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Sierra Leone News: “Yes, We Need Change, But not the FISHY Type: A Reply to Dr. Yusuf Bangura”

“Yes, We Need Change, But not the FISHY Type: A Reply to Dr. Yusuf Bangura” By Kelfala M. Kallon Recently, Dr. Yusuf Bangura published an article titled “Why We Need Change: The Case for a Developmental, Inclusive and Democratic Party” in which he endorsed Dr. Kandeh Yumkella for the presidency of Sierra Leone. First off, I must say that Yusuf is one of the Sierra Leonean intellectuals that I hold in extremely high regard. However, when it comes to Salone politics, emotion tends to cloud his judgment, leading him to wrong conclusions. For example, 5 years ago, he published a sensational piece in which he predicted a doomsday scenario following the SLPP’s nomination of Julius Maada Bio for the 2012 presidential contest. Reducing the 600-plus party delegates that voted at that convention to a monolithic group, Yusuf incorrectly characterized their decision as a call-to-arms by the party. Time proved him wrong when Bio did not unleash the violence Yusuf had predicted even though there was an inarguable mountain of evidence that the results of that contest had been brazenly stolen by the APC. Instead of apologizing to Bio, the SLPP delegates (whose judgment he had so baselessly impugned), and well as his readers (whom he misled), Yusuf has wisely careened away from the war-monger hypothesis and is now hanging his hat on unproven allegations of a dead president. However, he conveniently ignores the fact that President Kabbah had the entire apparatus of the state at his disposal and could have prosecuted Bio for the alleged crimes if he believed in the strength of his evidence. Without giving Bio his day in court, the former president’s allegations are mere gossip. For Yusuf to use them as a disqualifying criterion for the presidency is akin to holding Bio to a different legal standard (of “guilty until proven innocent”) than he would want for himself. Yusuf obviously knows that the people of Sierra Leone will be electing a President of Sierra Leone, not of the United States. He also knows that when it comes to foreign policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, the US defers to the judgment of the former colonial masters—Britain in the case of Sierra Leone. Therefore, although Bio’s alleged immigration problems with the United States is not relevant to his fitness for the presidency of Sierra Leone, the fact that he has no problem entering and exiting the United Kingdom at will suggests that his alleged US immigration problems will have no impact on US-Sierra Leone relations under President Bio.
I must also point out that just 5 years ago, Yusuf was ebulliently touting Ernest Koroma as a “developmental president”—even though the quality of life of the average Sierra Leonean had plummeted significantly during his first term. That Ernest had failed to fulfill even the most basic of his many promises, which was to ensure that every Sierra Leone gets “three meals a day of a varied diet”, did not cause Yusuf to contain his enthusiasm for him. Neither did the fact that, after trumpeting “attitudinal change”, starting with his own family, Ernest Koroma had superintended an “attitude” of corruption and blatant tribalism/regionalism (and all the ills that caused the demise of the first Republic into the nation’s governance) during his first term. That Yusuf would now attribute Koroma’s colossal failure at governance to the APC “running out of steam” is truly stunning, to say the least. Yusuf and other legendary Bio bashers continuously use the “collective responsibility” cliché to hang all the negative aspects of NPRC on only him. They, however, do not simultaneously credit him with the NPRC’s achievements. One would think that a critical mind like Yusuf’s would not succumb to this bug. But, ah yah, when it comes to Bio and the NPRC, Yusuf sees only “collective responsibility” for the regime’s errors, and no “collective credit” for its achievements. To balance the scale, I intend to show that given their age, education, and experience at the time they seized power, the NPRC lads were more effective at economic management than any recent government. In the interest of brevity, I will limit my evidence to 3 variables—access to electricity, inflation, and the growth rate of real gross national income (GNI).
Comparative Regime Economic Records:
For uniformity, the data are from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI) dataset (https://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators). And for a year to be assigned to a regime, it must have governed for at least 9 months within that year. Accordingly, the regime periods are as follows: NPRC—1992-1995; SLPP—1997-2007; and APC—2008-2015. Because of the AFRC interregnum from May 1997 to February 1998, 1997 is disregarded from the SLPP record. Similarly, because the SLPP was in office till the fourth quarter of 2007, the APC period starts in 2008. Finally, the data on the percentage of the population with access to electricity ends at 2014, while all the other variables are available for 2015. Electricity production having been one of Ernest Koroma’s alleged signature achievements over the last 10 years, this comparative analysis starts with the percentage of Sierra Leoneans with access to electricity. Although Bumbuna was over 90 percent complete when he came to power, and the priority and resources he allocated to electricity production, the evidence shows only a percentage improvement in access to electricity during Ernest Koroma’s tenure (from 12.1 percent in 2008 to 13.1 percent in 2014). Comparable data for the NPRC are 18.1 percent in 1992 and 17.5 percent in 1995, which translates to 0.5 percent drop. For the Kabbah administration, they are 17.4 percent in 1996 and 14.6 percent in 2007, a 2.8 percentage drop. At face value, it appears as if Koroma’s APC regime had achieved better electricity delivery than its NPRC and SLPP counterparts. However, because the entire NPRC period and Kabbah’s first term were war years, which required prioritizing national defense over everything else, such a face-value conclusion would be a mistake. Additionally, APC-inspired sabotage of Bumbuna (as evidenced by one of Koroma’s siblings being charged to court for possessing stolen Bumbuna cables) should also be taken into consideration. The NPRC’s most important achievement lay in the control of inflation, defined here as the percentage change in consumer prices. When they took power in 1992, consumer price inflation (in 2011 prices) stood at 65.5 percent. By the end of their last full year in office (1995), it had been reduced by 39.5 percent (to 26 percent). Tejan-Kabbah’s government then lowered it to 11.7 percent (a drop of 11.5 percent) by the time it handed-over to Ernest Koroma in 2007. In 2008, Koroma’s first full year in office, the inflation rate stood at minus 35.8 percent. It grew by 43.8 percent between that time and 2015 (from -35.8 percent to 8.0 percent). On the inflation score, therefore, the NPRC bested the others, seconded by the SLPP. That both the NPRC and SLPP regimes, which ran wartime economies during all or part of their tenures, had better inflation-fighting performances than the peacetime Koroma regime speaks volumes about the incompetence of his government in inflation management. To development economists, the growth rate of real gross national income (GNI)—defined here as the difference between the rate of growth of GNI and the rate of growth of the GDP deflator (2011=100)—is a necessary condition for improvements in the standard of living.
Thus, the NPRC again bested the other two regimes on the economic growth front. And its impact on the lives of Sierra Leoneans was immediate as the “toe-line” for basic necessities that had characterized the APC government vanished almost overnight. Moreover, the NPRC’s institution of Mandatory Saturday Cleaning also made Freetown and other urban centers more sanitary, thereby leading to overall improvements in the quality of life of the average Sierra Leonean.
That 20-something lads accomplished such a feat in economic management while fighting a brutal civil war speaks volumes about their leadership abilities. This is especially so when one realizes that military governments in Africa tend to have a record of poor economic management. I am therefore surprised that Yusuf made a case for Bio’s unfitness for the presidency by focusing on his “collective responsibility” for the sins of the NPRC without similarly giving him “collective credit” for the NPRC’s very superb record in economic management. Had he done such a comparison, he, like the vast majority of the SLPP delegates who elected him by a landslide this time, would have concluded that Bio has a demonstrated history of better economic-leadership ability than both Kandeh Yumkella and Samura Kamara. Moreover, it is a mistake to evaluate the “Bio of today” on only the mistakes of the “Bio of the 1990s”. How many of us would wish to be evaluated on only the mistakes we might have made in our twenties?
Bio’s Alleged Corruption:
Yusuf’s “conviction” of Maada Bio for corruption based on Tejan-Kabbah’s claim reminds me of a Ugandan friend who was appointed magistrate just out of law school after Amin’s expulsion of the Asians. Magistrate Ibrahim was in his quarters one evening when an army general brought a fellow in handcuff to him and ordered him to jail the fellow for theft. Ibrahim methodically explained the judicial process to the General, which starts with a complaint to the police, which will be followed by an investigation, the proffering of charges, and a hearing before a magistrate which will give the accused the opportunity to defend himself. He would be jailed, he told the irritated General, only if he is convicted of the charges.
He therefore advised the General to report the matter to the police. The General reportedly asked “Magistrate, are you saying that I am lying? I told you that I saw the guy break into my house. Just lock him up!” Ibrahim refused and had to flee the country overnight to avoid the General’s wrath. Yusuf tells us that Tejan-Kabbah alleged that Maada Bio had stolen state funds. However, Tejan-Kabbah did not prosecute Bio for the alleged offenses. Hence, these allegations do not constitute guilt, unless one believes that Bio should be held to the standard of “guilty until proven innocent”. Because he is pushing these unproven allegations as facts, Yusuf apparently believes that the allegations constitute the truth just because they were made by a former president. In this sense, he is no different than the Ugandan General who believed that his accusation constitutes an unassailable truth. Yusuf and those who put legs underneath this gossip should be reminded that Tejan-Kabbah sued Paul Kamara for libel and won a judgment when the latter relied on the Foster Commission’s conclusion and claimed that Tejan-Kabbah was a thief. That legal action alone should tell Yusuf that, were he alive, TejanKabbah would object to using allegations, no matter their source, to tarnish the reputation of someone else, including Maada Bio. More importantly, the Foster Commission’s finding notwithstanding, the people of Sierra Leone elected Tejan-Kabbah to two presidential terms, in which he acquitted himself very well. Additionally, Yusuf is perhaps unaware that the same Tejan-Kabbah that he quoted had pronounced Maada Bio as the fittest man for the presidency in 2012. I guess Kabbah realized after Ernest’s first term, that relative to Ernest, Bio was indeed an angel—in much the same way that Dr. Raymond Sariff-Easmon confessed in a 1970s open letter that, compared to Siaka Stevens, Albert Margai was a saint.
Selling a Cow by How It Sound:
Character is a very important criterion for people who hold political power. Given the enormity of what is at stake, this is even more so the case in this election than in all previous elections. My conclusion from Kandeh Yumkella’s two years in national politics has convinced me that he lacks the character traits necessary for the presidency. Firstly, based on what we are hearing from the APC, Kandeh courted Ernest Koroma for the APC nomination. That he went directly to Koroma instead of joining the APC and campaigning for the nomination like everyone else suggests to me that he wished for Koroma to appoint him by fiat—APC style. When that scheme failed, he quickly discovered his “father’s party” and claimed its membership by inheritance. When this stunt failed to impress the SLPP grassroots, his supporters began inventing SLPP membership cards for him everywhere to show that Kandeh had always been SLPP. It did not matter to them that Kandeh himself had claimed that he had never been a member of any political party (to possibly endear himself to the APC). Then came the lie that as a UN employee, Kandeh could not participate in the political party affairs of his country. Shamelessly, he and his handlers forgot a minor fact that not all Sierra Leoneans are so stupid that they would believe a claim that the author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would deprive its own employees of their right to participate in the affairs of their countries, contrary to Article 21(1) of that Declaration. And when he finally realized that he stood no chance of getting the SLPP nomination, he abandoned “his father’s party” to form the NGC so that he can single-handedly nominate himself for the presidency. Just as he and his handlers lied about his membership in the SLPP, they are now hoodwinking us with the claim that both the SLPP and the APC have failed the country, thereby necessitating a “Third Force”. If this is really true, why would Kandeh have courted both political parties, even lying about membership in especially the SLPP? Would it not have made more sense for him to have formed his motley “grand coalition” sooner than when it was apparent that he had no chance of getting the SLPP nomination? In short, this record of “here today, there tomorrow” and the lies that continue to be told to support it suggest to me that Kandeh Yumkella has a big credibility gap that must be closed before he can be considered a serious candidate for the presidency. We are also told by Yusuf and other NGC supporters that Kandeh’s stint at the UN makes him most singularly suited for the “transformational leadership” that Sierra Leone currently needs. The Mende have a proverb that only stupid people buy a cow by the way its sounds. Sensible people insist on first seeing the cow, no matter how well it sounds, before making a purchase. Kandeh has been with UNIDO, the agency that oversees industrial development since 1995. Yet Sierra Leone’s manufacturing value-added as a percentage of GDP has fallen continuously during that period. According to the WDI, this statistic averaged 3.3 percent during Kandeh’s tenure at UNIDO. Kandeh has also been touted as an alternative-energy guru who will solve all our energy problems using “transformational leadership” because of his stint as a Special Assistant to the UN Secretary-General for Energy. Yet, during his term in that position, the percentage of Sierra Leoneans who have access to clean fuels and technologies stuck stubbornly at 2 percent every year, according to the WDI. These dismal statistics mean only one thing: That Kandeh did not use his UN position to impact the lives of Sierra Leoneans, unlike Bio whose NPRC days, as I have demonstrated, had a significant impact on them. Are Kandeh and his supporters telling us that he cannot help Sierra Leoneans unless he is president? According to the Mende, every swift race begins with a step (piimei ah torto nyeh nyeh hun loh”). For Kandeh’s claim to messiah-dom to be taken seriously, Sierra Leoneans should have felt the impact of his international experience on their daily lives, which they have not. In other words, Kandeh and his handlers are just selling us a cow by its voice. And, of course, only fools would make such a purchase.
Kandeh’s FISHY Politics:
The typical angler casts his line without any knowledge of the whereabouts the fishes. After waiting for a while, he would cast it in another direction if he does not get a bite, hoping to be lucky that time. He will continue casting the hook randomly until he eventually gets a bite and, if lucky, a catch. Like an angler, Kandeh entered the presidential race without any real knowledge of the country’s political landscape. Thus, he initially threw his hook into APC waters, but soon realized that he will not get a bite. He then threw it into SLPP waters (for two years), hoping that his father’s record and his UN resume would get him a bite. Not knowing the political landscape in the party either, he cast his lot with the elites and folks in the diaspora, all of whom have little or no influence over the party’s delegates. When that gamble failed, as it was bound to, he formed the NGC (the Coalition of the Desperate) to guarantee himself a presidential nomination. Kandeh’s “Fail in SLPP, Hop Yonder” (FISHY) political history clearly portrays him as one whose political ambition is such that he would do anything—ethical or otherwise—to be president. In this regard, he reminds me of Siaka Stevens, the only FISHY politician who ever party-hopped himself to the presidency. And we know what he did to the country. I suspect that Kandeh would have been chanting “Continuity” instead of “Change” if his romance with the APC had been bi-directional. Who knows? Yusuf’s article might have been titled “Why We Need
Continuity.” And if he had succeeded in getting the SLPP nomination, “Continuity” would have given way to “Change through the SLPP; the Only Way Forward; the Only Way Through; and Power to the People”. I wonder how Yusuf would have titled his endorsement then.
Most rational people would agree that those who participate in a democratic process and reject its outcome when is not in their favor cannot be considered as paragons of democracy. And contrary to the lie that the SLPP has become undemocratic, the SLPP is more democratic today than it has ever been. Moreover, unlike the APC, it is more inclusive (regionally and ethnically) than any political party in the history of Sierra Leone. In other words, in the SLPP, Sierra Leone already has an inclusive, democratic political party. On the issue of development, Yusuf claims that the Tejan-Kabbah government neglected “infrastructure, energy, agriculture, and employment-enhancing activities”. I guess he has conveniently forgotten that Tejan-Kabbah’s government embarked on an aggressive road-rehabilitation program that targeted mostly the Northern Province during its second term. Kabbah’s government also secured funds for additional road-building projects, which were handed over to Ernest Koroma’s government. With respect to energy, Kabbah’s government worked assiduously on Bumbuna, which was over 90 percent complete when they left office. Moreover, they brought in Moroccan engineers to help repair the Kingtom power plant and the power lines that had fallen into disrepair since the first APC period. But for APC-inspired sabotage, these projects would have been completed by the time they left office. Finally, by securing the peace and rebuilding rural institutions, many internally displaced Sierra Leoneans returned to their villages and their pre-war agricultural activities. This helped to increase food production and rural incomes. Therefore, Yusuf’s claim that Tejan-Kabbah’s government neglected “infrastructure, energy, agriculture and other employment-enhancing activities” is not supported by the facts. In short, I agree with Yusuf that Sierra Leone needs change. But, it is definitely not the FISHY type that Kandeh Yumkella is peddling!
Monday November 27, 2017.

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