When Chief Kandeh Yumkella launched his National Grand Coalition party in Sierra Leone, it was done with all the fanfare that he could muster. There is no doubt that he was seen by many as the new kid on the block. But more importantly, he was so vociferous in his opposition to the APC, that many came to see him as the “Second coming”. He was lauded in some quarters as the Sierra Leone Obama, thanks to his message of hope. Unlike other politicians, and thanks to his vast experience from working with The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), he was adept at diagnosing the common ills that have paralysed our country. With his vast experience, he promoted the awareness of Sierra Leone’s potential. As an agricultural economist, later turned politician, the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, Yumkella was able to identify a lot of untapped resources in our country.
Yumkella who is widely considered by many as one of Africa’s most inspiring speakers and one who never missed an opportunity to address the continent’s problems, 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. Rwandan President Paul Kagame once told Yumkella, “You make us proud each and every day the name Yumkella is mentioned. Africa is proud of you and we are all Sierra Leoneans”. With such a powerful dossier and resume behind him, it was not surprising that Yumkella was viewed by many as the answer to Sierra Leone’s economic woes. Although he spent most of his time with UNIDO outside Sierra Leone, many believe that his finger prints were all over some of the development projects like the Gbankasoka and Bumbuna hydro projects. It was therefore not surprising that his audacity of hope was well received by many who believed that if he were to become president of the nation, tangible changes would be realised; thanks to the notion that “a chick that would grow into a cock is spotted the very day it is hatched”.
Such was the confidence in him that he soon became a household name; so much so that he became the “main threat” to the APC’s hegemony. The election results proved otherwise. In spite of the above, there were those who believed that his rise to prominence was a false dawn. Many did not believe that he would last the whole nine yards, and that his party will fizzle out immediately after the general elections. The jury is still out. But we saw how the APC became so jittery about his threat that they were ready to rejig the constitution on dual nationality, allegedly to nullify his candidature. In their bid to do so, the APC inadvertently cut their nose to spite their face, by disqualifying their very own candidates with dual nationalities from contesting the elections. In the midst of all this, C4C and the SLPP, who were regarded as less threatening, operated under the radar and were left to garner grassroots support across the country; radar proof.
Fast forward to the campaign season and Yumkella became the “main opposition”; well in the eyes of the APC party. He coined phrases like “Rankanomics”, “Put Salone Fos”, etc. During his maiden speech to launch his National Grand coalition (NGC) party, he said that “Democracy has been choked, suffocated, stifled and rendered meaningless in the SLPP and to some extent in our nation. Politics has been reduced to corruption and kleptocracy by oligarchs and has now become a zero sum game: it’s either all or nothing. Cabals justify that it is the turn of this group or that ethnic agglomeration to eat or have access to the national treasury. Indeed the motto of the KKY Movement is “Country First” which means we put the interest, welfare and prosperity of our people at the center of our campaign. (Sierra Leone Telegraph 03/07/2017).
With the first round of the elections ending in a run off, he was vilified by many for not forming a coalition with any of the 2 major parties, APC or SLPP. That would have been a coalition of coalition anyway. Many described him as selfish, egoistical and powered drunk. Some saw him as an all or nothing guy. But on the other hand, he gained more respect from those who saw him as a man of principles and who stood by his principles. In an excerpt from the speech that he delivered at a Town Hall Meeting in London, on September 23, 2016, Yumkella talked about institutionalized leakages, a bankrupt economy, economic growth, fiscal indiscipline, our debt, exchange rate, and the nation’s current account balance etc. As a way forward, Yumkella called for a “grand coalition of progressives”, and that “It is time for us to come together to discuss ways of salvaging the economy and alleviating the suffering of our people.” (Thesierraleonetelegraph.com/05/10/2016).
To all intents and purposes, is this not what the Governance Transition Team (GTT) report is about? If you look at the issues raised in Yumkella’s speech that he delivered in 2016, 2 years before SLPP came to power, you’ll be forgiven to conclude that both parties were class mates. But why is Yumkella silent on the same issues that he professed to fight against? If he was so passionate about the country and at a time when the country is at such cross roads, why has Yumkella been conspicuous by his silence? Or is it because the fight against corruption has been spear headed by the SLPP and not him? Does that give credence to the allegations by his detractors, that he is egoistical? This is no attempt to question his patriotic credentials but there is a lot to be desired by his deafening silence. With all that has gone before, and considering that our country is on an economic life support machine, there are many who would expect Yumkella to add his voice to the clarion call to drain the swamp of corruption. There are even some APC members who would want to help in the recovery process. I know, you are thinking that I am asking foxes to vote for the welfare of chickens, or turkeys to celebrate Christmas. Don’t underestimate the power of politics to make Peter deny Christ
Dr. Yumkella should know that it is not criminal or treasonable to side with opposition parties; especially when the interest of the country is at stake. It will not in any way diminish the relevance of his party. In the interest of the country, all political parties, including the much maligned, rightly or wrongly APC party should come together in the interest of the country. For the first time in the country, many people were looking forward to a vibrant parliament, thanks to the number of opposition parties. Irrespective of our political persuasions, we should all support good people who want to do something for our society. When deeds speak, words are nothing. In the interest of the country, many would like to see opposition as true friendship. Considering that the GTT report appears to entail most of what Yumkella had been saying during his campaign, his silence on the matter may be construed as him not wanting to set sail on SLPP’s star; and that could be unhelpful for our democracy. Dr. Yumkella, don’t be a Sierra Leonean because you were born in Sierra Leone, but because Sierra Leone was born in you. It’s time to prove it.
There are those who may think that Dr. Yumkella does not know where he is going with his politics, but any road will take him there. Our country is at crossroads at the moment. The Bio government should invite all well-meaning Sierra Leoneans, irrespective of their political persuasions or loyalties to participate in this recovery process. This should be a government of inclusion for all well-meaning citizens. If we can’t turn the wind, we should turn the sail. By the way, we know that the recent price increase in fuel is beyond the control of the government. The rippling effects have been felt in every sphere of life, as prices have taken astronomical hikes. Is there any chance of the Bio government keeping an eye on price control? There are a lot of unscrupulous people who are taking advantage of this situation, hiking prices and blaming it on the New Direction. The New Direction is blaming it on the APC. But can we continue to blame the mirror because our face is ugly?
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).