these three countries in a global response.

“Last week, there were fewer than 40 new cases, so we’ve seen major progress. In Liberia right now, there are zero cases. In Sierra Leone and Guinea combined, there were fewer than 40 new cases last week and that’s around the lowest number in a year.

“Now we’re focused on a shared goal, and that is getting to zero. We can’t be complacent. This virus is unpredictable,” Mr. Obama added.

“We have to be vigilant, and the international community has to remain fully engaged in a partnership with these three countries until there are no cases of Ebola in these countries.

“Health systems also have to be rebuilt to meet daily needs – vaccines for measles, delivering babies safely, treating HIV/AIDS and malaria. And with our Global Health Security Agenda, we intend to do more to prevent future epidemics,” Mr. Obama said.

What the Ebola epidemic has done to the three countries is to drastically reduce their economic growth. Sierra Leone, for example, was on course to achieve eight per cent growth, the highest of the three countries, before the outbreak.

However, the IMF and World Bank have reassured the three leaders that they will help to restore markets and increase agricultural production to previous levels.

Mr. Obama admitted that there was a challenge of promoting investment and development.

But he noted: “So Madam President, Mr. Presidents, we are very grateful for the hard work that you’ve done. We’re proud to partner with you and we intend to see this through until the job is done.”

The positive response from the White House, IMF and World Bank is a far cry from what President Koroma was facing last month when Mr. Sam-sumana sought political asylum in the US embassy in Freetown.

Things came to a head when Mr. Sam-sumana was expelled from the ruling All People’s Congress APC) for what party grandees said were activities that were undermining the government through “underhand” activities.

“The party has been patient with Sam-sumana,” one analyst told the GNA. ”But in the light of the Ebola crisis, his destabilising antics eventually brought about his downfall.”

Reports in Freetown said that Mr. Sam-sumana, after his expulsion from the APC, sought asylum in the US embassy because he felt his life was under threat.

He explained that he had made the move because there were rumours that his residence was about to be attacked by APC supporters and as such he had to take evasive action.

But the analyst noted. “This was a clear example of rumours fuelling confusion, which affected the judgment of Sam-Sumana.”

In the end the US embassy did not accede to Mr. Sam-sumana’s request and he was then sacked from his position for apparently deserting it.

Mr. Victor Foh was appointed Vice President, and that was when Mr. Sam-sumana’s decided to challenge his removal in court, arguing that according to the Constitution he has to remain in his position until the president leaves office.

This is, indeed, what the constitution says but the government countered by pointing out that Mr. Sam-sumana had abandoned his position.

In Washington and London, supporters of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) organised low-key demonstrations against Mr. Sam-sumana’s departure.

The matter has now been adjourned indefinitely by the Supreme Court in Freetown. One legal expert told the GNA that this could be the end of the court challenge because such adjournments could be extremely long.

“Indeed, by the time this case comes to court again, President Koroma would have left office, thus making the matter just an academic one,” the legal expert said.

Many in the APC viewed Mr. Sam-sumana as an embarrassment to the government ever since he and President Koroma first entered office in 2007.

He was caught in an Al-Jazeera sting in 2012 when he seemingly agreed on camera to provide, for a fee, a licence for timber logging at a time when the government had placed a moratorium on this.

It was also alleged that his intransigence was founded on the belief that the APC would not allow him to succeed President Koroma as the APC’s presidential candidate in the 2017 election.

But, as experts point out, Mr. Sam-sumana has no automatic right to become the presidential candidate, given that the selection would have to go through an internal party electoral process, which would surely see other candidates vie for the position.

For President Koroma, who himself faced years of legal challenge to his leadership of the APC before eventually securing it in court, he appears to have weathered a political storm in the midst of tackling the deadly Ebola virus.

The fight against Ebola has been tough for the government, amid claims of corruption. Indeed, after President Koroma ordered an audit of expenditure on fighting Ebola, it was discovered that one-third of the money released by the government was unaccounted for.

He received praise from international corruption watchdogs such as Transparency International for taking decisive action to ensure transparent and proper handling of the Ebola crisis.

At the start of the epidemic he had sacked his health minister in order “to create a conducive environment for efficient and effective handling of the Ebola outbreak”.

President Koroma believes that in the light of Mr Sam-sumana’s departure as Vice President party unity and national stability will ultimately triumph over Ebola.

He told party stalwarts in Washington last week: “The unity of the APC is very important at this time and some of the decisions taken by the National Executive Committee had been done to protect and stabilise the party. So the issue of succession is a matter for God to decide.” GNA

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