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Dr. Kandeh Yumkella’s Political Baptism

August 27, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Karl Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkellah got his political baptism in the murky and often depraved world of Sierra Leone politics beginning Saturday, 22 August, when he arrived at the Lungi International Airport. Hundreds had assembled to welcome the United Nations retiree and presidential aspirant in the next general elections. But things almost went sour when his private bodyguards were arrested by the police on the grounds that some were dressed in military uniform and had on them pepper-sprays. Shocked and surprised? Perhaps. But unfazed and ever determined. Welcome to Sierra Leone politics, Sir!

The practice of having private security men as part of the retinue of political leaders is not a novelty in Sierra Leone: every serious politician, including the late former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and current President Ernest Bai Koroma kept and carried with them private bodyguards. Remember the incident in Bo when private bodyguards of then presidential aspirant, Ernest Bai Koroma, beat late Tom Nyuma to pulp because according to them, he had attempted to gain illegal access into their boss’ room?

So, for anyone to present the issue of private bodyguards in our politics as something from Mars or paint a doomsday’s picture of it is disingenuous, to say the least. That said, is there a law which prevents anyone from wearing attire similar to military combat fatigue or to have in their possession pepper spray in the circumstance where they were not conducting themselves in a riotous way? If alarmist headlines in some newspapers this week are anything to go by, following the Lungi incident, then the answers to both questions will be ‘yes’.

But such is the reality of the current social existence of many of our compatriots that their very consciousness, vis-à-vis conclusions on matters germane to public discourse, is very warped and suspect, apparently borne out of parochial, primordial considerations.

Accordingly, some have been quick to take to social media and even newspapers to report the incident as if the men are as dangerous as the Sadr militia in Baghdad, with a penchant for war! The fact is that, as I have always contended, those who are quick to brand others warlike are themselves stocking the flames of war. And they are the dangerous elements in our midst that cannot stop at anything to unleash fire and brimstone just so that their breads will continue to butter.

Our recent gory history should at least teach us that such people will never stand on the side of the people during critical moments. For example, where were they when in 1996 women and men called for ‘election before peace’ and brave bullets on elections day, while some lost arms and limbs? On whose side where they between 1998 to 1999 when the murderous Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) of war crimes fugitive, Johnny Paul Koroma, sent thousands to their early grave?

So, as Dr. Yumkella embarks on his nationwide tour, he should be prepared for anything and everything, including personal attacks – physical and in the media – because many from both sides of the political aisle are jittery about his presence, with their only potent weapon (in their jaundiced minds) being physical or verbal attacks.

He got a foretaste of what lies ahead at the headquarters of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party in Freetown on Monday, 24 August, when he went to pay a courtesy call on the party’s hierarchy. Apart from the unnecessary and unfortunate display of gangsterism by men and women who openly chanted support for Julius Maada Bio, their action further painted a bad picture for a party which prides itself of having members who belong to the crème of Sierra Leonean society. That a party with such a pool of talents can allow itself to be placed under siege by the jungle mentality of brigands, sums up the present sad state and status of the party.

Despite the provocations, Dr. Yumkella was suave and spot on in stressing to party leaders and members that unity, inclusiveness and dialogue are the only way to State House, and not intimidation, invectives and fighting.

The reality is that, it is only when the SLPP opens up in the true spirit of “One Country, One People” and engage in coherent debates, highlighting manifold governance challenges, that they will stand any realistic chance of wrestling power from a ruling party which has blundered big time in many ways than one in the past eight years, not least in handling of the Ebola outbreak and funds to fight the virus.

The opposition party and country needs people like Dr. Yumkella to energise their base and give the teeming unemployed young people hope, confidence and belief that their aspirations would come to fruition with hard work and dedication.  At 54, Sierra Leone needs and deserves honest and sound debates as we seek solution to our myriad man-made problems.

Sadly, some folks think mudsling is the best way out in political debates, thus they have linked Dr. Yumkella with the brutal killings of the NPRC junta. It is no secret that he served briefly under that regime, just as certain Cabinet Minister’s in the current regime, or some senior officers of government who served the murderous AFRC regime. Thus critical and objectives minds will posit, and so what?

It is double standards to single him out for having worked for the NPRC, which by the way, unlike the AFRC, enjoyed de facto status and acceptance by majority of Sierra Leoneans and the international community. That deception and dishonesty may have worked against Mr. Bio because he was a member of the Supreme Council, but it will not hold sway in Dr. Yumkella’s case because he was just a civilian minister who was ready to serve his country in that momentous period of revolutionary fever, catalysed by years of dictatorship and bad governance under Siaka Stevens and J.S. Momoh.

If anything, Sierra Leone needs people like Dr. Yumkella desperately because the rot that we are in now can only be cleansed by experienced, sincere and accomplished individuals of his ilk. That is the path Liberia took with Mrs. Helen Johnson-Sirleaf, and Ivory Coast with President Alhassan Ouattara; today both countries are enjoying the fruit of their good judgments.

For those who want to embark on a historical revisionist journey with a bias lens and for diabolical reasons, theirs is a tough job this time around, as brand KYY can test of scrutiny anywhere in the world, not least Sierra Leone. Besides, such people should first clean their closets as one must come with clean hands in quest of equity.

In sum, as Dr. Yumkella enters the political fray with what literarily I would call his political baptism, it should be the business of every true and well-meaning Sierra Leonean who craves tangible and sustainable results, plus collective prosperity, not personal aggrandizement, to rally behind a man who has genuine love and passion for country, in his quest for unity, inclusiveness and distributive justice.