Freetown. Sierra Leone`s President Ernest Bai Koroma’s cancellation of a heavily publicised trip to the US has prompted speculation over his state of health.
The west African leader was due to attend the UN General Assembly and a World Bank meeting, among other key events.
However, on Sunday, an online website broke that President Koroma had been forced to cancel the trip after suffering a “serious leg injury” during a squash game; his favourite sport.
The government, while confirming the cancellation of the presidential trip, has sought to dismiss reports of ill-health.
The government`s unofficial mouthpiece, the online Cocorioko newspaper, cited the country`s ambassador to the US, Bockarie Stevens, as only saying the President wouldn’t be honouring his invitations because he was “indisposed”. “Because rumour and panic-mongers thrive during such situations and want to spread false, damaging and disruptive rumours that are destructive to the interest of the nation, it was necessary for a higher government official to clear the air and protect the vital interests of the country,” the newspaper said.
President Koroma was reportedly scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a World Bank event on Africa, and to be honoured by the Smithsonian Institution for his efforts in empowering women, among other high profile events including one at the National Museum of African Art.
But official reactions have not dampened speculation on social media.
Freetown has within the last few days trumpeted this “important” US tour which also included a series of investor meets as a sign of good foreign relations and credited it to the President`s international appeal. But President Koroma is now being represented by Information and Communication Minister, Alhaji Alpha Kanu and Special Executive Assistant to the President, Dr Sylvia Blyden. This too has caused its own trouble.
The two representatives are said not to be the best of friends. But more importantly, commentators have been asking why the President is being represented in such an important trip by a minister and a non-cabinet member instead of by his increasingly isolated vice-president.
Even as they struggle to project a unified front, the governing APC has failed repeatedly in the face of persistent rumour of an internal squabble over the President`s succession plans.
President Koroma`s repeated sidelining of his second in command remains a worry for many.
Recently, there were reports that vice president Samuel Sam Sumana was informed of the presence of another presidential representative just when he was halfway through to a venue he had been asked to represent the President.