It is nearly impossible not to bond with him instinctively given the truck load of qualities he has brought to politics. That is Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella who just emerged the presidential candidate of the break-away coalition in Sierra Leone: the National Grand Coalition, (NGC). There are two other parties in the impending March 2018 presidential poll in the country. These are the All People’s Congress, (APC) which is the ruling party for the past 10 years and the Sierra Leone People’s Party, (SLPP) which has been the opposition party. Each of these parties has got experienced candidates but Yumkella is a sensation.
He is educated beyond certificate, having attended Cornell, a global elite university. Apart from attending Christian schools, he is a Muslim married to a wife who obviously remains a Christian. That background has the potential to shield his government by blocking mischief makers from reading religion to his politics and policies, thereby giving him breathing space. He is still under 60 on a continent populated by presidential leadership of the elderly. He has the background of an academic, meaning that he must have internalised the culture of bringing all angles to every problem rather than a know-it-all attitude or a unidirectional mindset in decision making.
He is experienced, having been a former minister in his country, a two-term DG of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, (UNIDO), at home with the global policy mill generally. In territorial terms, he has lived in Nigeria, familiar with the dynamics unfolding in East Asia, especially China and educated/lived in the West. He is, therefore, the African who would be president of Sierra Leone rather than just a local operator. Apart from an impressive rhetorical surge in his campaign that is untypical of westernised African elite, he is passionate about something: energy poverty and climate change.
Although a highly informed Nigerian economist who is carefully watching the scene playing out in Sierra Leone is urging caution, it could be said there has been nothing of his type in recent years. He has got everything to be called the ultimate informed quality individual whose agency can harmonise the other elements to make History, not by transforming Sierra Leone to a super power but by setting basic standards, reducing unproductive acrimony and re-directing collective national consciousness toward the possibility of a manufacturing economy.
A product of the UN system is most unlikely to be a fire-eating radical Africanist. It is doubtful if that would even work in the present configuration of power both on the continent and on the global scene. So, his list of the trouble with Sierra Leone seems an adequate jump off point: 70% youth unemployment, politicization of public and educational institutions, lack of access to clean drinking water, electricity shortage, poor quality education, high maternal and infant mortality rates, corruption, etc”. It is his presidential personality that is most at issue on a continent deeply in need of more elevated epistemic and policy depth.
There is indeed the imperative for caution because of the diversity of most African polities, even when they are as small as Sierra Leone. There have been such people who raised great expectations in the past but have entered the typical African presidential villa only to dash such expectations by descending into mean intrigue and street wise performance. Still, Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella promises a tectonic shift in personal standards and policy brilliance in the exercise of political power. If he wins the March 2018 presidential election in Sierra Leone and begins to behave otherwise, then Africa would confirm those who narrate it as a basket case.
Otherwise, Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is the sort of candidate that Africa should insist on installing. For Nigeria, it is strategic that a quality candidate capable of qualitative governance wins and exercises power in the neighborhood because it is unthinking governance that brings the violent breakdown that Nigeria spend so much in human and financial resources to restore.