By Ibrahim Sorie Fornah, Winnipeg, Canada
Appointing a presidential running mate is the prerogative of a presidential candidate of a political party. A running mate is a would-be vice president and a possible future president, in the event of resignation or death of the president. So the importance of a presidential running mate in a country’s election cannot be overemphasized especially so, like in our case, when he cannot be sacked simply at the will of his/her boss.
In 2007 many names surfaced as potential running mates to Ernest Koroma, but as God would have it, the 45-year-old Samuel Sam Sumana from the eastern district of Kono emerged as the best choice for him, beating names like Afsatu Kabba, Yambasu and others.
Being that the president hails from the north, the thinking within his APC party was for him to have a regional balance by having someone from the east or south so as to help the president and the party have a national character in the 2007 elections. In 2012, more than six months to elections, the opposition SLPP presidential candidate has unveiled his running mate, whiles the incumbent president is yet to make known whether or not he will retain the incumbent vice president Samuel Sam-Sumana.
Like in 2007 many names have started coming up, leaving one to wonder whether the VP position is vacant or still being occupied. The names that we have heard so far are Musa Tarawally, Kelfala Marah, Minkailu Mansaray and Hon. Chernor Maju Bah among others.
Like the president, the running mate needs to possess certain qualities if he is to add any value to the ticket. His religion, ethnic background, region, experience and age all add impetus to the running mate. Let’s try to put each of these individuals under the microscope.
Let me start with the Internal Affairs Minister, southern-born Musa Tarawally. He is a former Member of Parliament under the now opposition SLPP party between 2003 and 2007 which came about after the death of Tarashid Tarawallie. Thanks to the proportional representation system, which existed then. In the 2007 elections he defected to the APC party apparently afetr he realised that the SLPP were losing the mantle of leadership.
After the 2007 elections Mr. Tarawally was appointed Minister of State South, a position he held up to 2010 when the President reshuffled his cabinet and catapulted him to the seat of Minister of Internal Affairs, a position he presently occupies.
Two months ago a government commission of enquiry, headed by an erudite lawyer Shears-Moses, found Tarawally wanting for fermenting political violence while he was minister in the south. The commission recommended that he should be sacked. But it is yet to effect the commission’s recommendation.
Musa was born in Moyamba, southern Sierra Leone, from the Mandingo/Mende ethnic groups. He is slightly above his youthful age, but younger than the current Vice President. He is a controversial figure whose name has come under lots of criticisms both as Internal Affairs Minister and Minister of State, South. Late last year he was mentioned in a fracas in Kono between his supporters and those of the Vice President’s. His bodyguards were accused of firing live shots at supporters of Sam-Sumana. Tarawally and Sam-Sumana have been strange bedfellows.
Though a controversial figure Tarawally is a crowd-puller and a popular name in the south, a region the APC needs to win the November polls.
The Shears-Moses report has however tainted his image and reputation.
Kelfala Marah is the first and current Chief of Staff in the office of the President. Prior to his appointment, he worked as adviser (Public Expenditure Management) in the Governance and Institutional Development Division of Commonwealth. He is a widely read scholar and a technocrat.
Dr. Marrah was born in Kono to parents from Kabala in the northern Koinadugu district. He belongs to the Koranko ethnic group, one of the minority ethnic groups in Sierra Leone
As Chief of Staff he acts as conduit between ministers and the President; he does many of the President’s jobs. In other words, he serves as a Prime Minister. Like the President, Dr. Marrah is also a northerner, though he is playing the Kono card. The reason for that is, if he is to be chosen as a running-mate the people should see the team as a northeast and not a northern team through and through.
One problem that awaits Dr. Marrah is the fact that he is not a party man. Most APC people I spoke with have said that Dr. Marrah is only in the government at the whims of the President and not of the party. So, one could imagine the deep-seated distrust between the party and the office of the Chief of Staff.
Ministers, who prefer anonymity, have said to me that they have not enjoyed working with Marrah as most of them have seen him as this ‘’small boy’’ made powerful by the President. Apart from all that, he has brought many changes to the Office of the President. His age is also another advantage that the Chief of Staff enjoys believed to be I his early 40s. He has the energy and zest to be a helper to the President, but is the APC part ready to see an outsider clinch that position, just like they once referred to the current Vice President?
Chernor Maju, MP
The youngest amongst the names we have heard to become running mate to oresident Koroma is the lawyer and Member of Parliament, Chernor Maju Bah representing Constituency 110 in Freetown. Cherry Koko, as he is fondly called, came to the limelight after the 2007 elections. He got the highest votes in the Western Area. Chernor Bah was born in the capital Freetown to a Fullah family, arguably the third largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone.
He is currently the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Mines and Mineral Resources. He has also served as chairman for the legislative committee, the most important in the legislative arrangement. As a Freetown -based politician he has been able to build a strong link with other regions in the country. No doubt issues like ethnicity, region, religion and age are very crucial in national politics, especially in Sierra Leone. It is also true that whosoever emerges the running mate should, amongst other things, add value to the President’s ticket.
Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray
There is also rumour that the Minister of Mines, Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray harbours vice presidential ambitions. He is deep into the APC game and in fact has been credited as the ‘Maradona’ of the party. He serves on the party’s National Advisory Council. He is from Tonkolili, in the north. While his admirers think he could make a cunning and witty helper to the president, some observers say his northern origin has clogged his auspicious chances for the VP job, at least for now.
To conclude let me state here that I have deliberately not profiled the sitting Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana, who hails from Kono in the east, because of certain reasons – some obvious some not so obvious. Information I gathered from home suggests that the controversies around him are so huge that he may not survive them. However, no matter who becomes the running mate there are certain factors that must count in the decision to choose them: The youth factor, a readymade alternative to the opposition choices so far, the charisma and above all the numbers. Whoever the President chooses as his running mate will have a herculean task. The reason being after his second term, Ernest Koroma needs to hand over the baton of leadership to someone who will eventually bring the party together in the likelihood of an intra-party squabble. It has to be someone of a national character.