Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 July 2015
Never before in the post-independence political history of Sierra Leone has a candidate for the country’s highest office – the presidency, shown so much determination and enthusiasm to reach out across the political divide, in order to establish a broad political coalition that could work collectively for the transformation of the country.
After all, politics in Sierra Leone is and has always been about the winner taking it all. This is and has been the cradle upon which the country’s democratic and electoral system functions – for better or worse – a system that many believe to be the root cause of the dysfunctionality of the country’s governance institutions, since gaining independence from the British in 1961.
And because multi-party elections in Sierra Leone are invariably fought, based on tribal and regional lines, serious questions must now be asked about the benefits of having an electoral system which produces widespread violence, chaos, lawlessness and poor governance.
Perhaps, one of the most significant unintended casualties of the country’s multi-party democracy, is the creation of a culture that does not engender or promote true national consensus on what the development priorities should be for the elected government, and how those priorities are to be delivered.
Can Yumkella’s proposed grand political coalition deliver this?
But of course purists of the ‘first past the post’ – winner takes it all democratic system, may argue that such national development priorities are already written in the elected party’s manifesto, which was presented to the people during campaigning, and it is therefore for the elected government to then deliver on those priorities.
That may be true, but what history of politics in Sierra Leone has taught us is that firstly, no single political party has all the necessary expertise, capacity and capability to manage and deliver a five-year development plan, no matter how well written their manifesto.
Secondly, appointments to key positions of ministries and the civil service by an incoming government are exclusively based on tribalism, political patronage, and reward for those that helped the party win the elections, rather than appointments based on competence and fitness for the job.
Speaking to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph – Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas last Sunday in London, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella said he is determined to change all that.
He said that Sierra Leone needs transformational change, if it is to become a nation that is capable of feeding itself, create wealth, create jobs, educate and look after the health and well-being of the people.
He said he will do this by building a ‘Grand Political Coalition’ in Sierra Leone – a broad coalition that will be based on skills and ability to deliver – not patronage.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: Dr. Yumkella, this London event is the last leg of your UK tour; you were in Manchester last Saturday where you had a very good meeting – good reception from the SLPP members of Manchester; you were also in Reading last Friday, and we understand that Reading went very well for you. So how well do you think it’s all gone?
Dr. Yumkella: It’s all gone beyond expectations, it’s really gone well. I have seen many people come out, saying: “We’ve never been to this kind of political events; we’ve lost hope and confidence in both leading parties in our country; and particularly we have lost hope in its politics. But we came out, curious. And you know what, by coming here we feel we should engage.”
And that’s what I am looking for – people wanting to engage again in the discourse about their country.
I want to give back now. I am really excited. Also, I have seen people who are supporting other candidates, and I have seen some decorum – they have respected me. They know they have somebody else they support, but fortunately they’ve heard my message.
My message is inclusion. My message is fair competition. And so I hope that I have given them the confidence that I will respect their own people and I will work with them.
And as I have said all along, I did not create the movement. It was all spontaneous. Yes now I see an enthusiasm that I can transform and formalise.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: “You spoke a lot today about building a grand coalition. And you got the audience going wild when you mentioned that. They seem to like the idea of a coalition. But how are you going to do that, because, you’ve got people whose politics are perhaps totally different from yours. On the one hand, you have the PMDC Charles Margai, you have got your old friend Ernest Koroma of the APC – who I don’t think is going to be there in two years’ time; and of course, within the SLPP there are people who are diametrically opposed to your own ideology. How then are you going to build that grand coalition?
Dr. Yumkella: I am an eternal optimist. When I started the global energy work ten years ago, people told me how difficult it would be to set up those partnerships, and to set a global goal on energy. I have learnt a lot of techniques in building alliances. I know first of all, you need to understand the other side – Where are they coming from? What really are their own aspirations? And then see how you can address those. Show them the benefit that partnership can deliver, that is bigger than pwhat they could have wanted.
Partnership is hard to do and I am deliberately going to reach out. And I tell you, I have done quite a bit on it already than people realise. People think when I go on holidays to Sierra Leone, that I just hang out – no, I reach out.
Some of those that you’ve named have been reaching out too. But I know it will take time for them to trust me.
You need to establish that trust. I tell you – I can stitch it together. There are many people waiting for that. I can tell, because the crowd went wild with joy earlier, when I mentioned that I am going to build a grand political coalition.
Our people are also fed up with the divisions. They know people just exploit it. And they use that division to benefit themselves. So I need to change that narrative. I am an eternal optimist and I am ready to work on it genuinely.
You heard me giving a good example: I will visit John Benjamin – except he says he doesn’t want to see me; I will go to Andrew Keili. The truth is that we are already talking – Andrew, John Benjamin, Ndomaina.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: How about Maada Bio?
Dr. Yumkella: Some of Bio’s people are talking to my people, but he is not on board yet. We haven’t met yet.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: Will Bio come on board?
Dr. Yumkella: Who knows. I am leaving the door open. I have told people, when it is necessary and the time is right, I will approach Bio too, and see how we can get an understanding to rebuild our party. I am very confident that it is going to happen.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: One of the greatest challenges that you and the SLPP – assuming you win the presidential candidacy election, will face is finance.
You mentioned during your visit to Manchester that the party is going to need between $8 million and $12 million to be able to successfully contest the presidential, general and local elections in 2018. How is this going to be achieved?
Dr. Yumkella: Well I hope the elders and others would sit down and take a look at this important issue. And that’s why I always talk about knowing the objective, the results you want to achieve, the outcome you aiming for, and the deliverables.
So I say to them, here is the challenge you face. You have two and a half years before the elections, how are you going to do this, forget you don’t like me. Lets talk about how we are going to raise that money.
Second, I say to them, here is the structure you need to build to get the votes out in the villages. Lets talk about that. Then we will talk about who is going to do it. But just think about it, If we don’t discuss it now, when are we going to do so.
You heard what I told them – we have twelve months. In twelve months we need to decide how we are going raise those funds. In fact it is shorter than twelve months. We are now in July 2015 and by December 2015 they ought to know how the funds are going to be raised.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: Some people may say to you that you ought to do what Ernest Koroma did in 2005/2006, when he went to Abuja in Nigeria in search of rich Nigerian businessmen that will back his 2007 election campaign. Will you be doing the same to raise funds for your campaign?
Dr. Yumkella: I have a lot of experience mobilising resources, developing frameworks for mobilising billions of dollars around the world for energy systems, so I know a lot of techniques.
But branding is important. This is why I kept telling the SLPP we’ve got to have a brand that people will have confidence in. People must be able to have confidence in the product you are selling. Then investors will come on board to invest in that brand.
Investors are not going to give money to an entity that is going to lose. So if you are busy fighting each other, who is going to trust that you can even make it from August 2016?
That’s why I tell them, they have twelve months to define their deliverables and key objectives. They better begin to work quickly to rebrand the party – show that we are unified, that we a serious party that can become a formidable opposition, give confidence to the people of Sierra Leone – a government in waiting.
Some of the funding required can come from Sierra Leone. Also it is not all about money. With a better organisation you can leverage more than money. Maybe we don’t even need $8 million. Perhaps Five million, given how much the people of Sierra Leone want change.
You can raise big money – Buhari of Nigeria did it and I am confident we can do the same. But we have only twelve months to do it.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: You may have got twelve months, but what you haven’t really got is the time to deal with the politics on the ground in Sierra Leone. It’s been said very often that no matter how many elections SLPP contests, the result will always be the same. SLPP will always poll no more than 30 odd percent of the votes in the country. And this is mainly in the south. The remaining 70 percent are in Kono, Freetown, Koinadugu, Kambia, Port Loko, Tonkolili and Bombali. I believe that the grand coalition you keep talking about is what’s going to give you some of that 70%. But how are you going to do it?
Dr. Yumkella: One of the good things about good leadership is that, where people see challenges, we see opportunity. A good leader is an entrepreneur. For me the 37% you spoke about – wow, I would be happy to have this at the start of my campaign.
And by August next year, if I get that 37% and as the SLPP presidential flagbearer, then I have won the national elections. Because I know as I sit here that I can mobilise. We simply need 30% from the north, Freetown and Kono. I have a plan.
But to start off with, 30% will be wonderful. It will be a big plus. So I see it as an opportunity, not a problem or a challenge.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: Now finally, you have had a very good UK tour. So where next? What happens next from here?
Dr. Yumkella: Continental Europe; we are going to Belgium and Holland, where they have invited people from all the big cities, and they will be converging there. I will also be giving a lecture at the Dutch Foreign Ministry on energy. I will meet Sierra Leonean communities over there in Holland and Belgium.
I then travel to the United States on Saturday the 1st of August, where we are going to have a mini retreat, looking at how we are going to transform the KKY movement into a political action group.
I want to do what Jesse Jackson has done, to establish a rainbow coalition. The things we fight for, voting rights for Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora – win or lose the SLPP presidential aspirant election. So we will be doing that review on the 1st of August in America.
On the 7th of August the KKY Movement will be hosting me in Boston, and on 8th August CKC (USA) have invited me to give a keynote speech in Washington DC.
I have told Sierra Leoneans in Houston and Philadelphia that I will be seeing them in September.
So it is a full calendar, then I go home to Sierra Leone.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: So when do you fly out to Sierra Leone finally?
Dr. Yumkella: I will be flying out to Sierra Leone in August. And that will be a permanent relocation to Sierra Leone.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: And then the hard work starts?
Dr. Yumkella: Yes and then the hard work starts.
Abdul Rashid Thomas: Dr. Yumkella – thank you very much and we wish you good luck.
Readers will soon be able to listen to the interview here on the Telegraph.