The Vice Presidency: A Steppingstone or Milestone? Lessons Chief Sam Sumana Should be Au Fait With.

Sam-SumanaWhen JF Kennedy said “and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”- JFK was certainly referring to those who bury their heads in the sand – like ostriches. He never meant to deride sacrosanct history.

Prima facie, a vice president’s constitutional job description ranges from – primarily responsible to act in the place of the president (sometimes assuming some of the ceremonial duties like attending functions and events that the actual president maybe too busy to attend), in which case, the Vice President may thus assume the mantle of a de facto symbolic head of state. Or, when the president is removed, resigns, incapacitated, or dies – prompting the morbid anecdotal expression-“only a heartbeat away from the presidency”. This procedural blueprint is stoutly entrenched and jealously guarded in evolved civilised democracies. However, in fledgling and manipulated poor carbon copies of mature people-centred-governances, all stakes depend on the vagaries and victor drafters’ singular frame of mind at any given time! They are encapsulated precariously – like the constitutional fundamental rights and civil/political liberties charter in either – Red China or Putinistic Russia. They are just letters- the esprit–de-corps – is soulless!

FORTY-SEVEN men have occupied the office of the (US) vice presidency. FOURTEEN (US) vice presidents went on to become president- from John Adams to George W. Bush snr. Five were elected; four inherited the presidency due to an assassination; four inherited the office through the natural death of the incumbent; one ascended the presidency due to resignation! Vice presidents were chosen more for perceived vote-getting abilities – than because of genuine credentials as public servants. Nelson Rockefeller once dismissed the vice presidency as “standby equipment”.

Now an office once deemed a political backwater- has evolved into a recruitment field for (US) presidents! Can one vouch for African vice presidency? Recent history shows that when (US) presidential nominees select their running mates, they are also designating the “favourite” for their party’s nomination- four or eight years hence or even beyond! It was for this reason that in 2000 both candidates took more care in the selection of their running mates than their predecessors. Both running mates were deemed to be eminently qualified to be presidents should the need arise. Al Gore set a new precedent for vice presidents. He was a close partner and influential adviser to President Clinton on a broad range of issues. Dick Cheney improved on that influence and importance of the Office of the Vice Presidency (during the Bush Jnr administration) – and redefined the role of the (US) vice presidency. Maybe this was due to his political experience -former white house chief of staff; defence secretary; former member of the House leadership. Dick Cheney also approached the levers of power obliquely. He not only battled a bureaucracy he saw as hostile- using intimate knowledge of its terrain, he also found a ready patron in his president(Bush) for the edge –of- the -envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents do not assert. Vice president Dick Cheney also pushed the envelope on presidential power through persistence of focus, tactical flexibility in a service of fixed aims and close knowledge of the power map of government. He had often controlled the pivot points- tipping the outcome when he could- engineering stalemates when he could not- and reopening debates that rivals thought were resolved! Or, external factors like: the age of jet travels; the power of television; cold war tensions; growing demands on the president’s time – and in a compressed period , a half dozen presidential illnesses, a presidential assassination, the resignation of a president, and an impeachment- all conspired to catapult an office once deemed a political backwater.

From the example of the cradle of modern day democracy, I have modestly done a concise attempt at positing how the flaccid, lacklustre slumbering “standby equipment” has evolved pivotally- and now eminently serves as a conduit for recruiting future presidents – without relying on the “accidency presidency” mishap. Now, has the African vice presidency also evolved positively- since the founding fathers pugnaciously wrested from the colonialists, their nations’ independence? This article essays to bring to the front burner the titillating and percolating issue of African Vice presidency- and its concomitant and correlating power intimacy with its intrinsic political superior – the presidency, and with particular reference to Sierra Leone’s beleaguered Vice president, Chief Sam Sumana.

Standard bearers for the Sam Sumana  2017 Presidency – let us take a walk down memory lane and reminisce the unflinching lessons of our history and that of Africa’s. Ten of the thirteen world leaders who have died in office since 2009 were in Africa! In 2012 alone, presidents Malam Barcai (Guinea Bissau); John Attah Mills (Ghana); Bingu Wa Mutharika(Malawi) – as well as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi(Ethiopia) – have all died. Most African countries’ constitutions specify that when a leader dies in office, his/her deputy- will step in until elections are can be held. But has that been the case? Some leaders, however, expect the designated “heir apparent” to display fawning personal loyalty. If this heir apparent does not- political conflict can arise. In Nigeria, for example, vice president Atiku Abu Bakarr had a frosty relationship with the president, Obasanjo- who wasted no time arranging Atiku’s expulsion from the ruling party. Some leaders have groomed relatives as successors. When President Omar Bongo died in 2009, the ruling party endorsed his son, Ali Bongo Ondima- who was foreign and defence minister. Presidents Faure Gnaassingbe (Togo); Joseph Kabila (DRC) – succeeded their dads. At home, Siaka Stevens, in What Life Has Taught Me – argued that he would never choose his successor because such unethical posturing leads to chaos and constitutional aberration. What followed later? He reneged and imposed a “fawning personality”, Joseph Saidu Momoh! Yet such gambit could be very dicey and can spark a revolt. Egypt’s ex- president Mubarak’s intention to install his son as his successor added to the opposition that erupted in the revolution of 2011. Abdulai Wade (Senegal), was assiduously smoothing the way for his son, Karim Wade, to step into his presidential shoes – though he failed. In Burkina Faso, indications are rife that Blaise Campaore, maybe grooming his younger brother, Francois, as a successor – amid considerable controversy. Ghana’s enviable procedural blueprint- to see Mahama (VP), swiftly ascend the presidency – subscribes to Ghana’s mature and evolved constitutional arrangements.

Guinea’s muddled aftermath of Conteh’s death- after a period of chaos- and yet another coup; Joyce Banda’s (Malawi), and Goodluck’s imbroglio over the “zoning policy”- all draw gloomy attention to the broader issue of how African nations manage succession when the president kicks the bucket. The colourful and flamboyant Mugabe is enacting this game all over again – though he has not died yet – or at his age- even thinking of relinquishing the top slot. He is playing off His Vice president, Joice Mujuru and Mnangagwa, the Rural Housing Minister. Mugabe, understandably, backs the former secret police boss over his Vice president – simply because Mnangagwa would be more predisposed to shield him (Mugabe) in retirement from the possibility of a trial for crimes against humanity.

 Vice president Chief Sam Sumana, (African) leaders’ survival and political longevity, depend not only on subtle forms of power – but by employing coercion and intimidation to cow opponents and nonconformists. They also steadily plant their persona and image on the landscape with any remotest nexus to their tenure, through subtle and stealthy power strategy – an act that is packed with power implications and the building of little armies of cohesion.  Some strong willed Vice presidents use sleight of hand. We cannot determine history- but we can either help write it or shape it. The constitutional Review Committee is shunting along. Influence it to cut a political niche for yourself. Maybe a vice presidency that is not limited to two terms when his boss leaves – if you do not want to take the risk of not landing the top slot? Influence the constitutional review committee. Is not such an act the signature culture of your party, the APC? Remember Agba Satany (S. I. Koroma)? He gave more to the party’s inimical survival than the paltry sum your APC compatriots are saying you proffered them. He was a maestro – yet he was pulverized by his own political kith and kin. What about F.M.Minah and Dembey? Solo B could have been like George W. Bush Snr – but fate and the fat lady- never sang for him.

Over 200 years in America, only fourteen vice presidents became presidents – over half as “accidental Presidents”- like Jonathan Goodluck of Nigeria. Over 52 years, no Vice President has ascended the presidency in Sierra Leone. Conspiracy or coincidence? If I were a punter, I would take my chances with the odds in an American vice president taking the top slot any time sooner – not with the “Veepeeship” in post – colonial Sierra Leone! Though we deride the second- in- command in Sierra Leone as a ragged doll to be tossed around at the whim and caprices of his boss, we should be wary that he is still the constitutionally slated heir apparent and not  virtually written off as a sinecure – until the rushed constitutional review deems otherwise.  Sam Sumana has one ace up his sleeve. He could be an “accidental President””- like Jonathan Goodluck! There is still over forty- five months to go before EBK’s tenure runs out. Fate has a mischievous way of dealing cards to frail and puny humanity! A week is a long time in politics- not to mention another three and a half years. Never say never. Recently a catholic pope abdicated because of poor health – and intrinsically because he had the humility and humanity to call it a day. Anything could happen. EBK is not invincible or immortal. Between 2009 and 2012- TEN AFRICAN LEADERS DIED! EBK is just human- regardless of the fawning accolades he has been cascaded in. If anything, it is smarter for players to be passive about supporting Vice president Sam Sumana- than conflagrating and overtly joining the sprawling archipelagos of alliances jotting the APC tapestry so unprecedentedly. When a new pope is chosen, we see white smoke bellowing from St. Peters’ Square. We gravely hope that when APC choses its new papacy- we hope to see white smoke – and not the muddled chaos that could only be stymied by popular agitation and donor pressure.

Some might see Vice President’s mantle as a forte, fort- or political faux pas. Some might even go the extra mile and say – the Vice presidency in Sierra Leone is just a “Ponzi scheme”. The question is: How do you see your vice presidency, Chief Sam? Stepping stone or Millstone? Some could perceive your mission as an “audacity of hope”’; others as “I have a dream” journey. A few wet blankets will say “a wild goose chase”- not because of the historical lessons and fates of past Vice presidents- but because of the cloud of corruption scandals that enveloped you and continues to dog you at home and abroad – which many see as an embarrassment to the nation and your (APC) compatriots- and as such, a political liability. Although you are a second banana, forever waiting in the wings- I have a guttural feeling that you will yield to (author) Tom Clancy’s belief- “In a battle, you forgive a man anything- except an unwillingness to take risks. Sometimes you have to put it on the line”. I enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. The Chinese use two brushstrokes to write the word “crisis”. One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, beware of danger- but recognise the opportunity. Vice president Chief Sam Sumana, Africa is far removed from the American political theatre – but you can take a leaf from Al Gore’s and Cheney’s books. Rebrand yourself – if your patron boss, EBK, is ready to recant and thaw a frosty relationship.

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Critique Echo Newspaper is a major source of news and objective analyses about governance, democracy and human-right. Edited and published in Kenema city, eastern Sierra Leone, the outlet is generally referred to as a level plying ground for the youths, women and children.

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