Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 October 2018:
Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, the former United Nations Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, returned to his native land Sierra Leone in 2016 to help rebuild the country after decades of economic decline.
Leading his National Grand Coalition (NGC) party, Dr Yumkella contested the presidential and general elections held in the country six months ago, March 2018.
He campaigned on a national transformation agenda, which he told the people of Sierra Leone is the best hope of a better future, after decades of poverty, deprivation, poor governance and corruption. (Photo: Dr Yumkella can be heard today on the BBC Focus On Africa Programme at 1700 GMT).
Dr Yumkella’s phenomenal rise to popularity in Sierra Leone politics in less than two years, has changed the country’s political landscape irreversibly, though he lost the president election, with his NGC party winning just four parliamentary seats.
He is now believed to be the hot favourite to win the 2023 presidential election, and he has started rebuilding his party and mobilising his support base overseas.
Last weekend – 27th to 28th October 2018, Dr Yumkella was in the UK meeting members, supporters and well-wishers of his National Grand Coalition.
The editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph – Abdul Rashid Thomas (ART), asked him a few questions about where he believes the NGC went wrong; where the party is heading now; and what hope for the future. This is his response:
ART: Dr Kandeh Yumkella (KKY), welcome once again to the Sierra Leone Telegraph (TST). This weekend you are in the UK meeting your NGC party supporters and well-wishers. It’s now six months since the general and presidential elections in Sierra Leone. A lot of people were confident of victory for the NGC. What went wrong?
KKY: Thank you TST for sparing time to interview me. First of all, I wish to thank the people of Sierra Leone for giving us the opportunity to contest in the elections in March this year. We lost because of a combination of factors.
First, we did not have enough time because our certificate to operate as a political party was deliberately delayed until 5 months before the elections. Second, the delay affected our ability to establish our infrastructure across the country and hampered our fundraising possibilities.
Third, we made some mistakes as well; for example, given the limited time, we should have focused on a few strategic battle ground districts than try to field candidates in every constituency or ward; and we should have paid more attention to protecting our votes.
Finally, there was significant ballot rigging and electoral irregularities that have been manifested by the fact that there are now court petitions against 60 out of the 132 members of parliament elected, because of the alleged election malpractices.
ART: You now have four elected MPs in parliament, representing various constituencies in the Kambia district. How are you going to extend your support base across the country to become a truly nationally representative party ahead of the 2023 elections?
KKY: We thank the people of Kambia for giving 4 of us the opportunity to represent them in parliament. It is important that we demonstrate our ability to effectively carry out our main responsibilities as MPs, namely; representation of our constituents, making laws for the country, and providing effective oversight over the executive branch.
If we are allowed to perform these core responsibilities, people will appreciate what good governance would be like under an NGC administration.
But of course, there are already subterranean actions to prevent us from being effective MPs. As a party we will continue to deliver our message of Change (Hope, Opportunity and Transformation) across the country, in a more palatable manner for the common man to understand. We will also strengthen our executives across the country.
ART: Many commentators agree that your presence in parliament is good for the country’s liberal democracy and the promotion of good governance. What’s your experience so far in discharging your role as a minority opposition party?
KKY: We are still coming to terms with the political culture in parliament. We are also trying to decipher whether the “New Direction” parliamentary modus operandi is any different from the “Tolongbo” doctrine.
For example, will we be allowed adequate information and time to examine and deliberate on proposed bills; will major appointments, agreements and other items be rammed through to the House; will adequate resources be provided for us to exercise proper oversight, etc? The jury is still out on these issues.
ART: Some people are accusing you of cosying up far too much with the SLPP government after all the terrible things they did to you which is why you left the SLPP party to form the NGC. How fair is this criticism?
KKY: It is an unfair criticism. People believe that an opposition should be obstructive and uncompromising. We have to be true to our mantra of “Salone Fos” i.e. Country First. So, we in the NGC have to put our country first to rebuild the economy by supporting good initiatives from the government.
The latter is critically important, because our country is facing several existential challenges. Further, we have a deeply divided country along tribal/regional lines. So, in the short term, and within this complex reality, NGC has to be less partisan to help heal our nation by forgiving those who wronged us in both the APC and SLPP.
We also have to resolutely defend our independence, constitutionality and the rule of law, in order to make sure that the New Direction does not become a modified version of ‘Tolongbo’, by following business as usual. It will take time for our people to understand our concept of constructive opposition.
In any case, they should know that I supported Pa Kabba and Ernest Bai Koroma as well. In fact, Ernest Bai Koroma signed his first Infrastructure project when I was at UNIDO in Vienna – several weeks after his inauguration as president; I chaired his first investment forum in London in November 2009; and chaired his infrastructure investment forum in 2011 in Freetown.
So, some ungrateful people now decry us because we accompanied the new president to New York to market our beloved country. We – NGC, are simply putting Country First.
ART: Sierra Leone’s economy is struggling to recover from ten years of what you described as the Koroma years of ‘Rankanomics’, characterised by corruption and mismanagement. What should the SLPP government be doing now to turn the economy around?
KKY: In development practice we do not only evaluate inputs into a process, we measure outcomes and impacts as well. So, the true legacy of Rankanomics is a collapsed economy, huge debt, highest unemployment in our country’s history, deep poverty – coupled with being among the 5 countries with the lowest human development index and amongst the three most hungry countries in the world.
So, the kleptocracy of Rankanomics bequeathed a hopeless state to all their future successors. So, what they should do is fight corruption aggressively, curb government expenditures, expand revenue collection – but lower some taxes to encourage private sector investments, stimulate economic growth sectors such as agriculture, fishery and tourism to create jobs and increase our foreign exchange earnings as a nation.
Personally, I would have delayed the free education for at least a year to ensure the economy is jump started and ensured that the country receives greater benefits from its mining sector.
The SLPP government should also tighten procurement processes which already serve as a major source of leakages.
The current government is also attacking some of these areas. However, their success will depend on whether they can rein in the appetite of their own appointees who also crave wealth and money.
ART: What do you make of all the complaints by the APC of human rights abuse and unconstitutionalities alleged to have been committed by the SLPP after six months in power? Are these allegations true or is this just APC sour grapes?
KKY: Truth be told, we have had a spike in post-election violence. We have had two major incidents in the past month alone; in mile 91 and in Tonkoh Limba. The scale and loss of life is worrisome. The repeated attacks on and harassment of Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, Mayor of Freetown, is totally unacceptable.
Similar to what President Kabba, Pa Berewa and others did after the war, we need the senior leadership of the current government to proactively heal the nation and be vocal about social cohesion.
ART: Finally, what’s your key message for your UK supporters and well-wishers this weekend?
KKY: I want to thank them for their support and commitment. NGC is more important today than ever before, because of the deep polarization in our country. We must continue to advocate ‘Salone Fos’ – putting Sierra Leone First.
So, we have to build NGC as an institution, to make sure it stands the test of time. It cannot be about KKY, Andrew, Dennis or Alie alone. It must be a true coalition of progressives. United We Stand, We Stand United.
You can listen to Dr Yumkella speaking on the BBC Focus on Africa today at 1700 GMT.