Kandeh Yumkella’s “Garden of Eden Syndrome” theory  on corruption – Op ed

Oswald Hanciles: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 June 2020:

Tuesday, 23rd of June, 2020, in his spacious air-conditioned  office with luxurious brownish sofas  in a 1970s-built  building on Sir. Samuel Lewis Road at Aberdeen, Westend of Freetown, Sierra Leone, I met with Hon. Kandeh Yumkella (popularly known in Sierra Leone as “KKY”), the Leader of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) in Parliament.

It was the first time in my life I  have ever met  him. He took off his COVID-19 facemask briefly; and asked me to take off my facemask too, so that next time he meets me he would recognize me. I obliged him. I had gone  to meet him to talk principally on “corruption” in Sierra Leone. KKY’s theory on why  corruption in Sierra Leone (and nearly all of Africa) has festered – he dubbed the “Garden of Eden Syndrome”.

KKY had been stimulated to articulate that theory because of this  my question to him: “Why is it that  in nearly all traditional African societies, including Sierra Leone, people generally don’t steal from others; there is such a strong aversion to stealing that it is almost compared to incest; yet, in modern African societies, stealing of public money (Grand Corruption) is the norm”?

He said sombrely: “That’s a tough one”. Then he lit up with his “Garden of Eden Syndrome” theory.   KKY said he had been influenced by the ideas of famed African intellectual, Ali Mazuri, in his lecture series  – financed by powerful US institution, PBS  – called “The Africans”. KKY said about two years ago, he conducted a series of talks in Ghana on that subject.

It was not only Africa that was colonized by the European colonialists for about a hundred years, starting largely in the late 19th century.  Much of Asia, and the countries of the Southern Hemisphere,  were also colonized by the Europeans.  The Asiatic countries have escaped from their colonialist past over the past 60 years.

Today, countries in Asia like Singapore and Malaysia, have burgeoning economies; prosperous middle class; cities comparable to the best cities in Europe and America, in some cases, the Asiatic cities are better.  In the realm of science and technology,  Asiatic countries like China, India, South Korea, and Singapore are almost equal to the United States and Europe. In annual  performance
rankings in Maths and Sciences  for school pupils, Asiatic countries like Singapore and  South Korea always top US and European countries.

In 1962, the GDP per capita for Singapore was about $625 – and Sierra Leone’s was about $272. Today, Singapore’s GDP per capita is about $60,000 – and Sierra Leone’s is about $800. Singapore in 1960 was described as a “barren piece of rock”, with absolutely no marketable natural resources. Sierra Leone in 1960 was endowed with huge reserves of some of the best jewelry diamonds in the world; the best grade of titanium (rutile) on planet earth; some of the best grade of iron ore and bauxite in the world; gold; with territorial ocean space with some of the best fisheries and marine resources in the world.

Yet, in 60 years Singapore has developed into a first world country, while the poverty of Sierra Leone has worsened, so that Sierra Leone can no longer be called a “Third World” country, but a ‘Fifth World’ country.  The explanation for the perplexing poverty in a country like Sierra Leone in spite of its abundant natural wealth, according to Hon. Kandeh Yumkella (KKY)  who  was probably the most successful and most world-famous Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); and who then  regularly travelled around the world and hobnobbed with the global elite of the richest and most powerful people on planet earth  – is the “Garden of Eden Syndrome”.  This is it…


According to KKY, most of Africa has been blessed with with an environment where “everything easily grows”. Forests have abundance of plant and animal life. The climate is generally mild, and hardly changes significantly from one month to the next.  Compare this to those countries that are in the Temperate zones of the world – like United Kingdom, Germany, US, Australia, etc.  They have four distinct seasons.

Largely, only in one of these seasons – Spring – would anything grow. In Autumn and Winter, the climate is cool, and cold.  If the people don’t prepare for the Winter months  – in clothes, shelter, and food  – they would die. This necessity has stimulated the inventive minds of the people in the Temperate zones – and the reverse has been the case for Africans. (I had articulated a similar theory four years ago on social media.

I was challenged by cerebral Sociology professor at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohamed Gibril Sesay. [Who in 2016 was also Minister of State-1 in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation]). KKY mocked the African elite who went to study in the West at about the time of Independence: “They saw the supermarkets overspilling with goods; and they just would buy and buy and buy…It was their Eden Syndrome mentality in full swing”.

When these same elite returned home and took the reins of governance of newly-independent countries,  they continue with their Garden of Eden Syndrome: Those in the former French-speaking colonies bought all sort of luxury goods from France, even bottled water and bread. Those in the former British colonies cherished British goods, and splurged on them.  Hardly any industries were created.

“They soon realized that their salaries couldn’t upkeep their predatory and pernicious lifestyles; so they resorted to corruption, and exploitation of the poor”: KKY punched; diagnosing as Sierra Leone’s bane the political culture of “elitism”; and “‘ba nya fake ee'” (ostentation, and pretentiousness); and Garden of Eden Syndrome.

With his voice rising, KKY said “We celebrate the corrupt. We show off corruption.  In our churches and mosques, the biggest donations come from the corrupt; and they are hailed!”. KKY bemoaned  what appears to be the unwillingness of  Sierra Leoneans “to break the cycle of predatory  kleptocratic  political cult” in our governance systems.


I pointed out to the hope which the Ben Kaifala-led Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) presents –  in earning high rankings from Transparency International, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which positions Sierra Leone to get for the first time $600,000,000 (six hundred million dollars GRANT) from the United States Government MCC programme; and asked KKY whether he would help the SLPP-led government of Retired Brigadier Maada Bio to lobby the US government for the $600million. KKY was unequivocal about that: He will. “Development is a continuum.  We should have used the previous instances of the government not getting the MCC Compact programme to educate the public about what needs to be done to strengthen institutions in Sierra Leone, especially those that need to be strengthened  to curb corruption”.

I was delighted and moved by KKY’s patriotic stance  – which he stressed involved “critique of government continually” – to help lobby for the MCC Compact $600 million, especially now that in 2018 and 2019, the Ben Kaifala-led ACC has gotten Sierra Leone to pass the MCC’s inflexible standard: Seriousness in Fighting Against Corruption.

In his office on the 23rd of June, 2020, KKY proudly showed me framed photos on his wall of himself with the global glitterati: Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton; founder of CNN, Ted Turner; former United Nations secretary generals, Kofi Annan, and Ban Ki Moon; former Prime Minister of Norway, Brundtland; former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and one of the most globally-recognized, famous film stars; one time richest man in the world, Carlos Slim of Mexico, etc.

I had seen many photos of Hon.  Kandeh Yumkella  – when he was UNIDO boss; and head of the United Nations agency that appeared to have  been created especially  for him: “Energy4All” – sharing high tables with the likes of another of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffett.

Even today, while KKY appears to be just an ordinary parliamentary in tiny Sierra Leone, the global elite still seek him out for his Obama-like erudition and resonance; his leadership abilities in the realm of sustainable energy especially: KKY is the only black man in the International Energy Agency, the leading think tank on sustainable energy issues.

KKY is also part of leading global organizations like the Climate Change Parliament, the Rocky Mountain Institute in the United States… As KKY mentioned “Rocky Mountain Institute”, my ears flipped like a rabbit’s; for one of my strongest intellectual mantras is from someone from that institute.  This one: “The problems that we face are complex.  Our need is not for simplistic solutions.  One of the ingredients of survival, therefore, is flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity, and creativity in facing issues that will unfold. Our need is not so much for specialists  (valuable though they can be in supplying particular pieces of the puzzle), but for generalists who can see the interconnectedness of problems and solutions” – J. Hunter Lovine, Rocky Mountain Institute, Colorado, United States (1992).

Hon. Kandeh Yumkella (KKY) has earned his laurels as one of the most globally-recognized Africans ever, with a credible voice. (He shares the African  pedestal of global luminescence with the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat…etc.). There have been other Sierra Leoneans who worked at high levels in the United Nations (like Dr. John Karefa-Smart;  Tejan Kabbah…), but  not none as famous, and intrinsically powerful as Kandeh Yumkella.

KKY was appointed Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in 2005. KKY exhibited leadership qualities in his position. And that rare human trait that can move mountains: PASSION!

KKY was in 2008, appointed Chair of “UN-Energy” – a body that brings together all the UN  agencies dealing with energy issues.  Again, KKY performed with excellence.  In 2011, KKY was appointed Co-chair of the high level group on “Sustainable Energy for All”.  KKY is a respected  part of the ‘Peak-People’ of the global community; he recalled how Ted Turner (Founder of CNN)  had put his hand on his shoulder saying to him: “You are the young man who wants to give sustainable energy to the world… Don’t listen to the naysayers.  That was how  they told me in the 1970s that a 24/7 television couldn’t be done”. He recalled how one time Richest Man in the World, Carlos Slim, a Mexican, told him  why he bought a hotel in Mexico city his parents had a honeymoon in.


President Maada Bio  has been trumpeting the harnessing of Sierra Leone’s human  resource as a principal plank of his Administration. Though KKY is one of those who competed with President Maada Bio for the leadership position of the SLPP in 2017; though KKY is now the leader of the NGC opposition in Parliament, President Maada Bio would show emotional maturity, patriotism, and wisdom when he harness the extremely rare human resource of KKY. Like he has done with the budding global star, the almost-youth Commissioner of the ACC, Ben Kaifala.

Blend KKY and Ben Kaifala, and the $600million MCC Compact that could flow to Sierra Leone will be the second step to Sierra Leone attracting billions of dollars in Foreign Direct Investment and international aid within the first term of the Bio Administration.  Money that must be used to cure the governing elite of Sierra Leone of its Garden of Eden Syndrome – zero tolerance to corruption.

There is no more Garden of Eden in Africa; especially in Sierra Leone where we have lost over 80% of our tropical rainforests.  The mineral resource boom of yesteryears would be hard to come by today, as nanotechnology and miniaturization would mean less natural resources would be used in technology in the industrialized countries.

Africa’s leadership must now stop their predatory inclinations, and think hard to harness their most valued resources – human resources like KKY and Ben Kaifala.


  1. Joe Koroma, you’re widening the debate just as I am, so let’s have a field day. What has your being educated in New York have anything to do with what is happening to our economy and country? Your mentioning of James Jonah and others while important doesn’t carry any element of providing sustained solution to our socioeconomic problems. Dr Yomkella is free to make his choices just as you are free to be hoodwinked by sentiments and emotions in your support of SLPP. Had KKY accepted to be Vice President to Mazda Bio he would have been hamstrung the moments the election was over and Maada declared the winner. Intelligent KKY could foresee this. Now then Joe, who is our current Vice President – Juldeh Jalloh or David Francis?

    You are right, James Jonah did serve as Finance Minister. All his vast experience at the United Nations and technical ability were not enough for him to make an impact because he was operating among demons of with PhDs in corruption, whose DNA could not be found be found in the nation’s coffers.

    Joe, we need a revolution of sorts. An educated person like you should be at the forefront of it and not be paralyzed by the severest case of arthritis whose source is a myopic view of our country’s problems . APC and SLPP are locked in a deadly fight as the nation perishes. APC are now blaming all their stories of woe, including the trial of Palo Conteh, on SLPP. What do you think they would do if they were to sweep SLPP out power in 2023 – dance “milo Jazz” with them? Let us break the cycle of feud between these two and bring in the brilliant KKY. The ruthlessness of APC is legendary. You may not be struggling for anything but please spare a thought for the down trodden who are in the majority. Allow yourself to think this over when you go to bed tonight. No, I haven’t moved the goalposts, we are still discussing our nation’s problems; we just see them from a different vantage point.

    • Santhkie Sorie, growing up in Sierra Leone, my favorite goalkeeper was the late Amadu Kargbo. Kargbo was so good that I believed that no matter how wide the goalpost was, the national team would always be in good hands. So, no matter how you widen the goalpost here, my friend, you can be rest assured that your shots will be blocked and saved. You are right to question the correlation between my being educated in New York and the economic development of Sierra Leone. But my New York experience was mentioned for only two reasons: first, to demonstrate my familiarity with the United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City and second, to insinuate that an individual’s successful career in the United Nations system should not necessarily stimulate the extrapolation that such an individual favorably compares with great world leaders.

      Dr. James Jonah, Boutros-Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan, were all at one time or the other at the pinnacle of the United Nations in terms of career development and achievement. How come none of them has ever been compared to Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, and Anwah Sadat. Why Kandeh Yumkela who was only a director of a UN agency?

      You have invited me to join you in the NGC. I am declining that invitation on the grounds that I have never had any reason to leave the SLPP. But beyond this, unlike you, I am not a revolutionary. I am a reformist who does not support an abrupt, rapid, and drastic change in Sierra Leone. I believe in the gradual and incremental change that is taking place under president Bio. I am also not sure that your man, Yumkella, would be interested in treading your revolutionary path. A man that was nurtured in the bureaucracy of a conservative United Nations system can hardly fit the description of a revolutionary determined to effect a drastic and fundamental change in his country.

      Lastly, there are folks of your ilk that believe that a deficit of good governance has existed in Sierra Leone since independence. You also believe that the solution to the country’s problems, is a third political force that would overthrow the country’s defacto two-party system. My response to you guys is that good governance alone cannot be a necessary or sufficient condition for lifting Sierra Leone out of poverty. Evidently, there are countries in Africa that are well governed yet are still poor. Also, it is instructive that Africa, despite disposing of the shackles of slavery and colonialism continues to be the weakest link in the international system. And despite the advantages associated with globalization, there is not a single country in Africa that has the characteristics of a developed nation. So, it behoves that we look beyond the contours of good governance for a solution to our multifarious problems. Surely, looking forward to a messiah to wave a magic wand to develop Sierra Leone is foolhardy.

  2. Joe Koroma, you’re opinionated just as I am. Any issue, therefore, where we lock horns will never end. Do you happen to know the number of lives which KKY touched the world over as head of UNIDO? Here we are referring to Planet Earth – no not just Egypt, not just South Africa, not just Ghana ,but the entire world. If our leaders in Sierra Leone for the past sixty years were so knowledgeable about basic economic history or Economics itself they have had a funny way of demonstrating it, so funny that it keeps robbing the nation of laughter. You have a Finance Minister who is ready to give a blank cheaque to the President and others when they travel overseas and you, Joe, would associate it with a basic knowledge of economic history and Economics.

    Not even a third former who is beginning to define Economics will agree with you, given the state of our economy. Believe me any market woman at Krootown Road Market would do a better job, completely oblivious of what Economics was all about. Let me reiterate a refrain of mine : Our dear country has had two leaders since independence – Sir Milton and Ahmed Kabba , with the latter coming at a distant second. To this day Sir Milton has not been associated with corruption, more than fifty years after his unfortunate passing. President Kabba comes close to him. Can you name me any other leader that has not been implicated in corruption?

    Quite often Joe, you just seem to read excerpts of what I write and make concocted conclusions upon which to base your attacks. I made it clear that the only difference between the three African leaders mentioned and KKY was that KKY had not held the presidency in Sierra Leone. Your opinions are subjective just like mine are on this issue. The fountain of our virtual palpable disagreement is that you belong to SLPP and I belong to Sierra Leone. When it comes to the politics of Sierra Leone sentimentality does not come within the circumference of my being. I am not Mende, Thaimne, Limba, Fullah, or whatever, I am a Sierra Leonean. For this I thank the little education that my parents helped me to have; I use systematic reasoning decipher who is best suited to lead my country. And that is Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yomkella. We need some light.

    • Santhkie Sorie, You are not helping yourself in this debate. Instead of advancing a cogent argument in support of your wobbly claim that Dr. Kandeh Yumkella belongs to that small circle of African greats, that circle that is home to Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Madiba Nelson Mandela, and Anwar Sadat, you are either intentionally widening the goalpost or throwing in some non-sequitur that has nothing to do with the debate. What, for example, has your purported grandiose patriotism got to do with this debate? And does my SLPP membership disqualify me from being a good citizen?

      Look, I was schooled in New York City. So, I am remarkably familiar with the United Nations system. I remember when the late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was Director of Personnel at the UN headquarters. I also remember the erudite Dr. James Jonah rising to the position of Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs. After his UN career, Jonah went on to become Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commissioner. Thereafter, he became Kabbah’s Minister of Finance. Further, I remember the tenure of Kofi Annan as Secretary General. Before Annan was the Egyptian, Boutros-Boutros Ghali. Has any of these great men ever been compared to Nkrumah, Mandela, and Sadat?

      I submit that the hero worshiping of Yumkella has done nothing but to hurt the man’s growth process in politics. Yumkella should have stayed in the SLPP to be Maada Bio’s running mate. But the sycophants never allowed that to happen as they argued that the political neophyte was already a great man capable of crushing any opponent en route to State House. There is no doubt that Yumkella does not have a magical elixir to transform Sierra Leone overnight into a Singapore. So, do not give me that tired narrative that Sierra Leone would not grow without Yumkella. Under the circumstances, Bio is doing extremely well. Lastly, your very argument “that the only difference between the three African leaders mentioned and KKY was that KKY had not held the presidency in Sierra Leone” should serve as a warning that your misguided and miscalculated attempt at catapulting Yumkella to a platform that is out of his league is at the very least reprehensible.

  3. Today some of us talking positive stuff about Dr. KKY. I hope he becomes president of this country one day, the subject will definitely change. APC used to blamed this man as the one who caused them to lose the 2018 presidential election, in which Bio flogged them. So take it or not, KKY has no love in the APC party.

  4. There is no reason why Dr Yomkella should not be placed alongside the likes of Kwame Nkrumah,Nelson Mandela and Anwa Sadat. Oswald Hanciles never went overboard.The only difference between them is that KKY has never held the Presidency in Sierra Leone. But his pronouncements, assertions and insurmountable understanding of the problems which continue to plague our country after nearly sixty years of independence portrays a man who if given a chance at the presidency will dent some of the problems to lift the nation from the nose dive which it has been on for decades.Apart from his technical knowledge,the man also understands economic history;the evidence of this is in his holding out countries in Asia which gained independence about the same time as most African countries did. Through clear-eyed and forthright leadership these countries now have per capita income which most of Africa can only dream of.

    To reiterate Dr Yomkella’s claim,Singapore,a tiny nation with no known natural resources,has attained First world status.What happened to us with all our abundant natural resources? This is a key question which a President Yomkella will start to answer on his first day on the job if only Sierra Leoneans will give him a chance. Kandeh Yomkella loves his country unconditionally.This comes through in all his utterances.And this is precisely where he shares a common platform with Kwame Nkrumah,Nelson Mandela and Anwar Sadat.Nkrumah’s autobiography,THE DARKEST DAYS IN GHANA,reveals this fact. Anwa Sadat’s autobiography,IN SEARCH OF IDENTITY,reveals this fact.Nelson Mandela’s autobiography,THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM reveals this fact.

    Kwame Nkruma would drive through the streets of Accra at night to see for himself the streets which needed light. Anwa Sadat launched the Yom Kippur war against Israel in 1973 to regain his country”S national prestige which it had lost in the six day war of 1967;he lost his youngest brother,airman Atif,in that war.Nelson Mandela came out of prison after nearly thirty years with his sole focus being on calming his nation;he recognised that he was a passing thing;leaving a country behind that was in flames would have tormented him on the other side.May the Almighty grant him perpetual peace together with our own Sir Milton.Sir Milton’s death robbed us of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make headway.I think KKY is a reincarnation of him.May the Almighty help us clear minded Sierra Leoneans land him at State House.

    • Santhkie Sorie, You are one of my favorable forumites. Not only are you articulate but for the most part you are an objective thinker. However, I cracked up reading your comments as it became clear to me that you must have been struggling to put your arguments together. That is what happens when emotions conquer realism. There is nothing wrong with being an ardent admirer and supporter of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella. Afterwards, the man is a great man in his own right. But putting the NGC leader on the same platform of success and greatness as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, and Anwar Sadat is a heresy. Yes, Yumkella is a successful man. But so are many of his compatriots. That Yumkella’s aspiration to become president after a successful career as an international civil servant automatically qualifies him as the greatest Sierra Leonean that ever lived is ridiculous.

      I say the greatest Sierra Leonean that ever lived because any Sierra Leonean that is thought of as sharing the same leadership platform as Nkrumah, Mandela, and Sadat has to the greatest Sierra Leonean that ever lived. Nkrumah, Mandela, and Sadat were not only African leaders. They were also global icons who transcended the African consciousness. Nkrumah, Mandela, and Sadat influenced and continue to influence the lives of folks in every nook and cranny of the world. Put bluntly, Yumkella must first outperform compatriots, Sir Milton Margai, Sir Albert Margai, Dr. John Karefa-Smart, Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah and Julius Maada Bio before putting his name in the same sentence as Nkrumah, Mandela, and Sadat. There is more to leadership than merely forming a political party and having good intentions relative to transforming your country.

      Further, there is more to leadership than a scrupulous understanding of the problems that plague one’s country. And a cursory understanding of economic history and why growth rates differ among countries cannot be the only legitimate attributes of leadership. These are concepts that are taught to first year students in the social sciences at any good university. Realistically, true leadership is grounded on multifarious attributes that encompass rational decision-making, confidence, honesty and integrity, commitment and passion and the ability to inspire others. If Yumkella has these attributes, he would not have to pray for Sierra Leoneans to give him a chance to become president, as you have often argued. Great leaders inspire followers. When Nkrumah spoke in the 1950s, Ghanaians were inspired. The same can be said about Sir Milton Margai. Mandela and Sadat? They are immortalized.

  5. “Hon. Kandeh Yumkella (KKY) has earned his laurels as one of the most globally-recognized Africans ever, with a credible voice. (He shares the African pedestal of global luminescence with the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat…etc.). There have been other Sierra Leoneans who worked at high levels in the United Nations (like Dr. John Karefa-Smart; Tejan Kabbah…), but not none as famous, and intrinsically powerful as Kandeh Yumkella.” Oswald Hanciles

    Really? Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat, etc? And Dr. John Karefa-Smart and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah? Let us get real. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is a successful man by any stretch of the imagination. But putting him on the same pedestal as the great men mentioned above is quite a stretch. Yumkella may well achieve the heights of Nkrumah, Mandela, Sadat, Karefa-Smart and Kabbah in his lifetime. But he is not there yet.

    Let us take Karefa-Smart, for example. Not only was the UNPP man a seasoned politician, serving as minister of lands, foreign affairs and occasionally as prime minister, but the man also had successful careers in the United Nations and in the academic world. As an academic, Karefa-Smart spent ten years as a professor of Medicine at the prestigious Harvard university. He had also taught at Columbia university, Boston university, Howard university, and other great centers of learning in the United States.

    Further, Karefa-Smart remains the only leader of a third political force that almost upended Sierra Leone’s defacto two-party system. Born in the South in a Sherbro family, Karefa-Smart successfully became a political icon in the rivalrous Southeast and the North. In fact, he served as an MP for Tonkolili district for years. Thus, when he ran for the presidency in 1996, it was not a surprise that he was extremely competitive in all four of Sierra Leone’s regions. It is also important to note that Karefa-Smart’s national appeal and electability forced a runoff with the SLPP in 1996. Do I expect Yumkella to lead the NGC to a second round of presidential elections in Sierra Leone? Maybe. But I will not bet a single cent on that.

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