By Foday Moriba Conteh
As usual the NGC Parliamentary Leader and MP for Constituency 062 Hon.Kandeh Yumkella held students of UNIMAK spellbound by his oratory skills when he participated in a panel discussion on 24 January 2020 held at the Fatima Campus of the University auditorium., He joined other panellists to debate the topic, ‘Enhancing Citizens Participation in Accountable and Inclusive Politics in Sierra Leone’.
Referring to the Kenyan experience which resulted in the creation of the National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008 and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Hon. Yumkella noted that no one tribe can hold more than thirty percent of positions in Government institutions. This, he continued, is in marked contrast to the experience in Sierra Leone under both APC and SLPP which see the opportunity of gaining political power as a means of perpetuating hegemony and discrimination along tribal and regional lines.
Hon Yumkella exposed the perpetual cycle of revenge and retribution under APC and SLPP. He highlighted the mass culling of diplomats within two months of APC winning the 2007 election, which was met with the same toxic response by the current SLPP Government when it assumed office in 2018. “The devastating impact that these actions on our governance and institutions,” he said, “result in weak and incompetent institutions, often staffed by political cronies, who do not know their left from their right.” He said that this was wrong and is against the Geneva Convention.
On presidential transitions arrangements, he further underscored that both Kenya and Ghana have transition arrangements enshrined in law, to prevent the cycle of revenge politics that Sierra Leone is reputed for. “In Ghana, it is the Presidential Transition Act, not the sitting President which defines the transition arrangements.” As a result, Ghana not only experiences a smooth handover of power but simultaneously develops and strengthens its public and political institutions. The date of elections is fixed in law and arrangements to terminate appointments and notice periods are also set out in law.
On student participation, he noted that they were behaving as though they are helpless. “In the last 15 years,” said Hon. Yumkella, “change has come through connective action, through people who were discontent with the political systems in their countries and the adverse economic and social consequences they suffer.”
The Arab Spring, he said, was led by youth and students using social media applications like WhatsApp and Facebook, who rallied their nations to remove dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria among others; the Occupy Wall Street Movement against economic inequality, Black Lives Matter, and the Anti-Austerity or 15-M Movement in Spain. All of these demonstrate citizen participation and mobilization through what political scientists now recognize as the “transition from Collective Action to Connective Action,” said Hon. Yumkella.
On inter-generational equity, Yumkella challenged the students to “be vigilant” and ensure his generation does not bequeath bad policies and outcomes such as climate change to the next generation.” “Be fully engaged in fighting to change bad laws; end the political gimmicks which have a huge impact on your lives, mortgages your future, kill your hopes and aspirations.” He urged them to engage in the political process and to use their connective power to hold their leaders to account.
Citing citizen power, Hon. Yumkella reminded the UNIMAK audience about positive signs of the impact of connective power in Sierra Leone with the Finance Act, which President Bio, returned back to Parliament unsigned, following the public outcry about the provision in the bill, which would have given the President, Vice President and Speaker unlimited imprest on expenditure incurred during overseas trips.
“Imagine the impact on your studies, if you returned to campus and found out that all your professors have been retired without notice,” said Yumkella as he urged students to take charge of their future and reminded them that no one politician would be a miracle worker. In 2019, youth and students have again led pro-democracy protests in other parts of the world including in Hong Kong, Chile etc. He told the students that they were not helpless as people in more countries are using connective power than any time in history.
The panel discussion was organized by Westminster Foundation for Democracy in collaboration with the Open Government Partnership and the University of Makeni.