Digging Out of A Hole: Koroma fights for Sierra Leone's interests in 2018 elections

Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma might just leave a legacy as leader of the  All People's Congress (APC) political party.

Abubakr Sankoh,  APC candidate for Constituency 062 in Samu chiefdom, Kambia district, has objected to Kandeh Yumkella's nomination for member of parliament.

The districts of Sierra Leone are divided into chiefdoms. Samu is a chiefdom in Kambia district.

Sankoh, who hopes to become Member of Parliament for the area, doesn't think Yumkella has met the requirement to run for office because he was a dual citizen in contravention of the 1991  Sierra Leone Constitution.

Now, Sankoh's objection to Yumkella's nomination has won support from Sierra Leone Attorney General and Minister of Justice Franklyn Bai Kargbo, who has made a case.

"What has happened in Samu is simply that people have used their rights," argues Attorney General Frank Kargbo.

Kandeh Yumkella

Yumkella, an agricultural economist and former special representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, was born in Kambia in 1959.

He went on to earn a bachelor's degree at  Cornell University in New York; and a PhD. in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois. Yumkella was former chairman of UN-Energy and a two-term director-general of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Somewhere along the way, he became an American citizen.

"It is a fact that I have had dual nationality. It is also a fact I renounced US citizenship to comply with the 1991 Constitution," Yumkella said at a press conference this week.
"I believe that the Constitution is supreme, and I am of the view that the President as the Fountain of Honor and Commander -in- Chief of the Armed Forces must have allegiance to only the country he or she leads.Thus, voluntarily, I renounced my US citizenship to ensure that I fully qualify to run for parliament on behalf of the people of Samu, and to contest the position of President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. In other words, I made sure that I did not violate Section 76 subsection (1a) of the 1919 Constitution."

Opposition to the Abubakr Sankoh petition thinks that the legal challenge is a  vehicle for something more sinister.

“APC is a  dangerous political party and this is about to lead into pandemonium,” one observer wrote. 

“Why is the APC so scared of Yumkella and resorting to all these tricks? Asked a Sierra-Leonean born transcontinental lawyer who lives in Australia. 

'Excuse for purging politicians'

Halfway across the world, a  Jersey Shore-based Sierra Leonean, who retired as a  United States Marine, believes the effort to stop Yumkella is an excuse for purging centrist politicians ahead of elections on March 7.

“Dual citizenship has never been an issue,” he said in an email. “ Majority of Sierra Leoneans enjoyed  British  and Sierra Leonean citizenship for much of our history following  independence.”

The National Grand Coalition (NGC)  held its first convention on Nov.11,  2017, in the southern district of Bo. The NGC was set up with Yumkella bringing disaffected members of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC) along.

Politics can be a revolving door in Sierra Leone.

At least a dozen of the APC 2018 group with dual citizenship who have stood aside, have reportedly joined the National Grand Coalition party, after failing to convince the APC  national executive that the selection process was flawed.

“At issue is not the legitimacy of aspirants to run for office in accordance with the provisions set forth in the constitution. It is whether that specific citation of Supreme Law has wide applicability to all aspirants regardless of party affiliation,” the retired Marine said. 

Similarities in history

No one seems to know whether there have been similarities in history.

Dr. John  Karefa-Smart (1915 –  2010)  was a Member of Parliament of Sierra Leone from Tonkolili District. Karefa-Smart then moved abroad. In 1996, he returned to Sierra Leone as the founder of the  United National People's Party (UNPP). He stood as a candidate in the 1996 presidential election, but he was defeated in the election runoff by the SLPP candidate Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

"Sankoh insists that Kandeh K. Yumkella is not a Sierra Leonean citizen on the grounds that having acquired American citizenship, he renounced his Sierra Leonean citizenship and has not done anything to resume it (his Sierra Leonean citizenship) in accordance with section (19) B of the Sierra Leone Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2006 rendering him ineligible to contest under section 75 and 76 (1a) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone (Act No 6) of 1991 Constitution," the petition states.

By the above logic, are we saying that all Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenship who have been voting in our elections have been violating our law, asks a South Africa-based pollster from Sierra Leone.

"If the argument here is that you lost your Sierra Leonean citizenship when you took another citizenship and that you have to take active steps in Sierra Leone to reinstate your Sierra Leonean citizenship (upon relinquishing/renouncing the acquired citizenship), it would imply that all dual citizens who registered to vote and have voted in the past and who plan to do so in the future will be doing so illegally. Because they are actually not Sierra Leoneans without taking those active steps mentioned above to reinstate the citizenship they allegedly lost, he said. " 

Test case

Seems this will be a test case in Sierra Leone's democracy; asking the country to think deeply about what it means to run for office.

“He never lost his Sierra Leonean citizenship, according to our constitution, and he registered as a voter while enjoying dual citizenship, as thousands of others did,” argues an award-winning Sierra Leonean writer based in Canada. 

“ Even going by American law, the US immediately recognized him as a Sierra Leonean citizen upon his relinquishing the American one - needless to add that this is automatic since both the US and Sierra Leone are signatories to the UN convention relating to statelessness," he said. 

Regardless of personal beliefs, disagreements with others and dislikes, Sierra Leone is ready to dig itself out of this hole.


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