Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is a good man and a good leader. He is a good leader because he is confident, resourceful and determined to rescue his country from the lower rungs of the human development index. This will set Sierra Leone on the course of political and economic progress. Personally, I am proud to share CKC with this rising star. Good schools produce good leaders.
Those who know Yumkella acknowledge his in-depth knowledge and solid articulation of global and domestic issues. This notwithstanding, the candidate has always manifested a distinctly humble character in his quest to serve the people of Sierra Leone. Yet if humility is a palpable trait of the NGC presidential candidate, it is an Irony that many of his supporters appear to be quite the opposite. Discernible peculiarities of KKY supporters that I have had political discussions and debates with in the United States and Sierra Leone range from hubris, anger, contempt for opposing viewpoints to narrow-mindedness, and outright rudeness.
What’s more, tormented by their disdain for competitive politics, some KKY supporters do not hide their desire for the extinction of the SLPP, the APC and all other political parties not named NGC. Accordingly, they would gladly welcome an uncompetitive political playground that unfairly confers a monopoly political power on the NGC. The danger inherent in this thinking is that monopoly political power can create the basis for predatory accumulation and venal opportunism on the part of the ruling elite. But the NGC foot soldiers notwithstanding, a glance at the party’s inner circle of grandees illuminates much of what is wrong with African politics.
Many of the party’s top positions are occupied by a coterie of repulsive individuals with a nation-wrecking mentality. Oddly, these sycophants and prevaricators masquerade as the saints in Sierra Leone’s political process. And being the opportunists and the carpetbaggers that they are, they see the NGC as a god given opportunity to bury their pathetic political lives of yesteryears, burnish their resumes and spring back into action.
Consider Dr. Albert Joe Demby. Given his inauspicious record with the SLPP, is he qualified to front a political movement in Sierra Leone? There is ample evidence that Demby failed as Vice President in the first Ahmad Tejan Kabbah government. Consequently, he was replaced with Solomon Berewa on the SLPP ticket for the 2002 elections. Disappointed and feeling scorned like a jilted lover, Demby went into political hibernation and is only resurfacing now. Another incompetent underling in the person of Dr. Dennis Bright was a colossal failure in the Ministry of Youth and Sports in the Kabbah government.
Before Kabbah, soccer had blossomed under the soccer-loving NPRC military junta as evident by the Leone Stars, the country’s national soccer team, making two successive appearances (1994 and 1996) at the Africa Cup of Nations, Africa’s flagship soccer tournament. There was hope that Sierra Leone had at last acquired the pedigree to challenge Africa’s traditional soccer powerhouses, namely, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Algeria, etc. However, with Dr. Bright as Sports Minister, the Leone Stars quickly disappeared into a cesspool of incompetence and cloddishness. Sierra Leone’s FIFA rankings took a freefall culminating in no more appearances at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Obviously, the oafishness and incompetence of many KKY followers contrast sharply with the personality of their candidate. Yumkella is a democrat who believes in strong institutions as a part of a productive political and economic environment. He also believes in a strong and viable opposition that can contribute meaningfully to development. Tellingly, these beliefs are in sync with the argument that in democratic formations, competitive politics acts as a center of gravity for mass political participation. Mass political participation, in turn, creates avenues for broad-based policy formulations, which in turn produce efficient outcomes. Also, as a necessary public good, competitive politics reduces inequalities in the distribution of political power. Correspondingly, in economics, Pareto optimality or Pareto efficiency states that competitive markets allocate resources in the most efficient manner possible.
In a recent AYV television interview, Yumkella proclaimed that if elected president, he will seek qualified citizens in other political parties to join his administration. The candidate realizes the enormity of the task facing him if he wins the presidency. Like many progressives, Yumkella fully understands that despite the numerous feel good propaganda coming from the useless APC government, the facts and the realities on the ground point to an economy teetering on the verge of collapse.
What do the statistics say? Nominal GDP is a measly $4,757 billion, which shows a contracting and underproductive economy. GDP per capita is a paltry $711, which indicates that Sierra Leone ranks among the poorest nations in the world. The rate of unemployment is 70% and the rate of inflation is 18%. This illustrates that the fundamentals of the economy are not good. The national debt is a whopping $ 4 billion dollars. This can negatively affect long-term growth. Lastly, the exchange rate of the US dollar to the Sierra Leonean Leone is 1 dollar = 7650 Leones. This shows an economy on a downward spiral.
Specifically, what a depreciating Leone against the dollar means is that there is little demand for Sierra Leone’s goods and services in international markets. When the demand for a country’s goods and services declines in international markets, the value of its currency depreciates against the major currencies of the world. This means that the value of a country’s currency is intricately tied to the demand for its goods and services in global markets, hence economists argue that the demand for foreign currency is a derived demand. What all of this teaches is that national prosperity or poverty can be manifested in exchange rates.
Incontestably, understanding national prosperity and national poverty can be key to understanding why growth rates differ between nations and why nations develop differently. Moreover, such an understanding is also essential to understanding why some states succeed in accumulating power and prosperity while some become failed states unable to grow.
In sync with the foregoing, statecraft experts have suggested that the difference between political and economic power lies in the difference between plunder and production. Thus, creating a viable state with the capacity to accumulate wealth and power, a state that forges and upholds the sanctity of inclusion and tolerance is a much more complex process than many understand. Ostensibly, those who are willfully ignorant or ambivalent to this vital lesson are arguably those who believe the myth that Yumkella and the NGC are the panacea to Sierra Leone’s developmental challenges.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that a new president Yumkella, goes on to institute good governance as manifested in the respect for the rule law, the institution of democratic institutions and the minimization of corruption in all its forms. Would that be enough to unlock Sierra Leone’s growth potential? The answer is no. Good governance by itself is not a sufficient condition for economic progress and prosperity. There are countries that are well governed but remain poor. Botswana and Ghana are well governed, yet they are poor. Good governance is only one of a multitude of growth-inducing country characteristics associated with political formations.
Generally, sub-Saharan African countries share similar country characteristics. These are, bad governance, poor infrastructural development, poor agricultural development, poor human capital development, poor transportation development, political instability, macroeconomic instability, small market size, high levels of corruption, etc.
It follows that Sierra Leone’s new president faces a daunting task in rescuing the country from the abyss of poverty and deprivation and influencing the direction of history. Fundamentally, Sierra Leone is a fragile state that is caught in a low growth - high poverty trap. And possibly, a benevolent and democratic president succeeding Ernest Koroma, may stay in office for ten years and still leave Sierra Leone a poor nation. Yumkella realizes this, hence his call for a grand coalition of progressives to tackle the monumental problems facing the nation. Unfortunately, this very important message may be lost on many KKY supporters.