Hundreds of people queued up in bad London weather to enter the College Hall, with over 200 guests unable to find seats in the limited space available for the throng of supporters.
“Should the overwhelming turnout, and support for Dr. Kandeh Yumkella today in London be repeated at the SLPP presidential candidacy election, and of course at the country’s presidential election in 2018, there is no doubt Kandeh will win by a massive majority,” an elderly member of the SLPP told the Neswmen last Sunday.
And as 450 people listened keenly to Kandeh’s speech, which was full of inspiring examples of the economic development work that he had done at the UN – helping to end poverty across the world, it became quite obvious that the people of Sierra Leone can now, at long last be positive of their future.
Presidential elections in Sierra Leone are at least two years away, but the battle for the presidential candidacy and leadership of Sierra Leone’s main opposition party – the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party is already in full swing.
And Dr. Yumkella’s KKY Movement has planted the former UN supremo’s flag firmly, flying high on the campaign trail.
Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Yumkella left his audience across the UK in no doubt last weekend, as to which of the presidential aspirants is most capable of bringing much needed economic, social and political change to Sierra Leone.
After decades of poor governance and poor leadership, Sierra Leone – one of the potentially richest nations in Africa, has gone from being labelled ‘a failed state’, to a nation ranked at the bottom quartile of the global human development index, along with some of the poorest and most corrupt nations in the world.
But Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is promising the people of Sierra Leone to change all of that.
He spoke candidly to Sierra Leoneans across the UK last weekend, about his leadership aspiration and about issues that are currently pushing Sierra Leone to breaking point, including; poor governance, lack of leadership and the crippling Ebola crisis.
Speaking at the packed hall in London, the former UN climate change supremo was in no doubt about the challenges ahead. He told his audience that his aim is to build a political coalition, by working in partnership with all factions within the SLPP and political parties across the country’s political spectrum.
Listening to Dr. Yumkella speaking last Sunday in London, it was clear that one was not only listening to a president in waiting, but a presidential candidate with a clear vision, sound policies and leadership qualities that could transform Sierra Leone from a basket case to a food basket.
He seems to have the winning formula for change that Sierra Leoneans have been yearning for, since the country’s independence from Britain in 1961.
Kandeh’s almost twenty years of helping the UN and world leaders come to terms with the problems and impact of poverty and energy deficit in developing countries, have helped shaped his strong vision for Sierra Leone.
His track record at the UN speaks volumes about his efforts in finding and putting in place, sustainable and innovative solutions to practical economic development problems in developing countries.
And as many in the London audience told the press: “If the contest for the presidential candidacy of the SLPP party is based solely on leadership experience, as well as practical ideas that could bring change to Sierra Leone – ending decades of abject poverty, joblessness, and poor governance, then Dr. Yumkella stands head and shoulder above the rest.”
Few in the hall would have denied this. But there was widespread concern amongst many in the audience, who believe that the enemies of inclusion and tolerance are working hard to exclude Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Yumkella from contesting the SLPP presidential candidacy election, which is expected early 2016.
To this deeply disturbing development in the SLPP, Kandeh said: “Our fathers founded the SLPP, based on the values of inclusion, unity and justice for all, irrespective of tribe, class, gender or religion, and we must return our party to those same core values.”
The KKY London event was graced by the presence of several distinguished guests, who had travelled from as far afield as Australia, including Donald Robert who is the chairman of the KKY Movement in North America; and Alpha Jalloh – the chairman of the KKY Movement in Australia.
Also, Joseph Maada Kpulun – the former SLPP regional chairman in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, flew all the way from Sierra Leone to deliver a very powerful speech, which had everyone in the audience glued to their seats, as he spoke about the self-destructive internal politics of the SLPP, which he warned must change, if the party is to win the 2018 elections.
The chairman of the KKY Movement UK – Dr. Columba Blango, who is a former politician in the London Borough of Southwark, delivered the opening speech – highlighting the history of the KKY Movement that has now become a global phenomenon.
He told the audience that with the leadership of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, not only will the SLPP elevate its chances of winning the 2018 general and presidential elections, but so too will his leadership transform Sierra Leone into an economic powerhouse of Africa.
But he warned those in the SLPP who are hell bent on waging a campaign of calumny against Dr. Kandeh Yumkella’s ambition of leading the party towards victory in 2018.
Dr. Blango also spoke about the hard work and tenacity of the executive members of the KKY Movement UK, and complimented the members and supporters of the global movement for their continuing and growing support.
He said that, the growing popularity of the KKY global movement is a testament of the admiration, respect and trust that thousands of people across the world have in Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, whose leadership whilst in the United Nations, has brought enormous respect for all that he stands for.
Described as one of the architects and brains behind the formation of the KKY Movement, Donald Robert – chairman of the KKY Movement of North America, told the audience that Sierra Leone is ready for change.
And that change, he said, can only come with Dr. Kandeh Yumkella at the helm, spearheading the necessary transformation in governance that needs to take place in Sierra Leone, in order to begin to address the enormous challenges that are facing the country today.
The speech delivered by Joseph Maada Kpulun – the former SLPP regional chairman in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, was described as an honest and deep soul searching account of the invidious politics of self-destruction and character assassination that has long overshadowed the SLPP’s potential to once again become the country’s greatest political movement since independence.
Speaking about the history of the SLPP, he said that the struggle for power within the party is nothing new. “When the party was founded by mainly northerners who were in the majority, the question of leadership was settled by electing Dr. Sir Milton Margai – a southerner, who then went on to become the country’s first prime minister.
“Northerners in the party did not bring the party to its knees because a southerner was leading the party. But no sooner Sir Milton died, the struggle for the leadership started with his younger brother – Albert, proclaiming himself heir apparent.”
This, he said, marked the beginning of SLPP’s leadership woes which continued into the 2005 convention in Makeni, and again at the flagbearer contest for the 2012 presidential election. Today, he said, SLPP is facing yet another dirty campaign of vindictiveness and thuggery, as Dr. Yumkella is constantly being denied his rightful place in the party.
This behaviour, he warned could put at risk any chances of the SLPP becoming the ruling party in 2018, if it is not curbed by the rank and file and executive council of the party.
But what was most shocking for many in the London audience, was his revelation that the party does not have a central database, contrary to what is being peddled by some in party central office in Freetown, that the party has a central membership database. “There is no such database that I am aware of,” he told the London audience.
This statement was in reference to a letter written by the financial secretary of the party, stating that Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is not a registered member of the SLPP because his name is not on the party’s central database in Freetown.
“How can Kandeh’s name be found in a database that does not exist,” he mused. But he concluded his speech on a high note. He said that the SLPP needs to change as much as Sierra Leone needs change, and this change can only come through the leadership of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella.
As speaker after speaker warned those in charge of running the affairs of SLPP, not to allow egotism, greed, thuggery and tribalism to destroy the party, so too was the call for inclusion and unity grew louder.
And then it was time for the speech of the day – the keynote speech by Dr Yumkella. As the chairman announced his introduction, there was an overwhelming standing ovation that lasted about two minutes, before the audience could settle down and remain seated.
It was an exciting moment for the hundreds of KKY and SLPP supporters and well-wishers who had arrived an hour earlier than scheduled, and were lucky to be allowed to enter the hall due to limited number of seats.
Then an eerie silence filled the packed hall. One could hear a pin dropped, as Dr. Yumkella narrated his 30 years of struggle to get to the top of his career, starting as a hard working schoolboy and then a college student in his native country Sierra Leone.
He spoke about his years in America as a university student, doing menial work and struggling to earn money to send home to help his family – an all too familiar experience for many in the audience.
“But whatever task or job that I did even as a student, I did to the best of my ability, because performance, performance, performance is central to my core values,” he told the audience.
“Despite the hard work and distractions, I was able to excel throughout my years of studying to then accomplish my PhD. This was not easy, but I succeeded because of the strong values and belief in determination, positive work ethics, and tenacity that was passed on to me by my parents.”
He reminded the audience of life in Sierra Leone in the 1960 and 1970s, when Sierra Leone was a country full of promise and hope.
He said: “Sierra Leone was a country back then that had high standards both in public and private life – everything seemed then to be working the way they should; a Sierra Leone, where there were strong institutions that worked; there was respect for law and order; respect for property; respect for each other, and above all – respect for human life. Sierra Leone had strong values back then. Things have changed, but we can go back to those traditional values,” Kandeh told the audience.
“And this change is what my leadership is offering the people of Sierra Leone.” Sierra Leone he said in the last few years – even before the Ebola crisis, had started seeing its GDP growth rising from 5% in 2007 to about 18% in 2011.
“But this economic growth was only as a result of the one-off surge in iron ore export. Sierra Leone cannot build its economy based on one single commodity. This is false economy that will not work. We need to build an economy based on a multi-track approach, and by harnessing the strengths of diverse economic sectors that can create sustainable jobs and wealth for our people,” he told the London audience.
“Reliance on a single commodity whose income depends on the fluctuation of global market prices and demand is unsustainable. We must diversify our economy and add value to our agricultural produce and minerals, for export to global markets. This is how modern economies thrive.”
“And I am determined to ensure that we change Sierra Leone from business as usual to a country
“But we must first educate our people to world standards; we must invest in electricity generation; we must invest in our infrastructures; we must invest in access to clean water; we must invest in our healthcare systems; we must invest in creating the conditions and environment that will encourage industry and business to grow and create jobs and wealth for our people; and above all, we must seriously tackle corruption, lawlessness and impunity.”
And as he came to the end of his keynote address, Dr. Yumkella said this: “I have entered the race for the leadership of the SLPP and no one is going to stop me. Hell NO. They can keep shutting the doors at the SLPP head office in Freetown on my face, but I will keep coming back until they open that door, because that party does not belong to one person. It belongs to all of us.”
“Let those that are trying to intimidate me and frustrate our campaign for change in Sierra Leone know that the SLPP was built on the principles of inclusion, tolerance and unity, and we will work to bring back those values, by building a grand coalition.”
And so the meeting – the grand finale of the KKY UK tour, ended in London last Sunday on a high and positive note, with a resounding feeling of hope and determination to work towards bringing change to Sierra Leone.
As they leave the hall, several in the audience told journalists: “Today we leave this hall inspired by the speeches that we have heard.
“But more importantly, we leave here today, going back to our communities to tell those unable to attend, that in Dr. Kandeh Yumkella we have found hope for our country.
“He has inspired us. He has given us hope that Sierra Leone can do better with a strong and committed leadership. We believe he is the man that can put together a team of like-minded professional and selfless patriots to work hard towards developing Sierra Leone.”
Today, a new dawn begins. But the rank and file members of SLPP back home in Sierra Leone must also feel inspired by Dr. Yumkella’s leadership. And this is the challenge now for Kandeh and the KKY Movement – to take the message of hope and vision for change to the grassroots in Sierra Leone.
Next month – August, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella will be finally relocating to his native Sierra Leone to begin work in bringing change to Sierra Leone.
According to Dr. Yumkella he will be travelling the length and breadth of Sierra Leone to first of all help to sustain the gains that have been made in the fight against Ebola.
And then will work with the government and health agencies to see that Ebola is eradicated in the remaining districts, where the virus appears to be entrenched.
But in the meantime, Kandeh will continue his worldwide tour.
He will be in continental Europe this week, followed by a visit to the USA, where thousands of supporters and well-wishers are expected to meet him.
The KKY Movement now seems unstoppable. And with its slogan of “Putting country first”, few Sierra Leoneans would resist not getting involved in helping to change Sierra Leone for the better.