By: OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN
Tuesday, 23rd of June, 2020, in his spacious air-conditioned office with luxurious brownish sofas in a 1970s-built building on Sir. Samuel Lewis Road, at Aberdeen, Westend of Freetown, Sierra Leone, I met with Hon. Kande Yumkella (popularly known in Sierra Leone as “KKY”), the Leader of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) in Parliament. It was the first time in my life I ever met him. He took off his COVID-19 facemask briefly; and asked me to take off my facemask too, so that next time he meets me he would recognize me. I obliged him. I had gone to meet him to talk principally on “corruption” in Sierra Leone. KKY’s theory on why corruption in Sierra Leone (and nearly all of Africa) has festered he dubbed the “Garden of Eden Syndrome”.
KKY had been stimulated to articulate that theory because of this my question to him: “Why is it that in nearly all traditional African societies, including Sierra Leone, people generally don’t steal from others; there is such a strong aversion to stealing that it is almost compared to incest; yet, in modern African societies, stealing of public money (Grand Corruption) is the norm”?
He said sombrely: “That’s a tough one”. Then he lit up with his “Garden of Eden Syndrome” theory. KKY said he had been influenced by the ideas of famed African intellectual, Ali Mazuri, in his lecture series – financed by powerful US institution, PBS-called “The Africans”. KKY said about two years ago, he conducted a series of talks in Ghana on that subject.
It was not only Africa that was colonized by the European colonialists for about a hundred years, starting largely in the late 19th century. Much of Asia, and the countries of the Southern Hemisphere, were also colonized by the Europeans. The Asiatic countries have escaped from their colonialist past over the past 60 years. Today, countries in Asia like Singapore and Malaysia, have burgeoning economies; prosperous middle class; cities comparable to the best cities in Europe and America, in some cases, the Asiatic cities are better. In the realm of science and technology, Asiatic countries like China, India, South Korea, and Singapore are almost equal to the United States and Europe. In annual performance rankings in Maths and Sciences for school pupils, Asiatic countries like Singapore and South Korea always top US and European countries. In 1962, the GDP per capita for Singapore was about $625 – and Sierra Leone’s was about $272. Today, Singapore’s GDP per capita is about $60,000 – and Sierra Leone’s is about $800. Singapore in 1960 was described as a “barren piece of rock”, with absolutely no marketable natural resources. Sierra Leone in 1960 was endowed with huge reserves of some of the best jewelry diamonds in the world; the best grade of titanium (rutile) on planet earth; some of the best grade of iron ore and bauxite in the world; gold; with territorial ocean space with some of the best fisheries and marine resources in the world. Yet, in 60 years Singapore has developed into a first world country, while the poverty of Sierra Leone has worsened, so that Sierra Leone can no longer be called a “Third World” country, but a ‘Fifth World’ country. The explanation for the perplexing poverty in a country like Sierra Leone in spite of its abundant natural wealth, according to Hon. Kande Yumkella (KKY) – who was probably the most successful and most world-famous
Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); and who then regularly travelled around the world and hobnobbed with the global elite of the richest and most powerful people on planet earth – is the “Garden of Eden Syndrome”. This is it…
AFRICA’S NATURAL ABUNDANCE HAS BRED THE PREDATORY IMPULSE
According to KKY, most of Africa has been blessed with with an environment where “everything easily grows”. Forests have abundance of plant and animal life. The climate is generally mild, and hardly changes significantly from one month to the next. Compare this to those countries that are in the Temperate zones of the world – like United Kingdom, Germany, US, Australia, etc. They have four distinct seasons. Largely, only in one of these seasons – Spring – would anything grow. In Autumn and Winter, the climate is cool, and cold. If the people don’t prepare for the Winter months – in clothes, shelter, and food – they would die. This necessity has stimulated the inventive minds of the people in the Temperate zones – and the reverse has been the case for Africans. (I had articulated a similar theory four years ago on social media. I was challenged by cerebral Sociology professor at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohamed Gibril Sesay. [Who in 2016 was also Minister of State-1 in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation]). KKY mocked the African elite who went to study in the West at about the time of Independence: “They saw the supermarkets overspilling with goods; and they just would buy and buy and buy…It was their Eden Syndrome mentality in full swing”. When these same elite returned home and took the reins of governance of newly-independent countries, they continue with their Garden of Eden Syndrome: Those in the former French-speaking colonies bought all sort of luxury goods from France, even bottled water and bread. Those in the former British colonies cherished British goods, and splurged on them. Hardly any industries were created.
“They soon realized that their salaries couldn’t upkeep their predatory and pernicious lifestyles; so they resorted to corruption, and exploitation of the poor”: KKY punched; diagnosing as Sierra Leone’s bane the political culture of “elitism”; and “‘ba nya fake ee'” (ostentation, and pretentiousness); and Garden of Eden Syndrome. With his voice rising, KKY said “We celebrate the corrupt. We show off corruption. In our churches and mosques, the biggest donations come from the corrupt; and they are hailed!” KKY bemoaned what appears to be the unwillingness of Sierra Leoneans “to break the cycle of predatory kleptiocratic political cult” in our governance systems.
BEN KAIFALA-LED ACC AS HOPE
I pointed out to the hope which the Ben Kaifala-led Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) presents – in earning high rankings from Transparency International, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which positions Sierra Leone to get for the first time $600,000,000 (six hundred million dollars GRANT) from the United States Government MCC programme; and asked KKY whether he would help the SLPP-led government of Retired Brigadier Maada Bio to lobby the US government for the $600million. KKY was unequivocal about that: He will. “Development is a continuum. We should have used the previous instances of the government not getting the MCC Compact programme to educate the public about what needs to be done to strengthen institutions in Sierra Leone, especially those that need to be strengthened to curb corruption”.
I was delighted, and moved by KKY’s patriotic stance – which he stressed involved “critique of government continually” – to help lobby for the MCC Compact $600 million, especially now that in 2018 and 2019, the Ben Kaifala-led ACC has gotten Sierra Leone to pass the MCC’s inflexible standard: Seriousness in Fighting Against Corruption. In his office on the 23rd of June, 2020, KKY proudly showed me framed photos on his wall of himself with the global glitterati: Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton; founder of CNN, Ted Turner; former United Nations secretary generals, Kofi Annan, and Ban Ki Moon; former Prime Minister of Norway, Brundtland; former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and one of the most globally-recognized, famous film stars; one time richest man in the world, Carlos Slim of Mexico, etc. I had seen many photos of Hon. Kande Yumkella – when he was UNIDO boss; and head of the United Nations agency that appeared to have been created specially for him: “Energy4All” – sharing high tables with the likes of another of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffett. Even today, while KKY appears to be just an ordinary parliamentary in tiny Sierra Leone, the global elite still seek him out for his Obama-like erudition and resonance; his leadership abilities in the realm of sustainable energy especially: KKY is the only black man in the International Energy Agency, the leading think tank on sustainable energy issues. KKY is also part of leading global organizations like the Climate Change Parliament, the Rocky Mountain Institute in the United States… As KKY mentioned “Rocky Mountain Institute”, my ears flipped like a rabbit’s; for one of my strongest intellectual mantras is from someone from that institute. This one: “The problems that we face are complex. Our need is not for simplistic solutions. One of the ingredients of survival, therefore, is flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity, and creativity in facing issues that will unfold. Our need is not so much for specialists (valuable though they can be in supplying particular pieces of the puzzle), but for generalists who can see the interconnectedness of problems and solutions” – J. Hunter Lovine, Rocky Mountain Institute, Colorado, United States (1992).
Hon. Kande Yumkella (KKY) has earned his laurels as one of the most globally-recognized Africans ever, with a credible voice. (He shares the African pedestal of global luminescence with the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat…etc.)
There have been other Sierra Leoneans who worked at high levels in the United Nations (like Dr. John Karefa-Smart; Tejan Kabbah…), but not none as famous, and intrinsically powerful, as Kande Yumkella! KKY was appointed Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in 2005. KKY exhibited leadership qualities in his position. And that rare human trait that can move mountains: PASSION! KKY was in 2008, appointed Chair of “UN-Energy” – a body that brings together all the UN agencies dealing with energy issues. Again, KKY performed with excellence. In 2011, KKY was appointed Co-chair of the high level group on “Sustainable Energy for All”. KKY is a respected part of the
‘Peak-People’ of the global community; he recalled how Ted Turner (Founder of CNN) had put his hand on his shoulder saying to him: “You are the young man who wants to give sustainable energy to the world… Don’t listen to the naysayers. That was how they told me in the 1970s that a 24/7 television couldn’t be done”. He recalled how one time Richest Man in the World, Carlos Slim, a Mexican, told him why he bought a hotel in Mexico City his parents had a honeymoon in.
KKY AND BEN KAIFALA
President Maada Bio has been trumpeting the harnessing of Sierra Leone’s Human resource as a principal plank of his Administration. Though KKY is one of those who competed with President Maada Bio for the leadership position of the SLPP in 2017; though KKY is now the leader of the NGC opposition in Parliament, President Maada Bio would show emotional maturity, patriotism, and wisdom when he harness the extremely rare human resource of KKY. Like he has done with the budding global star, the almost-youth Commissioner of the ACC, Ben Kaifala. Blend KKY and Ben Kaifala, and the $600million MCC Compact that could flow to Sierra Leone will be the second step to Sierra Leone attracting billions of dollars in Foreign Direct Investment and international aid within the first term of the Bio Administration. Money that must be used to cure the governing elite of Sierra Leone of its Garden of Eden Syndrome – zero tolerance to corruption.
There is no more Garden of Eden in Africa; especially in Sierra Leone where we have lost over 80% of our tropical rainforests. The mineral resource boom of yesteryears would be hard to come by today, as nanotechnology and miniaturization would mean less natural resources would be used in technology in the industrialized countries. Africa’s leadership must now stop their predatory inclinations, and think hard to harness their most valued resources – human resources like KKY and Ben Kaifala.