Kandeh Yumkella assesses Sierra Leone’s performance

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 December 2013

Dr  Kandeh Kumkella -AAI 2013Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella – a man strongly tipped for political leadership in Sierra Leone, delivered a sobering and soul searching speech on the 22nd December 2013, at the Freetown Dinner Club’s end of year celebrations, which took place in the hall of the Central Bank’s complex at Kingtom – Freetown.

Kandeh Yumkella was in a thought provoking mood. He challenged his audience to reflect on the progress his native land – Sierra Leone has made, after a decade of civil war, followed by three peaceful elections.

While there is much more work to be done for Sierra Leone to become the next “Dubai”, and for Sierra Leoneans to be able to enjoy their God-given wealth, he acknowledges that both previous and current governments deserve some credit for the stability and progress that Sierra Leone has so far achieved.

But he noted that despite the stability and progress, Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad, young and old, men and women, must share a “sense of responsibility” for what the nation is to become.

This is what he told members of the Club and their guests, speaking on the theme – “Sierra Leone – A decade of stability and progress – What’s next?”

Thank you very much for inviting me to this year’s dinner. Let me at the outset congratulate all the members and their spouses for keeping this institution alive for so many decades since 1944.

I have been a guest at your dinners for the past four years. So, I suspect that someone decided that this time, I should pay for my dinner by delivering some remarks.  In the course of the remarks, I will exert my own revenge by giving you three homework assignments. The person or group that has the best essay could receive a generous reward.

I was not sure about what to say to this August group, the crème-de la-crème of Freetown. But then I got my “Eureka Moment” two weeks ago from global events.

Nelson Mandela passed away and I asked myself what did I learn from his life of 90 years? What can we all learn from his life?  He taught us about perseverance, patience and forgiveness.  His exemplary ability to forgive ensured lasting peace.  He also voluntarily gave up his presidency after one-term.

China successfully landed a rover on the moon and I said to myself, all nations can be great if their people are determined.  So if China with almost a billion  poor people in the 1960s (during the success of the Soviet Sputnik space craft, followed by the Kennedy Administration’s Apollo project to land a man on the moon) can reach the moon – perhaps Africans/Sierra Leoneans can also send a rocket to space by 2023.

I once did a public lecture at the Vienna Diplomatic Academy on development prospects in Africa. I spoke about only positive things.  During the Q & A session one of the people said:  “But Dr. Yumkella, you said nothing about the conflicts in Darfur, DRC and Somalia”.

I replied; “Yes you are right, the international media does the negative stuff regularly, because they report only the 3-Ds of Africa, Disease-Disaster-Death, so I chose to talk about the other part of Africa (The Bold-The Better- The Best”).

Therefore, by choice, I chose to speak to you today on the theme: A Decade of Stability and Progress: What Next?

I will talk about Sierra Leone’s successful achievements in the decade of 2002-2012. I have divided the period into two segments 2002-2007 and 2007-2012.  Of course there is a lot, a lot, more work ahead, and of course everything did not go as planned.

Success breeds success

During the past two decades, I have observed a lot of cynicism among our people. Perhaps part of it is due to the 11-year war.  Perhaps, it is also a sign that it is our nature to pull-one-another-down or vilify our leaders. So, in preparation for this speech, I asked myself what have we as a people achieved in the past decade since the war ended.

I ask you (the crème –de la-crème of Freetown), is there anything that the nation has achieved in the past decade that you are proud of?

Having been here four times this year, I know times are hard.  In fact, that is also why I want to have you reflect on your strengths (those attributes that made you recover from the worst period in our history) so that you can overcome your current hardships and challenges.

We have actually achieved a lot. But these achievements did not occur in a vacuum. They occurred under the leadership of successive governments, with the support and participation of our people, and the generosity of the international community.  So allow me to give you my own score card of our successes.

parliamentary history - kabbah berewaScore card for 2002-2007

A decade of war destroyed everything we held dear. Our sense of dignity was shaken, it uprooted and displaced almost half of our population and badly degraded key administrative and governance institutions (see Robert David Kaplan 1994 – The Coming Anarchy, and Paul Collier, 2007 – The Bottom Billion).

So the Government at that time started almost from ground zero, rebuilding every institution one-by-one and brick-by-brick. What did they achieve?

1.  They gave us Peace (asking us to forgive each other and even allowed the RUF to form a party, similar to Mandela forgiving the Afrikaners)

2.  Reconstruction was launched (which laid plans for major infrastructure projects);

3.  NASSIT was established (guaranteeing every worker in the public sector and the private sector a pension);

4.  The National Revenue Authority was created (bringing some sanity to fiscal management);

5.   The Anti-Corruption Commission was formed (to deal with probity in governance);

6.   They rebuilt Local Councils which were dissolved in the 1970s (devolving some authority back to the provinces and empowering local communities).

7.   The team institutionalized democracy with a functioning parliament and free media after almost three decades of one party and military rule (they were so successful that we have had three peaceful elections from 2002-2012, and the ruling party was defeated in an election as a hallmark of a strong democracy).

8.   They Rebuilt the Education & Health infrastructure – Sababu project rebuilt schools destroyed during the war, laying the foundation to increased school enrollment, particularly for the girl child. Health centers or posts were rebuilt in almost every chiefdom in the provinces, staffed with qualified health workers.

9.   Finally, the team rebuilt the security apparatus, with the support of DFID and IMAAT (revamped the police (remember IG Keith Biddle), and rebuilt an army that had been badly fragmented).

So, your first assignment for tonight is; Go ahead and make your own list……you are also free to include the failures too.

President-Ernest-Bai-KoromaThe Score Card for 2007-2012

Building on the foundation of the previous years, the new government established the path for growth and prosperity. What have they achieved?

1.   They launched critical infrastructure projects to enhance systemic competitiveness of the economy. They completed the Bumbuna-1, increased electricity supply in some cities, rehabilitated major roads linking Freetown and some major provincial cities and also commenced new road projects. Some of these projects required significant boldness to take up a challenge of that magnitude.

2.   They improved the cost of doing business to encourage greater private sector participation in the economy.

3.   The Team gave us Free-health care, in an attempt to guarantee access to basic health care for all.

4.   They have struggled to stabilize monetary policy in the context of a global financial meltdown, (the worst the world had seen) since the Great Depression and the effects of which linger in many economies around the world). I say “struggled” because even the great USA or the Eurozone economies have not fully succeeded yet.

5.   They Increased Foreign Direct Investments, and GDP growth rates rose above 5% (the later would be the  envy of many countries), African Minerals, London Mining, Addax-Biofuels Project, injection of new capital into Sierra Rutile, the diamond mining company was able to raise millions of dollars of finance from international markets. At the same time, 8 new oil and gas exploration licenses have been issued.

6.   Then there is the introduction of fiber-optic cabling coupled with liberalization of the Gateway in order to catapult the Sierra Leonean people and businesses into the 4G digital age.

7.   This team has attracted significant numbers of Diasporan’s to return home and be part of the change they want to see (remittances are now over $150 million per year and rising);

8.    In a few years they will build a new modern airport ending our humiliation as the only country where you spend as much time getting to the capital as you did crossing the continent of Africa.

9.   The port facilities will be revamped expanding shipping possibilities and enhancing trade facilitation.

Assignment 2 – Go ahead and make your own list……..you are also free to include the failures too.

Cynicism versus creativity 

Could we have done better? I believe we could have.  But it is certainly not all doom and gloom. Nor is it all rosy today.  Remember success breeds success.

If one is always negative, one will never see the good in anything, or in anybody and sometimes not even in ones-self. Creativity and innovation do not thrive in an atmosphere of cynicism; they require the freedom to explore, to dream about what can or ought to be, and the willingness to accept some failures and constructive criticism.

So did you make your lists of achievements?  If your lists are longer than mine, then you have to put each item through the “Sustainability Test”, i.e. are the achievements of the decade sustainable overtime?

For example, are the local governments and other institutions functioning the way they should? School enrollments are high, but is the quality of education what it should be for a 21-st century workforce?

Will the infrastructure and/or the new airport last for 30-50 years? If you are sick, are you the elite confident to be admitted at Connaught Hospital?

For the second team, I wanted to stop at a score of 8 to provoke a debate.  If I had done so, the cynic will not focus on the main spirit of my message. Instead, he/she will waste time telling the world that KK or Yumkella is biased because he gave a score of 9 to the first team and only 8 to the second Team.

However, the constructive critic will say since the second team still has more matches to play in the next four seasons, they have a better chance to increase their aggregate score to outperform the first team.

The creative thinker will ask a series of questions. How can the people of Sierra Leone and their leaders avoid the failures of the past?

How could they scale-up and strengthen the institutions established, deepen economic reforms, maintain the new infrastructure, and consequently achieve lasting prosperity for the future generations?

I have spent about thirty years in international development. I have learnt that development is a process of accumulation of knowledge and capital; it is also underpinned by building of institutions, establishing values and norms, and creating new ways of doing business.

Sometimes it is a process of experimentation, with successes and failures. Leaders craft the vision, mobilize their people to believe in it, and work for it. Leaders also learn to avoid the failures, they adjust the sequence, timing and pace of executing public-policy, and with determination build on the successes either by replicating them or scaling them up.

Failing the US-sponsored Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) account is not an end in itself. In fact, it is an opportunity since it provides a menu or check list of macro-economic and institutional reforms to be put in place so that the country can be on a growth-and-opportunity pathway like Ghana and Tanzania; two countries that have dedicated themselves to two decades of very deep reforms.

What next?

The challenges ahead are daunting. Our population could double in the next decades. Like most other African countries, youth unemployment, widening income inequality, environmental degradation and the lack of women’s empowerment, are  real dangers to peace and stability on the one hand, and the agenda for prosperity, on the other.

Defining the future is difficult but doable.  The good news is – that is your next homework assignment.

Assignment 3:  You the distinguished professionals of the Freetown Dinner Club, what is your vision for 2023?

What kind of Sierra Leone do you want to bequeath to your children and grandchildren? Are you ready to help create that new and better future?

Let me put it in another way, what if the topic for the guest speaker in 2023 was “The State of the Nation in 2023”; what nation should he or she describe, (A) one that looks like the Niger Delta rich of natural resources but with the lowest standard of living, highest pollution and armed robbery and kidnappings every week;

(b)  Or one that resembles Dubai, the city of superlative, where you have one of the leading logistics hubs, they earn more from services and tourism than their natural resources; they have built the tallest building in world, they have established one of the largest sovereign funds in the world to save money and wealth for the future generation? If it is the latter, are you ready to help build it?

In a dinner speech, I cannot present a full package of solutions.  But here are some elements to serve as your digestive after the dinner, and maybe food for thought for further discussion with your family and friends during the holidays:

1. Strengthen public institutions for health, education, security, and governance – Douglas North and Robert William Fogel received the Nobel Prize in1993 “for having renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change.”

They demonstrated that successful economic performance requires solid institutional frameworks (such as the norms, values, cultural and legal structures that define what the society stands for or aspires to be).

I see many educators here tonight, some of my own role models in the room, such as Prof Kpakima and Yekini Alghali.  I also know that you have respected medical doctors among you who gave us our medical school, doctors like Dr. Bernard Frazer, Songo-Williams, Gordon Wright, Ishmail Peters, Hakim Gibril, Robin Coker, Willoughby, many of whom served as role models for people like me.

Yes, you cannot retire yet. Mandela continued to be the moral compass for South Africa up to age 90.  I pray that you stay with us much longer to guide us to revisit our values.

2. Vigorous application of the Rule of Law and the Enforcement of Order – For economies to be inclusive and thrive over the long run (as opposed to short-term quick fixes), the legal and judicial frameworks must be set in place to protect civil liberties, enforce contracts, protect property rights and private assets, and citizens must respect each other’s rights. I see many lawyers and judges in the room, I am sure they will join hands to lay the foundations for this.

3. Significant investments in human capital, and skills formation beyond just access to basic education. To deal with youth employment, you need a flourishing private sector, but you also need youth that are employable.  We must reform the education system even more.

As I said at the CKC event a few weeks ago, we must invest in functional literacy.  Functional literacy rate refers to the percentage of literates imbued with enhanced adaptive capabilities to use modern technology and devices and to commercialize new knowledge.

To this end, the future workforce should be empowered with adaptive thinking and skills to blend with and adapt to the rapidly changing facets of industrialization.

Functional literacy rate facilitates creative and innovative thinking skills in order to remain dynamically relevant, to face the challenges in global market place, and to seize emerging opportunities.

4. Further Deepen Systemic Competitiveness through expansion of carefully selected infrastructure and energy investments to support more rapid growth and job creation – but each project must be subject to the sustainability and value-for money tests.

For example, does your dream include a country in 2023 where there is universal access to reliable and affordable energy?

I am sure your club members – the honorable Minister of Energy, Mr. Robin-Coker, Professor Ogunlade, and other engineers in the room are determined to lay the foundation for ending energy poverty. (So how can you help them?).

5. Accelerate Structural Change and Economic Diversification – Your dream might include a country where the returns from the extractive sector and natural capital have been properly reinvested in such a manner as to diversify the economy, with a strong service, agribusiness and manufacture base.

I am sure our brothers Alex Kamara, Andrew Keili, Tanni Pratt, John Sesay, Dunstan Spencer, Ibi May-Parker and others in the room; they must have answers for this.

I see many members of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, Diane Carol, Ahmed Labii, and others, and formidable captains of business who can form a coalition of the willing to lay the foundation for an inclusive, equitable and solid economic transformation.

Ghana shopping malls2So, what will happen next, say in a decade by 2023?  

Consider one of Einstein famous statements, “we cannot solve our current problems if we use the same thinking we had when we created them”.  Since we live in a globalized world, we must think global and act local.

We must learn how others are creating wealth and spreading prosperity for their citizens and generations yet unborn.

I watched the movie “Job” the biography of Steve Job the college-dropout and the founder of the Apple Computer Company, who people thought was crazy for suggesting that the desk-top computer could replace the main-frame computer.

He and a team he put together later invented the desk-top personal computer, the iPod, iPhone and iPad. As I watched the movie, I said to myself, so one man can indeed change the world.

His life story, like Mandela’s, shows that the path to change or success is an arduous one, and requires passion and dedication even when the world thinks you are crazy.

So In 2014, I challenge you to sometimes see the glass as half full and not always see it as half empty.

But strive to fill the rest of the glass through creativity, determination, and a sense of responsibility.  May God bless our nation and may God bless us all. Thank you very much.


Kandeh K. Yumkella, former Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations and the Secretary-General’s Special-Representative for Sustainable Energy for All and Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.