Governments everywhere must be held accountable – Dr Yumkella tells university students

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 January 2020

Yesterday, Friday 24 January 2020, the NGC Parliamentary Leader and Member of Parliament for Constituency 062 (Samu Chiefdom) – Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, took part in a vibrant panel discussion held at the Fatima Campus of the University of Makeni (UNIMAK) auditorium, where he challenged students to be more active in holding their governments to account.

Yumkella was speaking in a debate titled – “Enhancing Citizens’ Participation in Accountable and Inclusive Politics in Sierra Leone”.

In his remarks referencing the Kenyan experience, which resulted in the creation of their National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008 and National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Kandeh Yumkella said that in Kenya – no one tribe can hold more than thirty percent of positions in government institutions.

This he said, is in marked contrast to the experience in Sierra Leone under both APC and SLPP, who see the opportunity of gaining political power as a means of perpetuating hegemony and discrimination along tribal and regional lines.

Yumkella exposed the perpetual cycle of revenge and retribution under APC and SLPP. He highlighted the mass culling of diplomats within two months of APC winning the 2007 election, which was met with the same toxic response by the current SLPP government when it assumed office in 2018.

“The devastating impact that these actions on our governance and institutions,” he said, “result in weak and incompetent institutions, often staffed by political cronies, who do not know their left from their right.” He said that this is wrong and against the Geneva Convention.

On presidential transition arrangements, he further underscored that both Kenya and Ghana have transition arrangements enshrined in law, to prevent the cycle of revenge politics that Sierra Leone is reputed for immediately after elections.

“In Ghana, it is the Presidential Transition Act, not the sitting President which defines the transition arrangements.”  As a result, Ghana not only experiences a smooth handover of power but simultaneously develops and strengthens its public and political institutions. The date of elections is fixed in law and arrangements to terminate appointments and notice periods are also set out in law.

On student participation, he noted that they were behaving as though they are helpless. “In the last 15 years,” said Honourable Yumkella, “change has come through connective action, through people who were discontent with the political systems in their countries and the adverse economic and social consequences they suffer.”

The Arab Spring, he said was led by youth and students using social media applications like WhatsApp and Facebook, who rallied their nations to remove dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria among others – the Occupy Wall Street Movement against economic inequality, Black Lives Matter, and the Anti-Austerity or 15-M Movement in Spain.

All of these demonstrate citizen participation and mobilization through what political scientists now recognised as the “transition from Collective Action to Connective Action,” said Yumkella.

On inter-generational equity, Yumkella challenged the students to “be vigilant” and ensure his generation does not bequeath bad policies and outcomes such as climate change to the next generation.”

“Be fully engaged in fighting to change bad laws; end the political gimmicks which have a huge impact on your lives, mortgage your future, kill your hopes and aspirations.” He urged them to engage in the political process and to use their connective power to hold their leaders to account.

Citing citizen’s power, Honourable Yumkella reminded the UNIMAK audience about positive signs of the impact of connective power in Sierra Leone regarding the proposed Finance legislation which President Bio returned back to Parliament unsigned, following public outcry about the provision in the Bill.

This proposed Bill he said, would have given the President, Vice President and Speaker of Parliament unlimited power to spend public funds during their overseas trips.

“Imagine the impact on your studies, if you returned to campus and found out that all your professors have been retired without notice,” said Yumkella as he urged students to take charge of their future and reminded them that no one politician would be a miracle worker.

In 2019, youth and students led pro-democracy protests in other parts of the world, including in Hong Kong, Chile etc. He told the students that they were not helpless, as people in growing number of countries are using connective power than at any time in history.

The panel discussion was organized by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in collaboration with the Open Government Partnership and the University of Makeni.

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