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.