By James Tamba Lebbie
Once again, Vice President, Alhaji Sahr Abubakarr Sidikie Samuel Sam Sumana has been in the news instead of being a source of news, and once again, for all the wrong reasons. And once again like in previous scandals, his guilt or innocence is to a large degree, contingent on where one stands within the political spectrum, or the perception one has of him both in his personal capacity and as vice president of Sierra Leone. And once again, opinions are divided as to whether the controversy surrounding our vice president was orchestrated from within or from outside. And what is also clear about this latest scandal is the fact that the timing was apt and apparently deliberately calculated to inflict serious political damage on him.
But the purpose and central thesis of my piece is neither to determine guilt or innocence of the vice president nor to comment on the several conspiracy theories surrounding his predicament; rather, it is meant to decipher and critically discuss some of the far-reaching implications and ramifications for our politics and our country as a whole.
In the first place, the revelation has once again brought to the fore, the active and murky nature of the shadow state in Sierra Leone. In his concept of the shadow state in Africa – a spectacle that exists in various parts of post-colonial Africa – William Reno perceives it to be “a form of personal rule, where decisions and actions are taken by an individual ruler and do not conform to a set of written laws and procedures, although these might be present. Shadow State rulers manipulate external actors’ access to both formal and clandestine markets, by relying on the global recognition of sovereignty, and are thereby able to undermine formal government institutions.”
Nikki Funke and Hussein Solomon in their piece, The Shadow State in Africa also contend that another way in which rulers undermine formal government institutions is by way of weakening bureaucratic structures and manipulating markets in order to “enrich themselves and control others.” Thus Shadow States or “informal commercially orientated networks” are created that operate alongside remaining government bureaucracies.
Simply explained in context of the business transaction between Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana and the Minnesota-based Corporation, United Diamond Mining Co, I’m inclined to point out that while the transaction might have commenced with Mr. Sumana in his individual capacity, he could not formalize that relationship when he came to power, while his partners were supposedly operating from the shadow.
Besides, the monies alleged to have been sent to Mr. Sumana to apparently fund the APC election campaign were done not within the confines of the formal state apparatus in the sense of putting the money in a general APC election funding basket. Heiligman and others apparently chose to send the money to their business partner even though it is not clear whether or not he declared the money to the party.
Perhaps, more important is the implied fact stated in Heiligman’s letter that he has decided to complain to the people of Sierra Leone apparently because has run out of patience with the vice president. Heiligman could have sued his business partner in a local court of law to recover his funds but in my judgment, state institutions responsible for the rule of law have been undermined to the extent that the aggrieved party saw it as a waste of time to institute legal action.
In addition, the scandal has again revealed the grim reality of the selection process of candidates holding public office. In other words, unlike civilized societies where candidates for public positions are determined on the basis of their credibility and honesty, our criteria for the selection of candidates are on a basis of narrow partisan, ethnic and/or regional allegiances and patronage.
In the case of Samuel Sam Sumana, the general opinion is that he was catapulted to the vice presidency position ostensibly because of his perceived wealth and perhaps, connection with the shadow state. His announcement as running mate to Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007 took almost everybody by surprise. He was a little known among political elites, including the APC party. And with the party in an apparent dire need of cash to bankroll its campaign activities in the face of a formidable opponent (the then ruling SLPP) with state resources at its disposal, one would imagine that packaging Mr. Sumana for endorsement in a party that probably does not have integrity among its criteria for selecting its officials for public office, was a soft sell.
My final point has to do with the personality of Mr. Sumana himself. Since he became vice president of the country in 2007, no fewer than four major controversies have hit him, thus throwing his democratic and accountability credentials into serious doubt.
It started in 2008 with his unilateral decision to close down the two rival political radio stations, a move that was vociferously condemned by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ). It took the intervention of the Independent Media Commission to save his face from the embarrassment that greeted his decision.
In 2010 the, a leaked document from the US State Department revealed that Vice President Sam Sumana was named as a “third party defendant in a civil suit in Perry County, Arkansas for “swindling”. The document pointed out that “when rumors then circulated in Freetown about Sam Sumana being summoned to an American court and that he had been caught on tape accepting a bribe”, he apparently tried to “bribe numerous journalists to keep things quiet”.
In September 2001, supporters of Sam Sumana clashed violently with those of the Internal Affairs Minister, Musa Tarawally when the latter visited Kono. It was generally believed that the conflict was sparked by the dogged ambitions of the two antagonists for the position of running mate to President Koroma for the November 2012 polls.
In December of the same year, the English TV Channel of Al-Jazeera broadcast a programme on illegal and destructive logging in Sierra Leone. The documentary, investigated and compiled by Sorious Samura, also apparently implicated the Vice President and his caboodle. The government was clearly embarrassed and at a point distanced itself from the Vice President. The government however, issued a lame press release promising to investigate the matter to the fullest and to bring to book those found wanting. But the country’s anti-graft body, the Anti-Corruption Commission, which investigated the scam subsequently, let him off the hook.
And now, this latest scandal in which a diamond business partner claimed he was duped by the vice president. Let me state here again that I’m not interested in whether the allegation is true or false. My concern is the fact that repeated allegations of this sort keeps haunting our vice president, which is an embarrassment for the entire country. In civilized democracies, it will take an internal party decision to call for the vice president’s resignation regardless of whether he is guilty or not. Instead, they keep defending him to the detriment of the country’s credibility. This is simply unacceptable.
And with the current trend of event is Africa – Nigeria, Malawi and now, Ghana – where vice presidents are assuming the mantle of leadership upon the demise of their bosses, having a controversial character in the person of Alhaji Sahr Abubakarr Sidikie Samuel Sam Sumana as president of Sierra Leone in an event the president becomes incapacitated, portends serious embarrassment for Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans. And President Koroma can only convince us that he disapproves of his number two man’s behaviour if he decides to drop him off his presidential ticket. Any decision less than that will be calculated as not only taking us for granted, but also a conspiracy to cheat us. Enough of this embarrassment!