Sierra Leone’s Kandeh Yumkella stepping down from UNIDO

Anthony Kamara (Jnr)

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 June 2013

Kandeh3After seventeen successful years, leading one of the UN’s pivotal  agencies – UNIDO, Sierra Leonean born Kandeh Yumkella (Photo) is stepping down as Director-General.

Historians recall that at the gloomy depth of World War II, Winston Churchill sought to rally and boost the morale of the British people by saying: “This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning.”

Yumkella has led the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) gallantly, after being reappointed to serve two four-year consecutive terms as Director-General.

This announcement by all accounts, marks the end of a very successful career at the 172 member states organization. So what does the future hold for Kandeh Yumkella?

Serving at any level and in any part of the United Nations system is a privilege and an honour.  No one knows that better that Kandeh Yumkella of Sierra Leone, the first African, South of the Sahara to become Director- General of the Vienna based agency.

kandek2The ride to the top of the UN’s premier agency has not been an easy one. “It took all our intellectual capabilities, all our energies, not allowing our smallness as a nation or our poverty to discourage us, but rather to inspire us that yes, even poor people, even poor countries, small countries can make an intellectual contribution and provide leadership for development,” he said in 2005.

Those who know him say he has always had to fight for what he wants and believes in; a complete contrast to those who think or believe everything he has earned or done has been given to him on a silver platter.

Yumkella always fought the good fight and he will continue to fight for what he believes in: making a difference and changing peoples’ lives. He deliberately goes after what he wants and once the decision is taken, he knows no turning back.

Over many years, Kandeh Yumkella served the UN Industrial Organization in various high-level positions as Special Adviser to two Director-Generals and as Director of the Africa and Least Developed Countries Regional Bureau, as well as Representative and Director of the first UNIDO Regional Office in Nigeria.

KandehIn December 2005, he accepted the mandate to lead UNIDO. Humbled by the responsibility and the unique opportunity to lead an international agency, he set out on an ambitious agenda to transform the moribund UN Industrial Development Organization to “a trusted, efficient and effective partner for development.”

Almost eight years later at the helm, the results are in.  Seven candidates from the European Union, Asia, and Africa are in a race to succeed him – a first in the organization’s history.

After a very successful stint, no one seems surprised. It was the general belief that with his election, UNIDO was poised to be transformative and be reckoned in the global development community.

With the help of his staff, both at headquarters and in the field, he has succeeded in raising UNIDO’s profile among other UN agencies around the world and in the global development arena.

Yumkella has built UNIDO’s reputation “as an agency with a highly relevant mandate, one that is focused on helping to achieve international development goals and dedicated to building partnership” through its thematic areas of poverty reduction, developing productive activities, trade capacity building and energy and the environment around the world.

UNIDO has positioned itself as the premier agency, needed around the world to help nations deal with sustainable industrial development.

As successful as he has been in leading UNIDO over the last seven and half years and establishing his presence in the global arena and earning many accolades along the way, the truth is that Mr. Yumkella is in his last week of office as Director-General.

He is on his way out of the magnificent office with an imposing view of Austria’s capital, Vienna, where he has served his tenure as UNIDO boss.

solar power for communitiesIt is in that office that he has welcomed global statesmen, world leaders, representatives of governments, activists, the lowly who have come to seek UNIDO’s expertise in sustainable industrial development or deal with other global development issues and improving the lives of the poorest.

It is in that office that he often huddles with his advisers to deal with issues that matter to the 172 member state organization.

Yes, it is also that office where he often finds himself standing alone by the window, as he is faced with tough decisions and choices or where he sits with his staff to inspire them to look at the bigger picture and work together towards his vision.

And visionary, he is by all measures. It is in that office that he also finds time each day to fulfill his regular prayers realizing that his creator, God, has had a hand in everything that he has done and in what the future holds.

However, as the countdown begins with barely a week to go, his energy level has not decreased. If anything, he has maintained the same rigid and busy schedule as he always has, including a demanding travel schedule and ensuring that until his last day, he gives his complete attention and energy to and for UNIDO.

Recently, his request for a two year budget was approved by member states so his successor has a firm beginning.

Meanwhile, Yumkella who is widely considered by many as one of Africa’s most inspiring speaker and one who never misses an opportunity to address the continent’s problems, has received a lot of congratulatory messages from world leaders and from the continent congratulating him on his successful tenure at UNIDO and for the services he put at Africa’s disposal and for making every African proud.

On behalf of the government and people of Ivory Coast, President Alassane Ouattara has announced through the Ivorian Embassy in Vienna of his decision to honour Mr. Yumkella for his outstanding leadership and for his many contributions to Africa his nation’s highest honour.

On a recent visit to Kigali, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who represented the African Union during his installation in 2005 as the first African Director-General of UNIDO as Vice President of the African Union, recognized his outstanding success at UNIDO and his leadership around the continent.

“You make us proud each and every day the name Yumkella is mentioned. Africa is proud of you and we are all Sierra Leoneans,” he said.  President Kagame had sent his personal helicopter for Yumkella to be picked up so that they could meet outside of Kigali.

As UNIDO’s Industrial Development Board meets during the 41st session to discuss the future of the organization, amidst a very packed schedule, it is clear one of their priorities will be the appointment of a new Director-General to lead the organization after Mr. Yumkella has tendered his resignation.

YumkellaFor Yumkella, the period following his stepping down from UNIDO, six months earlier than originally scheduled,  is  the beginning of many beginnings to come – whether at home or continuing in the global arena.

On July 1, he begins his new responsibilities as Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and Chief Executive Officer of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.

He will be charged with raising $50 billion a year in an effort to bring governments, the private sector and civil society together in a meaningful partnership, geared towards achieving universal energy access, improving energy efficiency and growing the share of renewable energy by 2030.

Whether he chooses to save the world by bringing the benefits of modern energy to all and to ensure that energy is provided as cleanly and efficiently as possible, or chooses to return home and answer the call of many to serve his people, the fact is at 54 years old, the man is on a wild ride.