Jimmy D. Kandeh
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 September 2017
In a country where social cleavages seldom cross-cut, it is refreshing to have a candidate in the person of Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella whose political appeal cuts across parties, regions, ethnicity, religion and other solidarities. The APC and SLPP, as presently constituted, will be hard pressed to settle on a presidential candidate who is above, or can rise above, the many parochial divisions that continue to prevent us from coming together and transform our country.
National cohesion and the elaboration of a national character that transcends primordial loyalties is best pursued by a leader who transcends the ethno-regional polarization that we must overcome, if our country is to progress. The incumbent APC is threatened by Yumkella’s presidential bid but not by Bio’s.
Yumkella (Photo) strikes at the APC where it hurts the most, the north. He can put the north in play, make it competitive and have an electoral battle in the APC stronghold.
Yumkella, in my view, will take as many votes from the APC as he will from the SLPP for the following reasons:
(1) He is a northerner who is likely to carry the same districts (Kambia and Koinadugu) Kabba carried and may even top Kabba’s 32.7% share of the northern vote in 2002. Northerners are, for better or worse, as disinclined to vote for the SLPP as southerners are averse to voting for the APC; they would, however, vote for a candidate who is not SLPP, especially when that person is a distinguished and accomplished individual who hails from their region.
(2) It is doubtful whether the APC will be as united for the 2018 elections as it was in the 2007 and 2012 elections. How the incumbent president handles the flagbearer issue in his party would impact the cohesion of the APC. The fallout from the APC convention and who emerges as the party’s flagbearer will help determine the outcome of the 2018 presidential race. The APC will lose the north and the other three provinces if Victor Foh is the party’s flagbearer; this will undoubtedly provide an easier path to the presidency for Yumkella.
(3) The APC brand (first damaged by Stevens, then by Momoh and Koroma) cannot come out on top in a free and fair presidential election. Brazen and unbridled corruption, not to mention the crass impunity that accompanies it, has impoverished and turned many ordinary citizens against the government. Emmerson’s ‘Munku’ only begins to capture the stench of corruption and sycophancy that pervades every public institution and facet of social life in our country. Any APC flagbearer who has worked for and is the preferred choice of the incumbent President is likely to lose because no one, other than the beneficiaries of APC largesse, want to see a ‘third term’ of the Koroma presidency. Even Kabba’s choice of successor in the 2007 elections could not beat back the rising unpopularity of the SLPP at the time and APC unpopularity makes it objectively more vulnerable to defeat in 2018 than the SLPP in 2007.
(4) All northern districts are likely to be competitive in 2018, as the APC has to contend with the likes of Kamarainba in Bombali and Yumkella in all districts. Bio has no electoral traction in the north so the contest for northern votes will be mainly between Yumkella and the APC candidate, with Kamarainba taking votes away from the APC candidate. A competitive north reduces the APC’s chances of winning the 2018 presidential election.
Yumkella also stands to peel away substantial votes from the SLPP because of the following factors and considerations:
(a) Many progressive Southerners who supported Bio in 2012 out of party loyalty have since deserted the party and are now supporting Yumkella. The violence, thuggery and intimidation introduced into intra-party affairs by Bio’s ‘Paopa’ faction has alienated many SLPP stalwarts who arew increasingly likely to split their votes by choosing Yumkella in the presidential election and the SLPP candidate for parliament.
Like most Sierra Leoneans, most SLPP members who have either left the party and/or are supporting Yumkella’s presidential bid are convinced that Bio cannot win a presidential election. Compared to Bio, the preference for Yumkella is a no-brainer.
(b)The plurality of former PMDC members and supporters are backing Yumkella. The PMDC won ten seats in 2007, all from the south, and with the PMDC having receded into oblivion even those that returned to the SLPP remain soft in their support for the party and many are not supporting Bio.
The PMDC’s Margai received 41.2% of the southern vote and 14.7% of the Eastern vote in the 2007 presidential elections. If Yumkella can match Margai’s southern vote total and do better than Margai in the East, he is likely to knock Bio out of the presidential race in the SLPP’s stronghold.
(c) This is the most disunited the SLPP has ever been entering an election. The SLPP is clearly in disarray, has not functioned as an effective opposition and, like the incumbent party, is hemorrhaging support by the day. A party that is dysfunctional and not united is not in all likelihood going to win presidential elections.
(d) The SLPP cannot win presidential elections when the south and east are competitive and that is exactly the scenario we should expect in 2018. A competitive south does the SLPP no good just as a competitive north does the APC no favors. Yumkella benefits immeasurably from dissension and discord within the SLPP and APC; the same cannot be said for the flagbearers of these parties.
With respect to region, Yumkella’s emerging regional stronghold is the western area, which he must win if he is to capture the presidency. Historically, the western area is the only region that swings from one party to the other (SLPP in 1996 and 2002; APC in 2007 and 2012) and is bellwether for presidential elections.
To win the presidency, a candidate must at minimum be competitive in the western area. Western area voters tend to be relatively more enlightened, less susceptible to ethnoregional appeals and demagoguery and more likely to hold leaders vertically accountable at the ballot box.
Based on what I sensed during a recent visit to Freetown, support for Yumkella is growing exponentially in the western area, especially among the numerically preponderant segment of our population, the youth. He/she who wins the youth vote is likely to prevail in the presidential contest.
In addition to the western area, Yumkella will give the APC presidential candidate a run for his/her money in the north and will also be competitive in the south and east. Bio is poised to lose to Yumkella and the APC flagbearer in the north while the APC candidate will lose to Bio and Yumkella in the South-East.
In short only Yumkella is likely to be competitive in all regions. He is acceptable to anti-APC southerners because he is not APC and he is also acceptable to anti-SLPP northerners because he is no longer SLPP. KKY will do better in the south than the APC candidate, trounce Bio by huge margins in the north and carry the west, the most competitive of regions.
Whatever Bio gains in votes from the south and east will be offset by his losses in the north and west; and however well the APC does in the north and west is not going to make up for its poor showing in the south and east.
The APC and SLPP flagbearers will not be competitive in all regions but Yumkella, from all indications, is primed to more than hold his own in all four regions and all twelve districts. One of the good leadership attributes of Yumkella is that he is not an ethnic chauvinist.
Bio and Koroma are polarizing and have a track record of favouring ethnic compatriots and manipulating cultural differences for political gain. Yumkella is different. For him country trumps party, region and ethnicity. He sees exaggeration of the cultural differences that divide us as just another mechanism for fragmenting and undermining our collective opposition to bad governance, corruption and repression.
While ethno-regional loyalties and allegiances have allowed the two established parties to be dominant in national elections, these primordial and affective loyalties have also inoculated the APC and SLPP against accountability at the polls. Rising above what divides, and embracing what unites, us is part of the promise of a Yumkella presidency.
Sierra Leone has shown remarkable religious tolerance throughout the years and religion has not fuelled political divisions, in contrast to ethnicity, region and party. Yumkella, like the late President Kabba, is a devout and highly tolerant Muslim who appeals to Muslims and Christians alike.
Also, not unlike the late President Kabba, Yumkella’s wife is catholic and a great asset in his campaign especially in the southeast. To the degree that religion is not an important source of political divisions in Sierra Leone, support for presidential candidates in the forthcoming elections will not be based on religion.
Yumkella is not a savior or messiah (no one is) but he is head and shoulders above the other presidential aspirants and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stinking political environment. He is highly educated, competent, disciplined and committed to improving governance in our country by first ensuring that public institutions work in the interest of the average citizen.
It is only when state institutions function in the interest of ordinary citizens, or operationally privilege their needs and aspirations, that state power can be institutionalized and we can develop as a people.
Liberating our country from the stranglehold of the APC and SLPP is not going to be easy and predatory incumbents will not be defeated at the polls without a fight. But if ever there is a right time to dump the APC and SLPP, that time is now.
Both parties are obstacles to our country’s progress and we cannot continue electing these unreconstructed patronage outfits and expect different outcomes. Our country has not progressed under these two parties and there is no reason to believe it will if we continue rewarding them with state power.
The APC’s record under Ernest Koroma is horrendous, revolting and indefensible. Koroma won in 2007and 2012 because the plurality of our people voted not so much for him as against Berewa and Bio.
The forthcoming presidential election will be a referendum on the APC in the same way that the 2007 elections were a referendum on the SLPP. In contrast to the past two elections, however, the 2018 elections feature a candidate who gives people a reason to vote for him.
Assuming the elections are free and fair, neither the APC nor the SLPP flagbearer will be elected President of Sierra Leone. Yumkella is prepared and well-positioned to be our next president and the timing for a successful third party candidacy cannot be more propitious.
About the author
Dr. Jimmy Kandeh is a professor of political Science at the University of Richmond, Virginia, USA and was in Sierra Leone this year from June-July 2017.