By Prof Sankara Kamara….
In almost every politically conscious country, presidential contests are marked by the crafting of campaign messages and the advocacy of political values. Ebola-plagued and listless, Sierra Leone can be likened to an abused patient in an emergency room, gasping for life while her politicians compete for supremacy. As a result of that oddity, the 2017 presidential contest has already generated more enthusiasm than the remorselessly efficient Ebola virus in the country. As an entrant in that mournful drama, Kandeh Yumkella has made enough informal moves, to at least signal his intention to become the next president of Sierra Leone. Buoyed on the Internet by an army of campaigners, Kandeh Yumkella has unofficially begun the campaign, hence his tacit approval of the media blitzkrieg commenced in his name.
There is, however, something noticeably lacking in Kandeh Yumkella’s campaign. While Kandeh Yumkella may be fit for the presidency, his campaigners have, so far, failed to tell Sierra Leoneans why the man should be entrusted with the presidency of our country. The ONLY thing Kandeh Yumkella’s campaign has done so far, is saturate the Internet with pictorial images advertising the man as a senior, United Nations employee. Apart from their readiness to be pictorially extravagant on the Internet, Yumkella’s supporters have not told us HOW a UN career would make their man, a better president.
At its core, the presidency—especially in a newborn democracy like Sierra Leone—requires a candidate with applaudable qualities and virtues. When it comes to democratic principles like accountability, the United Nations cannot pass muster. If Kandeh Yumkella is as politically conscious as he is supposed to be, he would know that a UN career is too questionable to be used as a main talking point, in a presidential contest. Over the years, the UN’s image has been sullied by so many embarrassing allegations of corruption and inefficiency, that the organization needs to rehabilitate its international image. As a public relations move, Yumkella should rely more on his professed values and political vision, and less, on his UN career.
In a democratic and politically conscious society, a presidential candidate who invokes his previous status as a UN bureaucrat, could inflict a public relations disaster, on himself. Beset by allegations of corruption, child sexual abuse in its peacekeeping missions, and a perceptible lack of accountability, the UN should NOT be used as a synonym for responsible leadership. In politics, perception is reality. When the UN was enmeshed in the Iraqi “oil for food” scandal several years ago, the organization emerged with a disquietingly stained image. Energized by charges of bribery and villainous cover-ups, the “oil for food” scandal solidified the perception that the UN bureaucracy is deceitful and incompetent. I am not arguing that all UN bureaucrats are venal and inept. The point I am making is that the UN’s image has been tarnished by so many administrative improprieties, that a presidential candidate from that organization is better advised to arm himself with messages based on personal values.
Established after the bloodiest conflict in human history, the UN was designed to promote human rights and facilitate the peaceful settlement of international disputes. Rendered ineffective by a bloated bureaucracy, the UN has informally forsaken the democratic ideals of accountability and diplomatic suavity, which prompted the organization’s birth in 1945. Since its creation, almost seventy years ago, the UN has absorbed a series of scandals, likening the organization—in the eyes of its critics—to a horribly-governed “Banana republic.” Wastefulness, a sterile bureaucracy, lack of accountability and the use of cronyism to employ its upper-echelon workers, are some of the vices associated with the United Nations. Needless to say, these malpractices are the same vices responsible for the destruction of Sierra Leone. Kandeh Yumkella cannot look at any politically conscious Sierra Leonean in the face and argue that his status as a senior United Nations employee is what will make him a better president of Sierra Leone. Such a stillborn argument can be dismissed by any enlightened Sierra Leonean.
Kandeh Yumkella has enough time to remould and advertise himself as an embodiment of the qualities Sierra Leoneans need to see in a president. Integrity, a deep but judicious amount of nationalism, intelligence, practicality, prescience, and commitment to social justice as a norm, are some of the virtues we need at State House, in Freetown. Despite the noble intentions behind its creation, the United Nations, or the careers of its functionaries, cannot be realistically used to justify a man’s claim to the presidency, of a country in distress. A successful career at the UN means Kandeh Yumkella may have influential friends within the international system. While that component could be helpful, the essentials of leadership, especially in a broken-down country like Sierra Leone, require more useful hallmarks. The UN is so perceptibly wasteful and unaccountable, that no conscious Sierra Leonean would vote for Kandeh Yumkella based purely on his tenure at that organization. If I ever decide to support Kandeh Yumkella, my support will not be based on the man’s “dazzling” career at the UN. I am too politically conscious to fall for such a facile stunt.
Displaying pictures of Kandeh Yumkella and the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, will NOT impress politically conscious Sierra Leoneans. If it happens, my support for Kandeh Yumkella will be based on his political values, the extent of his political consciousness and, of course, his perceived ability to govern that mindlessly molested country, Sierra Leone. If he really means business, Kandeh Yumkella needs to take off that United Nations apparel, and tell us why he should be given the highest office in our weeping country.
Sankara Kamara is a US-Sierra Leonean academic, writer and political analyst resident in Australia