AYV: We just want to start with a little bit of background. Everybody knows you as a former Head of UNIDO but most may actually not aware of what you have been doing before so tell us a little bit about what you have been doing before?
KKY: Before UNIDO I served also as Minister for State and Industry and State Enterprises 1994-1995. Before that I was teaching and doing research work at Michigan State University in the US, before that I was doing my PHD and also served in the Administration of the College of Agriculture.
AYV: You have clearly held a lot of positions of power, positions of influence and positions of responsibility, so what have you done to benefit Sierra Leone with these particular positions?
KKY: I have done quite a bit. First of all, when I was teaching at Michigan State I use to organizer the Sierra Leonean community there to send books back to schools here through the Catholic Church, Caritas Bishop Ganda. We also hosted him there in the campus for about a week to promote Sierra Leonean educational institutions. I took a leave from that job to come here to serve as minister when things were very tough during the war years. In addition, you have heard of the many UNIDO projects I here that ran over almost 15years in this country. In addition to that, when Ebola struck I came here four times. I went on the global scene, Aljazeera, CNN, BBC and their top shows just advocating for more resources for our countries that were suffering at that time the resource flow was very slow. At that time also I linked President Koroma to the WHO Director General. I facilitated that first discussion between them. In addition, apart from the projects I mentioned, I helped to support investment promotion initiatives especially President Ernest Bai Koroma’s first Sierra Leone is open to business conference in London, I facilitated for him. I was the moderator and facilitator of that initiative. There are many projects in this country, the one that is debated today, the Bankasoka, the fisheries training school, the standards bureau and the investment promotion agency. So there are many things one tries to do for the country to benefit from the role we had. The last thing I did before leaving, I actually flew in to persuade President Koroma to send his Minister of Energy to my last major event at the UN in 2015 to sign a MOU with the EU for Energy Sector Support and before then I had support other countries to get that and we were left behind. The videos are there when I facilitated and they actually fast tracked it. So there is a lot we have done overtime privately but also publicly.
AYV: There are those who would argue that being part of the UN Sierra Leone would have still benefited from these programmes whether or not you were heading it. Don’t you think you are laying claims on something that would have happened anyway?
KKY: No it would not have happened anyway. You can see the difference, I stepped down four years ago go check the portfolio. The portfolio here is less than US$300,000. You go back and check the 8years of Yumkella you will see its millions of dollars. The fisheries training school alone is about US$1.6million, by the time you think of Bankasoka and the many projects the portfolio volume here was much larger because I helped personally to talk about my country. President Koroma himself has said it over and over that this guy was raising our flag everywhere. Whether I am on CNN or somewhere else giving lectures around the world, I took my country as a microcosm. Because at that time will have to understand the context, it was always ranked at the bottom of the list, 2008 we were at the lowest human development index. So I have always said to colleagues if all the theories of development we proposes are true, let’s start from a small country like Sierra Leone so sometime they will call me and say ok we will do something in your country.
AYV: It seems the theory is there, how you are going to be able to translate that theory into reality for Sierra Leoneans?
KKY: People assume that when you have a PHD you are an Academic. I spent some time in academia but I spent more time in development. So I have being in institutions where we go from analysis to concepts and then we develop projects and programmes to implement. There is always some link between analysis, theory and practice and then the feedback to improve the knowledge so you improve the impact you have. So I have done that in my career in development. I have always been in the forefront of propagating new initiatives and programmes based on theory. For example, I was director Africa programmes for some time. Actually, helping to formulate industrial programmes in countries and supervise those who do it. I did not stop there I also serve three years in Nigeria doing actual projects. My work involved helping countries to formulate their needs getting experts together to look at those needs and formulate programmes to bring solutions to them, helping them get funding for those programmes then send in evaluation teams.
AYV: It seems you idea sounds great but how do you then translate that to the regular Sierra Leonean to understand. If you look at the majority of Sierra Leoneans who are here, the literacy level are not quite high.
KKY: For a man like me who has been in development I’m used to doing that, whether in Sierra Leone or another country that what I have done for more than 10years now. I have been able to go to countries very poor and illiterate people, listen to their needs, come back, formulate programmes and respond to their needs and then go back to help in doing implementations. So here, the evidence is there, do you see the kids going to my rallies? Do you see the lectures I’m doing in this country? These kids are hungry for that knowledge and I break it down.
AYV: Let’s talk about one of the contributions you mentioned, the Bankasoka dam. The government is refuting that this was one of your contributions to the energy sector. What is the true story?
KKY: The true story is that in 2012, we brought that project here but it had a history almost 6years. Remember for a project of that size, you have to do pre-feasibility study, design of the technology, secure investment and get an implementing agency, in this case, a Chinese company implementing. So when people think Bankasoka just came when the APC government came to power, hell no! In 2013, the Chinese CCTV did a documentary called “Yumkella, man of energy”, a year after we had inaugurated the project and a good part of the segment is on Bankasoka so if our own videos that are on YouTube are not enough of what happened in April 2012, watch the Chinese CCTV. So when I hear people now say oh it is a Chinese company, off cause it is a Chinese company because you design the project and a Chinese company implements it. This is the typical way governance has been done, people go hungry in this country and they lie to them that they are not hungry, people don’t get salary on time and then they say everybody get their salary on time, the WHO tells you 4 weeks ago that this is the worst place to be a youth and they the youth are happy. Propaganda has a limit and there is a saying that you can’t fool all of the people all the time. When people don’t get their salaries on time they know it, when youth have high unemployment, they graduate and don’t get job for years they know it. That’s why we are in governance, we are stepping forward to say the lies are enough now, we want facts, we want data, people cannot tell us they didn’t steal Ebola money even when the British papers and the ICRC say Sierra Leone stole over US$2million of Ebola money, the propaganda in enough now and we will expose them.
AYV: Let’s talk about politics. The political reality in Sierra Leone is that most people are born into the two major political parties, the APC and the SLPP and you have just started your campaign barely 6months before the elections. How do you think you are going to be able to change the mindset of Sierra Leoneans?
KKY: The premise first of all is wrong. I had a movement in this country since 2013, KKY Movement Global. It has structures across the country and I have been back in this country over two years so I am not starting my presidential bid now, remember? So I like it when people underestimate me. The central thesis that people are stock to their parties, I have already demonstrated to the nation that you don’t have to stick to tradition if it keeps you in the bondage of poverty and ignorance for too long. So I know it is resonating in the kids who keep saying change must come. People should not misunderstand that. We still have over 650,000 new voters across the country, we have 1.8million voters between 18 and 35 and these young kids are not stock to political parties. They want to be more educated, they want to be employed when they leave school, they don’t want to rely on party cards to get jobs, they want professionalism, that is the alternative we offer and not to accept the traditional parties.
AYV: We are in a political environment filled with slander and gossip, let’s get some few clarifications from you. Some of the labels being thrown around are that you did not understand local politics and that you were sacked from the UN, is that true?
KKY: Are you kidding me? They say I’m not the serveiest in local politics but yet I have already changed the narratives by now two and a half years. So if I was servey what would have happened? I know I am knowledgeable but what I learnt internationally is that you don’t have to know everything, you have to know how to find the knowledge, to do research and that’s why I came here two and a half years before elections to learn on the ground. Also, I have some people who are good, I don’t have to do everything by myself because I have very good people in my team since I came back, people who know the ropes and know how things are done. That I was sacked from the UN? You can go check this. Ban Ki-moon, appointed me Special Representative of the Secretary General for Sustainable Energy in September 2014, already, I still have my regular job for which I was elected. I had to negotiate with my board, I was suppose to finish in December 2013, September 2012, Ban Ki-moon had already announced that I want this man so I had to step down to take that job because he said Mr. Energy can you spend another two years here helping me push a global agenda on energy and give sustainable goal number 7. So how can I be fired when I already have a job offer which is unique in the UN?
AYV: Did you jump out of the SLPP because you wanted to lead at all cost?
KKY: I left because values are different and that what I want the young people to know. Avoid this syndrome of ‘nar for beya’, it lowers the value system. I left that party because the values are different from what my father and other had. We had the best of education here, we were not known for violence. I don’t even want to think about it, I don’t want to think about negativity, initiatives, policies, targets, ideas, strategies, that is where I am now. My target is how do I beat this guys, how do I get 1.8million voters first rounds? That is where I am now and not to spend time in the negatives.
AYV: Thank you very much Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella for being on AYV on Sunday.
KKY: Thank you very much, it is my pleasure.