How NGC and Kandeh Yumkellah Plunged Themselves into a Legal Mess

By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah

When NGC officials confirmed Kandeh Yumkellah as their party’s presidential candidate in late 2017, little did they realize that they had plunged their party into a deep kettle of a mess. In the course of the confirmation, NGC officials noted that Yumkellah had renounced his foreign citizenship status in November of 2017. Their aim was to demonstrate that Yumkellah was now eligible for the presidency. Instead, they opened up an even larger can of legal and technical worms about the legality of their party’s presidential candidate.

For one, this means that until November 2017, Yumkellah was legally ineligible to be appointed or elected for political office in Sierra Leone due to his “dual citizenship” status. Secondly, even if he were to submit proof of having actually renounced his American citizenship, one could make the argument that he still does not have the “full citizenship status” necessary to contest for the presidency. This legal technicality rests on one simple fact: once you swear allegiance to a foreign country, such as the United States, it means that you have given up the primary privileges, protection, and rights of citizenship of your previous country. Thus, by taking the oath to become a citizen of the United States, Yumkellah technically gave up his Sierra Leone citizenship. This means that Yumkellah has been pursuing his presidential ambition for more than two years contrary to multiple laws of Sierra Leone. In fact, assuming that Yumkellah did indeed renounce his US citizenship two months ago, this also means that he is at present a “stateless person.” It can equally be argued that to be eligible to run for political office in Sierra Leone, Yumkellah would first have to re-regularize his Sierra Leonean citizenship, which he surrendered at the moment he pledged an oath of allegiance to become a US citizen.

So the question now becomes: is Yumkellah eligible to contest for political office by simply renouncing his US citizenship? Or is he required to re-regularize his Sierra Leonean citizenship before contesting for political office? If the second scenario is the case, what are the procedures surrounding the re-acquisition of Sierra Leonean citizenship for those citizens who had hitherto sworn allegiance to another country?

Even if we put these legal technicalities aside, this situation raises other serious questions about the competence and trustworthiness of both Yumkellah and the NGC. Yumkellah has spent the past two years contesting for political power, first within the SLPP and now in the NGC. Are the people of Sierra Leone really to believe that this highly trumpeted former United Nations official and the intellectuals and political elites who support him were not aware of the clear legal impediments to his political activity? If they had simply skimmed over the relevant electoral laws that any political candidate’s campaign should be aware of, they would have noted that Section 14 (1) of the Political Parties Act of 2002 clearly states that, “a political party shall not have as a founding member or a leader of the party or a member of its executive body, whether national or otherwise, a person who is not qualified to be elected as a member of parliament under the constitution.” But the UN intellectual and his supporters failed to note this straightforward law for the more than two years that he has been fighting the SLPP and traversing the country campaigning for the presidency? Are we really to believe that no one in the NGC was aware that by electing Yumkellah as their presidential candidate, they had violated both the provisions of the 1991 Constitution and the Political Parties Act of 2002? Both legal documents not only make it illegal for “dual citizens” to contest for political office, but they prohibit anyone not eligible for election as a member of parliament to hold an executive position in a political party, let alone make financial contributions to any political party. Yumkellah has done both. With all of his United Nations credentials and his supposed international exposure, one would have expected Yumkellah and his NGC colleagues to be aware of these constitutional and legal questions surrounding the pursuit of power.

There are two possible scenarios that have occurred here: One, either these elite politicians who pride themselves on being “progressives” and “the vanguard of the new change” have been knowingly violating Sierra Leone’s electoral laws for two years, or they are simply grossly ignorant of even the most basic of election laws despite their violent and noisy approach to power. In either scenario, it is quite clear that the NGC and Yumkellah are sorry excuses for a so-called political alternative.

A few days ago, when I said that Yumkellah and his NGC are no different from other selfish politicians in this country and that their claims at being progressive are baseless (they literally have no program aimed at uplifting the conditions of the masses), the NGC’s cyber vigilantes and political jihadists unleased an ominous campaign of invectives against me. For more than two weeks now, they have been dodging reasonable questions I posed, while maintaining a vilifying campaign of insults against me. Now with these legal issues coming to light, have we not started to see through the empty masquerade of these NGC politicians? Am I not vindicated in my characterization of the NGC’s campaign?

But do not misunderstand me. All this being said, I want to make it clear that I hate to see Yumkellah disenfranchised from contesting the upcoming elections. The fact that the NGC and Yumkellah are either ignorant or inept (or both) does not change the fact that the APC’s newfound reverence for the constitution is nothing but a hypocritical ploy to rig the upcoming elections in their favor. It’s painfully obvious that the APC’s sudden enforcement of the dual citizenship law is only occurring now because it is politically advantageous for them. The APC will easily lose the election to the SLPP if Yumkellah and the NGC are free to contest. The fact that they are now even talking about the dual citizenship law proves this point. No citizen should be naïve enough to believe that the APC’s sudden decision to oust its own dual-citizens from parliamentary nominations is a genuine constitutional move. This is a move to establish a false moral high ground from which Koroma and his party can disenfranchise other opponents who are likely to pose to threat to APC in their electoral heartlands. Where was Koroma and the APC’s reverence for the constitution when they were fighting to give Koroma an unconstitutional third term? Was the APC concerned about the protection of the constitution when Koroma ousted his vice president?

The actions of both the NGC and the APC are simply cynical ploys wrought by greedy politicians. The controversies surrounding this election simply demonstrate that neither the APC nor the NGC can be trusted with political power. In fact, none of the established political parties and their rotten cadres of career politicians can be trusted; this has always been and continues to be my position. And no matter how much I believe that Yumkellah ought to be allowed to contest, the unending flow of controversies which undermine his campaign’s credibility are very hard to ignore, even if one is willing to excuse them as ignorance. I have personally called out the insulting ignorance of the NGC leadership and the irredeemable arrogance of its intermediate membership. Some NGC vigilantes have gone as far as calling me “insane” and “stupid” simply because I question their self-declared “progressive” status and the validity of their claim of being different from the APC and SLPP.  Their efforts to stampede rational criticism and their fundamentalist approach to power is definitely what has landed them into this legal mess; this could all have been avoided if those calling themselves “progressives” were politically savvy and genuine in their pursuit of power. But the tunnel vision of Yumkellah and his supporters focused only on one thing: making him president by any means necessary – even if it means that the national constitution and its accompanying legislations are to be damned. It is this blind thirst for power that I have deliberately defined as politically jihadist in nature and character.

Personally, I still think that we must find ways to negotiate a compromise to ensure that Kandeh Yumkellah, and all those who have registered to contest in this election, are given the right to do so. In a previous essay, I had laid out the implications of disenfranchising Yumkellah and his NGC in this election. My points from that essay still stand: the APC represents a threatened regime which is now employing the tactics of electoral authoritarianism to maintain their grip on power. Let all parties contend for power, but let this take place in a free and fair atmosphere. And let it be clear to the people of Sierra Leone that the NGC leadership and its intermediate membership equally represents members from the same class of crooked and recycled politicians that have dominated every major party in the country over the last fifty years. The true democratic forces of Sierra Leone will have to continue the fight for true emancipation and progress, no matter the outcome of the elections in March.

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Electoral Politics of the Dual Citizenship Debate in Freetown

By: Chernoh Alpha M. Bah

Ernest Bai Koroma and his APC are now fully convinced that they will not win the upcoming elections in a free and fair contest. APC presidential candidate Samura Kamara is extremely unpopular and has failed to electrify the APC base. The divisive and anti-democratic actions of the Koroma regime over the past ten years has led to the proliferation of splinter parties supported by urban youth in Freetown and across the North – areas usually known to be APC strongholds.

These opposition parties will obviously split the potential APC vote. On the other hand, in the traditional SLPP strongholds of the Southern and Eastern parts of the country, there is little possibility of a split vote despite financial inducements and political poaching by the incumbent party. Thus, the greatest casualty in this electoral geometric will be the APC, leaving the SLPP to benefit. This is the most likely outcome of the elections whether one is willing to admit it or not. The fact is the SLPP remains the largest opposition party in the country, both in terms of numbers and its present organizational potential.

By default, the rise of these splinter parties – the National Grand Coalition (NGC), the Coalition for Change (C4C), and the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), amongst others – have only further tipped the scale in favor of the SLPP. The APC has realized, with barely sixty days to polling-day, that it will be hard to reverse this scale of probable defeat unless an electoral miracle occurs. So how does the APC plan on responding to the near surety that they will lose? They are determined to use legal and institutional frameworks to disenfranchise these opposing splinter parties and keep them from splitting the APC vote. This is not new for the APC; they used undemocratic tactics in the 2012 elections to disenfranchise opponents, a fact that was condemned by international electoral observers. For example, the Ernest Bai Koroma regime used the judiciary and the NEC and PPRC election management bodies to disenfranchise the NDA presidential candidate, Alhaji Wurie Musidal Jalloh from contesting the elections. The NDA had posed the most significant threat to an Ernest Koroma second term, owing largely to the role of the socialists within the ASM/NDA coalition. The APC’s broader rigging of the 2012 elections, in my view, started with this disenfranchisement of the NDA presidential candidate. The APC appears poised to employ similar tactics this year. Thus, disenfranchisement is the only reason the Dual Citizenship law, which has been historically ignored and unenforced, is now on the radar of the desperate APC and its supporters.

Indeed, the APC’s game plan is to exploit this legal loophole to disenfranchise rival political candidates simply because they pose a threat to the APC within its electoral heartlands. The ADP and NGC are, arguably, the most obvious targets. It is reported that the APC has evidence it plans to use against candidates from both parties. For the NGC’s Yumkellah, it is reported that a copy of his foreign passport was used to secure bail for two of his security vigilantes at the CID sometime in 2015.  If this is the case and the APC succeeds in disenfranchising these new challengers, the elections will be a direct contest between the SLPP and APC. This supposedly bodes well for the APC, as the electoral register contains more potential APC voters than SLPP voters. Thus, the APC believes it has a greater chance of winning in a one-on-one contest.  In other words, desperation and authoritarian tactics are behind the sudden focus on the question of dual citizenship.

We must not allow the APC to utilize this undemocratic tactic. Indeed, democratic forces in the country must realize that incumbent governments have multiple ways of rigging elections outside of just stealing votes. In his study of the complex methods applied by rogue incumbents to steal elections, Andreas Schedler identified “electoral authoritarianism,” the process by which political regimes conduct regular multiparty elections that are not in conformity with democratic principles but are designed simply to entrench authoritarian rule under the guise of democracy. The state manipulation of the electoral process involves such diverse tactics as the development of discriminatory electoral rules, exclusion of opposition parties and candidates, restrictive access to mass media and campaign finance, coercing or corrupting opposition activists into deserting the opposition camp, or simply redistributing votes and seats through electoral fraud.  It is a combination of these tactics which undermines the truly democratic spirit of elections and renders them authoritarian.

Therefore, we must understand the APC’s attempt to use legal maneuvering to disenfranchise the NGC and ADP as an established tool used by authoritarian regimes parading as democratic. And this is not an isolated occurrence; as the disenfranchisement of the NDA candidate in 2012 attests, the APC has a clear track record of employing the methods of electoral authoritarianism. Consequently, all supporters of democracy within our country, no matter their political allegiance, must unequivocally condemn attempts by the APC to steal the upcoming elections. We must unite to demand with a singular voice that all registered candidates be allowed to run their campaigns to the end. Democratic forces and the people of Sierra Leone have fought too long and experienced too much hardship to allow the APC to undermine the democratic process. Nothing less than our country’s democracy is at stake. The world will be watching in March, and we must demand that the APC regime not interfere with our free and fair elections.

 

 

Yumkellah’s NGC: Windshield Wiper Politicians and Social Media Vigilantes

By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah

In early December 2017, the Sierra Leonean political scientist Zubairu Wai, in an incisive social media comment titled “the dilemma of a ghost,” characterized Kandeh Yumkellah as “a parachute politician who believes he is doing the country a favor by running for president.” Wai notes that Yumkellah’s militant desire for the presidency of Sierra Leone appears to be anchored solely on his belief that being a former UN employee “makes him the only person qualified to be president beyond scrutiny.”  Like many of us, Wai believes that Yumkellah is not the answer to the Sierra Leonean problem. “His connection to the global power elites, and his subscription to the neoliberal ideologies of governance means that he is a far more danger to Sierra Leone than Maada Bio or Samura Kamara,” Wai stated emphatically. For my part, I have resolved to engage the NGC jihadists and social media vigilantes to demonstrate the truth Wai speaks of.

Over the past few days, Sierra Leonean friends from as far away as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been calling me. As supporters of the National Grand Coalition (NGC), they’ve begged that I stop publicly questioning Yumkellah and the GNC’s claim that they represent the “progressive” alternative in the upcoming elections. These individuals are frustrated and embarrassed at the vitriolic social media brigade launched against me by their fellow GNC supporters, especially two odious vigilantes named Ibrahim Suma and “Sweet Mo”. These NGC cyber-vigilantes are fuming over my request that Yumkellah and the NGC demonstrate what concrete policies within the NGC platform could reasonably be described as progressive. I do not believe it is unreasonable to ask that a political party and its candidate offer concrete proof to support serious policy-related claims they have made throughout their campaign. This is a minimal responsibility of any political campaign. Yet, when I questioned NGC’s self-declared title as the “vanguard of change” one week ago, I was met with a barrage of insults and character assassination. These personal insults are only a distraction that deflects from the original conversation I initiated, which questioned the claims of NGC of being somehow progressive and different than the traditional parties in our country, even though the founders of the party are simply ambitious elites who decided to form a new party only after they failed to garner positions within either the APC or the SLPP.

These questions cannot be drowned out by name-calling and insults. All that’s required is a rational response which provides evidence that I am wrong. I do not believe the GNC can offer this response, simply because they do not have progressive policies to offer, nor can they deny that their founders and leaders were part of the dominant parties in the very recent past. Thus, in this essay, I will continue to make my case that the NGC does not represent a true progressive alternative in Sierra Leone politics. I will contextualize the NGC’s project, its genesis, and the underlying opportunistic aspirations of its leaders. My objective is to continue to point out not only the lack of difference between the NGC and APC or SLPP, but to equally show how the NGC’s agenda represents the very definition of political fraud committed by an angry and defeated faction of the Sierra Leonean political class, one that is now acting in alliance with a tiny alienated group of intellectuals, and which aims to dupe the innocent working men and women of Sierra Leone. This group, which claims to be “progressive” and possessing a “newly discovered message of change” is nothing outside of a mix-bag made up of windshield wiper politicians, an assortment of political jihadists, and fundamentalists; individuals who have been rendered outcasts and thrown on the roadside of the predatory politics that has haunted our country for over fifty years now.

In my previous essay, I painstakingly contextualized the genesis of the NGC’s by properly locating it within the theatre of the KKY Movement’s anti-Bio campaign; these are the opportunistic parameters that gave birth to the NGC and continue to condition its existence. Having established the political context in which the NGC’s project emerged, I then asked this so-called “new party of progressives” to show the people of Sierra Leone what distinguishes Kandeh Yumkellah from Mr. Julius Maada Bio and the APC’s presidential candidate. As I previously stated, the NGC has failed to address this question because they have no answer. They have only attempted to assassinate my credibility to avoid the question altogether, claiming that any interrogation of the NGC and its presidential candidate is born out of malice and hatred.  The NGC’s cyber-vigilantes and political jihadists have avoided the questions I raised, instead continuing their pattern of gnashing their teeth any time they are criticized, in hopes that stampeding noise will conceal the real agenda of the NGC from the people. On my part, I have also resolved to engage these political jihadist and social media vigilantes as part of my effort to expose the real reasons behind the NGC’s fundamentalist approach to political power in Sierra Leone. It is no longer lost on the minds of the real progressives and pro-democratic forces in Sierra Leone that the NGC’s are conducting a violent and intolerant bid for power at all costs. In politics, words are cheap. We can only judge politicians by their actions. And the actions of the GNC when faced with criticism are simply emblematic of a dictatorial regime. How can a party which cannot respond to reasonable inquiries and tough criticism be trusted with political power? What does this portend for how they would treat political dissidents or critics of an NGC regime?

The NGC social media vigilante, Ibrahim Suma, has even gone so far as to label me a “covert SLPP media operative.” He claims that my efforts to expose the NGC’s attempt to dupe the people of Sierra Leone means I have a “soft spot for the SLPP.” NGC’s vigilantes and jihadists have also claimed that I am pretending to be a neutral player in the politics of the country. Before going forward, I would like to quickly address these ridiculous claims: I am not a neutral player in the politics of Sierra Leone. I have never made any claims to the contrary. My political opinion and position regarding the current state of affairs are clearly stated. Those who have followed my work over the last twenty years, including the people who now run and support NGC, have no illusions about where I stand in the political divide in the country. Unlike the NGC leadership and intermediate membership that is ashamed to admit its relationship with the SLPP and APC, my own position as a vehement opponent of the two-party monopoly in the country is without question. Those in the NGC are not only aware of my history of opposition to the two dominant political parties in the country from which the NGC is descended, but they are also very much aware of my political philosophy and ideology, a fact which they grudgingly admit with condescension by arguing that the ideology I believe in is moribund, while simultaneously failing to offer anything resembling an ideology of their own; indeed, they continually fail to offer even the most malnourished of belief systems or set of values, other than trumpeting the self-descriptor of being “progressive”. This is the gaping hole haunting the NGC’s claims. How does the nature and character of the NGC and make it different from the APC and SLPP? Can the party not adequately respond to this simple question? If they need an illustration on how one ought to respond to a doubter, maybe they can use this essay as a template: I have challenged the unfair claims of the NGC cyber-vigilantes and mud-slingers concerning my motives by simply offering concrete and historical examples which disprove them. But instead of answering my inquiry, an inquiry which the people must demand of any party which hopes to control their political future, the NGC’s social media vigilantes and political jihadists organized into a cyber brigade which has drenched the social media sphere with distasteful slander for all to see. One of their social media vigilantes even called me a foreigner born in neighboring Guinea. They are unable to answer what makes their presidential candidate, Kandeh Yumkellah presidential material outside of the usual song that he was a former UN employee that is supposedly respected by the international community. How far can this one accolade be stretched? How often can it be parroted?

Some NGC social media vigilantes have tried to justify the incestuous politics of the windshield wiper politicians of the SLPP and APC, who are now daily involved in media declarations as they jump from the SLPP and APC and announce their baptism into the NGC. The most hilarious aspects of these incestuous political declarations are the claims by NGC leaders and members that those defecting automatically become “progressives” simply by joining the NGC! Are these not simply declarations of allegiance to the excrement of the two parties they claim to be abandoning? When I questioned the moral foundation for these pronouncements, NGC jihadists tried to justify this political incest by seeking to draw a parallel between the political coalition we, the African Socialist Movement (ASM), formed with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of the elections of 2012. Ibrahim Suma, in particular, tried unsuccessfully to equate the ASM/NDA relationship in the elections of 2012 to the incestuous politics of the politically blemished SLPP/APC faction now known as the NGC.

Interestingly, the NGC have neither denied the fact that they are a motley group of alienated politicians from the APC and SLPP, nor have they endeavored to present a program that supports their self-declared “progressive” status. They have only responded by arguing that it is impossible to construct a political movement independent of the unwanted and thrown-out fragments of the predatory political class in the country. They have even tried to lump me into the same filthy political basket from which the opportunistic leaders of the NGC’s past and present can be found. This smear campaign represents a lazy effort on the part of the NGC jihadists to respond to the questions I raised. So, let me again demonstrate what the NGC is unable to demonstrate: I will answer these salacious claims by pointing out the differences between the ASM/NDA alliance and this breakaway SLPP/APC faction now calling itself NGC.

The differences between this group and what we had in the NDA/ASM alliance are stark. Unlike the NGC, the socialists who formed a political coalition with National Democratic Alliance (NDA) before the elections of 2012 are a group of independent political activists who have no history of membership or association with either the SLPP or APC. In 2009, we had attempted to build an independent workers party in Sierra Leone and were denied registration by the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC). Besides, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that we pitched our political project with had no history of governance in Sierra Leone. Its members and leaders were never part of the SLPP/APC’s history of graft and economic underdevelopment that has plagued the country. If the socialists were eager to be a part of the shared loot of the country, we would have allied with the SLPP or APC, but we refused to do so despite opportunities presented to us.  The NDA provided us with unblemished umbrella under which we launched a resistance against the Ernest Bai Koroma regime and the APC ahead of the elections of 2012. Additionally, the socialists who were part of that alliance with the NDA were not card-carrying members of the NDA. Our shared unity was governed by a collective commitment to a national democratic program designed to challenge the two-party monopoly that the SLPP/APC have exercised in the country. The NDA membership and leadership, apart from then being free from the history of corrupt governance, was at the material time of our relationship largely constitutive of workers and peasants who, like the majority of Sierra Leoneans, are actual victims of the depraved politics of corruption and exploitation that the combined monopoly of the APC/SLPP has inflicted upon the country. Thus, our socialist movement, denied the right to political association by a number of rogue institutional and legal limitations imposed by gangster politicians, carved out a pragmatic political option through its strategic alliance with the NDA as part of a first stage in its ongoing struggle for the revolutionary transformation of Sierra Leone politics.

Again, if we had wanted to share in the predatory loot of the country, we surely had the option of immersing ourselves into the two dominant political parties. Those who followed the political discourse that occurred in the two years leading to the elections of 2012 can still recollect the cutting-edge intervention of the socialists who took upon the umbrella of the NDA so as to advance a struggle for a national democratic revolution in Sierra Leone. The effectiveness of the ASM/NDA alliance was what defined the electoral contest in 2012; a factor which sent such shock waves through Koroma’s gang of political rogues that for the first time in the history of politics in Sierra Leone, a political party was prevented from running a presidential candidate in an election in Sierra Leone, a fact decried by international observers. Koroma’s war against the NDA in 2012 was directed principally against the socialists who were within the ranks of that party and who had successfully defeated the thinking representatives of the middle class in all debates on public policy across the country. The political establishment was not afraid of traditional NDA politicians; their focus was upon the presence of socialist revolutionaries within the ranks of the party. Again, in as much as we worked inside the NDA, we were never card-carrying members of the NDA and we never contested for any executive positions within the party. Based on our agreement, we controlled only the communications operations of the NDA; a strategy that allowed us to utilize the existing political platform of the NDA to initiate a contending dialogue against the bankrupt political elite in the country. We had no illusions, however, that the NDA had its own organizational limitations, as would be obvious for any independent opposition group in an environment where careerists, self-seekers, and opportunists —the likes who comprise leadership of the NGC— largely populate politics.

Our alliance with NDA ended totally and abruptly when the party leaders made a deal with the APC, a duplicitous move that violated a key condition for our unity. We had agreed, as part of this political arrangement, that the NDA must not support the APC and SLPP in the elections of 2012. Unfortunately, and as majority of the masses would remember, after a protracted proxy-war waged and financed by Ernest Koroma against the socialists within the NDA, a cross-section of the NDA leadership endorsed Ernest Koroma for a second term one day before the 2012 elections. Consequently, we pulled out of the NDA. Koroma, of course, had paid a bribe of over two hundred million Leones to the disenfranchised presidential candidate of the NDA to tempt him to throw his support behind the APC on the very eve of election day. Indeed, Koroma later compensated those individuals who infiltrated the party and waged that internal battle against the socialists within the NDA with political appointments. For instance, Mohamed Pateh Bah, the expelled presidential aspirant who was sponsored by the APC in its proxy-war against the NDA, is today Ernest Koroma’s nominee as head of the newly constituted Youth Service Commission (YSC). The current Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, Abdulai Cham was the presiding high court judge that issued the restraining orders to prevent a nomination of an NDA presidential candidate in 2012. President Koroma eventually appointed him as the substantive head of the judiciary. These appointments are connected to the roles of these characters in helping to secure a rigged second term for Ernest Koroma in 2012 and these examples are illustrative of the APC’s response to the socialists’ presence in NDA.

It is important to state that since we terminated our political alliance with the NDA, both the SLPP and APC have approached me, in particular, and on several occasions, in a bid to co-opt me into their ranks. In fact, those who now call themselves NGC repeatedly sought my inclusion and support for their own agenda at the very initial stages when they conceived the embryo that would first become the KKY Movement and would later be hatched into the NGC of today. I have vehemently refused to be a part of these factions and I continue to refuse to be a part of their dubious campaign to exploit the aspirations of the masses and enhance their own agenda. These windshield wiper politicians in the NGC are not new to me or to the hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans whom they now claim to want to liberate. These are individuals who have been part of nearly every government that has presided over the country. This long list of SLPP/APC politicians include the likes of Albert Joe Demby, a former vice president in Kabbah’s SLPP government, Isatu Jabbie Kabbah, former women’s leader of the SLPP, Brima Keita, former western region chairman of the SLPP, Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie, former Secretary General of the SLPP, Dennis Bright, former Youth Minister and SLPP Mediation Committee Chairman who was also a contender for the party’s national chairmanship position, Alieu Bangura, former minister and later Ambassador in the Kabbah government, and  then SLPP 2012 Elections Chairman, Dr. Alusine Fofana, SLPP Deputy Regional Chairman in the north, Hon. Sualiho Koroma, a former SLPP Member of Parliament in Bo, Lawyer Mugbei Musa, a former SLPP legal adviser, and Ambassador Foday Daboh; these are the leading names in the so-called party of “progressives” called the NGC. Other APC ministers and party leaders who are denied nominations have now also joined them. How can this group of former ministers and SLPP/APC politicians claim to be a group of “progressives” with an agenda to free the country from its current predicament when they all bear the greatest responsibility for the public corruption and economic underdevelopment that characterize our post-colonial history?  It is obvious that the animosity of these individuals against their colleagues who still remain in the APC and SLPP is only born out of the conflicting collision of selfish interests. The NGC simply cannot deny that its leaders are a collection of the same individuals of the political class that stands accused of all the political and economic atrocities that scar our national political landscape. Let me put it this way: if these NGC leaders had succeeded in taking over the leadership of the SLPP, the NGC would have never been formed. Can anyone deny this fact? Their agenda is not progressive, it is regressive and reactionary. They simply want to sit atop the pile of loot which has been stolen from the pockets of workers in this country, loot which is stained with blood and sweat. The GNC are simply members of a class of petit bourgeoisie, aligned with powerful foreign interests, who are angry that they have not yet been allowed to steal enough wealth to satisfy their insatiable appetites for wealth and power.

I know this because I know many of these people personally. Many of them have graciously invited me to join the SLPP or APC at one time or another. For the last twenty years, I have had personally to resist the ruling party co-option of Ernest Koroma, along with the invitations of the leaders that now opportunistically call themselves the NGC. So, I ask again: how can these individuals, whose names and identity are all soiled by the political corruption and underdevelopment of our country, attempt to equate themselves with other men and women who have never been a part of the history of corrupt governance, with the real progressives and pro-democratic forces in Sierra Leone who have continuously resisted the allure of stolen wealth. This tiny bunch of politicians split themselves like an amoeba every election cycle in a bid to keep themselves afloat; this is now the hallmark of political activity in Sierra Leone. True pro-democratic forces should be insulted by this segment of career politicians and elites claiming to be involved in revolutionary politics.

It is obvious that the political burden imposed on the suffering masses of our people by the SLPP and APC is colossal and unquantifiable. But it is also obvious that the objective conditions for change are imminent and evident across the country, as people are tired of the status quo. This reality is born out of the relentless struggles we – the real progressives and pro-democratic forces – have waged individually and collectively against a middle class which eternally chases its selfish interests in the name of championing a people’s agenda. Contrary to the noisy and loud slogans of these vacillating jihadist politicians in the NGC, I want to point out that an independent political movement is possible in Sierra Leone outside of the two parties. The construction of that independent party, one that truly endeavors to overthrow the existing social structures of greed and oppression and the two-party monopoly, will not, should not, and cannot constitute a splinter faction of the same predatory middle class that has ravaged Sierra Leone over the last fifty years. Such a movement will be made up of men and women who have no history of membership or association with the APC and SLPP. The National Grand Coalition (NGC) is not that organization. It must not be mistaken as one that embodies any of the features of a progressive organization. Any organization that sets-out to genuinely liberate a country must first and foremost have as its starting point a program that distinguishes itself from the rest of the political organizations that it seeks to challenge and defeat. It must be a group made-up of men and women with the proven track record of having genuinely labored for and in the interest of the masses. The program of such a political organization must be the result of an engagement with the masses, and not an imposition dictated by a few disgruntled and alienated middle class elites, who carry with them the political sins of the past. The NGC is nowhere closer to being a progressive organization that represents the interests of the poor masses. As Zubairu Wai eloquently said in early December, we will get nothing in a Yumkellah presidency outside of “elite arrogance and neoliberal fundamentalism on steroids.” Indeed, I believe that Yumkellah represents “far more danger to Sierra Leone than Maada Bio or Samura Kamara.” And so, I would still ask the NGC the same question they do not want to hear and cannot answer: what makes Kandeh Yumkellah and his NGC different from the APC and SLPP, an organization that is the recent progeny of the Alhassan and Alusine of Sierra Leone politics?

 

Kandeh Yumkellah and the Political Jihadists of the NGC in Sierra Leone

By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah

 

The people of Sierra Leone are fed-up with the excruciating pain, economic hardship, and political disaster that the government of Ernest Bai Koroma and his kleptomaniac gang of rogue politicians have inflicted on the country. If there is one thing that we are all united in, as pro-democratic forces in the country, it is the removal of the Koroma regime from power. For the past ten years, we have resisted the political corruption, ruling party cooptation, and the rising dictatorship of the All People’s Congress (APC) and its leadership. There is no question that a vote for Samura Kamara, the APC’s appointed candidate, will mean a continuation of the gangster-style politics of the Koroma regime. I start with these comments to reemphasize my decade-old position of ongoing resistance against Koroma’s politics of impunity and the APC’s efforts to overthrow democracy. I want my stance on Koroma to be clear as I continue the discussion which I initiated during the last few days of 2017. In that discussion, I criticized the newly formed National Grand Coalition’s claims that they represent a new and progressive party which can save Sierra Leone from decades of poverty and corruption.

I first commented on the NGC following the appointment of Andrew Keili, a former Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential aspirant, as the NGC’s vice-presidential candidate for the March 2018 elections. Andrew Keili is a two-time contender for the leadership of the SLPP, just like Kandeh Yumkellah, the former UN employee who is now the NGC presidential candidate. Both Keili and Yumkellah, like many in the NGC, are the product of Sierra Leone’s corrupt political system. Indeed, the NGC leadership has held positions in previous and the current regimes, regimes which stand accused of decades of graft and political incest. Yumkellah was a cabinet member of the military regime that ruled Sierra Leone in the 1990s, and it was the military government that backed his appointment to the United Nations Industrial Organization (UNIDO). When Yumkellah failed to become the SLPP candidate for the upcoming elections, he simply formed the NGC along with other SLPP and APC members who were denied power within their own parties.

It is ironic, then, that the NGC is positioning itself as a “new political group” with no ties to the old parties. What’s more, this breakaway faction of political elites has spread their propaganda across our country, claiming they represent a “new progressive agenda for change,” despite offering no concrete examples of the progressive policies they would supposedly pursue. The leaders of the NGC are simply disgruntled and alienated politicians from the same two political parties that have dominated our country’s politics for the past fifty years. The formation of the NGC is not about change; it is about an old faction of this country’s corrupt political elite trying to take power for themselves. These elites formed the NGC simply because they failed to garner a nomination from within the APC or the SLPP. Like the rest of the career politicians in this country, their goal is not to change the structure of Sierra Leone’s politics. They simply want a piece of the pie for themselves.

As I stated in my original comments, the NGC’s composition and character is an embodiment of the two parties that have ravaged our country since independence. The NGC leadership are simply the excrement of the SLPP and APC. I do not make these accusations lightly. I have asked the NGC leadership and membership to show the people of Sierra Leone what actually makes them a “progressive force” and to point out the so-called “progressives” among their ranks. They have failed to do so. I have also reasonably demanded from that the NGC point out what in their platform distinguishes them from the parties they aim to replace. But the NGC can neither demonstrate how they are different nor offer any concrete examples of progressive policies in their agenda. For that reason, NGC members and their supporters have taken offense at my skepticism of the NGC’s composition, character, and political message. They have responded to my critique of the NGC’s character not with evidence which could prove me wrong, but with a campaign of vitriolic exchanges. If they wish to shut me up, they can simply offer up evidence to support the party’s claims. But, as the evidence does not exist, desperate supporters have resorted to an insulting social media brigade against those who would rightly question the claims of a political party made up of seasoned elites in order to obscure the embarrassment of the truth.  

As I have state elsewhere, the NGC’s intolerant attitude to dissent should be a cause for concern to real progressives and pro-democratic forces in Sierra Leone. The intolerant attitude of the NGC’s social media brigade represents a jihadist approach to political power. Only those with something to hide fear scrutiny. This sort of militant response to measured criticism should be arrested and resisted by all the true progressive citizens who are concerned about free speech and the safeguard of diverse political opinions in a country long victimized by desperate politicians, including those in the NGC, who see political power as a means of personal aggrandizement. I have warned, and will continue to warn, that if the NGC becomes the next government of Sierra Leone, the situation in the country will grow even worse than it is now. The NGC’s insulting and arrogant approach to power is indicative of what a Yumkellah presidency would mean for democracy and free speech in Sierra Leone.

Despite the fact that the NGC continues to vehemently avoid the questions I have raised about their campaign and program, I have decided to continue this discussion to further clarify my earlier comments, with the hope of constructing a road-map to what real change might look like. To do this, it is necessary that I unmask the hypocrisy and fraud of the NGC’s noisy message and put the party in the context of the predatory politics from which it was born.  

When NGC supporters are asked why Sierra Leoneans must choose the NGC instead of the SLPP or APC, their first and only response is that their party is led by a former UN employee, Kandeh Yumkellah, who they claim is respected by the international community and who they also say has been preaching a message of “hope” and “change” to Sierra Leoneans. It is obvious that the bulk of the NGC’s support and its source of noisy propaganda have come largely from a scattered and disenfranchised Sierra Leonean diaspora made-up of a few academics and a handful of others who are eager to reintegrate themselves into the ruling elite. Some of the NGC’s academic and intellectual supporters have written open letters declaring their support for the NGC, arguing that Yumkellah represents the only hope for a better Sierra Leone. These academics have even joined the militant NGC brigade, whose political dialogue consists of shutting-up every Sierra Leonean who refuses to chant the NGC’s newly discovered slogan of change. Yet they continue to dodge the question of whether there is anything outside of Yumkellah’s UN credentials as the former head of the UN Global Energy Campaign which distinguishes him from his peers.

On Monday July 3, 2017, Yumkellah called a press conference at the Brookfield’s Hotel in Freetown. At the conference, he announced the suspension of his bid to seek the presidential ticket of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), but said he would continue vigorously pursue his ambition to become president of the country. Yumkellah’s campaign to lead the SLPP had been struggling since its formation two years prior: two of his close-protection guards were arrested on allegations of carrying firearms; his membership status in the SLPP faced questions of irregular registration; and accusations of him being denied entry into the SLPP headquarters had garnered attention. Controversy after controversy hampered his campaign. By July, when it became clear that he would lose the SLPP nomination, Yumkellah simply jumped out of the SLPP race. At the press conference, Yumkellah claimed, “democracy has been choked, suffocated, stifled, and rendered meaningless in the SLPP.” This was the political party he had been fighting to lead for the past two years. This was the very political party for which, he says, his father, a founding member, and other family members were allegedly jailed in the 1960s.

He complained that he and his supporters had faced “harassment and violence” in his quest to become the SLPP’s presidential candidate. “There has been a deliberate policy by certain groups in control of the party structures to aggressively exclude any person or group of persons that do not support their candidate,” he told his audience of supporters at the press conference. Yumkellah, did not mention this other candidate by name, but it is obvious that his innuendos were directed at only one politician, Mr. Julius Maada Bio. Bio is a retired army officer and the only person who Yumkellah and his supporters knew was a threat to his claiming leadership over the SLPP. For two years, Yumkellah and the almost ten other aspirants for the presidential ticket of the SLPP had directed their political campaign against Mr. Bio, accusing him of violence and holding the party hostage.  One year ago, they had formed an alliance of aspirants, which excluded Mr. Bio, whose principal goal was aimed at challenging Bio’s grip on the party. That alliance fell apart  a few months later, and Yumkellah, who had put himself forward as its leading architect, knew he would fail to win the SLPP nomination. His jihadist approach to leading the SLPP had been stoutly resisted by the rank-and-file of the party. But Yumkellah would galvanize his defeated and demoralized SLPP faction into a political organization named the National Grand Coalition (NGC).

Since its inception, the NGC has organized a media showcase of alienated and disgruntled politicians from both the APC and SLPP to declare staged support for its program. These media events epitomize the age-old trademark of a bankrupt Sierra Leonean political class always willing to jump ship from the APC to SLPP, so long as they personally benefit. These age-old incestuous political declarations make up the news media’s so-called fast swelling membership of the NGC.

Yumkellah’s entrance into the national politics of Sierra Leone, and the noise that has accompanied his campaign, are unsurprising. He is simply another example of the caustic history of party politics that regionally fragment the country and ethnically balkanize the masses. In a widely-broadcast radio interview, Kandeh Yumkellah initially told the Sierra Leonean radio journalist David Tam-Baryoh that he was not a registered member of any political party and had never voted in an election in Sierra Leone. This was shortly before he officially launched his political campaign for the presidential ticket of the SLPP.  Months before the radio interview, Yumkellah had visited Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone and leader of the ruling party.  Those close to Koroma rumored that Yumkellah’s intention was to persuade Koroma to make him his successor and welcome him into the APC. The leadership of the ruling APC was, around this time, surreptitiously scheming to extend Koroma’s stay in power. The APC’s national convention held in 2013 had already coronated Koroma as its chairman for a third consecutive term. The leaders of the APC reportedly opposed Yumkellah’s discussion with Koroma. Yumkellah’s efforts were in vain. It was after this failed meeting with Koroma and attempt to lead the APC that Kandeh Yumkellah finally pointed his political ambition towards the SLPP. But the SLPP, like the rest of the opposition, was already bogged down by factional infighting orchestrated by the Koroma regime ahead of the elections of 2012.   

Before this time, an already disgruntled faction within the SLPP – an ostracized group and made up of mostly elite politicians who had been previously denied party positions, parliamentary, and local council symbols to contest in the SLPP’s heartlands of the south and east during the 2012 elections – had organized into a support group to fuel Kandeh Yumkellah’s ambition for the presidency. This group, which included names like Dr. Martin Gbonda, Ambassador Foday Darboe, Brima Keitta, Isatu Jabbie Kabbah, and Victor Sheriff, was already holding meetings across several locations in western Freetown to pull together a support committee for Yumkellah.  The Yumkellah project then became, for this group, their own 2017 Agenda; a plan hatched solely to prevent the SLPP’s 2012 presidential candidate, Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, from contesting the party’s future presidential ticket. These disgruntled politicians, united only by their shared opposition to Mr. Maada Bio, organized themselves into a nucleus from which the Kandeh Kolleh Yumkellah (KKY) Movement would emerge.

Thus, the KKY Movement, from its embryonic stages, was hatched as a political faction born out of the scattered entrails of the SLPP and patched together only by a shared opposition to Mr. Maada Bio. It was their animosity towards Bio that coalesced into a platform from which Kandeh Yumkellah was to launch his presidential project. The KKY Movement, its program, and emblematic features – its color, representation, posters, symbols, and organizational structure – hurriedly cast and set-up from the very beginning, was running counter to the prevailing mood of the general mass of the SLPP and its intermediate leadership.  Yumkellah and his supporters, by identifying and making their ultimate target the overturning of Bio’s presidential ambition, built their campaign on personal attacks against Bio. To achieve their goal, they simply recycled the APC’s anti-Bio propaganda campaign of 2012 into their own propaganda campaign. They then launched Kandeh Yumkellah into the politics of the SLPP by pitching his United Nations status against the military record of Julius Maada Bio. In brandishing Yumkellah as a new political breed, and an unblemished politician representing the only hope for the SLPP, they cast Maada Bio deep into the muddy pit first dugout by the APC during the elections of 2012, with the hope that Yumkellah’s United Nations status would be enough to steal Bio’s support among the rank-and-file of the party. But they faced stiff resistance from the overwhelming mass of SLPP supporters. From accusations of irregular membership to suspicions that he was an agent of the APC, Yumkella was doomed from the start; his campaign lurched from one controversy and court petition to another for nearly two years; these litigations jaded the SLPP and crippled the party from functioning as an effective opposition.    

It is obvious that the KKY Movement and Yumkellah plunged themselves and the SLPP into a counterproductive civil war. They actually became, directly or indirectly, the fratricidal opposition within an already fractured and badly wounded opposition party. The SLPP, already seriously splintered by fiercely competing internal leadership battles that began ten years earlier in 2005 under the divisive politics of Tejan Kabbah, was now thrown, by the Yumkellah factor, into a seemingly irredeemable predicament. As each side took on a frenzied media campaign to justify its commitment to the ongoing hostilities within the party, it became obvious that the leadership contest was now becoming a struggle for the very soul of the party. The ruling APC media and propagandists had a field day utilizing much of the Yumkellah propaganda to further dirty the image of the SLPP. The Yumkellah factor, and the KKY Movement’s strategy, splintered the SLPP. The crumbs from the broken party were then re-constituted into the National Grand Coalition (NGC). The party is the initial composition of the political excrements of the SLPP, and is now also largely populated by the disenfranchised and thrown-out political skeletons of the APC.

How then can a party with such a history, composition, and character be regarded as a new political organization in the country? How can the NGC claim to have a program aimed at destroying the legacy of the two-party monopoly that the SLPP and APC have exercised on the political landscape of Sierra Leone when, in actual fact, its history, composition, and character replicate the two parties — the Alhassan and Alusine of Sierra Leone politics?  It is obvious that the only difference between the NGC and the two old parties lies in its name. Instead of a platform, the party simply points to the UN credentials of Yumkellah. Its political program is merely a collection of hundreds of KKY photographs and videos. This does not constitute a progressive party. It does not even constitute a party. The NGC is merely a group of power hungry individuals who lack any sort of ideology or ambition beyond taking state power for themselves.  The conditions of everyday men, women, and children in Sierra Leone will not improve under the NGC – how could they, when the party cannot even give a concrete example of progressive policy it would implement to bring justice and prosperity to our people?

That does not mean that all is hopeless. We certainly do have an opportunity for change in Sierra Leone. The objective conditions for change are evident and have been born out of the relentless struggle of pro-democratic forces and real progressives who exist truly outside the system of wealthy elites. The change we seek in Sierra Leone will never be spearheaded by a disgruntled faction of the same class of desperate politicians who have plundered out our resources for half a century. The nature and character of the NGC’s leadership and its jihadist approach to power should tells us that its leaders only seek to exploit our desperate desires for change. They promise to help the people, but in reality, they only aim to empower a small segment of an alienated petit bourgeoisie within our society. We must vehemently resist the APC’s effort to rig the next elections and secure a de facto third term for Ernest Bai Koroma. At the same time, we must also resist the NGC’s project to fulfill the political agenda of another middle class faction by opportunistically exploiting the anger of the masses against the establishment. We cannot replicate the error of American workers and suburban residents who fell victim to the Trump campaign’s anti-establishment rhetoric only to realize that their aspirations for change has only benefited the higher echelons of American society against the struggling interests of poor working class citizens. Like the NGC and Yumkellah, Trump exploited the legitimate anger and concern of the poor. With one hand he promised them change, while he picked their pocket with the other. Like the NGC, Trump offered no concrete platform or policies that would offer relief to workers. Yet, because he claimed to be an outsider, the people brought him to power. The result has been a corporate coup by Donald Trump, as he appoints friends, family, and corrupt millionaires to run his cabinets. We cannot trust the words of power-hungry politicians simply because they loudly shout “change” and “progressive” over our heads. We can only trust their actions and their concrete plans to improve the lives of our people.