Challenging for Africa to Unleash Its Potential Without Industrialization-Adam Molai
April 13, 2021 | 0 Comments
By By Ajong Mbapndah L
Unless Africa industrializes, it will fail to unleash the latent potential presented by its abundant resources and youthful population, says Adam Molai, African Industrialist, Founder of the JUA Fund, and Chairman of TRT Investments. Speaking in an exclusive interview with PAV, Adam Molai says the youthful population in Africa can either be its greatest asset if well leveraged, or its biggest threat if allowed to become restive owing to lack of opportunity.
“Africa is in a very poor state in as far as industrialization is concerned. We are still significant importers of finished goods and exporters of raw materials,” Molai says of the crusade on Industrialization that he has championed over the years.
“In 2018, Sub-Saharan Africa raw material exports amounted to $148 billion or 52% of total exports. That is a strong case for industrialization to convert a significant portion of our raw materials into intermediate goods or finished products, creating jobs and increasing the value of our GDP,” Adam Molai said.
On the JUA Fund which is his latest initiative to inspire the Continent’s entrepreneurial generation, Adam Molai expressed the hope that it will start a movement which will sweep across Africa. Describing the Fund as a ripple considering the enormous needs of the continent, Molai says the desire is to have a culture in the continent where entrepreneurs give back through facilitating the creation of more entrepreneurs.
Generous in detail about the building of his companies, Adam Molai says opportunities for the continent are immense, but leaders will need to develop confidence in the ability of African entrepreneurs and stop seeing them as inferior to foreign entrepreneurs.
Could you start by telling us your own interest and journey into entrepreneurship, how did Adam Molai become an industrialist?
So, I am a true-blue entrepreneur; I was never interested in working for anybody else. I have never worked for anybody else.
I often share one of my fondest memories being a 10-year-old selling matches to earn pocket money and thinking – ‘I love this!’. This is when the entrepreneurial bug struck.
I embarked on my first entrepreneurial venture when I was just 10 when I sold boxes of in-demand matches for a profit to make pocket money. While at boarding school, I sold food to fellow pupils for spending money.
In my first summer in university in the UK, I joined a network marketing business which was really an entrepreneurial exploit where I would sell frozen food products in Buckinghamshire. I recruited other students to join and work with me raising significant cash that facilitated my move to Canada.
In Canada, I ran the university consulting service, literally as an entrepreneurial venture, and this, together with other work, helped fund my university studies in Canada. I made so much money that I was able to leave a significant sum which created the Adam Molai Small Business Consulting scholarship where the proceeds from this sum are given as a scholarship annually to a deserving student at my former alma mater.
When I returned to Zimbabwe after completing my studies, I knew I didn’t want to work for anybody else.
My first business, whose infrastructure I had started constructing whilst still in university in Canada, was a chicken business of 7,000 broiler chickens. I brought solar equipment with me from Canada, and this facilitated 24-hour feeding of our chickens facilitating faster development of the chickens. There was no power in the area and thus the utilization of solar power with a storage inverter, in 1997, was quite an evolution.
I then re-opened my late father’s service station and supermarket, whilst at the same time also creating a stationery shop and copy bureau in my home time. So, within my first year of being back in Zimbabwe from the diaspora I was running four businesses.
These businesses spanned a significant distance and so my first two years were highly sleep-deficient. I would start my early Monday morning in my hometown, drive to Harare to order supplies for the retail outlets and chemicals for the chicken business; a 150km return journey to my hometown where the stationery business and supermarket were, ensure the goods were priced and then at the closure of the stationery shop after 5pm start the 140km drive to where my service station was. I would then collect the cash takings, use them to buy more grain from the local farmers and maize grinding mills, which we would use to mix with the stock feed, and then drive another 180km to the farm where we were farming chickens. I would monitor the slaughtering, dressing, and packing of the chickens and by 2am start the drive back to my hometown which from the farm was 230km.
I would sleep on this third journey back to my hometown and get back in time to start another day. Without fail, by 7am I would be back at my stationery store where my main office was. This, routine I continued for a full two years.
I then got the opportunity to acquire the largest service station site in my hometown. I quickly converted what was the office and former car show room into the first 24/7 retail shop in Zimbabwe, taking a cue from the 7/11 concept I had been exposed to in Canada.
The move, which drew criticism from my own family and other businesspeople, led me achieve more than double the shop’s takings, transforming the retail landscape in Zimbabwe. Sixty percent of the retail sales happened in the hours when all the other shops were closed. To crown it off, which irresponsibility I didn’t understand then, we managed to get a liquor license for this shop and used to be the only 24/7 liquor retailer in the country, which resulted in inordinate sales. Within a year a 60 square metre shop was making more than US$1 million! That was the first million I made, at the age of 29.
Another transformation I undertook was transforming the chicken retail sector in Zimbabwe. When I grew up working in my father’s shop, only whole chickens and in some cases half chickens were generally sold in Zimbabwe. You could buy beef and pork in small and as-you-desired and as-you-could-afford portions, but not chicken. I didn’t understand why that was, so I started selling chicken pieces, not just whole chickens. That transformed the chicken retail sector and demand rose beyond our projections.
I also did some dealings in the petroleum sector before turning my attention to the tobacco sector. Zimbabwe experienced significant fuel shortages and I was fortunate to receive permission from Shell, the franchisor, to direct import own fuel. Fuel had always been a controlled product only available from to oil companies through the government monopoly. However, when shortages became severe fuel companies and private individuals could direct import. Through an old high school acquaintance, who was importing fuel, I was able to receive multiple tankers a week of direct import fuel. Our site never ran dry, and we were selling over a million litres of fuel a month and still couldn’t meet demand. Cars would drive from neighboring towns to fill up as we were receiving fuel non-stop!
I had also, with support of very experienced tobacco skills we had on board, pioneered contract growing of tobacco that transformed the tobacco industry from around 4 500 mainly commercial farmers and opened the way for more than 85 000 local small-scale farmers to enter Zimbabwe’s tobacco sector.
In 2002, I co-founded Savanna Tobacco Company, which has now been rebranded as Pacific Cigarette Company, which is acknowledged as one of only two of the world’s most significant African-owned cigarette manufacturers. The company enjoys a significant share of the Southern African cigarette market.
Our business interests cut across several industries – including energy, manufacturing, property development, transport and logistics, air transport, financial services and beverage bottling – and at least seven African countries, including the African economic powerhouses of Nigeria, South Africa and Mauritius. However, we are now streamlining our portfolio to focus only upon manufacturing and distribution, property development and sales, and technology.
Our business now has over US$200 million of assets under control.
In November 2020, we also launched the $2 million JUA Fund, making it the largest venture capital fund by a private African business individual to empower and support African entrepreneurs.
Today you are Chairman of the Pacific Cigarette Company and the TRT Investments, can you tell us a little more about this companies and how they fit in the vision that you have for Africa?
TRT Investments manages a diversified sector portfolio and operations in Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana, and our latest interests have seen a foray into the US and European markets.
The aim is really to play our role in moving Africa from being on the menu to sitting at the global economic table. We believe this will only be achieved through production and productivity. So, we are aiming at driving the industrialization agenda for Africa.
TRT recently acquired, which is the largest non-food contract manufacturing business on the continent. It manufactures many leading multinational household FMCG brands. We aim to replicate this model into East and West Africa to create the largest non-food contract manufacturer in the world.
So, our ambitions are big, and we are committed to creating African institutions, with global recognition.
With the AfFCTA, we aim to leverage this opportunity to ensure localization of production on the Continent where currently there is only 18% inter-Africa trade compared to 80% Inter-Europe trade. So, just by trading more with ourselves as Africans we can grow our economies ad create the much-needed employment for our young population.
Our other area of focus is housing.
With the significant housing supply gap on the continent, and the growing population which is urbanizing at a rapid rate, it is imperative that affordable housing is availed to ensure that we help move from the squalid urban living conditions of the past.
Our final area of focus is technology.
Technology offers Africa the opportunity to leapfrog. It facilitates more efficacious and elegant solutions to Africa’s myriad challenges.
Pacific was born out of the industrialization agenda and fits into the TRT agenda. Having always lamented Africa’s over-reliance on agriculture for survival, I felt we needed to walk our talk and beneficiate this agricultural produce into finished goods and thus participate at a higher level of the value chain. Zimbabwe’s main agricultural export has been tobacco for a long time and therefore we took it upon ourselves to add value to this crop. There is a 15 to 20 times value multiplier from raw tobacco to cigarettes and that is what we have achieved in Pacific. So, the jobs and value which we were exporting in exporting raw tobacco, we are now retaining through producing finished goods. If we look at the $600 million of raw tobacco produced in Zimbabwe, if all transformed to cigarettes, Zimbabwe would have a $6-$12 billion tobacco industry.
For the attention of many out there who see in you a success story, what were some of the big challenges you face in building your companies and how did you successfully navigate them?
Success, to me, is a journey rather than a destination. It is a culmination of many failures and continuing to find different paths where one path has failed. Funding is always a challenge. I remember using $75,000 of my university entrepreneurial savings to start a small chicken business after university because I couldn’t get funding from the banks to augment this capital raise.
The challenge of raising money for my first business or to buy factory equipment, the challenges felt the same, and had the same ultimate impact – no funding – no business. We’ve mitigated fund raising challenges through performance. When you perform and develop a track record for performing, paying, and meeting your debt covenants, it becomes a bit easier to raise funding.
Another significant challenge faced was the dearth of African entrepreneurs available and willing to offer mentorship to others on their entrepreneurial journey. I failed to find takers, amongst those I approached, as unfortunately many in our society still see other people’s success as a threat to their success and attention.
So, the only option available became to be an avid reader, always reading both success and failure books as a way to understand.
You have been on a crusade for industrialization and entrepreneurship in what shape is Africa in now, and why do you think it is imperative for the continent to change course?
Africa is in a very poor state in as far as industrialization is concerned. We are still significant importers of finished goods and exporters of raw materials.
In 2018, Sub-Saharan Africa raw material exports amounted to $148 billion or 52% of total exports. That is a strong case for industrialization to convert a significant portion of our raw materials into intermediate goods or finished products, creating jobs and increasing the value of our GDP.
China has become the global behemoth owing to industrialization. Thirty years ago, China was where we are today as a continent but has transformed from a developing nation to being at the cusp of being the largest global economy through a deliberate policy of industrialization.
Unless we industrialize, we will fail to unleash the latent potential presented by our abundant resources and youthful population. This youthful population can either be our greatest asset if we leverage it, or our biggest threat if they become restive owing to lack of opportunity.
Late last year you launched the Jua Kickstarter fund to provide entrepreneurs with capital to kickstart or expand their enterprises, may we know what impact you anticipate for Africa for this initiative?
Lao Tzu is famously credited with the saying that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. The launch and subsequent Jua Olympic week are the start of a movement which I hope will sweep Africa. It is only but a ripple, given the enormous needs on the continent, but we are seeing the impact it is having on encouraging other business leaders to also start looking at how they too can assist entrepreneurs on the continent. Our hope is that this becomes a culture on our continent of entrepreneurs giving back through facilitating the creation of more entrepreneurs, creating a snowball effect. The quality of the finalists as well as the solutions being proffered by the businesses we have decided to invest in give us great confidence that there will be significant impact that will emanate from this initiative.
It was always the intention that the fund would go beyond providing money. Entrepreneurs always need money, that is not in question. But they don’t only need money. They also need mentoring, advice, access to networks, access to markets, people to stress test their ideas, advisors and mentors who can help them see the realities and potential of their businesses.
That is what Jua will provide.
Jirogasy and Bryt-Knowledge will be furthering education one through hardware the other through software, Side and Grow Agric, are disrupting the value chain of goods from farm to table, Powerstove Energy is saving the environment by their cooking stove innovation, Whispa Health is taking care of wellbeing, and Xetova is adding African flair to procurement.
Less than a year after it was launched, the first recipients were announced, may we know how the selection was done and your overall impressions on the applications and the eventual winners?
We had over 700 applicants who were shortlisted to 25 finalists, who met the criteria that their ideas had impact and were scalable.
The 25 finalists participated in the “Kickstarter Olympics”, a 5-day pitching session during which they were put through their paces by a high-profile panel of judges.
Eventually, we made offers to 7 recipients who all accepted.
We were immensely impressed by all our finalists, even those to whom offers were not made.
So impressive was the quality of the projects from the entrepreneurs that we felt compelled to increase the fund from the original $1m announced to $2m.
About four of the seven enterprises selected have either female founders or co-founders, what role do you see gender or women playing in the vision that you articulate?
Research is clear that empowering women has more impact on societies and communities than empowering men. I am delighted that the Jua Fund, which is aimed at empowering all entrepreneurs, regardless of gender, has been able to benefit females to the extent that it has.
What metrics and support system does the JUA Fund have in place to monitor the outcomes or progress of recipients?
As I indicated, Jua is not only providing monetary support but non-monetary support in the form of mentoring and advice, introductions to other potential investors and funders. Where applicable, we will sit on the boards.
The phenomenal experience of the JUA judges, who have kindly accepted to offer mentorship and coaching, will serve to really help the entrepreneurs unleash their potential.
Through well-established Key Performance Indicators, designed to facilitate milestone-based release of capital, we hope to see better resource utilization and less of the unintended waste of resources that culminates from non-results-based funding mechanisms.
The Jury had some powerful names in the African corporate world, how challenging was it to get these high profile and busy people to dedicate the required time in the selection process?
It wasn’t challenging at all because all the judges share our vision of the importance of entrepreneurship for ensuring that Africa gets to assume its rightful place at the economic table, and they all wanted to do their bit to pass on the knowledge they have gained as entrepreneurs or in business to these emerging entrepreneurs.
They were so keen that at times we had more judges than we anticipated and needed. We had judges from across the globe, some of whom woke up at 3am daily to listen to the pitches.
As you may be aware, most start-ups / SMMES fail within the first two years, for a myriad of reasons. The judges who participated are aware of the challenges and want to do their bit to reduce this number.
The applicants certainly appreciated it; many commented on how the judges’ questions and insight had helped them rethink parts of their business.
What next for the Jua Fund, there are many young entrepreneurs out there who would love to try their hand in the next round, what are the plans going forward?
What’s next is just to keep growing and to support more SMMEs. We will hopefully have more money to avail in the future and we can structure the non-monetary assistance better as well.
We have learned a lot from this inaugural VC round, and we intend to build on that going forward so that it has much greater impact.
Our hope is that the success of the initial projects will, as we exit, create an even larger pool of funds to support even more entrepreneurs, creating a snowball effect. We have invested $2 million, if they perform and this spawns $20 million on exit, as an example, we then invest $20-millionn to spawn $200-million and this multiplier effect is what we seek and what we believe will facilitate our dream of empowering thousands of entrepreneurs.
In terms of recommendations to African governments, what needs to be done by them to create the enabling environment for brilliant ideas and initiatives that millions of Africans have to thrive?
Well, entrepreneurs need the right regulatory environment to grow so all governments need to scrutinize the laws, rules and regulations that they have in place to see whether they help or hinder entrepreneurial activity.
Governments also need to realise that they cannot grow economies and create jobs, that that is the ambit of business and they need to ensure that the business environment is conducive to that. So, the economy and entrepreneurs are not dependent on who is in government, but rather that there is policy certainty and that their markets are open to all. If our governments truly embrace the intentions of the AfFCTA, we will see a significant explosion of economies on the continent.
We also need to relook at our education systems which are largely not suited to nurturing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial activity.
We also need to encourage local investment. African governments bend over backwards for foreign investors but do not do the same for local investors which means that local investors must deal with an unequal playing field.
What is your take on foreign direct investment and what role do you see the African diaspora playing in the development of the continent?
I think all investment is good. Africa lags in terms of investment so the more people who want to invest, the better.
But I do think that governments elevate foreign investment above that of local investment and I think that this is to the detriment of the continent. The reality is that if locals show confidence and invest, foreigners will invest alongside them. So what we should be doing is giving local investors the same benefits that we give foreign investors, we should be levelling the playing fields for local investors as they have more impact on the lives of Africans. They not only invest their money on the Continent, but they spend their money on the Continent too. This provides jobs for others and opportunities for other Africans.
I think the diaspora can be used more meaningfully than it is now. We know that remittances contribute $48-billion or an average 4.17% of Africa’s GDP but we should be looking at how to make better use of the resources of Africans in the diaspora.
Instead of saving their money in low-interest bearing accounts, we should look at getting them to invest in local start-ups and enterprises. In that way entrepreneurs have access to money and the diasporans get better returns whilst positively impacting their home countries to develop.
Looking at the realities today, the challenges, and the potential, what are your hopes and fears for Africa’s future?
Africa is at a major crossroad. With a growing young population, if Africa continues to grow at its current rate, it is expected to double to 2.5billion people; a quarter of the world’s population; by 2050. All these people need food, clothing, transport, housing and many other goods and services.
China’s growth was driven by a large population, creating significant consumption and ability to grow the economy phenomenally through the goods and services required by such a large population.
We dare not fail to rise to the occasion and create the businesses that will produce and provide all the goods and services that will be required by the continent. We certainly cannot afford to create a market for the rest of the world at our own expense. This is going to require significant unity and coordination across the continent to be realized.
China could easily achieve this growth because it is a unitary state. With 54 states, Africa will need significant regional and continental integration and harmonization to facilitate the remarkable infrastructural projects required to cater for such a huge population which is urbanising significantly.
So, the opportunities for the continent are immense, the challenges will really be from our own belief in ourselves to achieve for ourselves. Our leaders will need to develop confidence in the ability of African entrepreneurs and stop seeing our own entrepreneurs as inferior to foreign entrepreneurs.
Our people will need to also develop an appetite for local goods as opposed to foreign goods and our businesspeople will need to ensure that at all levels, our goods meet the exacting global standards for quality. Changing mindsets is a difficult process, as is establishing regional and continental trust; however, if accomplished, Africa could become the global powerhouse it has the potential to be.
Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe: A Champion of Human Rights across Central Africa
April 1, 2021 | 0 Comments
By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe has been with the REDHAC for the past ten years as Executive Director, championing and promoting human rights across the Central African sub-region. Her relentless pursuit of human rights has seen her win multiple awards across the world and with the mantra “NEVER GIVE UP” she has shown no sign of slowing down.
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe has won multiple awards in her fight for Human Rights with the biggest one being the U.S State Department’s 2021 Women of Courage Awards. Before this recent award, Maximilienne was in 2020 awarded “The Prize of Empowerment of African Communities” by the BBF and Heal The World Africa, an organization based in the USA.
In 2019 Maximilienne won the “Defend Defenders: Prize of Resilience and recognition for her exceptional impact for her works on Human Rights in Central Africa.”
Pan African Visions caught up with this vibrant Human Rights defender in her office in Douala this March 31, 2021, and began by asking her what she made of the recent award given to her in her fight for human rights.
Pan African Visions: May we know how Maximilienne Ngo Mbe received news of her selection amongst the 2021 Women of Courage Awards?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: It is not possible to know how the selection comes about. I was surprised by the US Embassy who told me that I am one of the Women who have been selected for the award but the first amongst the twelve women that were to be selected. I had the information at the same time as you when the US Government made the selection. I saw the information on Friday after the announcement was made on Thursday in the night that I am one of the Women of Courage 2021.
Pan African Visions: What does this award mean for you and your fight for human rights in Cameroon?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: First of all I was very happy when you fight against violations of human rights, fight for peace and reconciliation and when you receive the award you are happy. The award is not only for the work in Cameroon but the work in Central Africa to improve human rights and promote peace and reconciliation in Central Africa. It is a lot of responsibility and what now can I do to ensure that all these people who are suffering can do something? I do not have a lot of power to improve all these charges that have been given to me.
Can I have the power to finish all this work? I am not sure because you need a lot of things; financial (sometimes people do not know that you carry out activities without money); democratically challenged (we do not have democratically institutions. We do not have separation of power in the countries). We have a lot of injustices specifically in Cameroon now and we have a lot of arbitrary arrests. The terrorism law is in place that leads to activists being charged. It is difficult and the situation in North West and South West is not easy. We have a lot of threats and people who do not have security in their life. It is not easy for me; I am happy but afraid.
Pan African Visions: Can you shed light on the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa-REDHAC that you lead?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: It is difficult to talk about the Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa because it is a long road. For ten years now I have been the Executive Director and we make sure to protect, promote and advocate for the human rights defenders status and make sure that the government undertakes their role about the regional and international engagement and to make sure that the fundamental freedoms are respected. We make sure that peace and security can be improved which will lead to people having justice and living a good life.
All these things have been very difficult to achieve because it is the civil and political rights; when you fight for their respect it is not easy especially in countries that have not had democratically institutions. Some of our victims understand nothing that sometimes turns to attack us. But REDHAC status that is out to fight against human rights especially for CSOs turns to create an atmosphere of peace between the victims. For example, every six months, we report on the violation of the human right and also the protection and security of lawyers who defend these victims. This is because if you want CSOs to continue in this light you need to reinforce them with security assistance. For example, we have laws that govern lawyers at the Regional, National and International level. Lawyers who defend victims of human rights violation and fight for peace and reconciliation
We at REDHAC have proposed concrete solutions at the level of Cameroon and Africa in general for the respect of human rights. This is a vast area for us to handle in the protection of human rights. We also have manual functions and challenges like our laws in the country cannot surpass international laws. Analysis and recommendations have been done as well as publications on fundamental liberation and also following up defenders of human rights; aiding them protection and financially. For example, Mancho Bibixy was aided financially (REDHAC supported him by relocating his wife from Bamenda to Yaounde so she can easily pay him visits in prison) and May Ali who was relocated. We also give people the opportunity to air out their problems to the international community especially victims in the North West and South West. We have also produced documentaries on behalf of the victims.
Pan African Visions: What are some of the challenges the REDHAC network has faced in the field while doing its work?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: Some of our challenges are infrastructural and financial challenges. This is because sometimes we need to help our victims who are not financially stable to shelter them and also the majority of our financial partners are state-owned that sometimes delay the assistance. Also, the government system is another problem we faced coupled with the fact that in Central Africa all the Presidents are of age weakening the system as they try to maintain their positions leading to poor leadership.
States that do not practice democracy is another problem we faced resulting in poor decision-making. In Cameroon especially in the judiciary decisions cannot influence justice; same with the legislative decisions hindering sanctions on the government for wrong decisions taken. This also goes to the executive. This can be seen especially in the Ngarbuh massacre that to date government decisions have not been implemented on the perpetrators of the act. Meantime, we also have the case of Wazizi where to date his corpse has not been found. Despite our complaints, nothing has been done in all these instances. Sometimes, sanctions are levied on us when publications on such situations are made public. Our challenges to sum up rest on financial, undemocratic institutions, but all these can be solved.
Pan African Visions: Can you give us your perspectives on the situation of human rights in Cameroon, where have you seen progress and where have things been bad?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: The fact that REDHAC’s doors have not been shut down despite these challenges shows a level of respect for human rights. People are allowed to talk freely on TV stations without being arrested shows some positivity on the respect of human rights. We also have laws that have been respected in the country and it is good we encourage the government for such a move which will give them the ability to keep respect for human rights.
However, laws that are made by the legislative are not always being respected by the other bodies such as the executive and judiciary. There is some collaboration even though formal such as that of the Ministry of Justice and some human rights organizations including REDHAC. These small collaborations give us a supportive hand to continue our work.
Pan African Visions: Could you share some of the recommendations that REDHAC has in mind to improve human rights in Cameroon?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: In Cameroon, we have recommended the revision of so many laws and not its abolition such as the anti-terrorism law of 2014 against Journalists, civilians, politicians, activists and others. For example, the military court is not supposed to judge civilians or journalists and for this reason, we have recommended that the law be revised and we hope one day it will be considering that Cameroon is one of the members of the Commonwealth, Human Rights Commission in Africa and the UN. We are not saying that the law be abolished but revised concerning the rate of terrorism in central Africa.
The second recommendation we have made is that if you observed Western African countries, there is a law to protect the right of journalists especially in Mali, Ivory Coast which was voted for and this law should be adopted in the Cameroon National Assembly and the President signing it into law.
Our recommendations are not only on human rights violations but in a situation that we find ourselves in. Cameroon is facing various challenges, and we have been recommended that no war can be solved with the use of arms but negotiations should be the solution between the two parties. A commission should be created such as the Truth and Justice Reconciliation Commission should be created. With this being our best recommendation as human rights preachers it will be a better means to reconcile ourselves. A proposal for that commission had been written and sent to the appropriate quarters which will only hope for a positive reply.
Also, on the socio-political crisis ongoing in the North West and South West Regions, we have recommended for the liberation of all Anglophone detainees especially those who have not appeared before the court since they were arrested but are in prison. For this reason, if Cameroon wants to portray that she is out to protect the rights of its citizens, then persons like Mancho Bibixy have to be released and stop the arrest of journalists and lawyers who defend human rights violations. The conduction of transparent elections has to be effective which will minimize the rigging of the election, reducing violence and threats during elections in Cameroon.
Pan African Visions: A new leadership and new members were recently appointed by President Biya to the National Human Rights Commission, what is your take on that, and do you think they can make a difference?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: Yes I think so.In the past years, we were working with the Commission headed by its former President Chemuta Banda and we did a lot of things, be it in the North West, Central Region and everywhere in Cameroon. We fought for the promotion and protection of Human Rights. On the contrary, since we did the last nomination and with his hatred, he disposes of daily it has nothing to do with human rights. It is feared that this Commission is only an empty vessel. How can you think that Mrs Elangue née Eva Etongue Mayer who has served more than seventeen years in the Commission and a defender of Human Rights was removed at a time when we needed a Commission like never before? For us, there has not been a consensus concerning the National Human Rights Commission today. At the moment, all those present at the Commission represent their head and shadow and so we have nothing to do with the Commission.
Pan African Visions: What do you make of accusations of bias and opposition sympathies that are often linked to groups like REDHAC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Work and others?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: All over the world, human rights commissions are usually accused and so there is no exception when it comes to Cameroon especially on those Commissions who do their work effectively. The truth is that they (government) deform and lie against such commissions meanwhile in other countries such a thing cannot happen. In Cameroon, they deform, lie and corrupt and when they get to a level that they cannot corrupt they go to the extent of levying threats. Human Rights organizations are only doing what we are expected to do and nothing else.
During the Ngarbuh massacre, the Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atangi Nji held a press conference saying that Human rights Commissions had taken five million to destabilize the country which was not true to the point of sending us a warrant of arrest. This went far in tarnishing our image both nationally and internationally and to this day an investigation is still open. This was a strong allegation from such a personality who did not have strong evidence.
This is what I have been talking about in countries that do not practice democracy. Such countries are characterised by deformation and even those who count on human right commissions like REDHAC, Human Rights Watch. REDHAC’s office is in Cameroon and all that the government does is criticise and deform. But this is very different from other Human rights Commissions like Amnesty International that has its Headquarters in Senegal; you can never hear the government criticise to this extent, same as Human Rights Watch in the USA, posing a threat to other human rights organizations coming up. It is a dictatorial system and a system that does not respect human rights.
Pan African Visions: What next for you and REDHAC after this award, what are some of the projects that you have in mind going forward?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: What I can say never gives up despite the huge challenge we face in our country. We have to continue to work for peace and protect human rights. We are continuing without any stoppage in preaching and protecting the human rights commission, the implementation of a democratic state with no fear despite all the threats by implementing all the mechanisms to promote peace for all and protect human rights defenders. It should be noted that these are areas giving less concern and our small shoulders are ready for the fight.
Pan African Visions: We understand that you were in Congo during the recent Presidential election, could you share with us what you saw, were there free and fair from your perspective?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: The situation in Congo is our preoccupation now but yesterday we were told that some protesters were arrested, showing no difference with Cameroon. You will see that when Sassou Nguesou discovered that his mandate will soon end he amended the constitution, changing it into a referendum favouring him during the election which provided him with a new mandate. Can you imagine that we were in Congo and were denied accreditation to observe how the elections were conducted? This is very dissatisfactory as during the election we carried out some teaching on the protection of human rights.
We were going to look at those rights that were violated and not who won. This same scenario also happened to the Human Rights Commission in Congo. This is just to show you that when a Human Rights Commission works for the people it is very possible to have problems with the government. It will surprise you that the next day ghost town was declared making some voters walk long distances to vote, violating the right of circulation in and out of the country. Even we had to walk from up to 5km just to look for food to eat. When ghost towns are declared, how do you expect people to vote including handicaps?
It should be noted that before the ghost town was declared the forces of law and order had voted two days before and these same military forces already had voting stations, showing some level of fraud. On that same night, the internet was seized even to the 27 that we returned and the internet had still not been regularized. The only excuse given was that the person that was working on it died of COVID-19.
Again, we were told that some of our members were arrested but we are working on it though worried and the only thing we can do is hope for a calm situation considering that Congo had once had a civil war and also pray that the population remain calm because it is a provocation.
Pan African Visions: Thank you for granting this interview, any last word you wish to make?
Maximilienne Ngo Mbe: NEVER GIVE UP. I want to thank everyone that has supported REDHAC and my staff who has been there in our difficult moments and that we have passed through it. I want to thank the American State Department as it is an award that comes to protect REDHAC and myself. I want to assure all Human Rights Organizations, journalists and the African community to continue to strengthen the fight in protecting and promoting Human Rights, and maintaining peace.
(Translation was done with the help of Sonita Ngunyi)
Somalia: A Sustained Fight for Human Rights paying off for Mama Zahra
March 25, 2021 | 0 Comments
By Samuel Ouma
The task may be daunting but the crusade for better human rights in Somalia is one that Zahra Mohamed Ahmad better known as Mama Zahra has embraced whole heartedly. Under the canopy of the Somali Women Development Centre that she leads, Mama Zahra has worked tirelessly to empower women, counsel rape, war and victims of gender violence, provide free legal counselling, working on reconciliation and peacebuilding amongst many other human rights related initiatives.
Her efforts got a big boost recently when she was one of three Africans selected as recipients of the U.S State Department International Women of Courage Award. Assisted by an interpreter in an interview with Samuel Ouma for PAV, Mama Zahra says the award will serve as an encouragement to women in Somalia to keep making a positive change in society.
May we start with a reaction from you on the recent Women of Courage Award you received, how did you receive news about this? How did Somalis feel about it, and what does this mean for the work you do?
Mama Zahra: First, I would like to express my gratitude to the Almighty God for enabling me to bag this precious award because it means a lot to me and my people, especially women and girls. The information about the award came directly from the US Department of State Department and was received with joy by Somalis. I am sure it will encourage women, particularly those doing social works, to make positive changes in society.
Talking about the work you do; can you tell us a little more about the Somali Women Development Centre-SWDC ?
Mama Zahra: SWDC is a non-governmental and non-profit organization established in 2000 to empower women and other vulnerable groups such as IDPs, victims of rape, war, gender-based violence, and any calamity, be it natural or human, through access to knowledge and economic and social independence. We also focus on the human rights protection of the vulnerable groups by providing free legal aid services, enhancing reconciliation and peacebuilding, lobbying with the involved parties, and building capacity.
What is the situation like for women and girls in particular and human rights in general in Somalia?
Mama Zahra: The situation is not encouraging at all. Unlike other countries such as Syria and Kenya, refugees in Somalia who are mainly women and children live in unfavorable conditions. Overcrowding and lack of social amenities are heart-breaking. Parents are being forced to live in small tents together with their children.
May we know some of the successes you have registered, what changes have taken place in Somalia as a result of your work with the SWDC?
Mama Zahra: I am proud of the accomplishments we have achieved since 2000. First, the People of Minnesota and I had formed Somcare to oversee the treatment of 250 seriously injured in the war. Through the partnership, these people were successfully treated in Kenya’s Kijabe hospital. Second, we have trained several women on legal matters, and they have been of great help whenever help is needed. Besides, we have trained female security guards in prison on how to handle female inmates. We have also offered support to people living with HIV/AIDS, orphans, blind children, and university students from a poor backgrounds. By agitating for an increase in women’s representation, the quota has increased from 11/12 percent to 24 percent. Somali women are highly represented in Parliament, making it one of the highest in the continent. Out of 275 lawmakers, over 80 are women.
In terms of challenges, may you know some of the most acute challenges you have faced?
Mama Zahra: There have been both personal and organizational challenges. As an organization, we were hard hit in 2013 after two male barristers who were mandated to train women lawyers were killed in a terrorist attack in a regional court in Mogadishu. It was a sad experience, but we had to move on. Later, I was expelled from a regional state of election for standing for what is right before losing my son under mysterious circumstances. My son, the founder of the first laundry shop in the Somali capital, was shot dead in the street. He also owned a start-up kind of organization that offered support to the young. I believe he was killed because he was innovative.
How is your relationship with the government in Somalia, how are your activities and those of the SWDC perceived, and what are they doing or not doing to improve on the situation of girls and women?
Mama Zahra: I work with many ministries in Somalia to achieve our objectives, and Somalis have embraced our activities beyond any doubt. We are doing a lot to improve the situation of women and girls. For instance, we have partnered with the government to offer free primary and secondary education; we own medical facilities where they receive treatment and provide finances to vulnerable individuals to help them settle down and feed their families.
In terms of policy proposals, what suggestions or recommendations do you have that could help improve gender and human rights in the country?
Mama Zahra: People should pay attention to both local and international laws on human rights to better women’s lives.
With all the work you have done and the growing international, is the thought of political leadership something you have thought of or something you may consider if Somalis call on you?
Mama Zahra: I have no political ambition, but I support women’s leadership; women should be represented at all levels of positions.
Any message to international partners out there on what and how there could support the work you have been doing on the ground in Somalia?
Mama Zahra: So far, we operate in two regions, but with well-wishers and partners, we can move to other regions to impact more lives. I plead with them to rally behind us to help us realize our goals.
What next for Mama Zahra after the Women in Courage award? What changes or developments should we expect from you and the SWDC?
Mama Zahra: I was awarded for what I did, but now through international help, I would love to improve the living standards of the IDPs, install DNA facilities that are only found in South Africa in the continent, and advocate for a high-quality healthcare system.
NJ Ayuk On Making The Most Of Africa’s Energy Potential
March 20, 2021 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
As many were wailing in disbelieve at the impact of COVID-19 on African economies, NJ Ayuk was one of those who rolled up his sleeves, put on his thinking cap and took the lead in proffering solutions and charting the way forward.
From robust engagement with OPEC, to a multitude of webinars to key stakeholders, helping governments navigate complex situations and building bridges with partners in Africa and the world, NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber spared no efforts in the quest for solutions to sustain and keep the African energy sector ticking.
“Africa’s voice must therefore be heard loud and strong as part of the global energy discourse. The Chamber has identified this and therefore has as one of its objectives to federate the different aspirations of Africans in the energy sector and articulate this in a constructive manner that will foster investment in the African energy sector, says NJ Ayuk in an interview with PAV magazine.
Bullish on the way forward, Ayuk believes that Africa must make the most of its energy potential and this starts with getting activity levels across the entire energy value chain in Africa back to pre-COVID-19 levels, says Ayuk. In a show of its seriousness on the way forward, the African Energy Chamber recently published its road to recovery book which provides practical guidance on how African countries can enhance compactivity globally to attract investment.
“The energy sector’s challenges, and the trials and tribulations have made the African Energy Chamber’s work more important now, more than ever. We are committed to helping Africa’s energy sector stakeholders navigate a complex and ever-changing global energy landscape. We will continue our mission to support the dynamic private sector and unlock the continent’s remarkable energy potential,” says Ayuk.
After a tough year, what do African countries need to do to get the energy sector back on the rails so it can continue playing its role in the economic development of the continent?
In order to change the tide and spur a post covid recovery in the energy sector that will also enhance overall economic growth in Africa, African countries must double their efforts to attract investment into their energy sectors. They must put in place timely and market relevant strategies to deal with external headwinds like the drive to decarbonize globally and evolving demand patterns for energy internally and hydrocarbons globally. They must end restrictive fiscal regimes, inefficient and carbon-intensive production, cut bureaucracy and other difficulties in doing business which are preventing the industry from reaching its full potential.
2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges for Africa’s energy sector. The target must be to get activity levels across the entire energy value chain in Africa back to pre Covid-19 levels and beyond. Companies in the oil and gas sub-sector for example responded by cutting costs and delaying projects, with planned capital expenditure for 2020-2021 dropping from $90 billion pre-COVID-19, to $60 billion.
As a leading actor in the Energy sector, may we get your assessment on the response from key power players in the continent like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and others, what are they getting right and what are there missing or needs to be improved upon?
The response on the continent has been a mixed bag. A number of African countries were slow in responding to market realities, largely due to bureaucracy and the absence of generally agreed principles on how to deal with the COVID -19 pandemic. Others on the other hand, especially countries with a notable dependence on their oil and gas sectors responded swiftly to minimize disruptions in their countries.
For example, OPEC member Equatorial Guinea moved swiftly in the early months of the pandemic to implement best practice protocols that enabled the industry to operate uninterrupted during the pandemic. The government also suspended and deferred several fees usually borne by companies in the sector, in an attempt to support a reduction of costs in the sector. The result of these measures was that production in EG were kept at the levels projected prior to the pandemic and the sector did not witness mass retrenchment as was the case in several other oil producing countries.
Angola responded in a similar manner, after consulting with major stakeholders in the industry. Special health and safety protocols were adopted for the industry that allowed for undisrupted activity in the oil and gas sector. The government has also been able to maintain the momentum in its ongoing bid-round by facilitating access to seismic data and passing additional legislation that will facilitate exploration and drilling activity. Despite the associated economic crisis, the government has held on to its strategic power infrastructure projects like the completion of the Lauca dam and associated transition infrastructure which will boost power supply in the country significantly. The chamber believes that this project is key to enable the development of industry and the mass creation of jobs in Angola.
In Nigeria, there is a realization, across political lines, that the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill must be passed in order to give clarity and predictability to the industry, both key components that drive investment. The bill was therefore tabled in parliament and it is likely, that it shall be passed and enacted in law in the 3rd quarter of this year. Furthermore, the Nigerian government in response to the growing importance of Gas globally and also for power generation internally is investing significantly to enable gas to power infrastructure in-country. This is a good development for Nigeria and Africa, as we seek to reduce the number of those without access to affordable and reliable power and to promote industry that will provide jobs for Africa’s youthful population.
The energy sector’s challenges, and the trials and tribulations have made the African Energy Chamber’s work more important now, more than ever. We are committed to helping Africa’s energy sector stakeholders navigate a complex and ever-changing global energy landscape. We will continue our mission to support the dynamic private sector and unlock the continent’s remarkable energy potential.
What role has the African Energy Chamber played and/or what initiatives have been taken to help the continental wide response and recovery efforts?
The African Energy Chamber is at the forefront of Africa’s response to COVID-19, and the associated economic crisis. The Chamber is the voice of the African energy sector and is leading the industry’s response in a number of ways;
- Together with OPEC and other stakeholders, the Chamber is working on an initiative to combat energy poverty in Africa, which is increasing even faster in a post covid era.
- The Chamber together other partners like the International Association of Geophysical Contractors – IAGC championed the streamlining of permits for the obtention of seismic data in several African countries.
- The Chamber emitted several guidelines (AEC Common Sense Agenda) after consultations with industry stakeholders on how best to ensure continuity in the energy sector and increase investment post-COVID-19
- The AEC is a trusted advisor to key stakeholders in the industry. We engaged with several governments and advised them on ways to increase quality local participation in their energy sectors, in a manner that ensures global competitivity in a post COVID-19 environment.
- The Chamber launched a jobs portal to take opportunities to young Africans
As things stand now, and with everything that has taken place, how much of a factor or key player is Africa in shaping global decisions in the energy sector, how strong is the African voice in articulating and defending its interests?
According to The Africa Energy Chambers 2021 outlook, Africa consumes just over 710 terawatt-hours (TWh) presently. This is expected to triple in the next 3 decades. This represents just 6% of global consumption, and 7% of global production, despite Africa having 17% of the world’s total population. Africa also holds over 7% of total proven global oil and gas reserves. However, the continent is significantly underexplored. Recent discovery trends indicate that the continent is well placed to become a key global supplier of LNG, with major recent discoveries in Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Senegal/Mauritania.
Africa’s voice must therefore be heard loud and strong as part of the global energy discourse. The Chamber has identified this and therefore has as one of its objectives to federate the different aspirations of Africans in the energy sector and articulate this in a constructive manner that will foster investment in the African energy sector.
African stakeholders must federate around initiatives like those of the chamber in order to have the stance taken into account. `individual countries are unlikely to have an impact.
Under your leadership, the African Energy Chamber has sort to broaden its reach in Africa, with representations in Central and West Africa, how is this expansion shaping or moving the agenda of the Chamber forward?
The Chamber and our regional Presidents have done an amazing job with creating awareness about the Chamber and our work in their respective regions and beyond. Our footprints in Angola, East Africa, Mozambique, and Central Africa and their success allow us to keep abreast with the issues facing the energy industry in these regions and find solutions that work in these regions. The chamber will continue to grow regionally as we seek closer cooperation with the energy industry and stakeholders in-country. It is imperative, that the aspirations of every African and other stakeholders in each African country are reflected in what we do at the chamber. I want to take this opportunity to thank the regional teams for all what they do.
In an op-ed last year, you said now will be a good time for American independent oil and gas producers to consider opportunities in Africa, may we know what Africa stands to gain from more US presence?
I lived, studied and worked in the United States at the start of my career and one thing that has always stood out to me was this: The American sense of optimism and ingenuity that drives American entrepreneurship. In that same light, I think the ingenuity of American oil independents will lead to a win-win situation for both the companies and African countries in which they might operate. Africa’s energy sector needs that spirit of entrepreneurship which has led to the creation of tremendous wealth in America. Many of Nigeria’s major oil discoveries were made by such companies. In Senegal, AFRICA FORTESA Corporation, headed by US Upstream veteran Roger Beall is already producing and supplying gas to the domestic market. This is a trend that is expected to define the development and industrialization of Africa in the coming decades. Mr Beall founded Fortesa in 1997 and employs over 200 employees in his onshore E&P project in Senegal. Fortesa is exactly the kind of US company that we seek to attract to Africa. Not only do such companies create good paying jobs for young Africans, but they also provide training, tax revenue and most importantly demonstrate the kind of entrepreneurship that Africans must emulate in order to develop their continent.
The African Energy Chamber recently appointed a US-Africa Committee to serve in its advisory board, how would the committee help in growing and strengthening cooperation and investment between the US and Africa in the energy sector?
The African Energy Chamber appointed the US-Africa Committee to serve on its Advisory Board as a means to support the development of stronger energy cooperation and investment between the United States and Africa. Across the entire energy value chain, the committee aims to facilitate US investment into Africa’s energy sector and provide a platform for continuous dialogue between US energy stakeholders and their counterparts in Africa. America has long viewed African energy resources, especially oil and gas as key to its strategic interests. Africa has also cherished this relationship, though perspectives have changed over time due to the changing dynamics of each stakeholders’ economies and global demand patterns. The chamber sees the US as a key partner; and with the support of incredibly talented and experienced board members on that committee, commits to ensuring that frequent exchanges between US and African stakeholders lead to more investments in Africa. The committee is chaired by KearneyAfrica Legal Advisors President and former Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Commerce, Mr Jude Kearney.
To unlock future growth potential in the US-African energy cooperation, we will need to open up to SMEs and entrepreneurs and not be limited only to large and traditional corporations. The need to encourage African investments into the US was also brought to the table as a way to further support a win-win relationship that would support further capital flows going both ways.
What is your take on the issue of vaccines for COVID 19 and do you this has a role to play in the recovery that you envisaged?
I believe vaccines are the only solution for the world to return to some form of normality, similar to pre-covid -19 times. The pandemic has been devastating to the world economy overall and even more so to Africa in particular. Ending the pandemic rests on the successful delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to every country but the challenge goes beyond just having vaccines available. There is also significant convincing to be done for populations in Africa and globally to have confidence in the vaccine. Our assessment at the chamber, is that most of the developed world will have opened up their economies fully in the fourth quarter of 2021 in response to the majority of their populations having been vaccinated. Unfortunately, vaccination is likely to be slower in Africa mainly due to lack of access to vaccines. However, a rebound in economic growth in developed nations and china will spur activity in the sector in Africa.
We end with a last word from you on the way forward for Africa as the continent grapples with COVID-19, what gives you hope and what are you are your fears?
Africa’s oil and gas industry is facing extraordinary circumstances. An ongoing energy transition and new efforts to decarbonize the world are weighing on oil demand. The shale revolution exacerbated these pressures. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on markets around the world, accelerating and intensifying existing trends. External headwinds are forcing African petroleum producers and the entire African energy sector to re-examine their strategies. Conventional petroleum resources here must be globally competitive, if the industry is to compete and survive when compared to new frontiers like Guyana and Suriname. Growth has lagged because of conditions above the ground and not below. Restrictive fiscal regimes, inefficient and carbon-intensive production, and difficulties in doing business are preventing the industry from reaching its full potential. These conditions need to improve, if Africa’s energy industry is to remain competitive and thrive.
Africa’s young generation gives me hope. Studies show that the younger generation is more likely to hold their leaders accountable, a key component to demand and drive change that will propel development.
Sierra Leone: Anti-Corruption Crusade Gathers Steam Under Kaifala
February 15, 2021 | 0 Comments
By Ishmael Koroma
Appointed in June 2018 by President Julius Maada Bio to head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission -ACC, Francis Ben Kaifala has achieved the feat of helping Sierra Leone shed the corruption prone image it had before he took office.
Young, bold, visionary, tenacious, and result oriented, Kaifala who left a flourishing private practice to lead his country’s crusade against corruption is yielding dividends with reports from leading international agencies like Afro Barometer, and Transparency International taking note. Last year, the efforts of Kaifala and his team swelled the public coffers with circa 10 billion Leones recuperated from people guilty of pilfering the national purse.
In an exclusive interview with PAV, Kaifala rubbishes claims that the corruption crusade has unfairly targeted officials of the previous administration. We follow the law and the evidence, says Kaifala, citing examples of officials in the current administration who have been persecuted for corruption.
Much work still has to be done to further weed out corruption, but the progress registered since he took office are indicative of the positive results that will continue to follow hard work, Kaifala said as he expressed optimism for the future.
We want to wish you happy new year and thank you very much for granting us this interview. May we start with a review of how last year went for the Anti-Corruption Commission, what worked well and what didn’t work well?
Francis Ben Kaifala : It was a great year , we did a lot of work in terms of enforcement, in terms of prosecution , a lot of prevention , we did engage in lots of massive public education and as you can see from the index we , those who usually check our work can confirm we did very well and that was the year we scored the highest in the Millennium Challenge Corporation Score card , we moved into 81% , Transparency International as well, we moved by two points , we recovered more money last year , we gave the President, we recovered over 10 Billion Leones in a single year from the corrupt and we gave a cheque of 8 billion Leones to the president . Basically, it was a great for the fight against corruption.
You have been heading of the ACC for two years now, in what shape did you meet the office and the overall state of corruption in Sierra Leone, and what are some of the changes that have taken place under your leadership?
Francis Ben Kaifala : Well corruption was very prevalent at the time I came in , as you know Afro Barometer estimated that in 2015 -2017 that corruption was 70%, the same institution has now measured and says corruption prevalence has dropped by 40% so there is a huge 30% difference that has been made within this period of time and generally I think there is a lot more awareness of the fight against corruption and in fact when Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law , the PFM Consortium did a survey recently compared to previous years, corruption perception and confidence of the citizens in the ACC to fight corruption was low as 19% now it is as high as 92%, so that is a huge difference. I believe that we are making a difference.
There have been several high-profile cases involving members of the previous administration of President Ernest Koroma, what is your response to critics who say these smacks of a political witch hunt?
Francis Ben Kaifala: Well, I don’t know what they mean by witch hunt. I don’t understand. We are operating within a toxic political environment and people used this thing to cover up their actions, so a man is given money to build a bridge, the bridge is not there, the money is not in the account and you called him to say where is the money and he says is witch hunt what does that mean? We are doing our job, and isolating ourselves from these kinds of cynical previews; we accept good criticisms it helps us do our work, some of it is just cynicism and we know the difference but the real name of the game is focus, is to continue what we are doing as long as we are producing the result for the country and that’s the most important thing and that’s what we are focused on.
There was a situation where former President Koroma was invited by your office, so how has that investigation been and any update?
Francis Ben Kaifala: Yeah, we have taken a statement from him, that investigation is under review now, we have taken all the issues into consideration and we will get back to the public on the details of that investigation.
How independent is the ACC in making decisions on cases it seeks to pursue as opposed to following instructions from President Maada Bio on who should be investigated?
Francis Ben Kaifala: The ACC is very autonomous, I don’t believe in independence, independence means we are like a republic on our own. we are not, we are working within the system and we consult, we give reports to the President on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. We are accountable to parliament, there are many things. so, I don’t like to use the word independent, I prefer to use autonomy and we are completely autonomous, that means we can do our day-to-day activities without some body calling and directing us what to do, without the State House telling us who to arrest, to prosecute and telling us what the outcome should be. So, I can tell you we are very autonomous.
In a situation where the present administration officials are found guilty of corruption, some people wonder whether the ACC would take action.
Francis Ben Kaifala : But we are already prosecuting people in the current administration, the director and other staffs in the Ministry of Information who took Commissions of Inquiry money, were prosecuted in this current administration, Dr. Sarah Finda Bendu was head of the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration in this current administration , she is been prosecuted in court , we also entered into settlement with her and we are recovering 500 million Leones from her , she has already paid over 300 million Leones , the investigations we are doing at EDSA is not past administration , the investigations that we have been doing at the Maritime Administration is not past administration , the investigations we are doing at State House, the former State Chief of Protocol who is investigated was not of the former administration. So, I don’t know what they mean by the current administration, but I can tell you that we are doing more now with the current administration than any other administration. Of course, we will always ask past officials to account because many were corrupt, and we have recovered billions from them, we have prosecuted many, some are still standing trial, the former vice president is standing trial; it is just part of the work, but really, we do not differentiate between past and present we just do our job, we follow the evidence, we follow what information we have.
Your job is very difficult; may we know some of the challenges that you have faced while running the ACC?
Francis Ben Kaifala : The resources, we don’t have resources, the entire office is running on a current expenditure of about 800,000 United State Dollars not even up to a million dollar for the year, we don’t have capital expenditure, we cannot buy cars, we cannot buy laptops, we cannot buy anything that is capital in nature. The total allocation to the place is so small even our staff costs we have no room for expansion because the Ministry of Finance is limiting what we can do, so we have logistical constraints .Beyond that, we are also operating within a very difficult political system, very cynical system where sometimes the people for one reason or the other prefer to be against us or in favour of us but we are focused on our work as always but there are many challenges everywhere , we have challenges with the judiciary , it has been difficult for them to impose custodial sentences, but recently we have had some encouraging signs in that regard with the court of appeal confirming the custodial sentences impose on those who took the Commissions of Inquiry money so we are hopeful that things are going to move in a better trajectory with the judiciary, but generally our prosecutions are very good. We are having a very high rate of conviction we just want the punishment to be much more severe than they have been doing. Generally, it is more about logistics, it is about resources and personnel.
Prior to taking over the job, you were a successful Lawyer, what motivated you to leave your private practice to take the ACC job?
Francis Ben Kaifala: To serve my country. Everybody deserves that on your CV, no matter what you do in private service if I was not here, we will not be talking today about the successes we are scoring in the fight against corruption. So, I saw it as an opportunity because as you know I was very active speaking against the injustices and wrongs in the society, corruption in the society and I was given the opportunity by the President to lead that fight, and that is why I am here.
With you background in Law and the experience you have garnered as head of the AAC, what other policy recommendations or framework is needed to strengthen the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone?
Francis Ben Kaifala: I think that more resources need to be allocated to the fight against corruption, we need to have lot more expansion, the entire anti -corruption Commission only has 200 staff. That is not enough to police the entire country when it comes to the fight against corruption. So more needs to be done to strengthened our hand not just in terms of the laws but to make sure that we have the resources to bring more personnel on board and apart from that we have the logistics, the right equipment to deploy, recording devices, televising devices. Those are all things that need to be improve if we are to move things forward.
For 2021, what should Sierra Leonians expect from Francis Ben Kaifala and the ACC and any last word as we wrap up this interview?
Francis Ben Kaifala : 2021, we will continue doing it like never before, continue with massive, massive public education, massive, massive prevention drive, continue with more investigations, continue with more prosecutions and generally continue to launder the image of the country to show that we are ready for business and we are a country of people who are capable of looking after ourselves without stealing from ourselves.
Cameroon: NASLA is “The Bedrock of Local Development” – Pioneer DG Tanyitiku Bayee tells PAV
February 12, 2021 | 0 Comments
By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The Pioneer Director-general of the National School of Local Administration, NASLA, Tanyitiku EnohAchuo Bayee has said the institution is the bedrock of local development, which is also the slogan of the school.
Director-General Tanyitiku Bayee and his deputy were appointed by a Presidential decree on March 25, 2020. They were subsequently installed by September 18, 2020.
According to him, one of his priorities is to effectively take off with the training business of NASLA. The Director-General in an interview with Pan African Visions began by explaining some of the successes achieved thus far.
PAV: Since you took over office as the first DG of NASLA, what have been the achievements so far?
DG NASLA: Achievements so far have been recorded both at the level of the provision of professional training (A) as well as at the level of administrative and financial management (B).
Achievements at the level of the provision of professional training:
The continuation of initial training of trainees of the ex-CEFAM: In conformity with article 75 of the decree on the organization of NASLA, the Directorate General continued training one hundred and fifty-three (153) trainees of the ex-CEFAM 2019-2021 batches of trainees.
The organization of NASLA’s training offer which involves the adoption of the training curricula during the session of the Board of Directors of 18 September 2020 and the production of a catalogue of continuous and specific training courses for staff of Regional and Local Authorities and Local development actors.
For the achievement in administrative and financial management, the setting up of management bodies and the adoption of resolutions governing their functioning have enabled NASLA to start its activities in compliance with standards.
Considerable financial resources have been mobilized, following the special disbursement instructions of the Prime Minister, Head of Government. These resources have been mostly made available by the following bodies; the Ministry of Finance (MINFI), the Special Council Support Fund for Mutual Assistance (FEICOM), The Ministry of the Economy, and Regional Development (MINEPAT). These resources disbursed so far, have enabled us to carry out many needed activities to enable us to take off conveniently.
In terms of Renovation, rehabilitation of infrastructure and equipment of the offices of NASLA officials, the following have either been executed or are in the course of implementation: the transformation of dormitories into two classrooms to provide more training space; the rehabilitation of two classrooms, to provide a more conducive learning environment; the construction of a fence to better secure our campus; the signing of agreements between NASLA and P&T School of Public Works for renovation and use of some of their structures and classrooms; and the construction of a water supply system to alleviate water supply shortages on campus.
Concerning the provision of qualified human resources to NASLA, the appointment of Directors and sub-Directors, to beef up the administrative set-up of NASLA and the recruitment of ex-CEFAM staff have been made. The situation of ex-CEFAM was not clarified by the instrument creating NASLA. The Director-General, therefore, decided to absorb all the staff through recruitment by NASLA. Additionally, some persons from the surrounding communities have also been recruited in various capacities and various mechanisms, into NASLA staff.
PAV: What are the priority areas of the NASLA DG?
DG NASLA: As the DG of NASLA, my most pressing priorities at the moment is to effectively take off with the training business of NASLA. As a reminder, the instrument creating NASLA provides the following in terms of its training: A diploma initial training of two years organized in three cycles (Cycle A for senior executives of local administration; Cycle B for the mid-level staff of local administration; Cycle C for specialized workers of local administration).
In-service training not exceeding six months for the staff of Regional and Local Authorities with graduates obtaining a certificate. Specific training not exceeding three months for local development actors with graduates obtaining an attestation.
The management of the institution has prepared the necessary instruments for the launching of the entrance examination for the initial training cycles and forwarded to hierarchy for the eventual launching of the examinations.
Also, a catalogue of the in-service and specific training offers has been prepared and is presently being disseminated to eventually interested persons. So you can see that our priority is to effectively start training which is the raison d’etre of the creation of this institution, meanwhile, we are continuing to out in lace necessary infrastructure for the seamless take-off, which should be hopefully soon.
We are hoping to launch the selection for our in-service training programme in the days ahead. We hope to be in full continuous training by the second quarter of 2021.
PAV: How important is NASLA in the smooth take-off of the decentralization process looking at the goal of NASLA which involves facilitating decentralization and local governance?
DG NASLA: The human being is at the centre of any development endeavour. For the decentralization process, as promoted by the Head of State President Paul Biya, to achieve the desired results of bringing about development and improvement on governance and the related standard of living of citizens, the people who are vested with its implementation should be qualified and properly skilled. This is why staff capacity building, as well as that of all connected actors, plays an essential role in the success of decentralization.
Presently, there is a marked deficit in the trained staff in our councils. The advent of Regions with the election of regional councils and assemblies makes this need even more pressing, for the said Region’s need to recruit qualified man-power to enable to function as an efficient administration. This is equally true for the other actors, like the newly elected Regional Council and Regional council executives; we have to be properly-versed on their mission and how to accomplish such.
In a nutshell, NASLA can be considered to be a very important institution in the success of the Decentralization process in Cameroon. NASLA is, therefore, as our slogan proclaims “the bedrock of local development”.
PAV: In 2019 MINDDEVEL revealed that more than 70 per cent of workers in Councils across Cameroon have qualifications below the standard. What is NASLA doing to equip Regional and Local Authorities with technical know-how?
DG NASLA: This question is very relevant for a study, that I was reading and that dates back about 10 years ago indicated that the deficit in qualified man-power for councils to function optimally at that time was 10,000 persons and about 3,600 staff would be needed for the Regions. This was ten years ago. This number must have significantly increased given that the ex-CEFAM, which was the school ensuring training for the local administration before now, could only train or graduate a handful of staff each year due to its organic constraints.
NASLA has an ambition, in the medium term, to put in the job market, at least five hundred (500) graduates each year from the initial training cycle. This will be complemented by the short training that shall be carried out in the in-service and specific training cycles. As such, within a reasonable timeframe, the councils and regions should have enough trained staff to carry out the various development missions that the law devolves on them.
PAV: NASLA is an off-shoot of CEFAM. Is there any difference in the way the former is operating from the latter or how is NASLA different from CEFAM?
DG NASLA: It is true that NASLA, just like ex-CEFAM, is training for Regional and Local Authorities. It is also true that NASLA was created on the ashes of ex-CEFAM, and on the same campus for that matter. I would, however, like to point out that NASLA unlike what many people think, is a new creation; it is a new state institution that the Head of State created and not a transformation or reform of CEFAM. This distinction is significant for it makes for the marked differences between ex-CEFAM and this new institution. Firstly, the name changed completely from a Centre to s School. Secondly, the training cycles equally changed in their nomenclatures. Furthermore, the legal status also changed, for NASLA unlike CEFAM, is an administrative public establishment with a Director-General at its helm. CEFAM was headed by a Director.
I should also point out that ex-CEFAM did not have a cycle for degree holders which NASLA has. Equally, the structure of NASLA is different from that of ex-CEFAM, etc. so there are many differences these two institutions, which, however, are government instruments to provide our local administrations with qualified manpower. The operating procedures in NASLA are different from those of CEFAM. To begin with, the philosophy and mindset are different. So NASLA has not revised verso of ex-CEFAM but a new institution which has a mission to take care of the training needs of Regional and Local Authorities in line with the added and daunting missions devolved to them.
PAV: NASLA operates in a region that is going through a crisis for the past four years now. How has NASLA been able to function and keep its daily activities?
DG NASLA: it is a common knowledge that the North West and South West Regions have been in a crisis for some time now. This has, however, not stopped us from carrying out our activities at NASLA. Our modus operandi has been to focus exclusively on our mission.
In this connection, we have equally taken all necessary steps to live in harmony with the local community. For example, we have received local opinion leaders, like chiefs and elected officials of the region in general and Buea in particular; concentrated only on the achievement of our mission; given various jobs to children of the local community, which was appreciated. These are all measures that have enabled us to have an appeased relationship with our environment and ensured to an extent, our harmonious existence with people of the locality.
As for security on campus, we have instituted, inter alia the following measures; security guards who guard over the NASLA compound 24/24 hours; ensure that all visitors to the campus are adequately identified and planning to install surveillance cameras on campus. During events on campus, we enlist the reinforcement of our security by bringing the elements of the forces of law and order. I hope, when training effectively starts, to have some time of these security forces to permanently reinforce our personnel. Meanwhile, as every Cameroonian, I am hoping that this uncertain situation will rapidly find a permanent solution and come to an end.
PAV: When we look at the decentralization process, many observers say it is just a way for the government to continue exerting its powers on the local authorities. What do you say about this concerning the fact that NASLA is expected to have financial and other autonomy though still under the government?
DG NASLA: I must start by asserting that decentralization is a system of government where the state devolves some of its powers to local authorities as a means of bringing development closer to its citizens in all nooks and crannies of the country. It is not the abdication of the powers of the state over the national territory. The local authorities, therefore, function under the state. It is in reality a more advance form of delegation of powers. Local authorities remain dismemberments of the state and not independent entities. It is in this connection that State Supervision over Regional and Local Authorities is enshrined in our national law for the actions of these authorities must conform to national policies and law.
As for the case of NASLA which you mentioned in terms of its financial and legal autonomy, I will like to point out that NASLA operates as any other administrative public establishment in Cameroon. It is an institution of the State of Cameroon, established by Presidential decree and funded as well as administratively and financially supervised by this same state through competent state bodies. So it is not an abnormality for the government to continue to exert powers over NASLA, and even the Regional and local authorities for that matter.
PAV: Looking back to 2016 the crisis in the NW/SWRs cantered on decentralisation and federalism. How important is effective decentralisation in bringing an end to the present impasse?
I have already pointed out above that there are various forms of governance. Governance by a delegation of powers to territorial entities is what is desired. Such delegation could take the form of decentralization or federalism as you mentioned. That State of Cameroon through the constitution of 1996, opted for Cameroon being a decentralised unitary state. So decentralisation was the form of power devolvement elected by Cameroon. This form of government has its modus operandi.
I believe that the State of Cameroon has been pursuing such. It is a process which entails imperfections which can only be corrected to make the system better functional. What is noticeable is the absolute commitment of the government of Cameroon to the success of the decentralisation process as a means to keep the unity of the country and bring about effective development that takes into consideration local realities and specific interests of various parts of the country.
As for the crisis in the North West and South West Regions, I think that still is within the latitude provided by decentralization, the government has taken various measures that take into consideration that specificities of the people of these regions in terms of administration, governance and development model and priorities.
More significantly, special status was granted to these regions with the creation of a Regional Assembly composed of a regional Council and House of Chiefs. This model draws from the administrative history of these regions. I believe that when these institutions shall go fully operational, many of the concerns of the people of the said regions will be addressed. Of course, the government is committed, I believe, to initiate and implement more measures that will better adequately meet the aspirations of the people of the North West and South West Regions within the framework of a united Cameroon.
PAV: Recently, the NW/SWRs elected members of the Regional House of Assembly and House of Chiefs. How important are these institutions in addressing the issue of decentralization?
DG NASLA: I already mentioned above, the significance of the creation of the Regional House of Assembly for the North West and South West Regions is an important measure to resolve the crisis that the said regions have been witnessing for the past four to five years now. This model draws from the administrative history of the concerned regions. The Regional Assemblies shall enhance grass root democratic participation and better taking into account the aspirations and needs of the people of these two Regions. Now that these institutions have been effectively put in place and are operational, it is our fervent hope that they will contribute significantly to bringing the crisis to an end.
PAV: This year 2021 marks five years since the crisis in the English-speaking Regions ensued, where are we right now and what do you think can be done to address the crisis?
DG NASLA: I believe that the crisis has abated to an extent, and this is due to the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders. Government has taken several measures, some of which I already listed above, to resolve the causes of the conflict, which unfortunately has not only grievously harmed the people of these regions but the entire country as a whole.
My take is that we should all keep working for the total resolution of the crisis so that absolute peace may return to the two regions in particular and our country as a whole. In this connection, I would on a personal note wish that all the parties of good faith keep up with dialogue efforts, for all human disagreements can only ne sustainably resolved through dialogue and reaching a mutual agreement.
Cameroon: D&L Foretia Foundation will Continue Catalyzing Africa’s Economic Transformation
December 22, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation will continue its focus on Africa’s transformation through social entrepreneurship, science and technology, innovation, public health and progressive policies that create economic opportunities for all. This per the Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Fri Asanga, in an interview with Pan African Visions to look back at the year’s activities that the Foundation has organized and what is installed for 2021.
Before joining the Foundation, Fri Asanga was the Coordinator for FinScope and MAP Cameroon where she oversaw the activities of the financial scoping consumer survey in Cameroon on behalf of UNCDF and FinMark Trust.
PAV: 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and the Foundation is not left out, what measures were taken or have been taken to ensure staff does not contract the coronavirus?
Fri Asanga: The Foundation educated the staff on the virus, its signs and symptoms, how to prevent it, and other measures necessary for them to protect themselves and their loved ones. In a bid to curb the spread of the disease and protect staff, the Foundation closed its offices in March 2020 and everyone started working from home. When office activities resumed in September 2020, the Foundation ensured that all staff wear masks to work, Wash their hands before getting into the office premise, and maintain social distancing while in the office.
PAV: At the start of the Coronavirus in Cameroon, the Foundation moved swiftly to create the COVID-19 taskforce. What successes were recorded? And were there any challenges faced trying to communicate to the population?
Fri Asanga: The covid 19 community pilot project under the covid task force was launched on the 16th of April 2020. The pilot project was launched in a bid to accompany the government in the fight against Covid-19 through community involvement. Through the project, the following activities were accomplished;
- Training of community leaders on the identification of signs and symptoms of Covid 19
- Distribution of flyers and posters in the simbock neighbourhood.
- Training the community on how to locally produce hand sanitizers and wash hands properly.
- Creation of local volunteers at the community level.
- Translation of messages to local languages (Ewondo and Bamileke) Radio sensitization.
- Myth debunking.
- Creation of a WhatsApp group for better monitoring and follow up.
- Organization of a covid Symposium to crown the project.
The COVID-19 Taskforce published more than 10 bulletins to educate the general public and advise policymakers about the pandemic. Each bulletin was written both in French and English to reach a maximum number of people. The bulletins covered specific aspects including the management of the pandemic, its implications for households and companies, and the measures to curb the spread of the virus just to name a few.
Also, the task force organized a series of webinar events where key policymakers and health practitioners were invited to share their thoughts and experiences to promote evidence-informed decisions in the country.
During the entire project, the following challenges were encountered: Most volunteers were students and were not available to fully participate in the program due to school activities. Also, some interested people did not have android phones nor computers to participate in the online symposium.
Another difficulty was encountered at the level of planning and organizing the radio sensitization programme as it coincided with an exam programme of community volunteers where a greater proportion of them was in examination classes. It was a challenge getting community members to attend the virtual symposium via zoom.
PAV: What are some of the activities that the Foundation has carried out this year?
This year we organized the SBEC Activities for the year 2020 which involved; Regional forum on Business Networking on January 31st in Douala. Theme “The Pivotal Role of business networking to entrepreneurs in Cameroon”
– Regional Forum on the business network on February 27th in Yaoundé. Theme “Business networking, a valuable tool for entrepreneurial Growth in Cameroon”
– Business plan training online from May 12th to July 1st (5 modules). Theme “Business plan, an ultimate tool for fueling ambitions and entrepreneurial growth in Cameroon”
– Bookkeeping training online on July 29th.Theme “A Practical Guide for Bookkeeping”
– Webinar on “Surviving beyond the Covid-19 as an entrepreneur in Cameroon” on September 11th.
-Webinar on “The effects of Information Asymmetry on business growth in Cameroon” on 27th November.
The Nkafu Policy Institute organized a 1-week intensive training course on policy analysis. Two Nkafu Debates were organized on the themes; “Will more Taxes Increase fiscal revenues in Cameroon” and “Is market competition good for Cameroon’s Industrialization?
Under our Leadership and Democracy project, we organized about 10 events on Peace and Democracy. As part of our COVID-19 project, we organized about 10 webinars and invited experts to gain more insights on the pandemic, and how Cameroon and Africa are adapting.
We equally organized 2 events to disseminate the research findings of a Thematic Report on Starting a business in Cameroon, and another on Dealing with Construction permits in Cameroon
PAV: Let’s now focus on some activities you carried out this year. Firstly, talk to us about the Emerging Leaders Program for this year and what are some of the peculiarities?
Fri Asanga: The Emerging leaders’ program is a program organized by the Foundation to better equip today’s youths for transformational Leadership in Cameroon. This training program which identified 20 highly skilled and motivated Cameroonians below the age of 35, took place from the 25th to the 28th of October 2020 with renowned speakers based in Cameroon and the United State of America.
The second phase of this program is underway as these youths equipped with knowledge in leadership and democracy will organize similar events financed by the Foundation in their respective regions of origin.
PAV: The Foundation organized the STEM Program last year 2019 but this year there was none. Why so?
Fri Asanga: The STEM Program did not take place this year due to the advent of the COVID 19 Pandemic. The program was scheduled to take place mid-year but during this period, the COVID 19 pandemic was at its peak and all schools were closed.
PAV: What are some of the challenges that the foundation has had to grapple with this year aside from the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Fri Asanga: Moving to the virtual way of doing events was a great challenge as the entire Foundation struggled to adapt to this new system. Participants struggled with attending and using online video conferencing applications.
PAV: How have you found the situation of working from home or using the zoom platform for webinars by the Foundation better as opposed to using physical locations?
Fri Asanga: Firstly is the ability to bring in resource persons from all over the world to contribute to discussions during webinars. The distance barrier is broken through webinars. Next is the fact that participants who were interested in our events could now attend irrespective of their location or what they are doing.
PAV: This year 2020 is about rounding up, what are we expecting from the Foundation in the few weeks left?
Fri Asanga: The foundation has some events planned out for December. They include the following;
- December 04, 2020 – Le Processus De Démocratisation Au Cameroun 30 Ans Après : Quel Bilan à l’Épreuve Des Crises ?(Online)
- December 08, 2020– COVID-19 and Africa: The Path Forward A Conversation with Dr Bernard Kadio (Online)
- December 11, 2020 – SBEC National Forum (Foundation Headquarters)
- December 16, 2020 – Social Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Lessons for Business Incubation in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. (La Falaise Hotel, Yaoundé)
- December 18, 2020 – One year into the COVID-19 Pandemic. What Lessons can be learnt? (Online )
PAV: What should we envisage from the Foundation this coming year 2021?
Fri Asanga: The Foundation will continue to work on 4 major projects
- The DBI project which focuses on Liberating Entreprises to advance prosperity in Cameroon
- The COVID-19 Project which is focused on Protecting Liberties while addressing the Corona Virus Pandemic
- The Social Entrepreneurship Project that focuses on Business Incubator Practices in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Ghana
- The leadership and democracy project which is aimed at Promoting Democracy and Governance in Cameroon
PAV: Is there anything you will like to talk about that we left out? If not, what is your last word as we sign off 2019?
Fri Asanga: The Foundation will continue its mission of catalyzing Africa’s Economic Transformation through social entrepreneurship, science and technology, innovation, public health and progressive policies that create economic opportunities for all.
Africa Remains The Land Of Promise For Billions of People-Dr Christopher Fomunyoh
December 21, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Africa remains the land of promise for billions of people and we owe it to posterity not to destroy or squander what the Lord and nature have graciously put in stock for us, says Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, NDI. In an interview to review the year in Africa, Dr Fomunyoh says Africa must play to its strength.
“We are the youngest continent on the face of the globe, we have the most youthful and resilient population, the most diversity and untapped resources and wealth; and if we don’t value all of these assets, the rest of the world will continue to turn us a blind eye. We must respect our own lives and our own people for no one else will do so in our place,” says Fomunyoh.
Fielding questions on major socio-economic and political developments that defined the year in Africa, Dr Fomunyoh opines that in the midst of all the challenges, it is not all dark and gloomy for the continent.
Thanks for accepting this interview to review the year in Africa with PAV and we would like to start with COVID 19, what assessment do you make of the African response to the pandemic?
To a large extent, Africa has been luckier than other continents in the sense that our worst fears and the cataclysmic projections about likely deaths across the continent have not materialized. Yet we must acknowledge that, like on every continent, the COVID 19 pandemic has had disastrous consequences in loss of lives and disruption of economic and political activity. As of this interview, based on statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), for the continent’s 1.4 billion inhabitants, we have had approximately 1.4 million Coronavirus cases and approximately 33,400 COVID-19 related deaths. That’s far less than other continents, but it’s still regrettable and heartbreaking. We must remain vigilant and respectful of preventive measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and other health measures. We must not lower our guard, especially because the public health, social and economic infrastructures of most of our countries are not robust enough to withstand all the shocks of this pandemic.
From people like Archbishop Kleda in Cameroon with his herbal cure, to President Rajoelina of Madagascar touting the merits of COVID Organics as a cure, may we get your take on these efforts from Africans to be proactive in seeking solutions and instead of waiting for others to bring solutions for them?
We cannot discount that our rich flora and the unique species of medicinal plants that our continent possesses can boost immune systems and contribute to other healing therapies for coronavirus and other ailments. The difficulties we face for such a global pandemic are in being able to scale up and sustain production on a national level and maintain quality control over therapies like the ones you mention.
What impact did the pandemic have on politics and democratic progress on Africa which you are well versed with?
The overall impact of the Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic on African politics has been very negative, as it has made it extremely difficult for citizens to exercise their rights and continue their advocacy for political space and good governance. We saw that in a country such as Burundi, the government pushed through presidential elections in the heat of the crisis, and then the former Head of State who had been campaigning vigorously through that period lost his life from COVID-19 complications. Eswatini (former Swaziland) just lost its prime minister to the pandemic. Ethiopia was forced to postpone its elections because of the pandemic, and the inability to find consensus on the matter then led to a political crisis between the central government and leaders of one of the country’s regions – Tigray – that has now convulged into a full-blown armed conflict with thousands of casualties and lots of refugees and internally displaced persons. In other countries such as Uganda and Guinea Conakry, regimes with autocratic tendencies are using the excuse of the pandemic to further clamp down on citizens’ rights and various freedoms, hence aggressively shrinking political space, and that is so shameful!
In Malawi, we saw a court overturn the results of Presidential elections won by an incumbent and ordered for a rerun won by the opposition, can you put some context on this and what lessons Africa could learn from this?
Malawi turned out to be a beautiful story in the midst of otherwise dark clouds. We must thank the justices of the Supreme Court of Malawi for their courage and independence in applying the law. We also must salute the tenacity and peaceful commitment of political parties and civil society organizations which, on finding weaknesses in the previous elections, sought legal redress instead of resorting to violence as we’ve seen in some countries. There’s something unique about Malawi as its people have faced several challenges in the path of the country’s democratic transition but have always risen to meet and surpass these obstacles. I remember the 1993 referendum on multipartism, and various instances during which even the Malawian Defense Forces sided with citizens for political pluralism and good governance. Lots of lessons to learn, and surely much that the rest of us Africans should be grateful to the Malawians for.
We also did notice the resurgence of the disturbing trend of leaders especially in French speaking Africa changing term limits to remain in power with Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire as key examples, what accounts for this setback for democracy and what needs to be done to avoid this becoming the new normal for African countries?
Despite the positive experiences of countries such as Senegal and Niger Republic, the alternation of political power and renewal of political leadership remain constant challenges in Francophone Africa. To date, only Benin, Mali and Senegal have seen multiple peaceful transitions from one elected president to the next at the end of two terms – and Senegal only after former President Wade was defeated as he ran for a third term. Other countries have taken two steps forward and multiple steps backward, hence giving the impression of very fragile or yet uncompleted transitions. As many of the Francophone countries are located in West Africa, the regional body (the Economic Community of West African states – ECOWAS) has in the past played an important role in upholding democratic norms in the region, and around 2015 came close to amending its protocol on governance to provide specific protections of presidential term limits. However, those efforts deserve to be reinforced to avoid further backsliding.
Today, many ask why should people trust the opposition when leaders such as Professor Alpha Conde in Guinea who fought for democratic reforms most of his adult life, and even Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire, get to power only to perpetuate and excel in the same undemocratic practices they vowed to fight?
That’s a very valid concern, and I believe pro-democracy advocates and civil society, as well as development partners should be urging these leaders to think about their legacies and how they think they will be judged by history. Africa today yearns for leaders that can emulate the examples of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, or Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Botswana’s Festus Mogae, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and others that made their countries and the continent proud when they handed over power peacefully after serving their terms in office.
You were in Ghana for the 2020 elections where President Nana Akufo Addo was proclaimed winner, but the opposition is crying foul, how did the elections go from your perspective?
In fact, although in the past 20 years, Ghana has always experienced very close and competitive elections, the 2020 polls seem to be the closest both for the presidency and the parliament. Ghana’s two main parties — the National Patriotic Party (NPP), and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) — are both quite solid and do start every election with a substantial base of support. As per the official results of the Electoral Commission, the next parliament will be divided right down the middle and will require a lot of tact and parliamentary agility and collaboration to get elected officials on both sides to work together. With regards to the presidential race, the two main candidates and their respective parties set up their own data centers where they collected results from polling stations to track those officially announced by the Electoral Commission. I’m therefore hopeful that once they clean up their numbers, they will come to the same conclusion as the Commission. I’m very confident that both presidential candidates are men of peace and committed democrats who mean well for Ghana and the continent of Africa. They will not allow Ghana to go down the path of other countries that have experienced violence in the post-election period.
What lessons do you think other African countries can learn from Ghanaians?
Many lessons indeed: For example, that regular peaceful elections can be the norm in Africa. By holding its elections on schedule every four years, and also taking steps to engage in electoral reforms after every exercise, Ghana is proving that all that comes out of African elections is not doom and opacity, and Ghanaians should be commended for that. There’s open political space in Ghana that allows civil society and media to independently monitor the polls without any incumbrances, to the point where a coalition of civic groups (CODEO) now conducts parallel vote tabulations as a permanent fixture in the process since 2008. Ghana also has strong and effective political parties that make it easy to gain citizen input into the policy formulation process and to run issue-based campaigns. I hope that Ghanaians will share freely of these experiences as they exchange views and compare notes with other Africans.
What do you make of the EndSARS in Nigeria, with a myriad of problems across the continent, is there something that other African countries could learn or draw from that?
In my opinion, the ENDSARS movement in Nigeria was a spontaneous demonstration of how citizen dissatisfaction with government performance can erupt in unexpected ways. It all started as a protest against police brutality, but then other grievances popped up in ways that the Nigerian government may not have expected. A couple of lessons stand out for me, including the fact that police brutality and violence is unacceptable and must be stopped, and governments must put in place mechanisms to listen to citizen responses to their performance. I am pleased that commissions are being set up in various states across Nigeria to look into matters of social justice and policing, and that Nigerian youth and civic leaders are having a seat at the table to make their voices count and their views heard.
May we get your take on the Building Bridges Initiative in Kenya where fierce political rivals are trying to chart a new political discourse and path?
That too is getting extremely heated and polarizing, and we can only wish that Kenyans, who have gone through similar experiences with past constitutional debates and reviews, are reminded to do the right thing for their people and the country.
In Cameroon, the Anglophone crisis continues to rage on with no end in sight, at this point in time, what do you suggest as a way forward to a lasting solution?
It is incredibly sad and revolting to see what began as a citizen’s petition regarding legitimate rights and grievances morphed into a crisis and now a full-blown armed conflict with its daily dose of killings and atrocities. As I have said since 2016, when the crisis first broke, a military solution is the worst approach to settling grievances that are long embedded in historical facts and missteps. The only solution is for genuine negotiations among all parties, and with third party facilitation. So much death, damage and destruction have befallen the English-speaking people of former Southern Cameroons. With now thousands of deaths, over 70,000 refugees in neighboring Nigeria, over 800,000 internally displaced and over 4.2 million people at risk of famine, everything must be done to bring the conflict to an end. The international community and friends of Cameroon must do more to help us bring an end to the war and address the genuine grievances of the afflicted populations.
Despite the huge toll on people in the North West and South West Regions, the international community has remained so indifferent, why is the international community turning a blind eye to the crisis in Cameroon?
Some countries within the international community have made multiple declarations on the conflict, but their admonitions have fallen on deaf ears. Even the last session of the United Nation Security Council meeting on December 9, 2020, discussed Cameroon; however, by now, it should be clear to everyone that simple declarations and statements alone will not suffice. People are being killed and innocent lives lost daily in the North West and South West regions. We are in the 21st century, and world leaders should not sit by idly or passively while these atrocities continue with absolute impunity.
President Biya has been largely absent from the scene, and no one seems to know exactly who is in charge; how important has his absence been as an impediment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict?
To many descendants of Southern Cameroons, Paul Biya has become a huge part of the problem, and a lot has been documented about how his government’s mismanagement of the crisis has exacerbated it. When governing a country in conflict or crisis, leaders are known to exert themselves tirelessly in search for peace – in the Cameroon case we don’t see Biya doing that. It’s difficult to say who is giving the orders today, but individuals must know that, ultimately, they will be held accountable for their roles in the massacres and atrocities.
As the succession battle plays out behind the scenes in Cameroon, there are some who have suggested that a President from the English-speaking regions of the country could be one of the confidence building measures, do you agree?
That was the spirit of the Federation that existed at reunification from 1961 – 1972. At the time, there was an understanding as two equal entities the positions of president and vice president could alternate between leaders from the two cultural and linguistic entities that formed the Federal Republic of Cameroon. Unfortunately, that too was abrogated by Francophone leaders who began a process of over centralization of power and attempted assimilation of the Anglophones. At the fast rate of today’s deterioration, I am fearful that if the conflict is not brought to an end swiftly, it’ll go past the point where simple elite bargains will be sufficient or credible enough to bring peace and harmony.
And a word on your own political ambitions, if you are called upon by Cameroonians to answer the call for a new leadership in the country, is that something you are willing to consider?
The challenges at hand demand that we all shelf our personal ambitions until we can get our people out of the total mess and sense of distress and hopelessness in which they find themselves. The situation is heartbreaking and depressing, it is extremely difficult to project into the future while surrounded by the current dark clouds that risk annihilating a whole generation of our people.
The year in Africa also saw the passing of big personalities from former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, to President Nkurunziza of Burundi, South African iconic Lawyer George Bizos, Manu Dibango and any word from you for these departed Africans?
Indeed, 2020 has been a very difficult year at multiple levels. I knew President Jerry J. Rawlings personally, and had the pleasure on many occasions to visit with him in Accra, and to work closely with him on the African Statemen’s Initiative which was a gathering of former African Heads of State that were very active in humanitarian and other good causes across the continent. His sheer presence and personality, his positive energy and big vision for Africa are unmatchable. We will all miss him, just as his fellow country men and women of Ghana would. Manu Dibango was also a class act of a legend – the world-renowned self-made man whose leadership in music and culture were unrivaled. He too was an African legend and an ambassador for the continent. It’s still very difficult to imagine that ‘Grand Manu’ is gone to his final resting place. May the souls of these departed African leaders rest in perfect peace and their memories remain a blessing.
As we move into 2021, what will the agenda for the NDI look like with regards to its engagement with Africa?
NDI and its various partner organizations are committed to working to reverse some of the backsliding that we discussed earlier. For example, we are looking at providing multiple platforms for Africans to foster discussions on how to safeguard and consolidate the progress that has been made in some countries while drawing lessons from those successes to address shortcomings in other countries. For example, we are gladly joining various African experts, advocacy groups and civil society organizations in what we hope will be a continent-wide conversation on constitutional term limits and the rule of law as tenets of democratic governance. It is important to curb the resurgence of ‘life presidents’, something that the continent worked so hard to dismantle in the early 1990s, but that seems to be resurfacing in a number of countries. In that endeavor, we take comfort in knowing that of the continent’s population of 1.4 billion people, more than 75 percent are youth 35 years or younger, a vast majority of whom aspire to have a strong say in the politics and public policy of their respective countries, and to be governed justly and democratically.
We end the interview with your wish for Africa in 2021, what will you like to see for the continent?
The new year wish for Africa 2021, is that we give our young men and women the opportunities to lead. Our continent must play to its strength — we are the youngest continent on the face of the globe, we have the most youthful and resilient population, the most diversity and untapped resources and wealth; and if we don’t value all of these assets, the rest of the world will continue to turn us a blind eye. We must respect our own lives and our own people for no one else will do so in our place. The continent still remains the land of promise for billions of people, and we owe it to posterity not to destroy or squander what the Lord and nature have graciously put in stock for us.
Most US Administrations Have Not Had Good Policies On Africa-Lawrence Freeman
December 21, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
As the Biden -Harris administration warms up to take power, questions are been asked on how their African policy will look like. To Lawrence Freeman, while the potential of stronger ties and bonds are real, it is best not to have high expectations as successive U.S administrations have not had good policies on Africa.
The political and economic analyst with thirty years of experience working on Africa says the last President who engaged Africa in a substantive way was President John Kennedy in the 60s. Though the relations seemed to have reached an all-time low during the Trump administration, Freeman opines that successive administrations including the more recent ones of Clinton, Bush and Obama all considered Africa as a low priority area, giving the Chinese an opening to hold sway. Freeman who runs a blog on Africa and frequently travels the continent, says his goal is to see poverty eliminated in Africa in his lifetime.
Pan African Visions: It is not every day you see an American whose work has focused on Africa for some thirty years now, could we start this interview with what motivates or makes Lawrence Freeman passionate about Africa?
Lawrence Freeman: It started in the second half of the 1960s. Some people will remember that it was a time of political activism, and I was involved in High School and later on in College. One of the things I began to think about was the conditions in Africa – the fact that it is a large continent with so much land and why will the people go hungry. About 30 years ago I began to focus on Africa, and I began to write, had meetings started with some Cameroonians, Liberians, and then I ended up going to Nigeria in the 1990s which I have been many times. I now teach a course on African History and it has been my passion increasingly and every year I am more and more involved. 3 years ago, I set up my website so I can publish my articles. I am a researcher, journalist, consultant and my goal is to eliminate poverty in Africa in my lifetime.
Pan African Visions: How will you describe African policy under President Trump, what were some of the changes that you observed?
Lawrence Freeman: US policy under President Trump was not effective. I have to say many of the Presidents in recent periods have not had very good policies for Africa. Many of them do not understand Africa, and they already have an interest which is a low priority on the President’s list. The last President to engage himself in Africa was John F. Kennedy. He established a very unique relationship with Kwame Nkrumah and the latter was the first Head of State that John F. Kennedy brought to the United States on March 8 before any other country in the world. Trump has done very little; he has a programme called Prosper Africa which does not do much but focus on Trade and not a real development programme. He has involved himself in the Ethiopia dam issue in a very provocative manner by suggesting that Egypt may bomb the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam which was very unfortunate.
On the other hand, he has been very supportive of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his confrontation with Tigray and also very supportive of President Ouattara in the election in Cote d’Ivoire. But overall, I would not give him a very high mark, but that is not very different from President Obama or President Clinton.
Pan African Visions: Some people have described him as been dis-engaged, for African countries that yearn for genuine independence, was this not an opportunity to let them handle their affairs while pushing other colonial powers notably in Europe to scale back their influence on Africa?
Lawrence Freeman: The problem is the lack of a coherent policy for Africa from the United States. Africa should be independent but there are ways that a country like mine (USA) could help which China is doing to a great extent. We can provide long term loans with credit for infrastructural development; to assist and collaborate with African countries and not to dictate and tell them what to do. This is a big omission on the current administration and the previous.
Pan African Visions: The USA opposed the election of Dr Akinwumi Adesina for a second term as AfDB President despite his huge accomplishments and unanimous support from African countries and other international partners, and most recently the candidature of Okonjo Iweala at the helm of the WTO was also opposed, can you put some context on these controversial options from the USA?
Lawrence Freeman: For the case of Iweala it was clear that the Trump administration was supporting another candidate – this hurt the African nations as they wanted to have someone of prestige in that position. The question of the African Development Bank I do not understand that. I believe President Trump was giving some false information about President Adesina and somehow his people in the administration acted on this in a way to try and undermine the President of the AfDB. The AfDB has its procedures for investigating internal fraud or mishandling of funds and that should have been left alone for the AfDB to handle and they did and cleared him (Adesina) of any wrongdoings. I am not sure why or who gave President Trump this false information, but it was something that did not help build a strong relationship between the United States and Africa.
Pan African Visions: What kind of changes do you anticipate seeing on US-African relations in the Biden-Harris Administration?
Lawrence Freeman: Unfortunately, the group of people for the most part that President-elect Biden has been bringing out to the public represent long-term establishment figures, people who were in the Obama administration, and people from the Clinton administration which is going back some 20 years. These are people who do not have a vision for the development of Africa the way I do, and the leader of the United States should do. The interesting possibility lies with his pick for the UN Envoy Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She will not be in the state department where policies are made but she will be a member of the cabinet as UN Ambassador. She from contacts I have on the continent is viewed as a reasonable, thoughtful, even-handed representative in terms of dealing with problems in Africa and some of my friends in Africa think highly of her.
Because of her background as Ambassador to Liberia, working as secretary of State for Africa under President Obama, she has a background in Africa which very few people on the cabinet-level bring in. I do not know if she will be, but she could be a type of person that introduces some positive policies for Africa that are useful. The main problem we have now is that Africa needs development, specifically infrastructural development; electricity, roads, hospitals and this is where the United States could play a major role. Unfortunately, under several administrations and more emphatically under the Trump administration, they define the Africa policy not as simply for Africa but as countering China. They saw Africa as playing the game between the US and China and they used Africa as the chessboard rather than developing our positive policy.
China has done many good things for Africa such as their investment in infrastructure, rail and energy and I would like to see the United States do more, and for the United States to allow other nations like Russia and India to put their investment in infrastructure in Africa. I do not think that is going to happen during the Biden administration, but I am hopeful some positive steps will happen even though I don’t think Africa is going to be top on Biden’s list. It has not been on any President’s agenda.
Pan African Visions: If you were advising the administration what would be some of the priority areas that you see prospects of engagement with Africa?
Lawrence Freeman: We have a list of very important infrastructural projects in Africa that the United States should be involved in. for example, a project I have been working for over 20 years called Trans Aqua and it is a great water project to bring water to build a canal (2400km) into the Central African Republic and which will lead to the filing up of Lake Chad. Lake Chad is drying up and it is 90 per cent from where it was in 1960. More importantly by building this canal it will increase trade and development to all the countries around the Great Lakes; Congo, Tanzania, Uganda and the countries around Lake Chad which are without water such as Nigeria; Cameroon, Niger and Chad. We are working with the Italian government to initiate a feasibility study on Trans Aqua. The United States has had no role to play and has not even supported the project. This is a great project. These kinds of projects will transform the continent, and this is where economic powers like the US, China and other nations could contribute to providing long term low-interest credit because infrastructural projects take many years to complete. Nuclear energy is another area where I think the United States can contribute because the electricity deficit on the continent is so huge. I think most politicians think very narrowly – they think about tomorrow and I think about 40 years ahead.
My thinking is better – you have to think 20 to 40 years ahead to plan policies. The United States like other European leaders have no vision of a future 20 years to advance. This is very unfortunate, and the Biden administration is bringing the same old people who did not have a vision when they were in government 10 or 20 years ago and I do not think they are going to have one now. If they are smart, they will make me their economic adviser and maybe I can win them over to some of these long-term plans that we are developing.
Pan African Visions: For many Africans and African countries that look up to the USA as a model for the kind of democracy worth emulating, what message or lessons could be drawn from the recent US election?
Lawrence Freeman: The main thing is that the United States has a great constitution written by some brilliant founding fathers. In that constitution, they take care of all concerns concerning elections. The idea of having electorates is correct; all the procedures outlined in the US Constitution are working. The basis of the US constitution is the preamble and not all the separate by-laws. No matter what goes on there are rules set, dates set, the electors have to be certified, read to congress and the constitution works. We have not had any coup, but we have had several Presidents assassinated but we survived that. My recommendation to African Presidents is for them to study the constitution of the United States and all the documents involved. We are not going to have a civil war, we will not have riots, and we will move on to the next government – whether that government has any good ideas that is another question. A government will continue in the United States.
Pan African Visions: On the conflict in Ethiopia, you described it as a war won to preserve the nation-state, and seem to support the position of President Abiy who opted for force and not dialogue, can you shed more light on your arguments?
Lawrence Freeman: I have studied the Ethiopian constitution and the history of Ethiopia for several years. The main problem is that ethnicity became the basis of the constitution – they wanted to comprise with the various ethnic groups, and they set ethnic regional states. This caused a problem because it did not establish an Ethiopian identity with the same problem existing in Nigeria. The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) was the leading group that carried out the coup. They maintain power not only in the Tigrayan region but all over the entire country. PM Abiy set up the Prosperity Party which was not based on any ethnicity and the TPLF rejected that and made different moves to undermine the government. From my standpoint, it was a necessary action to preserve the nation. If that action was not taken Ethiopia would have ceased to be a leading nation in Africa.
Pan African Visions: Coming less than a year or so after he bagged the Nobel Peace Prize, is the world right in faulting Prime Minister Abiy for not doing more to explore a peaceful resolution or opening up to third-party mediation?
Lawrence Freeman: The situation in Tigray is that there was an attempt to set up negotiations, there was a dialogue going on. The problem is that the TPLF violated national law and the government declared they could not carry out their election in May due to the COVID-19 crisis and set it forth for next year. The TPLF went ahead and had elections and they took military actions. At that point, I think the PM did what he could do giving the conditions that existed in Ethiopia where you had this ethnonationalism which does not respect the centralize power that existed in Addis Ababa that represented the nation.
Pan African Visions: The conflict comes at a time when Ethiopia was grappling with a crisis over the Nile, what do you make of the insistence of Ethiopia to proceed with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?
Lawrence Freeman: First of all, the Grand Renaissance Dam is 75 per cent complete and nothing is going to stop its completion. This is a matter of national identity for the people and they have funded the Dam by themselves. The Dam is on the Blue Nile which comes down from Lake Tana which is inside the sovereign state of Ethiopia. The Egyptians have a legitimate right to request that they not be without water. What needs to be looked is that Egypt is not deprived of necessary water. But the Egyptians are using the legacy of the colonial period that nobody can disrupt the Nile unless they approve it.
The 1929 Water Agreement on the distribution of the Nile allocation was Sudan gets ¼ of the Water and Egypt gets ¾. In 1959 when both Sudan and Egypt were independent there was another agreement and this time between Sudan and Egypt. Again, Ethiopia was not allocated water from the Nile and was told not to build a dam on the Nile without Egyptian approval. Ethiopia is an emerging nation and has very bold economic programmes. The biggest problem in Africa is the lack of electrical power. Agreements on the water can be worked out and it should be worked out.
Pan African Visions: You were in Cote d’Ivoire for the elections and surprisingly spoke favourably about the controversial polls, what is it you saw that influenced the optimistic outlook that you painted of developments in that country?
Lawrence Freeman: This was my first visit to Cote d’Ivoire. Most of my visits have been to Nigeria. I did not know the significance of the Port in Abidjan which is the largest port in West Africa and has a railroad that goes into Burkina Faso and Mali. This has a lot of economic potentials and I also realized that the government of Cote d’Ivoire under President Ouattara has had good progress on the development of its infrastructure and economy, reducing poverty, increasing access to electricity and clean water. I met with some officials and attended some lectures which indicate to me that the country is moving forward.
As an observer in the election, I could see what was going on and I found that the population was very orderly. It was a hot day and hundreds of people were standing in line, no fighting, carrying out their affairs in a good manner. Even though there was a controversy around Ouattara going again for a new term it is legitimate under the new constitution which was supported by the people in 2016. It is something I believe he did not want to do – he had indicated that he will resign but the chosen candidate died unexpectedly. This is almost the same situation in the United States where you had several Presidential candidates that were in their 70s and you had many members of the congress and senate who are septuagenarians who seemed to dominate politics in many parts of the world. I believe there is a new commitment to the new government for economic empowerment and I am optimistic about that.
The people who opposed the election could not provide a viable alternative. They just attacked the government and called for a boycott which they got no vote. After the election was concluded on October 31, they declared themselves a new transition government. In 2010 3,000 people in Cote d’Ivoire were killed because President Gbagbo would not leave the palace. Now in 2020 to have a group of people declare that they are the government it was uncalled for. I believe there is a lot that must be done but they are getting there.
Pan African Visions: Your position kind of mirrored that of the US Ambassador who said the US supported the sovereignty of Cote d’Ivoire in the elections which many considered as controversial, and in countries like Tanzania the US picks issues with the elections, does this selective criticism or biased critique based on interests not hurt healthy relations between the USA and Africa?
Lawrence Freeman: There are mixed signals, that I have no question about. The Ambassador in Cote d’Ivoire before the election said this election belongs to the people of Cote d’Ivoire and their institutions. And when the opposition tried to meet with the Ambassador (Richard Bell) after the election he did not meet with them. The Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the State Department supported the sovereignty of Cote d’Ivoire. That was very strong support for Cote d’Ivoire, and I was pleased to see it. In other areas that does not exist, and the mix signals is coming even in the same country. Like in Ethiopia you have President Trump who is criticizing Ethiopia for building the Dam and making provocative statements and then when PM Abiy intervenes in the Tigray Region Tibor Nagy of the state department came out in support of the Ethiopian government.
The problem is that there is not a coherent conception coming from the United States on what Africa needs. There is a loud discussion on “democracy”, but they do not understand democracy. It is not about how regularly you have elections but the ability of the citizens to discuss and debate important and profound ideas about the future of the country. In the United States we do not have that – everybody talks in 20 to 30sec sound bites, but real democracy like we had during our founding fathers, for that to take place in Africa everybody needs to have a minimum standard of living. Without economic development, real democracy cannot exist. Without a clear idea of what our policy for Africa should lead us to, we give mix signals.
Pan African Visions: The crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been raging for some four years with the US and the rest of the international more or less indifferent, may we know the US position on the situation in Cameroon from your understanding?
Lawrence Freeman: The problem of Cameroon is indicative of what we have done to Africa. It is a result of the dividing of Africa. A united Cameroon never existed up to this point and because the French and British divided a legitimate nation is similar to the ethnicity we see in Kenya and other parts of Nigeria. What started in 2016 with the demonstrations, protests and strikes with separatist movements that have come in. I do not believe in dividing nations. I was opposed to the division of Sudan to two nations. I do not want to see Cameroon divided up. What has to be is that there has to be recognition of one Cameroon which may be difficult under Paul Biya who has been in power for almost 4 decades, this is going to be a problem. What we should do is put forward an idea, a one Cameroon that has to be built under the conception of an economic mission for the country.
Let us establish a goal of where Cameroon should be in 5 or 20 years from now and make that mission a goal that unites all the people in the country and that everyone benefits from the economic benefits. That is the way I know how to unite the people. The prejudice won’t go away in the model, but they have the capability of going away in time as people see interest in working together. The interest of myself lies in the interest of another and that is a challenging path. I think the United States has eliminated Cameroon from the AGOA process, but sanctions are not going to do it. They do not work that well and you have to put something positive in its place. I will make a great economic mission for the country and unite everyone together and establish a Cameroonian identity, not a French-controlled identity.
Pan African Visions: We end with the last word on how you see 2021 playing out for Africa, what are your hopes and fears?
Lawrence Freeman: If you look at the problems we have now if we do not implement certain measures today, we are going to have problems 10 or 20 years from now. If you have an approximate population of two and a half billion and approximately one billion may be young people; if those young people do not have jobs, see their nation as providing for them then you can have very nasty operations and demonstrations, regime changes on the continent. On the other hand, we have all these very bright people, if we implement policies today that will bring about the kind of economic growth that is needed then you will not have an increase in alienation, anarchy and protests.
I would like to see the United States join with China and probably Russia to help Africa. They have to unite and assist Africa and not tell them what to do, and not seize anything. I estimate that Africa needs at least a thousand gigawatts of power to give people access to electricity. These things are primary. If we can begin in 2021 with a robust commitment to developing, then I think Africa will have a very interesting and beautiful future. If we do not, then we could be facing more serious challenges over the years ahead. I am approaching 70 years and I am going to put everything I have to make those things happen. If more people in the United States, Europe, and Africa will work with me on that then I think we can make some improvements that will benefit billions of people that are not only living today but those who will be born in the future. And that is my goal and commitments.
Pan African Visions: Thanks for answering our questions.
Lawrence Freeman: Thank you for giving me this opportunity and I appreciate all the work you do.
A Turning Point For Protests in Nigeria with End SARS-Veteran Journalist Chido Onumah
November 13, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria, says veteran Journalist, writer and media trainer Chido Onumah. In an interview with PAV, Onumah opined that the protesters have largely achieved their aim which was to register their displeasure about the state of Nigeria using End SARS as the pivot.
“The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria. For one, it has galvanized young people and shown them the power of organisation and solidarity,” says Onumah.
While the Nigerian government may have succeeded in tainting the protest with unfounded claims that it was a movement of young people from the Southern part of the country eager to remove President Buhari, the last may not have been heard from the protesters ,Onumah said.
“I think overall the protesters achieved their aim, which was to register their displeasure about the state of the country using End SARS as the pivot. They must go back to re-strategise, build a pan-Nigerian coalition that addresses the major concerns of young people and citizens across the country and present a minimum agenda for the transformation of the country, an agenda that speaks to unity, freedom, equality and opportunities for all Nigerians wherever they may be in the country,” said the highly respected media personality.
Thanks for accepting to answer our questions Chido Onumah to discuss the current situation in Nigeria and the End SARS demonstrations. Could we start with a historical context, when and why was SARS created and what did it do wrong to incur the wrath of Nigerians?
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was set up in response to the spate of armed robberies in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, in late 1992. The history of SARS is reflective of its operation which was the cause of nationwide protests recently. Its history is rooted in the violence which has been the hallmark of not just the Nigerian State and its security apparatuses, but many of the neo-colonial states in Africa.
SARS has its origin in the confrontation between the Nigeria Army and the Police. Following the death of a senior army officer at a police checkpoint in Lagos in September 1992, the army went after any police personnel they could find. Many police officers allegedly resigned while others abandoned their duty posts and stations for fear of their lives. The violence the army visited on the police led to a breakdown of law and order and the collapse of law enforcement in the state for weeks. After the army ended its onslaught, the police returned to the streets and had to deal with an increase in the crime rate. SARS was a quick response to this crisis. Because there were anti-robbery squads in existence, “special” was added to SARS to distinguish it from these other anti-robbery squads.
Gradually, the operations of SARS extended beyond Lagos to other parts of the country. Almost from the outset, SARS became notorious for abuse of rights of suspects and detainees, but it wasn’t until about a decade ago that these atrocities attracted media and public attention. With the expansion of technology and social media in the country also came the problem of online crimes, the advance fee fraud or 419 as it is known in Nigeria. SARS took up the task of dealing with this scourge. SARS operatives, many ill-trained and poorly remunerated were unleashed on universities and cities across the country.
Rather than dealing with the problem, typical of law enforcement in Nigeria, they became the problem, extorting money from suspects, detaining people illegally, and sometimes executing suspects for failing to meet their financial demands. They also because pawns in the hand of politicians and influential members of society who used them to settle personal scores or advance their political and economic interests. Because it had special (no pun intended) power being that its leadership was answerable only to the Inspector General of Police, its operatives became law unto themselves.
May we know how the End SARS protests started, what was the final straw that pushed Nigerians on the kind of protests that we are experiencing today?
The crisis has been brewing for long. As I mentioned, for about a decade now the atrocities of the SARS unit have been the subject of social media commentary and reports of groups like Amnesty International. But the buildup to the current protests started in 2017 when some activists launched a campaign on Twitter to end SARS and reform the Nigeria Police. In 2017, a petition signed by over 10,000 people was submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly calling for a total disbandment of SARS. After the social media uproar, there were peaceful protests in cities across Nigeria.
The latest round of protests started in early October, first on Twitter and spilling over to the streets of major cities across the country after reports of the shooting of a young man in the south-south part of the country by SARS officers. Let us not forget that in September, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had planned nationwide protests against the insensate increase in the price of petrol and electricity which was called off to the chagrin of young people across the country after the NLC reached an “agreement” with the government. Before the increase in the cost of petrol and electricity, Nigerians had been complaining about poverty, corruption, insecurity, kidnapping, etc. The End SARS issue was just a trigger to propel young people who have been used—used as political thugs during elections—and abandoned by successive governments in Nigeria.
Who exactly are the people leading the protests, who speaks for the protesters?
They call it a “leaderless revolution.” Perhaps, that explains why it was sustained for so long. In the past when we had protests led by organised labour or members of civil society there were reports that government would pay off the “leaders” of such protests and after a few days, the protests fizzled. The protesters didn’t what to hear the word “leader.” It was a collective action. They didn’t want to be betrayed by so-called leaders. Of course, there are a few young people who because of their social profile or celebrity status are known across the country and around the world who directed the protests or presented demands to the authorities.
Overall, the peaceful protests remained leaderless, and the young people managed to make it work. Unfortunately, rather than government protecting the peaceful protesters, they hired other young people to disrupt the process and cause mayhem. That was the genesis of the violence and breakdown of law and order that the country witnessed in the last one week. Those hired by the State to disrupt the protests were so emboldened that they started burning cars and buildings while the security operatives watched. It created an opportunity for a lot of young unemployed youths who live on the streets to take advantage of the chaos to cause more destruction.
In Lagos, the deployment of soldiers who were seen in a video shooting at unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll gate was the trigger of the state-wide violence and destruction that followed. Seeing that security operatives had applied lethal force and subsequently abandoned their role to protect lives and property, enraged citizens took a cue and embarked on large scale destruction of public and private property, including forcibly raiding government warehouses where they helped themselves to all sorts of food items meant for distribution as palliatives to the people to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but wickedly shut away by state officials.
There have been reports and counter reports on casualties, what are your own sources on the ground telling you about exact figures on casualties?
We do not have the exact figures. That will become clear in the weeks ahead when many of the judicial panels of enquiry set up by state governors submit their reports and they are made public. For now, the reports on casualties are sketchy and many can’t be independently verified. But from initial reports in the media, clearly many protesters were killed and injured.
We have also heard incidents of a high court burnt in Lagos, buses burnt, prison breaks, etc., what impact do you think this could have on the true intent and purpose of the End SARs protests?
It is unfortunate that the peaceful protests took a violent turn. But the State should be held culpable, first for instigating counter protests and then standing idly by when there was a breakdown of law and order. There were things security personnel could have done to stop the violence without causing deaths or injuries. But they just watched and, in some cases, participated in the “looting” that occurred.
Clearly, the destruction was not carried out by the End SARS protesters. These were peaceful, focused, and organised protesters whose comportment was widely commended. The destruction was carried out by the precariat, victims of the violent onslaught of the Nigerian state over the last 60 years of political independence. Those who have lived on the fringes, who felt marginalised and left out of the prosperity and opportunity that the enormous wealth the country should have created. The End SARS protesters are organising online and offline and strategising on how to turn their efforts into a political movement that not only seeks to hold the government accountable but one whose members can run for political office.
What do you make of the way the Buhari administration has handled the crisis, did the speech of President Buhari help in anyway?
Perhaps, it would have been better if President Buhari didn’t make that broadcast. It was anti-climactic. People were expecting him, literally begging him, to address the country which would have assuaged feelings in the first few days of the protests, but he remained impervious to the anger and later death and destruction around him. And when he decided to speak, more than two weeks after the protests started, he did not address any of core issues around the protests. His insensitivity riled the protesters. President Buhari’s obliviousness is on a different level.
Following the broadcast, videos started circulating on social media to the effect that the person that spoke was not President Buhari and that the “real” President Buhari passed away in 2017 during one of his many medical trips to the UK. Because of the hollowness of the speech, it was drowned in conspiracy theories. Of course, it was President Buhari that spoke in a recorded broadcast to Nigerians on October 22. Unfortunately, we are dealing with an enfeebled president who is utterly out of touch with the mood of the country.
There are some who feel that the politics of 2023 may be playing a role in the End SARs protests, any currency to this school of thought?
Everything in Nigeria today is linked to the politics of 2023. The End SARS protests have nothing to do with the politics of 2023 but a lot to do with the crisis of poverty, underdevelopment, and abuse of Nigerians by the State and its institutions. Of course, there are elements who want to take advantage of the protests to further their personal and political interests. As I noted earlier, the anti-SARS sentiments have been on for many years. It was only a matter of time.
We understand a number of businesses belonging to APC kingpin Ahmed Bola Tinubu have been destroyed, any reason why he is targeted?
Tinubu has come out to say he does not own some of the businesses linked to him that were destroyed. The jury is still out on that and why these businesses were targeted. What we know, which is unfortunate, is the destruction of media houses belonging to Tinubu—The Nation newspaper and TV Continental. We hope the panel set up by the Lagos State Government can find answers to some of these questions. I have my doubts though. The state government is deeply enmeshed in the mess. Take the question of who invited the military. First, we were told by the military that it was fake news and that the military was not involved in the Lekki shooting. The Governor of Lagos State denied sending in the military. Now, the military says it was invited by the governor. It is hard to know what to believe. The governor has many questions to answer.
A number of sports, music and Nollywood stars have fully embraced the End SARS movement, what impact has their presence had on the protests?
The impact has been huge. It gave traction to the process. It reassured citizens, particularly the downtrodden who were the catalysts of protests in the past that the “rich also cry.” In this case, the middle class. Usually, protests start in low income neighbourhoods and it is easy to quell them because those involved are not “influential” or “important” people. This time, the centre of the protests was Lekki, the neighbouhood of the nouveau riche. The involvement of celebrities and Nollywood stars brought international attention to the protests and the violent attempt by state to shut down the protests. Those outside the country led protests in different cities around the world and those in the country were at the forefront of the protests. The country hadn’t witnessed anything like that.
How should voices that are out for genuine change and reforms guard against opportunists trying to hijack the movement? We now see people, especially politicians, who have been part of the problems in Nigeria speaking in support of End SARS. Should they be trusted?
This was part of the concerns of the protesters. They are aware of this and are not taking any chances. Many of the politicians speaking out are trying to save face. Nigerians know the enemies of the people, those who feed fat on the misery of citizens and on the underdevelopment of the country, those who earn hundreds of millions every year for doing nothing, those who abuse their office and public trust, and those who steal directly from the people in the name of governance. For these groups, their comeuppance is near. Nigeria isn’t going to remain the same after the End SARS protests. People are ready for real change and they know they can attain it when they work together with determination.
We end with a look at the future. How far could the End SARs protests go, and what future do you see for the country?
The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria. For one, it has galvanized young people and shown them the power of organisation and solidarity. Of course, there are concerns and still plenty of work to do. Nigeria is a deeply divided country and one of the things government tried to do during the protests was to get other young people to break ranks. Government not only pushed the narrative that the protests were carried out by young people in the southern part of the country and that it was an attempt to remove President Buhari (a northerner) from power, they recruited other young people to disrupt the protests and instigate violence. The State did all it could to play up the fault lines in the country.
I think overall the protesters achieved their aim, which was to register their displeasure about the state of the country using End SARS as the pivot. They must go back to re-strategise, build a pan-Nigerian coalition that addresses the major concerns of young people and citizens across the country and present a minimum agenda for the transformation of the country, an agenda that speaks to unity, freedom, equality and opportunities for all Nigerians wherever they may be in the country.
It is important that the universities collaborate with us in Sierra Leone -Foday Melvin Kamara
October 19, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Foday Melvin Kamara is the Chief Executive Officer of Fomel Industries and National Industrialization Centre (FINIC) , a leading and only enterprise that in Sierra Leone and Ghana specializing in the manufacturing and designing of Agricultural machines.
In this interview , he takes us through how he started the only locally manufacturing and designing enterprise of agricultural machines in the country and first asked him to tell me how it all started.
Ishmael : First of , please tell me about FINIC and what it does ?
Foday Melvin Kamara : The FINIC industry founded in 1997 , came about from the awareness that us in Sierra Leone , and Africa generally , we are just too import dependent . we just wanted everything to be brought in and then that thinking made me to remember that if we are bringing in everything, we will lose a lot , not only money , but many are seeing the capital flight . Monies are coming from outside. We are the seeing the brains we are losing in the process because a brain that does not exercise, it’s a brain that will grow just like the muscles .The muscles needed exercise for it to grow bigger . If we do not manufacture and all the time its import, import , our brains will become smaller and we will lose and so that give us the kind of impetus for us to venture into machine systems design .we are over two decades now on the ground quietly.
Ishmael : How is it like working and operating in an environment where people mostly believe in overseas goods than locally made products ? How have you been able to go through this and take a foot hole in the Sierra Leonean market ?
Foday Melvin Kamara : It’s actually a very , very difficult thing to do. Without the passion in you , its almost impossible . Our people’s mentality and mind set everything that is a machine , it is white made. Anything working in the form of machine , they say it white made. So, that mindset is there , for you to break that cocoon , and comes out and starts doing it your self , that trust level is very , very low . They won’t believe you , they don’t trust that the machines you manufacture are of standard and can stand the test of time , be able to perform its purpose. It is a big, big task. It is a hurdle. But what keeps us going , its our passion , the love for mechanical things that flows in my blood . How did it happened , only God knows , I don’t know? I just like machines . I can talk about them the whole of the day and don’t feel bored. So that passion is what carries me forward and of course the love for country as well because what we are doing in this country , we see it benefitting Sierra Leone more than it benefits me . Simple reason, we are like laying a foundation , we are like waking up sleeping giants . we are like telling people that yes, we can . we can do it . Any time we do something, that people feel its white made , and we did it and succeeded and bring in something new that even the white man hasn’t created or invented, that gives confidence to others particularly the youngsters that are growing up that they could best that our country have brains and let us not limit our brains , to singing, to football and but let’s take it to other areas of science that will bring development for the country. And the workers that are working with me here, we don’t see them as employees , we see them as people with us for the common good of mama Salone.
Ishmael : what is your background ?
Foday : It’s a great one , my background actually I am an automobile engineer trained in Germany . That was long time ago . I did automobile engineering and you see mechanical engineering they are so related with automobile engineering . You know, automobile engineers can employ , mechanical engineers , and also Mechanical engineers can also employ automobile engineers. And then One perfect good thing, that is clearly tells about this love affair is that things we are doing so much related to motor vehicles .some parts of machines that we are doing for threshing of palm bunches to remove the bunches to extract palm oil is from motor engine . That’s a perfect relationship. You know , this is one of the reasons why our machines can stand the test of time and why we are succeeding as a company.
Ishmael : As a company how have you been able to collaborate with government as some of your product has to do agriculture and other manufactures?
Foday : Yes! One absolutely will expect that we should collaborate with government , meaning government to patronize us , government has anything to think about mechanization can come to people that is always do this kind of work. That is our expectation and that what we are doing is bigger for the nation and us that are doing the job .we are expect that on that account , the government or governments go patronize us but that is not happening . I mean with that who should be blamed , me or the government? What I’m doing to me , it is more beneficial to country than to me as a personal person and then the government that our work will benefit for create employment for youths, they don’t patronize me . They don’t place me up there for the youths to see me as a role model , how can we industrialize . if we don’t industrialize , how would that benefit the government . How unemployment benefits the government, badly because it will create unrest , it will create chaos. People wants to work , there are no places to work , they will put their talents into a negative form . so, I expect that the governments , both present and past t to patronize me . That’s how I see it . The time actually that I should spend to go to the corridors of power to lobby, and buy from me , is difficult to do as long as I am not able to sing the political songs . It is something that I am not able to do , therefore , I prefer the government gives me task once in a while, developing machines systems that will be according to our circumstances to enhance productivity in the agricultural sector and also enhance value -chain addition. This is one way we can push the country forward.
Ishmael : Has there been any collaboration with your company and technical institutions, colleges and universities to help students get practical skills in mechanical and automobile engineering .
Foday : We would be really happy to get this kind of synergy as you put it. And we were one of those people that was with the Bio- led administration started, they established the Science ,Technology and Innovation Directorate and then they appointed a leader to steer that office . we were very , very happy . we thought that we are coming to be recognised because really what we are doing is agricultural related , and we promote production and processing but as time went by we realised, there is still more time actually. We realised that the focus for this directorate is more of information technology , more on electronics . I mean , that there is nothing in my own ears , about mechanization. We have a lot of ideas , we tried , for bring ourselves close to the Chief Innovation Officer in the Science and Technology Directorate by writing him an email stating that , we have got a concept of making a garrie making machine with a potential to do thirty bags of gari in an hour. Yes , absolutely I mean it, but I didn’t have response from him and I wouldn’t say that he didn’t receive the mail from us , probably he may have wanted a different approach , maybe he had wanted me to go there , and put forward my case. Probably he didn’t like approach but where we are so serious about mechanization, not only electronics is a matter of just calling the person, and then we sit and then chat the way forward , positive things will come out. One collaborative area he did with me , though it was brief was the hands-Free washing stations ,he sent one video of one working which we didn’t manufactured and asked me if we can do it and then I said, of which we can do our own design without copying . Four , five days later we came out with our own design and it is creating a big impact in the country and also in Ghana for schools ,churches in both Sierra Leone and in Ghana. That kind of collaboration I expect to be continued according him , he has told the president about it and forward him the video . probably my approach , they don’t want. The collaboration with the universities is ongoing though not how I expect it to be . They sometimes have their students on internship here at FINIC , they will be us with us for one month, two months , and sometimes they used the factory as an incubator centre to hatch their ideas when they are doing their projects. That was going on with Njala , Fourah Bay College , and the for the past four years , that collaborative venture , I am seeing it as much stronger as it used to be unless the last time we had a student who built a stove. It is important that the universities collaborate with us because what they trained is more of theoretical than practice but when the students leave the class room , then the theory just becomes something in the head , and something in the head, without been put into use , is as a good as a dead one. The world pays for what one does , with that which one knows. If you know something in your head, and you do not put it into application who cares. I expect that for them to give confidence to their graduates to send them to go through trainings . Thank God the Ministry of Education I think is coming out with some kind of innovative ways for train such people in collaboration with GIZ and also the World Bank they will be coming within the agricultural , technical and vocational institutions package to help people get practical trainings.
Ishmael : What about the Ministry of Agriculture ,part of their plans is venturing in mechanized farming . Has there any collaboration with them?
Foday Melvin Kamara: Not yet , when we talk about production in agriculture, almost all cases , people think about tractors, almost always when we think enhance rice production tractors come to their minds. That has been the mindset . And these tractors, one we do not have culture to maintain them , we do not have the skills well enough to operate them . And so, if people like us are given the chance to come out with technology that his home grown , that is done considered the circumstances of this country will be very helpful. I have always said, we can use Okada to do lots of operations within the agricultural sector particularly production like in ploughing , processing and rice milling an okada can do that . so, if we have a sponsorship by way of patronage, a lot of things will come out that will enable to enhance in the boosting of agricultural productivity in the country both in terms of growing of the plants as well as adding value to them.
Ishmael : As I see look around your office , there is poster reading FINIC can turn grass into an electricity tell me more about this ?
Foday Melvin Kamara : You know, it’s really , very , very sad , the scientist in this country are not known . They just don’t care about them . They care about musicians , they care about the politicians . But let me say that any biomass , by biomass , I mean anything that is plant based you can turn it into gas . That gas in turn , run an engine and that engine runs a generator. Yes we are able to build a biomass gasifier which you put palm kernel shells inside it , get turned into a gas , and then you get a bye -product which is charcoal , which is the bio charm materials , like you see the one I have here, you can process it into brisket used for cooking . If we can follow such a technology , we do not need to cut down trees in the name of charcoal making for the energy in the kitchen. When I was in a location seeing the number of vehicles coming in to Freetown from up country bringing down firewood . Just wood , not charcoal , it’s terrible , you will know that this country, deforestation is happening very , very strongly and in the next fifteen years is going to be sorrowful . that wood people are bringing is a waste of energy, we are wasting one, the gas there , they just used the wood for cooking , the gases that escape in the form of smoke but if we have a technology that can transform into gasification process.
Ishmael : How Covid-19 affected your business ?
Foday : Yes, I will say it affected our business because the volume of our work we are doing would have been greater . we are struggling but for every adversity ,there is equal opportunity . Covid -19 brought difficulty in the world but as same time , along with it some opportunities . One opportunity, the pandemic gave us , is the manufacturing of the hands free washing stations which FINIC manufactured and because of its demand we were able to open another branch of the company in Ghana.
Ishmael : How do you envisioned FINIC in the next ten years ?
Foday : It is a very good question , maybe I will be retired by that time, but I wanted to see FINIC is five West African countries . Presently we are in Ghana , and we are about sending our team there to go and trained our team members there in order to manufacture dryers for mango chips among other products. We are also in contact with some people in Guinea to as well trained them in manufacturing and designs, but we wanted to do it in a way we would be recognised through their government . we dint care how much they will pay we for it.
Ishmael: Great talking to you
Foday : Thank you , it’s a pleasure talking to you !
African countries should structure post covid plans around the AfCFTA – Former Liberian Minister B. Elias Shoniyin
October 13, 2020 | 3 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
It is important that African countries be encouraged to formulate their post-COVID recovery plans around the opportunity of African Continental Free Trade Agreement-AfCFTA, says B Elias Shoniyin, a professional in international affairs, development and policy.
Shoniyin, a Liberian national who occupied key government positions in the administrations of Sirleaf Johnson, and George Weah, says the AfCFTA will embolden African countries to invest more in areas of comparative advantage, where they have maximum potentials.
Discussing the African response to COVID 19 with Pan African Visions-PAV, Shoniyin lauded the prompt response across the continent despite well-known limitations. In Liberia, while the experience acquired in previous battles with the Ebola virus continues to be useful, he urged the government of President George Weah to seek and bring in more expertise.
On the future, Shoniyin urges African governments to invest more in its people.
“I believe the most valuable asset of Africa is its people. Natural resources underground are not what make a people great; the capacity of the people to harness those resources makes them great. Our foremost challenge in Africa today is the limited capacity of our people. The more we can invest in our people, the more Africa’s future will be assured,” says Shoniyin.
Thanks for accepting to grant us this interview, we start with COVID 19, how is the situation like in Liberia?
B. Elias Shoniyin: Clearly, COVID 19 is global and every country on the earth has been affected – be it, by the extent of the virus infection rate or the deteriorating economic condition resulting from the pandemic. Liberia, bringing to bear its experience with the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to 2015, quickly built on and redeployed the health measures to protect our communities. As of now, we have officially recorded 1,321 COVID 19 cases, 1196 recovery and 82 death.
What do you make of the way the government of President George Weah has handled the pandemic in Liberia?
B. Elias Shoniyin: Noting the limited capacity of the George Weah Government, they are continuing to make efforts. Clearly, a lot more is required to fully address the pandemic; therefore, the Government is encouraged to seek and bring on board more professional expertise available in Liberia.
The outbreak of COVID 19 comes a few years after the outbreak of Ebola, are there any useful lessons from the Ebola episode that have been useful or could be better put to use in providing a better response to COVID 19 in your country?
B. Elias Shoniyin: There are many similarities between how Ebola and COVID 19 are transmitted. The obvious differences are COVID is a lot more contagious but less deadly than Ebola. As soon as the first known COVID 19 case was reported in Liberia, the dormant structures established during the Ebola outbreak were immediately reactivated. Strict social and public health measures were taken, including mass awareness, isolation of infected persons, and effective contact tracing. Many Liberians were skeptical of the government of Liberia’s initial handling of the virus, prompting fears of its prevalence. However, we are happy that society’s awareness drawn from the Ebola experience has contributed hugely to constraining social behavior resulting to the low number of COVID cases.
As someone who follows developments across Africa closely, what appraisal do you make of how African countries have fared in the fight against COVID 19, what are some of the positives and negatives that you see in some of the responses?
B. Elias Shoniyin: Generally, the response of many African countries to the pandemic was prompt. We are aware of our limitations in available financial and human resources, and the weaknesses in our health care systems; therefore, the most sensible reaction was what we did; that is, prevention. Measures to prevent the spread of the virus was the first and most emphasized course of action by many countries.
The President of Madagascar has touted a remedy called Covid Organics as an antidote to COVID-19, while the WHO has been skeptical about it, many Africans and African leaders have embraced it, where do you stand on initiatives like those of President Rajoelina which seek to make Africa part of the solution ?
B. Elias Shoniyin: I believe in the promise of Africa. Finding African solutions to problems that affect Africa should be supported by all Africans, but not blindly and on sentimental basis. while lauding the efforts of Madagascar to find an African solution to the covid crisis in Africa, I think it became unnecessarily political. when it comes to matters of medical concerns, it should be dealt with scientifically. there was no evidence or scientific data to confirm the potency/efficacy of the Covid organics, but many Africans went ahead to celebrate its discovery. I thought that was too early. As I said earlier, I laud Madagascar for the bold efforts. They should not be discouraged. Africa will continue trying to improve and evidentially confirm our discoveries.
In follow up to that , there has a passionate debate about the issues of vaccines for COVID 19 with people fearful that Africans will be used as “guinea pigs,” what is your take on this, what are some of the pros and cons that governments should consider before making a decision concerning vaccines?
B. Elias Shoniyin: I know Africans are haunted by a history of distrust, imperialism, and exploitation, in our engagement with the West. These are legacies of past relationship with the West that have remained the main cause of the modern-day suspicion by Africans. Despite the legitimacy of the suspicion, I see opportunities. The sad reality is Africa has not yet developed the competitive advantage for high-level scientific capacity and facilities to drive medical research to solve most of the World’s problems. Even though we do contribute in a modest way to solving some of these problems, the West remains dominant in scientific research, and thus, most of the medical discoveries are derived from Western countries. I think we should put our scientists and medical researchers to work to confirm the composition and safety of the COVID vaccines, and do not simply reject them, leaving more than a billion persons to face the Corona Virus threat on their own.
Let’s talk more about the Ministerial functions that you, occupied, how did you find yourself in government at such a relatively young age and what was the experience like working under President Sirleaf Johnson?
B. Elias Shoniyin: Prior to my public service life, I worked in the nonprofit sector for many years, starting at the young age of eighteen. In 2005 I encountered Ellen Johnson and was profoundly inspired by her advocacy, courage, and professional accomplishments. Later, that same year, I joined her campaign for the presidency of Liberia, developing campaign strategies and training modules for mobilizers. Following her election and subsequent inauguration as the first female President of Liberia – Africa, I was appointed at the Foreign Ministry as Assistant Minister for International Cooperation and Economic Affairs. That portfolio launched my international affairs and diplomatic profession, which has now spanned almost fourteen years. I have felt very lucky and blessed for the opportunity not only to serve with President Sirleaf, but also with other extraordinary personalities with long and distinguished professi0nal tenures, including Ambassador George w. Wallace, who was the Foreign Minister then; Ambassador Carlton Carpeh, Amb. T. Ernest Eastman (Fmr. Foreign Minister), Amb. William V.S. Bull, Olubanke King-Akerele (Fmr. Foreign Minister), Dr. Toga Mcintosh (Fmr. Foreign Minister), Amb. Sylvester Grigsby, and many others.
My time at the Foreign Ministry, working in the shadow of President Ellen Johnson, at a critical time of post-conflict recovery, state-building, and reconstruction of Liberia, profoundly shaped my world view and my development perspective. For President Sirleaf, preparing the generation after her for both government and corporate leadership was a key feature of her Administration. She was always intentional for seeking young talents and preparing them for national service. I learned a lot from her, both ethically and professionally. No doubt, she is a towering figure.
After the departure of President Johnson, you served under President Weah as well before resigning, first what was the difference in vision for Liberia for both leaders, and what prompted you to resign?
B. Elias Shoniyin: I do recall in 2006, President Sirleaf inherited an entirely broken country, after fourteen years of devastating civil wars. She assumed leadership of Liberia with a clear vision of what was required to ignite transformative recovery. She had her eyes fixed on her goal of setting Liberia on an irreversible course to development. In this effort, she was prepared to make arduous decisions, even if it meant, working contrary to her Party’s expectations. In her twelve years, two terms leadership, emphasis was placed on Human capacity, building strong and sustainable institutions,
I relish the opportunity to have been called upon by President George Weah to serve with him immediately following his election, affording me the distinguished honor of serving in two successive administrations in post-conflict Liberia. I believe he has had good intentions for Liberia, but his limited professional experience may have held him hostage to delivering on his promise to the people of Liberia. He is trying to take some practical steps towards achieving key objectives, but it has been an uphill battle, with the strong partisan centered government he currently has going. Unfortunately, many of the key operatives of his party (Congress for Democratic Change) lack the requisite education, experience, and technical competence required to adequately get the job done. He has found himself caught between the difficult options of recruiting competences outside of his Party to get the job done, and running a government of tragical incompetence, but fiercely loyal partisans who spent most of their working hours attacking his critics on social media but performing decimally in their government duties.
My resignation as Deputy Foreign Minister of Liberia, in May 2020 was prompted by consistent policy and value incompatibilities. I served my country with dedication and respect for nearly fourteen years and I thought it was time to move on, and I did.
May we know some of the significant challenges that you faced while in government, and in terms of significant accomplishments, what are some that come to mind?
B. Elias Shoniyin: Like many other countries in Africa, public service in Liberia is truly difficult. Not by the responsibilities of the office, but more of navigating the deeply personally driven political space. There were many challenges encountered in the course of my public service, including professional, ethical, and several attempts to blackmail me. Example of some of the most significant professional and technical challenges were the low human capacity mainly at the low and middle levels in government institutions due to the politicization of the system. Dominantly, most of those who entered or sought government appointments were motivated by the personal acquisition of public wealth and for unfair advantage over others. There were almost at all time, personal interest involved when getting tasks done. These self-interested actions slowed momentum, killed morale, and stymied productivity, making it difficult to derive the maximum results from the government’s actions. Despite these challenges, the inspiration, courage, and out of the box thinking ,President Sirleaf spurred, emboldened me and many others on her team to put in an average of fourteen hours a day in achieving the objectives of the post-conflict recovery programs. When we assumed office in 2006, the depth of the quagmire before us was scary – there was nothing that did not require fixing – the entire socioeconomic fabric of society was in shambles; from pipe bourn water to infrastructure (roads, ports, energy , education system, health system, massive unemployment, democratic structures, mindset, and a lot more. Looking back, I am proud of what we together achieved as a country. There is still a lot to be done in Liberia’s development drive; however, when one looks at from where we come, the new do appreciate where we are.
There are many who believe that besides handing over power after twelve years, there was very little that the government of President Sirleaf Johnson did to better the lot of Liberians, on hindsight, do you believe that there was more or room for that administration that you were part of to do more?
B. Elias Shoniyin: Criticism that President Sirleaf did not do much in her twelve-year tenure to bring about development in Liberia is unfair and latently motivated. President Sirleaf’ inherited a country severely battered by fourteen years of fratricide violence. Sirleaf’s administration did remarkably well with restoring Liberia to its prewar status. Considering the extent of the challenges she inherited, and where she left the country at the time of her turnover, I hail her for great work. A few examples of her Presidential accomplishment are as follows: She inherited a budget of 83M in 2006 and left almost US$600M; she inherited a reserve of US$6.5M and left US$154.8M; she successfully negotiated and secured cancellation of more than US$4.9B external debt; she inherited an unpaid wage bill of 36 months to civil servants, and cleared it all in five years, raised salaries by more than 2500 percent; she inherited an energy generation capacity of Zero megawatt and we left 126MW excluding electricity in some rural communities from the West African Power Pool (WAPP) and the CLSG; she inherited a rundown airport and left a new Terminal and runway; she inherited dilapidated and/or limited roads, which she rehabilitated and constructed more than 800km of paved excluding the ongoing Karloken- Harper high way and the Gbarnga to Menikorma High way in Liberia; reconstruction and rehabilitation of many bridges including the Johnson Street and Waterside-Vai Town bridges; 2,103 public schools rehabilitated or constructed, furnished and staffed; five community colleges established in Grand Bassa, Bomi, Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Nimba Counties; construction of the Jackson F.Doe Hospital in Tapeta, Nimba County, and construction and rehabilitation of several hundreds clinic and hospitals including JFK Medical Center in Monrovia, and Phebe Hospital in Gbarnga, Bong County; and many more.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement was the harbinger of great hope for the continent, did you share in that optimism and can you situate the importance of the AfCFTA in the post COVID recovery plans for Africa?
B. Elias Shoniyin: I am sure counted in the number of those optimistic of the promise of AfCFTA. AfCFTA will unlock the untapped potential of intra-Africa trade and compel African countries to increase cross-border connectivity to facilitate the movement of goods and services. AfCFTA will not only increase trade among states on the Continent; it will also attract significant FDI inflow, particularly market-seeking investors who would want to participate in the expanded market of more than 1.4 billion consumers. Once we begin to harness the opportunities of AfCFTA, the benefits of trading among African states will have a multiplier effects on promoting increased agriculture production and a lot of intermediate manufacturing by small underdeveloped states, to support largest industries on the Continent. I believe that trading among us will spur unprecedented prosperity in Africa. It is important that African countries be encouraged to formulate their post-COVID recovery plans around the opportunity of AfCFTA. AfCFTA will also embolden African countries to invest more in areas of comparative advantage, where they have maximum potentials.
We end with a word from you on the future of Liberia and Africa, what are your hopes and what are your fears?
B. Elias Shoniyin: Liberia is now enduring a difficult period. All the economic and social indicators are in the reverse, after an earlier twelve years of steady reforms and transformation. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the economy was already sliding; now it seems to be in acceleration downward. The future is no doubt uncertain!
I believe in the promise of Africa, but I am aware that there is a lot of work to be done, particularly in re-orientating the mindset on how we see public service and developing the spirit of entrepreneurship. We will need to invest hugely in human capacity and infrastructure and build strong and sustainable institutions that are beyond the narrow aspirations of a few individuals. There are some countries on the Continent that are progressing very well along these lines and we are all proud of them.
I disagree every time I hear people inferring that Africa is rich – suggesting that the minerals or gems, and natural resources underground are supposed to make us rich without any efforts. I believe, the most valuable asset of Africa is its people. Natural resources underground are not what make a people great; the capacity of the people to harness those resources makes them great. Our foremost challenge in Africa today is the limited capacity of our people. The more we can invest in our people, the more Africa’s future will be assured.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share my perspectives on my country and our Continent, Africa.
Sustained Efforts Needed To Boast Brazil-Africa Relations -Prof Joao Monte
October 13, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Sustained efforts are needed to maximize the enormous potentials of stronger ties between Brazil and says Prof João Bosco Monte ,President of the Brazil African Institute- IBRAF. Speaking in a skype interview to discuss the upcoming Brazil-Africa forum, of the flagship programmes of the IBRAF, Prof Monte says the similarity between the South American country and Africa are too many with ample opportunities for win-win cooperation.
PAV: Dr Monte good morning and thanks for talking to Pan African Visions
Professor Joao Monte: It is a pleasure to talk with you, my friend.
PAV: Let’s start with an introduction of the Brazil-Africa Institute that you lead. Can you give an introduction of that Institute for us?
Professor Joao Monte: When I founded the institute 10-years-ago the idea was to give Brazilians to see what kind of synergies and activities that both sides could do together. I see a link between the two regions, Brazil and the African continent, not only because of the history; geography but because I see a potential similarity between both places. When I saw the possibility to interact, I understood that we could do things together and came to the idea to have the institute.
This is the idea we had for the institute ten years ago, and now it is found in many states in Brazil. Two-years-ago we opened one office in Accra, Ghana. We are thinking to have one more antenna of the institute, and we are trying to understand when and where it will be. The idea was to do it this year, but because of the situation of the pandemic, we had to change it for next year.
PAV: One of your flagship programmes is the Brazil-Africa forum, and the 2020 edition is scheduled for November 3-4, how prepared is the institute to host this event this year.
Professor Joao Monte: The forum is one of the tools we have to engage, to put together Brazilians and Africans. In the last seven editions of the forum we discussed many things, topics, brought so many high-level authorities from Brazil and Africa. More and, more, we are engaging with people from outside Brazil and Africa. The idea is to promote the forum and have leaders from many parts of the world to present their ideas, and have their voices heard. This year we are going to celebrate the tenth year of the institute and, in the beginning, we wanted to have the forum with a physical presence, so, people come into Brazil. But because of the pandemic, we needed to change, and it will be 100 % virtual.
The event won’t be a webinar; it is a well-prepared event. We have participants from Africa, Brazil and other regions, and the topic we are going to talk about will be “How the world will behave after the pandemic” because we are now facing an important moment, but, we need to understand how the world will act after the pandemic is important. Brazil and Africa should be together again, and we are going to discuss opportunities for Brazil and Africa during the forum this year.
PAV: Looking back ten years is quite some time. If you were, to sum up, the achievements you have recorded, what progress have you seen in the ten years you have been doing this?
Professor Joao Monte: Just to clarify that the institute has ten-years already, but the forum has eight-years – we are now coming to the eighth edition of the forum. It is not easy to summarize in a short time what we have done in eight years of the event. I remember in 2016 I put together two Ministers the Minister of Agriculture of Brazil and the Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria to discuss opportunity possibilities that this initiative that we engage at the Brazil-Africa forum at that time could have. Our mandate is to be a catalyser, a facilitator, and I think that is what is there to promote the meeting between both sides of Brazil and Africa. We brought personalities to the event that brought ideas, which was the beginning of something as we had a Brazilian company that is now doing projects in Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana. They came to the forum, used the platform to engage with partners and then we now see positive results.
PAV: And for the 2020 forum may we know some of the highlights and personalities that will be answering present?
Professor Joao Monte: The forum this year like I said is on how the world will behave after the pandemic, and we have already confirmed some important participations. We have Jennifer Blanke, former Vice-President at AfDB, Michael Kremer, 2019 Nobel Prize Economist, Dr Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and others. We are bringing something else which is the launch of the initiative relating to business and investment between Brazil and Africa that is something for us in the coming years.
PAV: With regards to the theme for this year that is: “what next after the pandemic”, in what areas do you cooperation between Brazil and Africa in meeting the next challenges?
Professor Joao Monte: We are going to bring the President of Fiocruz – a Brazilian government company relating to the production of vaccines. They will produce the next year millions of vaccines for Brazilians and also for the African context.
Health is one of the areas I am very sure we can contribute to using the platform of the forum but also Agriculture. As I said, we are going to have the commission on Agriculture from AU. We are going to have the foreign Minister of Agriculture from Brazil during Lula’s time. So, agriculture is again another possibility of discussion.
Infrastructure is something very unique. We had a few companies from Brazil which have built roads, airports, ports and other infrastructure activities and, they will be again in the forum. I am sure this will be a contribution we can bring to the movement in engaging the two regions. In the area of education, we are going to have experts to discuss what they are doing, and this can be an opportunity for interacting in this area.
PAV: May we know how the current President of Brazil is doing to forging stronger bonds between Africa and any comparison with his predecessors in this regard?
Professor Joao Monte: Last year we brought to the event the Vice- President of Brazil. He opened the Brazil-Africa forum in 2019. It was good to hear from him that he was planning to come to Africa – he was planning to visit Africa this year in March but because of the pandemic and the borders we closed He could not travel – what I am saying is that when he mentioned that Africa could be a part of the Brazilian agenda I understand that this is something special, but we should not compare what we had during President Lula’s mandate and what we have now.
The current President did not point Africa as President Lula did in the past but now, we can still harness what President Lula said in 2003. He said: “Africa will be a priority for this government”, and it was a reality as he travelled to Africa many times with his Ministers. The current President of Brazil did not say anything about having Africa as a priority but, from the voice of the Vice-President, we can have an important message that Africa was not erased from the core of the government. I am not a government official, so, I cannot talk on behalf of the government but, looking from outside I see that the voice of the Vice President was good to announce that we can still do things together.
I have spoken to private sector key personalities, and they say Africa is on their radar and they want to do things with Africa. But we need to put more people together to engage more and more, and this is good for the Brazil-Africa Institute because we have the best connections to put things together, Brazilians and Africans.
PAV: During the recent crisis at the AfDB you spoke out forcefully in support of Dr (Akinwumi) Adesina, and he was re-elected for another four-year mandate. Firstly, are you happy with his re-election and secondly in what areas do you see prospects to engage with the AfDB in meeting some of the objectives of the Brazil-Africa Institute?
Professor Joao Monte: I am happy with the re-election, and I understand what he did for his first term but, he will need more time to continue to give more visibility and bring more results for what he planned to do. I supported him because I understand his voice is important for the Africa context and he brings to the table the idea that Africa needs to change not only to receive things from outside but that Africa should engage and work together with partners – something which is very important for the continent and the people. The agenda of the bank is very wide; the reduction and elimination of poverty are important to mention but I think there is one direction which he is doing which is related to Agriculture. Because of his background as the former Minister of Agriculture for Nigeria he knows what he is saying when he is talking about Agriculture.
Specifically, from the Brazilian context agriculture is one of the main assets that we have in this discussion. If you look back at Brazil four years ago, you will see maybe the same situation that is in other parts of Africa. We used to import foods, crops but now Brazil is one of the biggest exporters of food and commodities in the world (maize, corn, soybeans, sugar and others). We have so many possibilities of producing in Africa what we are producing in Brazil and the AfDB plays an important role.
From outside I think the bank can work more with Brazil in terms of attracting Brazilian voices, entrepreneurs, businesspeople to Africa. One thing I would like to mention is if we do not take the opportunity to invite people to come, and see what we have in front of us people will not see the potentials. The bank is playing an important role, but I think the conversation should be more precise, and the initiative of the bank with Brazil should be more aggressive and precise. I hope that in his second term he could put more attention to the Brazilian context.
PAV: In the build-up to the forum coming up in November, news came up indicating that you had been appointed as a champion of the UN Food Summit by the UN Special envoy for Food System Summit. What does this appointment mean for you and what do you think you can bring to the table?
Professor Joao Monte: I am very honoured to be appointed as a champion of the Food System Summit for 2021. We need to give people the food that they need. I just mentioned that Brazil is producing more food than before which is very important, but we need to see how we can again work together. Being appointed as a champion of the Food System is the opportunity to raise our voice amongst others to bring benefit to the people, especially poor people in Africa and Brazil. With the experience we can bring from Brazil, I think we can help put some realities in the African context. We just started this discussion, but I am very excited to see the results of the engagements of the group of champions including myself.
PAV: We would like to round up with what you plan to do next after the Brazil-Africa forum, what other initiatives will you be working on, and what perspectives do you see for the future of Brazil-Africa relations?
Professor Joao Monte: The Brazil-Africa Institute has many activities besides the Brazil-Africa forum which is important for us. Of course, this year has been a difficult year for everybody as we had to reinvent ourselves – we could not travel and meet people and so it was not easy to do everything we planned last year for this year. One of the activities we have going is the fellowship programme, we bring researchers from Africa to stay in Brazil for up to two months under my supervision to do research, bringing to the world some experience that Brazil is doing well in the South-South Cooperation platform. We can have health, education science, innovation, agriculture and so this is something we are still doing, and we launched a call last month and is still running until 12 of October, and they will arrive in February/March next year.
Also, we have “YTTP” which is Youth Technical Training Programme, where we bring young Africans to receive technical training, very sharp and direct training in areas that Brazil again is doing well, succeeding and when they go back home, they are easy to deploy with the knowledge they have received in Brazil. These youths stay in Brazil for up to two weeks – we started this programme in 2017 and, this year we had to reschedule, and the first group was supposed to arrive in April but had to be rescheduled for February. We are in the process of selecting people, and something new we learnt from this moment is the use of technology. We have launched a programme called Online Platform Learning, and we will be starting next year. We are finalizing the preparation of this programme.
What is going to be the future between Brazil and Africa? It is not easy to say that the relations will be strong or diminish. But understand what we are doing, your job and my job, it is to keep talking, thinking and dreaming as without dreaming we cannot go far. The situation is not easy – it is difficult. If I looked back ten years ago, it was impossible to achieve the things we have now. We need to leave the message to the people that it is possible to engage Brazil and Africa, and we should be together. We cannot do things alone; we should be together to go far. I am very optimist and realistic as well for what is going to happen tomorrow, but I am very sure that if we stay quiet, and calm, too many things will not happen. That is why we should act precisely with strategy.
PAV: Professor Monte thanks so much for talking to Pan African Visions and keep the doors open when we come again next time.
Professor Joao Monte: Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to engaging more and more with you. Thanks again.
We must imagine and create the Africa we want- Transformunity CEO Arrey Obenson
September 25, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Joseph Besong
Faced with a myriad of challenges, Africans must imagine and create the continent they want as a way forward, says Arrey Obenson. In an interview with PAV, Obenson, Co-Founder and CEO of Transformunity, a consulting firm that harnesses opportunities of corporations and organizations to transform the world, says the re-imagination is not feasible only within government and corporate board rooms , but also in the streets and market squares of Africa.
“We have cultured a master-servant mentality in our society that has become so pervasive in the African society. We need a massive mindset shift to accept that every child that is born in Africa deserves the same opportunities as a child that is born in the most advanced economies in the world,” Obenson says.
Founder of I Am Cameroon with a mission to inspire, educate and engage Cameroonians to accept and assume responsibility for the development of Cameroon, Obenson in this interview dwells on efforts he is leading to supplement Africa’s response to COVID-19 , and his stewardship with Junior Chambers International, JCI, where he served in diverse capacities for close to two decades.
PAV: Mr. Obenson, thank you for accepting to grant us an audience for an interview could we start with an introduction of Arrey Obenson in his own words?
Arrey Obenson: I am a global citizen, who is committed to being an actor in the common destiny of humanity as opposed to being a spectator. Born in Cameroon, educated as a lawyer, I am a husband to an incredibly beautiful wife – Queen and father to two awesome boys. I am a Strategic Consultant and CEO of a Consulting Firm called Transformunity with mission to help organization harness their opportunities. I am also Founder of I Am Cameroon with a mission to inspire, educate and engage Cameroonians to accept and assume responsibility for the development of Cameroon.
I am passionate about finding solutions to complex challenges. I am invested in empowering young people and lately in helping small organization and businesses identify opportunities and develop strategies that will help them achieved their greatest potential.
PAV: Can you shed light on your engagement with the civil society, governments, and leadership roles?
Arrey Obenson: At the age of 23, I joined an organization called Junior Chamber International (JCI) as founder member of my Local Organization in Limbe Cameroon. This organization gave me the opportunity to get involved in the development of my community. In 1997 serving as its Local President, we were able to raise funds and completely renovate 9 wash houses at the Limbe Regional Hospital, saving lives of thousands of patients who used that hospital. This experience led me to understand how much power lies in the hands of citizens to will change in their communities. I thereafter resolved to be an actor rather than a spectator in my community. I then took to building the organization, creating more opportunities for other young people to get involved and benefit from the same experience that I had had. In under two years, I traveled thousands of kilometers across Cameroon starting up Local Organizations and growing the membership of JCI Cameroon by over 500%. I was then tapped by the World Headquarters to work as its Director for Growth in Africa. In that capacity we grew Africa’s membership by over 100% in 5 years and expanded the organization to the Middle East. I was the given the opportunity to serve as Executive Director, Deputy Secretary General and eventually Secretary General.
One of the remarkable achievements which we made at JCI was strategically positioning the organization and its members as solution providers to the complex challenges of our society. The organization became therefore an active player in development by being at the intersection of government, corporations and the civil society. I led the organization through 3 strategic plans, developing a new mission, vision and long-term strategic positioning. We took on bold initiatives like mobilizing young people around the world to come peace actors with a global peace campaign. We were one of the first global NGOs to embrace and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and made this the core of projects young people did in over 100 countries. We also developed and copyrighted a framework for the development of communities that eventually has been adopted by several other organizations around the world.
In accomplishing the foregoing, we had to collaborate with all sectors society. I worked closely with the United Nations, engaged with regional organizations, business leaders, countries leaders, community leaders and celebrities to achieve our common goals. I also spent a lot of time traveling, and inspiring young people in over 100 countries.
I am a student of leadership, learning at every opportunity. My style of leadership is essentially giving people the opportunity to share leadership. The best leaders to me are this who can rely on the people around them. You can only do that by building trust, having a clear vision and being a motivator.
PAV: The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t spared Africa. What role have you played in helping the continent cope with the pandemic?
Arrey Obenson: I hesitate to say that the pandemic has spared Africa. We have had over 30,000 confirmed deaths which is largely under reported due to the poor state of healthcare in most African countries. That said, based on what was projected Africa has seen less deaths and it is a blessing. We are still to assess though the impact on its economy, and the mental wellbeing of its people. Time will tell.
I have been playing a role in slowing down the spread of the virus through a project we launched last April called the I Am Cameroon COVID-19 Diaspora Response. As earlier mentioned, I am the Founder of I Am Cameroon and when we saw the devastating impact of the pandemic in Europe, we knew then that we had to do something for Cameroon. We then launched a campaign in amongst the Cameroonian Diaspora to raise money to procure and distribute PPE to healthcare workers in Cameroon, who are in the frontline of fights against COVID-19. Thanks to sup[port and efforts of these several associations and contributions of over 150 individuals particularly in the Diaspora succeed in raising of nearly $30,000 (US Dollars) and the distributions of 10,000 surgical masks, 2500 face shields, 10,000 surgical gloves and 100 coveralls. Theses PPE have been distributed in 5 regions of Cameroon reaching at least 15 hospitals.
We signed a signed Memorandum of Understanding with the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS), Cameroon’s second largest healthcare provider, with 80 hospitals and clinics in all 10 regions of Cameroon. The coalition relies on the CBCHS to facilitate the identification of the areas of need and distribution of PPEs as and when needed. The coalition continues to work with the National Association of Cameroonian Private Doctors in Cameroon and the National Association of Cameroonian Pharmacist for guidance in its action.
Going forward, the I Am Cameroon Diaspora COVID-19 Response has secured two 40 feet containers of sanitary gel (hand sanitizers) from a sponsor company called Saraya Co Ltd form Japan. These donations include 24,000 1L bottles and 220,000 100 ML bottles respectively worth nearly $500,000. Working with local partners, these sanitary gels will be distributed on arrival in Cameroon with 60% going to the CBC network of hospitals and the rest distributed to other healthcare institutions. The task ahead remains colossal, and while the coalition has saved lives, the need largely outweighs the means. As the I Am Cameroon Diaspora COVID-19 Reponse plans its phase two distribution, there continues to be a need for more resources, as well as the need to build resilience in the Cameroonian society. An impact survey conducted shows that healthcare workers are stressed, frightened about the lack of protection as well the lack of awareness in the population. The outcome of the survey tells us we must provide more PPEs, but also support the mental health of healthcare workers as well provide more education or awareness about COVID-19 in Cameroon.
We are also launching fitness challenge campaign that will mobilize Cameroonians to keep healthy while fundraising to support healthcare workers in Cameroon. (See attached project write up). We have a goal of raising another $50,000 to support healthcare workers in Cameroon.
PAV: Your success story speaks volume. What are your secrets?
Arrey Obenson: I do not see myself as a success. I strive to be successful at every endeavor. Sometimes I fail woefully, and I learn the most from those failures. My secret is asking the right questions. I like to challenge the status quo and not accept things to be the way they are but the way the can or ought to be. It is a mindset – one that focuses on what is possible rather that what is not.
PAV: As someone who is in consultation with governments and organizations in Africa, what is Africa’s greatest problem?
Arrey Obenson: We, the people of Africa are in the way of Africa’s development. It is hard for Africans to imagine an alternative Africa other than what they currently see. Yet we must imagine and create the Africa we want. This re-imagination of Africa cannot happen only in the corridors of government or board rooms of corporations but in the streets and market squares of Africa. We have suffered the hangover of our colonial past for too long that we do not see ourselves as equals. We have cultured a master-servant mentality in our society that has become so pervasive in the African society. We need a massive mindset shift to accept that every child that is born in Africa deserves the same opportunities as a child that is born in the most advanced economies in the world. That will mean accepting that every human being, every Africa deserves the human dignity that every human being deserves.
I believe that when we Africans begin to accept ourselves as equals and can accord to each other the dignity that every human being deserves then we will not accept that 400 million people live in extreme poverty, or that children still die of preventable disease or that only person can be leader for 40 years in country full of talented people.
Africa’s greatest problem lies in the mindset of its people. Ironically that mindset is the greatest opportunity. I am working on the secret to unlock that greatest opportunity – one person, one project at a time. It may not happen in my lifetime, but I am certain that when we can change that mindset, Africa will transform.
PAV: Thanks for granting this interview
Arrey Obenson: Thank you.
Cameroon: Major National Dialogue Was A Colossal Failure Of Historic Proportions-Federalist Society Leader -Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme
September 14, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Amos Fofung and Ajong Mbapndah L
A few weeks shy of one year since the Major National Dialogue touted by the Yaoundé regime as a panacea to the myriad of problems facing the country, Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme of the Cameroon Federalist Society says the forum was a colossal failure of historic proportions. The USA based medical Doctor who honored an invitation to be at the Dialogue, says Yaoundé has not shown any modicum of good faith and seriousness when it comes to resolving the crisis in the English-speaking parts of the country.
Describing the National Dialogue as a drama, written, directed, and produced by the Cameroon government, Dr Eseme says it was a waste of time, opportunity, and resources for a charade designed to impress the international community.
“There is a reason the people are angry. That reason is not a military one. Therefore, the solution cannot be military. It is the responsible of the government to protect people and property, but it is also their responsibility to ensure justice and fairness reigns,” Eseme says as he urged the government to put country and people above politics .
“There is something fundamentally wrong and sad when a people are pushed to the wall. This is what has happened to us. I am however very optimistic about our future. I have no doubt in my mind that future includes a form of federalism,” says Dr Eseme.
On the way forward, Eseme opined that it was imperative for Anglophones to meet under a broad umbrella that accommodates all views before any future moves to negotiate with the government. Though no details were given, Dr Eseme said there was movement towards this.
Dr Eseme could we start this interview by getting some background information on the Cameroon Federalist Society that you lead?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I want to start by thanking Pan African Visions for this opportunity to share our vision with the public. The Cameroon Federalist Movement (CFM) is a body of Cameroonians who believe a Federal system of government is best to ensure Justice and Fairness in Cameroon. We have a global membership and are headquartered in the United States of America. Membership is open to all Cameroonians. CFM had its Constitutive General Assembly on October 27, 2018 in Bowie, Maryland. We have released a document called Blueprint to Federalism which we have published extensively in the local media in Cameroon. In recognition of the important role we play, 6 of our members were invited to take part in the Major National Dialogue that took place in Yaoundé from September 30 to October 4, 2019.
How do you situate the relevance of the Federalist Society and what it stands and advocate for in the present political context in Cameroon?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I believe CFM continues to remain a major stakeholder in the political future of Cameroon. We believe our vision is consistent with that of most Cameroonians. We are not radical, and we think our position is sound, just and fair. If you were to take a well-designed survey of Cameroonians, I have no doubt most will agree with our ideology. Cameroon is an idea and whatever we choose to make of this idea is up to us, but one thing remains indisputable. This idea called Cameroon belongs to all of us, without exception. It does not belong to one man, one tribe or one region. Unfortunately, we have a Head of State who is not only out of sight but out of touch as well, with his citizens. So far, he seems to have succeeded in dividing us but as the saying goes, you can fool some of the people all the time; you can even fool all of the people some time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The Cameroon government has behaved like an Ostrich with its head buried underground for so long that it is not sustainable. Sooner than later, even the Ostrich will have to raise its head to breathe. We believe that time is closer than we all think.
Last year you participated at the Major National Dialogue, could you tell us how the Federalist Society obtained this invitation, and in accepting to honor it, what were your expectations?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: Indeed, six of our members, including myself were invited by the Head of State to participate in the Major National Dialogue. Our invitations were without any lobbying on our part. We believe it was in recognition of the force of our activism. On this note therefore, I have to appreciate the openness of the Head of State to have extended those invitations knowing our established position. Initially, there was no consensus among our leadership regarding our attendance. Eventually, we decided to attend, not because we were expecting the old dog to learn new tricks, but out of a sense of patriotic duty.
At the National Dialogue proper, how active were you in the deliberations, and did you get the impression that the proposals you brought or that the Society had in mind towards the resolution of the political crisis in Cameroon were given due consideration?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: On day one, the proverbial handwriting was already on the wall. The Prime Minister, who played the role of Conference organizer, handpicked all the Commission members with a majority of them drawn from hardliners. At that point we knew it was fixed but we decided to stay to fight because when you believe in something, you don’t give up. You might have seen the interview I gave to CRTV on the first day. I made it known in very strong language how disappointed we were. Interestingly, CRTV who had solicited my interview on the first day, did everything to avoid me the next day. I think they received a warning from the government not to grant me any further interviews. I was part of the Commission on decentralization which was chaired by Mr. Ngole Philip Ngwese who pretended to be fair but was so glaringly biased. On day one, he allowed Professor Joseph Owona, who had no business being there, to speak uninterrupted for about 30 minutes while I was limited to only 3 minutes. It was a shame and a sham.
Was it of concern to you that organizations and leaders with known separatist sentiments were not invited to the National Dialogue?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: To be fair to the government, separatist leaders were also invited. I saw their invites. I am not sure what difference it would have made though, given the tight manner in which they controlled the deliberations.
A year after the dialogue, what would you say has changed from Cameroon, is there any tangible progress that you can point to as a fallout of that forum?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I am going to very clear here so that I am not misinterpreted or misquoted. In my humble opinion and by any metric measure, The Major National Dialogue was a colossal failure of historic proportions. It was a waste of time, opportunity and resources. The government was never serious. They did it for show and to impress the international community. As I was leaving Yaoundé on October 4, I could not help but realize I had just taken part in a drama, written, directed and produced by the Cameroon government.
In lieu of the Federation that you and many others saw as a solution, the government opted for a special status and for a year now there has not been much progress on that, what is your take on this?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: The Special Status idea was proposed by Mr. Edward Akame Mfoumou, who is by any measure not a proponent for change. So right there I had my suspicions but because they were in charge of everything, they made it seem as if it was a consensus decision. It was not. There is no need for a Special Status for Anglophones. A Special Status is what you give to someone who otherwise does not deserve or qualify for that status. In other words, it is an accommodation. An example would be to grant special seating arrangements or parking to the disabled.
Anglophones are neither disabled nor begging for what is rightfully theirs. I am not surprised the Special Status was not enthusiastically received and has not been the panacea they thought it would be. The letter behind it was wrong but more importantly the spirit behind the idea was very disingenuous.
As we do this interview, Bamenda in the NW region is literally under siege, what message do you have for the Cameroon government which seems resolute on using force to stop the crisis?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: My message to the Cameroon government is to put Country above politics and people before party. There is a reason the people are angry. That reason is not a military one. Therefore, the solution cannot be military. It is the responsible of the government to protect people and property, but it is also their responsibility to ensure justice and fairness reigns. The problem with our government is that they don’t always believe that the authority and power they have, must be balanced by accountability and responsibility.
With everything that has been going on, the human right abuses, the characteristic bad faith of the government, the general insensitivity to the plight of people in the NW and SW regions, how hard is it for you and members of your group to sell the federal option to those who see no future with Cameroon?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: I would be lying if I told you it was easy. The longer this fight goes on, the more desperate people are going to become. Desperate people are going to do desperate things. There is something fundamentally wrong and sad when a people are pushed to the wall. This is what has happened to us. I am however very optimistic about our future. I have no doubt in my mind that future includes a form of federalism.
Based on your experience at the National Dialogue, if the Government decides to hold another forum, under what conditions will you and the Federalist Society consider participation?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: Fool me once, shame unto you. Fool me twice, shame unto me. We have learned a bitter lesson, unfortunately, a very costly one too. Too many lives have been lost. Lives that could have been spared. There is only one condition under which we can discuss again with the government. Anglophones must first meet under a large enough umbrella to accommodate all views. Only after this has been done, can we move to negotiate with the government. I am pleased to inform the public there is some movement toward this end.
We end with a word on the way forward, what recommendations do you have for the government and for the actors from the North West and South West with diverse positions and approaches?
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: My final word is a reminder of what this is all about. It is about the future of our nation. I would advise those supporting the Head of State in his misguided approach to solve this problem militarily, that Mr. Biya is not the future. He is the past. I would also advise my brothers and sisters who are armed and fighting, to drop their arms. Mr. Biya is not a hill worth dying on. Our future is bright, very bright and it is without Mr. Biya.
Thanks for answering our questions
Dr Wilson Lobe Eseme: You bet!
Cameroon:War in NW/SW Not Winnable From Military Perspective-Former Consortium Leader Barrister Felix Agbor Balla
September 9, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The current war in the South West and North West Regions is not winnable from a military perspective, says Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor “Balla,” a former leader of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium. Speaking in an exclusive interview with PAV, The renowned human rights lawyer who heads the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA, says only by winning the minds and hearts of people and meeting their demands can peace begin to be restored.
“It is not just burning their villages or buying people over or locking them in jail but by opening a veritable dialogue and negotiations with the leaders and the people,” says Balla,a leading actor in the current political dispensation in Cameroon, on the way forward.
While he does not regret participating at the National Dialogue last year, Barrister Agbor Balla believes the sustained pattern of deceit, and characteristic bad faith on the path of the Cameroon is not helping at all. Citing the example of the Special Status agreed upon at the Dialogue, Balla says it is despicable that even on such a proposition which fell way below what most Anglophones expect, the government has not been able to deliver.
Consistent with his believe in a two states federation as a solution to the crisis in Cameroon, Barrister frowned on the name calling and attempts to bully others into positions that are not necessarily theirs. Before going to prison, in prison, and after prison, I was for a two states Federation and I stand by that says Barrister Agbor Balla.
“We do not need to be friends to the government or the separatists but we are friends to the truth, justice, and respect of human rights,” says Barrister Agbor Balla in touting the ground breaking work of the CHRDA that he leads.
“The carnage, bloodbath, destruction of our economy at times done by us against us is something we have to address – because the government cannot be killing our people and we too are killing our people. There is a need for an intra-Anglophone dialogue to try and address some of the issues we face and to look at our grievances and try to be realistic – this is what we can achieve for the time being and then move on as a people,” says Barrister Balla in the interview .
PAV: Barrister Balla, thanks for granting this interview, may we know your reading of the political; situation in Cameroon and especially the English-speaking regions of the country?
Barrister Balla: With regards to the political situation in Anglophone Cameroon, for the time being, one cannot read what is going on. There are times that you think the conflict is going down but after a while, you see what has happened within the last months shows that the conflict is only increasing. They have announced the Regional election which ideally is something the people will be happy but within the current dispensation, nobody is excited because the ruling party is the dominant party, on paper they will win the entire regions.
If you look at the special status that came with a lot of euphorias after the Grand National Dialogue, which at the end of the day there is nothing special in the special status because it is like an empty shell; nothing fundamentally changing. They talked about that we will have a house of chiefs as if that is something new.
Most people are focused on us to have an end to this conflict. Politics and politicking, electioneering will only come after we have found a solution. You do not expect people who are living in the forest, people who cannot have a decent meal because the economy has been strangulated as a result of the strike, for them to bother about politics. So for the time being politics is a non-issue in the North West and South West Regions.
PAV: CHRDA recently published a report detailing gruesome atrocities from the Cameroon military on citizens in the North West and South West, are their actions not pushing people to see the wisdom of those who say only a new country or nothing?
Barrister Balla: CHRDA previously published a report that documented the atrocities by the non-state actors. As a CSO organization that is independent, very objective, we document and report. We do not invent, fabricate and at CHRDA we document, monitor and report. If we have to call perpetrators or violators to order then we have to do it. If it means pushing those who believe in separation to clamour for more separation so be it. You might also say the report we published documenting separatist atrocities will also push those who do not want independence to have a stronger case to show the atrocities committed by the separatist.
By and large, we want to say no to impunity, and there should be a need for accountability because if you look at these gross violations they are widespread and systematic. We have had instances that villages have been burnt, people have been unlawfully detained, and people have been extra-judicially killed, tortured, cruel and degrading treatment perpetrated by both parties to the conflict. The whole idea of our report is for documentation purposes and this conflict will have to come to an end. Someday, posterity will hold accountable those who committed mayhem in the South West and North West Regions. At the end of this report, we end up antagonizing both parties to the conflict but like what one clergy told me that the fact that the non-state armed actors and the government are complaining about you means that you are doing a good job. We do not need to be friends to the government or the separatist but we are friends to the truth, justice, and respect of human rights.
PAV: It will soon be a year since the major National dialogue took place, where are we with the implementation of its resolutions?
Barrister Balla: I do not think we have made any inroad since the Grand National Dialogue. I know they have been talking about reconstruction in the NW/SWRs, I know UNDP is involved and that is a good step in the right direction – to try to rebuild some of the property that was destroyed, compensate some people, social cohesion is very important. But you cannot be talking about reconstruction without talking about peace, reconciliation, and justice.
The whole idea of the Grand National Dialogue was to bring people on the table – yes it is the step in the right direction, I’m not saying it was a wasted effort. I didn’t expect that after a conflict of four years,in five days we will have a solution. I expect that we will have a series of dialogue going on. I appreciate the fact that government started speaking with Ayuk Tabe and Co. which is good, the Swiss process has been suspended for the time being but there is a need for us to have a combined process – the Swiss process, the National process. As a result of the infighting when you talk to those advocating for the Swiss process it seems you are legitimizing the IG of Sako and Anu; when you talk to Ayuk it seems you are legitimizing the IG of Ayuk and Yerima. So bring all of them together and talk about an international process.
PAV: One of the major resolutions from the National Dialogue was the creation of a special status for English speaking regions, a year after,is there any seriousness, sincerity, and political will on the part of the Cameroon government in resolving the crisis in the NW and SW regions?
Barrister Balla: I don’t think there is any seriousness on the part of the government. You can see that the special status as an afterthought. They were not ready for it or to lose power. It is a government that is adamant to change and I would say they are deaf, dumb, mute and extremely arrogant and stubborn. If you have a special status and the Governor is still appointed it does not make any sense. If you read the law on decentralization you will realize that the President of the Regional Council is still just a ceremonial head, the Governor will be the first in the region. They say they were going to give us a house of chiefs but it is not the house of chiefs we knew in the days of Southern Cameroon. It is just kind of a cosmetic house of chiefs that will not have independent-minded people that can help the people in the NW/SWRs.
The special status is something I believe initially that we came out of the Dialogue with something but if you look at areas where the special status is practised such as Catalan, Quebec it is different. Unfortunately, the people in power are not ready to relinquish any of their authority. So we will talk about it till next year but nothing fundamental has taken place.
PAV: When you look at the way things have unfolded after the dialogue, do you think it was worth it, was it a missed opportunity and do you have any regrets taking part in it?
Barrister Balla: It was worth it in the sense that for the first time it brought a myriad of people together. That was the first time I and others exchange ideas with the government. If you want to find a solution it is a gradual process which you first start by building confidence. Unfortunately, some of us clamoured for a return to a two-state federation which was not part of the agenda which we thought would have been a panacea to the situation. I don’t regret taking part – if they call another I will still go because if you are preaching for peace, reconciliation, dialogue, you cannot not be advocating for these things and at the same time boycotting it. I think we have taken the first step and it is now incumbent on the government to show their good faith and goodwill by continuing the journey.
PAV: What do you think of the Bilingualism Commission, is there any role it is playing to address some of the concerns of NW and SW Regions?
Barrister Balla: I think it was a tool just to bamboozle the population. That is not the problem that the people have been complaining about. Yes, it is an institution that can help in entrenching bilingualism in Cameroon but it is not that will solve the problem. The constitution talks about Cameroon as a bilingual country and so I still do not understand how something is provided by the constitution, you need to create another commission to see how to implement it. I don’t see the power they have as they only make recommendations to the President and at the end of the day, it has no powers.
PAV: How are the Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration centres working, are there serving the intended purpose?
Barrister Balla: Ideally DDR will come at the end of the conflict where people would have put down their weapons, and they will have to rehabilitate some of them. To me, it is just like the Bilingualism commission which is just a fire brigade measure. I don’t think the government was ready, you can see the disaster called the DDR. I don’t think the thought was taken before it was created. It was one of those things to show the world that we are doing something but to me it was more cosmetic than real.
PAV: There is also a committee for reconstruction that recently launched its activities; do you think in the present circumstances it is feasible to do any reconstruction in the NW and SW Regions?
Barrister Balla: I supported the reconstruction process because we don’t know when the conflict will come to an end, and people are suffering. We have documented these houses that have been burnt. As of today, we have about 235 houses or villages that were burnt. So if they want to reconstruct these villages or houses that we have been complaining about, how can we be complaining? I don’t look at it only as reconstruction but construction and reconstruction. It should be done whilst we are finding a solution to the crisis. We cannot be doing it forgetting that we have a crisis as there are still gunshots, lockdowns, and arrests still going on.
PAV: Before the National dialogue you were making efforts for a forum for people from the NW and SW regions, a sort of AAC 3; do you think such a forum still has its place in the present context?
Barrister Balla: I don’t know why the separatists and government didn’t want the Anglophone General Conference to hold. It might not have a place but what I think is needed is an intra-Anglophone dialogue. The carnage, bloodbath, destruction of our economy at times done by us against us is something we have to address – because the government cannot be killing our people and we too are killing our people. There is a need for an intra-Anglophone dialogue to try and address some of the issues we face and to look at our grievances and try to be realistic – this is what we can achieve for the time being and then move on as a people.
PAV: What is your reaction to the growing sentiment by restive Anglophones that the Clergy may be playing a dubious role in the crisis with increasing closeness to government positions?
Barrister Balla: This PhD (Pull Him Down) syndrome we have in Anglophone Cameroon. Everybody we have condemned; we condemn the church, the CSOs, Teachers, and Lawyers, everybody who say something we don’t like we condemn. These clergies are people who have been drawing attention to the problems faced by people in the NW/SWRs. For me, just to put them in one box and lampoon them is not fair. They have a role to play and they must not only say what you want them to say because that is a dictatorship and we are not in North Korea. There might be some of the Clergy who might not be good but it is not the entire Clergy that is bad or that is on the payroll of the government.
PAV: Some critics say the Agbor Balla who led the initial stages of the struggle and the Agbor Balla of today is day and night in positions, the insinuation been that after your stint in prison, your tone became a little more subdued and you have viewpoints closer to the government, can we have your response to that?
Barrister Balla: If you follow me before the crisis, my declarations, I have always been a person for the two states federation, and I will religiously defend my position – I said it before jail, in jail and after jail. The problem with most people is that they expected me to join the separatist movement but I have my philosophy, and conviction – I don’t believe in a bloodbath, I don’t believe in war. I have friends who are in the separatist movement and I tell them that I am not a warmonger and I will not support warmongering, killing of innocent persons.
Even those who criticize us, the most reputable document on atrocities in this country is done by us – so they criticize us but even if they go in the international forum they use but our document for advocacy. The one we published in Canada in July 2019 is a groundbreaking document, the one we published about military and separatist atrocities nobody can fault us. We were one of the first to comment about Ngarbur and we were threatened by the government but we were proven right. Unfortunately, emotions have taken over reason. Most people have gotten too deep that they cannot even reason again. If you don’t say what they want to hear then they say you are a blackleg or you’ve been bought. The people who are shouting on social media are not the majority but the people who thank us give us the impetus to do what we are doing.
They will rewrite the history of this country and we will have a page, a chapter or something on the role that we played. No matter what they say they will acknowledge the fact that we played a role and some of us also paid the price by going to jail. Upon our release we have continuously advocated for those who are detained, some of the leaders in jail know the role we have played, and they know we still advocate for them, try to use our network for the betterment of our people. I don’t have time for detractors. Those who spend their time ranting, and insulting people, to be honest, I don’t have any time or place for them.
PAV: What is your take on the leadership of the struggle, especially those in the diaspora?
Barrister Balla: We cannot put the Diaspora in one box and say they are bad people. Some of the leaders there are cut off from reality; they are living in their world. A lot of them are misleading the people in Cameroon. We have good people who can lead but some of them are frustrated; some of them because of the violence, the insults, and hate speech have withdrawn from the struggle. I think if those back home and the genuine leaders in the Diaspora can come together and forged a good team it will help to articulate the struggle better. The leadership cannot be in the Diaspora; you cannot be left in the Diaspora and you are telling people here not to go to schools. What the struggle needs to do is to find a leader back home who can lead the struggle. They should not try to delegitimize everyone who is back home. When you call this one traitor, blackleg and so on, at the end of the day we get the leaders that we have; those who are good in scheming, blackmailing, and those good at inciting violence, and hatred.
PAV: It has been four years now with schools in many parts of the NW and SW, as another school year approaches, any suggestions on what should be done?
Barrister Balla: We started the no school boycott as it was a stop-gap measure. It was a temporal measure, and I have spoken to all the separatist leaders I know about school boycott like two years ago. You cannot claim you want to liberate your people and still keeping them in darkness. Education is very important. The struggle has to continue but also they should not jeopardize the education of our kids or children.
PAV: As someone who played a leading role at the onset of the ongoing phase of the struggle with your leadership of Lawyers and the Consortium we will like to end this interview with an opportunity to address different components and actors in the struggle, -First a word to the Cameroon government.
Barrister Balla: I will urge them to try to find a solution and they should not toy on people’s lives. They should not think they will win this war as it is not a winnable one from a military perspective – you have to win this war by winning the minds and hearts of the people and meet at least the minimum demand from the people. It is not just burning their villages or buying them over or locking them in jail but by opening a veritable dialogue and negotiations with the leaders and the people.
PAV: A word to fighters in the North West and South West Regions
Barrister Balla: They need to respect the Geneva protocols. Civilians who are not taking any part in hostilities should not be a war target. Respect human rights. You can still pursue the war without beheading people, without raping, kidnapping, as these are all war crimes and crimes against humanity, and someday some people will face the wrath of the law.
PAV: A message to the diaspora
Barrister Balla: They need to show respect to those at home. This infighting is not necessary. If we want to succeed in the struggle we have to come together and think about the people on the ground – let us have their interests. It seems they are more interested in their interests than the interest of the people.
“Our struggle is to deliver the promise of the liberation struggle betrayed by the SPLM Aristocracy,”- Mabior Garang
August 27, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Cpt. Mabior Garang de Mabior says there is a now a movement for the second liberation of Southern Sudan following the betrayal of the liberation struggle by the ruling SPLM Aristocracy. Speaking in an interview with Pan African Visions, the Chairperson of the National Committee for Information and Public Relations of SPLM/SPLA (IO) says while the dead of the historic leader of the struggle Dr John Garang was still shrouded in mystery, what is certain is that the SPLM aristocracy killed his vision for South Sudan.
“There is no future for the peoples of South Sudan in the model of nation building adopted by those at the helm of the first Republic of South Sudan,” says Mabior Garang who resigned as Deputy Minister of Interior in the revitalized peace government .
The assertion that President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar are working together is a fallacy, and the notion that the two leading protagonists working together is a panacea for South Sudan’s ills is naiveté at best, says Mabior Garang .
“The future for the civil population of South Sudan is in the promulgation of a second Republic of South Sudan – for the welfare and prosperity of our peoples,” Mabior says on the way forward for his country.
Mabior Garang, thanks for accepting to grant this interview to discuss perspectives on your country South Sudan, can you start by summing up how the country is faring economically, socially, and politically?
The answer to this question is so broad it would require to be written in a book. I have written extensively on the socio -political and socio-economic challenges facing the nascent Republic of South Sudan in my Blog . I shall try to be brief for the purposes of this interview.
To be blunt, we have no economy. If there is no production worth talking about in the country and if there is no trade, then how can we say we have an economic system? The Central Bank has declared that they have run out of foreign exchange reserves – our national coffers have been looted by cartels who have scuttled our economy. The economic system in South Sudan can best be described as a “black market” on a national scale. In fact,the “black market” USD rate is announced officially by the Central Bank, who also admit that the commercial banks have their own rate. This admission by bank officials shows there is really nobody in charge. When it comes to the society, we are also in trouble. Apart from the negative effects the slave trade and subsequent colonization had on our societies, our people are still dealing with the negative effects of war. The school of economics teaches that an economic system is also a social system. This means if we have no economic system, there will be no social system. The intolerable status quo in the first Republic of South Sudan is characterized by rampant intercommunal violence in all the major regions of the country; Bahr-el-Gazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. This violence is no longer confined to the rural areas. It has now reached the towns with individuals being gunned down in cold blood in cycles of revenge killings even in the capital Juba.
The unity government may have declared that there is a “Ceasefire” and they have “forgiven themselves”. However, the sad reality is that conflict has not ended. Not only is there war between communities, there is also war between communities’ civil defence forces and the army, as recently reported in Tonj County by the VoA. The lack of an economic system has turned politics into an industry where so-called eminent persons peddle influence in Juba to be rewarded with the trappings of power.
The result of this mischief has been a system of political tribalism which has led to insecurity becoming normalized in our society. The suffering of our people is portrayed by so-called eminent persons in positions of responsibility, as “our culture”.
This is mischief!
There is no future for the peoples of South Sudan in the model of nation building adopted by those at the helm of the first Republic of South Sudan. The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) is the only hope and the least costly way our citizens can engage in non-violent action which can bring about fundamental change in our society. There are provisions in the Agreement which address the immediate challenges facing the Republic of South Sudan.
It is unfortunate that the traditional elite in Juba have opted to prioritize the power sharing component of the Agreement instead of the economic and humanitarian components. It is now 180 plus days after the partial formation of the unity government and we are still bogged down arguing about who will be the Governor and who will be the Commissioner. There is still no legitimate Legislature and the Judiciary is still in shambles. Over half of our population are in the Diaspora in the western world, refugees in neighbouring countries or internally displaced in Protection of Civilians Camps (PoC). While the other half find themselves sheltering in the deep rural areas of our country or facing abject poverty in the towns. The Agreement is not being implemented. Instead, the regime has co-opted a great number of the opposition leaders who are now colluding with the regime to undermine the Agreement and maintain the unbearable status quo in our country which has prevailed since the days of the slave trade and colonization.
If implemented, the Agreement has within it radical reforms which would transform our country for the better. The future of our country and the only way forward for South Sudan is to implement the Agreement in good faith. The future for the civil population of South Sudan is in the promulgation of a second Republic of South Sudan – for the welfare and prosperity of our peoples. There is a mechanism for this in Chapter VI: Parameters for Permanent Constitution.
The struggle continues!
How is the country coping with coronavirus pandemic, how robust has the response from the Kiir government been?
There is no way of gauging what the response to Covid 19 has been in South Sudan. I am no longer in the system so I would not be able to give you any accurate data. I can only share what I have observed personally and what my opinion is.
There was a Covid 19 Task Force set up and chaired by the President while being deputized by the First Vice President (FVP). Initially, there was an attempt to keep up with the advisories from the World Health Organization (WHO) and regional protocols. I am not sure what happened, but today we have stopped hearing any briefings from this taskforce.
After the FVP and several senior officials including members of the taskforce contracted Covid 19, the responsibilities of the taskforce were reassigned to one of the other five Vice Presidents (VP). This VP also contracted Covid and the other VPs have since shied away from taking up this responsibility. We hear of money from the World Bank and the IMF for Covid 19 prevention and relief, but we don’t see any work being done.
When I was the Deputy Minister for Interior, I personally submitted a proposal to the Minister of Interior, the FVP and to the President, with a strategy on how to confront the pandemic in our country, but it fell on deaf ears. I cited this as one of the reasons for my resignation from the so-called unity government. The regime in Juba does not value the lives of our citizens. If the government massacred thousands of its own citizens in 2013 as reported by the African Union (AU) Commission of Inquiry for South Sudan, what gives us the clue that they would care about those dying from the non-handling of the pandemic? If they are still slaughtering our citizens in 2020 as they are doing in Tonj as reported by the VoA, what gives us the idea that they would care about the same people when they are killed by Covid 19?
The pandemic is their ally, as it were.
After intense fighting and multiple rounds of negotiations, President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar are working together again, what has changed for South Sudan?
The situation has changed but for the worse. The assertion that President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar are working together is a fallacy. The FVP – Dr. Riek Machar – is in fact still a prisoner of the state (through the state being a member of the mediation team). He is still not allowed to move freely, address the media or hold political rallies. He is still under serious restrictions.
The current negotiated settlement we are struggling to implement has been reached with great difficulty. The Agreement was negotiated with the President as a party to the conflict, while being a member of the mediation forum.
This is mischief!
This contradiction has continued into the implementation phase and threatens to unravel the little progress which has been made. The regime has never faced punitive measures for their perennial violations of the Agreement. This has resulted in the incumbent flouting the peace process with impunity.
The unbearable status quo which has prevailed since the days of the slave trade and colonization continues. It could even be argued that our peoples have never been more divided and dependant. The principle of Self-Determination which gave us independence, has been betrayed.
It’s these sort of questions that embolden the hardliners and intellectual mercenaries of the regime. The peace process should not be hinged on whether President Salva Kiir and FVP Dr. Riek Machar can work together. This is a terrible judgement for the peoples of South Sudan. The onus is on the incumbent to show they are serious about implementing the negotiated settlement since they are the ones with state power.
There is not much Dr. Riek Machar can do except come to Juba to do his part in the implementation of the Agreement. Not only has Dr. Riek and the SPLM/SPLA (IO) done this, our entire political leadership went to Juba without security so as to fast-track implementation. It is unfortunate that the regime perceived this as a weakness and after having co-opted the un-armed opposition groups, they have now moved to dismantling the Agreement by voting in the Presidency. This is in blatant violation of the Agreement.
In order for one to understand the failure of the traditional elite – on either side of the political divide – to work with Dr. Riek Machar, one must become familiar with what I call the “Riek Machar Factor” .
This in my opinion, is one of the major root causes for the current conflict and it is the reason peace remains elusive.
You were one of those offered a cabinet position, but you declined, first, how was your working experience and secondly, what prompted you to resign?
I have enumerated my reasons for resigning from the so-called unity government in my resignation letter.
There is no Agreement being implemented in Juba. The traditional elite have prioritized Chapter I: Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU). They have in turn neglected the provisions of the Agreement which deal with the radical reforms which are a necessary foundation of a state. I was not in the struggle for the trappings of power. We want real power so that we can end the status quo, which is characterized by random and wholesale killing of our citizens.
I have not, however, resigned from the party – the SPLM/SPLA (IO). I am still the National Chairperson for Information and Public Relations. There are many opposition leaders who have been left out by the Agreement. These revolutionary forces shall continue the struggle. Through non-violent action, we intend to persuade the regime that a second Republic of South Sudan is the only way forward and the Agreement is the least costly way to achieve this.
Many thought that the fighting in South Sudan was as a result of the fighting between those loyal to President Kiir, and those loyal to Rick Machar, why do we keep getting reports of fighting and killings in many parts of the country when the main protagonists are now working together?
The notion that peace will come because President Salva Kiir and FVP Riek Machar are working together is a panacea for South Sudan’s ills, it is naiveté at best. Historically, wars have been fought for economic reasons. The historic SPLM/SPLA, the party of the Liberation, failed to deliver the promise of the struggles – the vision of new Sudan. This was a forward looking Pan-African vision based on liberation and Self-Determination.
The people of South Sudan are not merely fighting because the idea was abandoned, but because they suffer the consequences of this loss of vision. The traditional elite have deliberately instituted this system or lack thereof. The inter-communal violence in our land is a deliberate counter-insurgency tactic of the regime meant to keep the people divided so that they can maintain the status quo. The power elite in Juba are able to foment inter-communal violence because of the lack of a credible criminal justice system in the country.
What manifests as inter-communal clashes could be avoided if the radical reforms in the Agreement are implemented. However, as things stand, there is no justice system for aggrieved individuals or communities to turn to. This scenario ultimately leads to vigilantism. The power elite in Juba, who are the beneficiaries of the resulting confusion, do nothing to arrest the situation. They instead defend it as our culture.
The people of South Sudan are not fighting for President Salva Kiir to leave power per se. If President Salva Kiir returned to the vision today and took his job seriously and ended the hostilities against his own people, we would have no issue with him. We don’t have a personal problem with President Salva Kiir, our problem is with the system over which he presides. We are also not fighting to make Dr. Riek Machar the President. Our struggle is to deliver the promise of the liberation struggle which has been betrayed by the SPLM Aristocracy. I explain this extensively in “The SPLM Factor” .
You joined the government as part of the Machar team, but while you are out, Machar and others including his wife Angelina Teny and your mother Rebecca Garang are still in government, is this the beginning of a new more independent political path for you?
No, not at all!
I have always been independent. I was opposing the regime before 2013 when Dr. Riek Machar was VP and Mama Rebecca was a Minister of Roads and then Presidential Advisor. It only appears like the “independent path” is new, but it has always been so. I can see why the public may have perceived me to be a mere follower. So I am glad that that is how the cookie crumbled, as it were.
I am still in what you call “the Riek Machar Camp”. It is a political organisation, not the property of Dr. Riek Machar. I personally disagree with our leadership’s decision to go to Juba without security arrangements and as a minority view at the time, I registered my disapproval. I nonetheless have accepted the majority’s decision and I even went to Juba briefly to discuss the future of our party with our Chairman.
If Mabior Garang was President of South Sudan, how will he run the country differently from what we see now, what concrete steps or measures will you have in place to ensure that South Sudanese enjoy the fruits of independence and freedom they fought so hard for?
I would not like to deal with counter factual history. Nevertheless, it suffices to say that I would do what any sensible person would do. The SPLM/SPLA did not fall from the sky. The Movement administered a greater geographical space called the new Sudan during the war of liberation and provided more services to our people then than they do today as a government. The Movement had several projects with which we planned to develop South Sudan and transition from war to peace. These projects were deliberately abandoned. One such project was the SPLM Strategic Framework for War to Peace Transition .
In addition to this, there is a peace Agreement which if implemented, could transform South Sudan within the next four years from emergency relief status to economic development and prosperity. I don’t like the way the question is framed though, as it reduces the problems of the country to that of personalities. It does not matter how many eminent persons are plugged into positions of power; if they have no work plan, they will achieve nothing. Peace remains elusive not because we have failed to find a person eminent enough, but because we have abandoned our principles, vision and objectives. If anyone came and steered things in the right direction, South Sudan would get back on the right track.
The question that many keep asking is where did South Sudan go wrong, what happened to the vision of Dr John Garang that triggered people embark on a historic struggle that resulted in independence, that seems to have brought more pain, in contrast to great expectations people had?
Again, I would not like to speculate. I believe such a question in these critical times is a distraction. I would rather remain focused on what will extricate our country from the quagmire we have driven it into. The late Dr. John Garang died with – apart from the Ugandan pilot and crew – only five bodyguards. The rest of the SPLM leadership was left intact and all the programs were in the National Secretariat. I think the question is better directed to the SPLM Aristocracy.
There are many conspiracy theories about what happened. I would not like to get into magical thinking and talk about things we have no evidence for. We can, however, speak on what we do know. After the mysterious demise of our founding Chairman and Commander in Chief – Dr. John Garang de Mabior – did we continue with the vision? The answer is no. We cannot say that John Garang was killed by the SPLM Aristocracy; we can however, confidently say that they killed his vision. This is why I have held the view since 2012 when I broke my silence, that a posthumous coup had taken place. There is now a Movement for a second liberation.
The struggle continues!
What do you make of the role played by the International community in seeking solutions to the crisis in South Sudan, what more could be done to help the country?
I cannot say much about this because this is the realm of international politics and diplomacy. All countries have their national interest and they act accordingly. If we, the leaders of South Sudan don’t care about our own citizens and our own country, we cannot expect others to care more. They say, “a fool and his gold are soon parted”.
The international community and the region in particular have done all that they can within the constraints of international relations and diplomacy. It is difficult for the world to move when the region does not move. The region in turn, cannot move unless South Sudanese leaders move and it is unfortunate that the leaders of South Sudan are comfortable with the status quo. So things are likely to remain like this for some time.
Almost everything has been tried. Still, there is something which has not been tried – punitive measures for anyone who violates the Agreement. As it currently stands, it is only the SPLM/SPLA (IO) which has faced punitive measures. Our Chairman and Commander in Chief remains a prisoner of the mediation even after being sworn in as the FVP.
This is mischief!
As someone who lived through the struggle for the independence of South Sudan and currently living the realities of an independent Southern Sudan, what lessons or advise can you offer others in the continent like the people of Southern Cameroons fighting for the restoration of their statehood?
This is a great question. The failure of the first Republic of South Sudan barely two years after attaining independence should be a teachable moment, not only for the marginalised peoples of the Southern Cameroons, but for any individual or organisation which may confuse “secession” with self-determination. The tragedy of the independence of the Republic of South Sudan is our failure to learn from the mistakes other African countries made at their independence.
The peoples of the South Sudan even had the experience of the old Sudan – out of which our nascent Republic was carved – to draw from. The peoples of the Southern Cameroons have the right to Self-Determination like any other peoples. It is through this principle that African nations attained their independence. Even so, this is not ensured by secession or flag independence. If the Southern Cameroons became an independent state, new contradictions would emerge. New power relationships between the new regions of the nascent Republic would create new oppressors and oppressed peoples
If independence is seen by the elite in the society as an opportunity for them to have their own pie in Buea because they feel cheated in the division of the national pie in Yaoundé, then Cameroon will be divided until each is a Republican in his/her own living room. In his research, Prof. Cheikh Anta Diop has proven the cultural unity of African peoples. How much more related then are the peoples of Greater Cameroon? The balkanization of our continent is not in the best interest of African peoples. It is better for us to struggle for the right of Self-Determination within the context of the cultural unity of our peoples.
This is ultimately the right and decision of the peoples of the Southern Cameroons. I also know from the experience of South Sudan, that sometimes secessionist sentiments gain such traction that nothing can stop its advance. The independence of South Sudan despite being detrimental to her citizens in the end, was the aspiration of our peoples. In this kind of situation, revolutionary cadres in both countries must continue the struggle for the unity of our peoples in the future.
If the principle of Self-Determination is not understood within the context of the unity of our peoples through Federalism, then our marginalised peoples across the continent will continue to be bamboozled by the power elite through political tribalism. In the end – like in South Sudan – the principle of Self-Determination was used to undermine Self-Determination itself. The traditional elite in Yaoundé and the traditional elite in Buea could agree to an independent Republic of the Southern Cameroons which would not benefit the ordinary citizens of the Greater Cameroon. I am not saying this is going to happen but this is our experience in the first Republic of South Sudan. After our hard won freedom, we find ourselves embroiled in a second liberation struggle for a second Republic of South Sudan. The revolutionary intellectuals of the Greater Cameroon must be vigilant against the mischief of the power elite whose interests may not be in line with the welfare and prosperity of the civil population but in their own vested interest.
Last question Mr Mabior, you have taken serious to writing with a new website Mabior Garang speaks, may we know the logic behind this and any insight on your future political plans?
I have been writing since I was a youth. I have a lot of writing I left behind when I was forced to return to bury my father in 2005. I never took the writing seriously before 2019 though. I have done several interviews for Pan African Visions and they are on my blog under “Print Interviews”.
I have been – and I still am – the National Chairperson for Information and Public Relations for the SPLM/SPLA (IO) and the official Spokesperson. I have stored all the Press Releases in a category called, “Archives of the Struggle’.
So I have constantly been writing, only that I am more deliberate and aware of the impact it is having.
In January of 2019 I started writing on a weekly basis. I felt like there was not enough information reaching the public. This prompted me to start a segment called “Public Service Announcement”, to inform the public about their civic duties and responsibilities.
The socio-economic baseline from which we must start development in South Sudan is mind bending and our society needs basic civic education which is taken for granted in other countries. The writing evolved from there. Initially, people complained about the length of the articles and so I have been guided by my growing audience in the development of this brand. I reduced the length and also started writing daily and then weekly on current events
I started writing so profusely initially because there was a media blackout on the SPLM/SPLA (IO) after the violent collapse of the first Agreement in the now infamous J1-Dogfight. I was not aware that my writing had been having a positive impact on so many citizens, nor was I aware of how hard it was hitting the regime. I just felt like I was fulfilling my civic responsibilities as a South Sudanese citizen. I was doing my small part.
In January 2019 there was a spike in my writing because there was an attempt by the regime to portray me to the public as a lunatic. This interestingly, coincided with a debilitating affliction which paralysed my left side. I went blind and deaf, and couldn’t even walk. I was basically on my deathbed. In that moment, I prayed that I should be left with just enough strength to continue the work of my people who continue to be marginalised after winning independence. My prayer was answered and I was able to continue writing. The doctors still don’t know what I was suffering from, there was no virus. In the end they said they could not rule out poisoning.
I am thankful to the Ancestors and the Almighty that my prayer was heard. I started to recover my sight after three weeks of blindness. In a dramatic twist of life, my blindness was a blessing in disguise. In the weeks I lost my sight and was not able to write, I received so many calls from people who had been reading my writings on a weekly basis and had suddenly been deprived. They did not know I was on the verge of death. To this day many people do not know I have been fighting for my life for the last two years. I never stopped my contributions to the struggle, not even when I was admitted in hospital. I was working from my hospital bed, so it was difficult for the public to know.
I am happy to report that after using Smai Tawi – ancient African Yoga – I can now walk straight, I can see. Basically, I am on the path to a full recovery. There is no concrete evidence that I was poisoned, so I have never talked about it publicly. This is the first time I have mentioned it. I like to be solution oriented as dwelling on the past will not take me forward. Like I have mentioned above, it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to see something when I went blind which I would not have seen with 20/20 vision. Actually, I am stronger now than before I was afflicted.
I have no personal political ambitions which are not related to the welfare and prosperity of African peoples. I intend to use this brand I have created to share my knowledge and experience in the struggle with the youth. I want to use it as a platform to promote and educate a generation. I will be giving a platform to the marginalised intellectuals who have been blocked out by the pseudo-intellectuals in our land. These are the intellectual mercenaries of the new oppressive regimes.
I believe that we have tried solving our problems in Africa through politics for long enough. The generations which came before us have done their part and given us the independent countries we have today in Africa. This is a great achievement. The liberation, on the other hand, is not complete. The promise of the liberation struggle is yet to be fulfilled, it has even been betrayed.
The objective of www.mabiorgaarangspeaks.com is to be the catalyst to a national conversation. This stems from my belief that Africa’s problems cannot be solved through cults of personality. It is only through inclusivity and the participatory approach that we will be able to come up with solutions which are relevant to our civil population. It is out of such an inclusive public discussion that we may be able to find credible lasting solutions to Africa’s problems. After attaining statehood through the exercise of the principle of Self-Determination, we must now enter the next phase of our liberation as African peoples.
The next phase of struggle for the liberation of our peoples will not be won in the political arena. The struggle of many opposition groups across the continent has merely been to replace the individuals in power instead of the intolerable status quo which lingers on from colonial days. Any opposition group on the African continent which purports to be fighting for the welfare and prosperity of our peoples and does not prioritize education, are aspiring oppressors. There isn’t one person on the continent who has the answer to the problems plaguing our societies.
This is mischief!
We will not solve our problems by changing the politicians in our respective countries. The politicians arise out of a society. If we address political issues without paying attention to the social, we will be back to square one after every election. If we are able to restore our African values, criminalized during the days of the slave trade and colonization, the politics will fix itself almost as if by magic. The blog is my small part in this enterprise.
Corruption Is Robbing Nigerians Of Democratic Dividends-Okey Sam Mbonu
August 13, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
No party that sells primary tickets to the highest bidder deserves to be in power in Nigeria, says Okey Sam Mbonu President of the Nigerian American Council. A seasoned player on African policy circles in the USA, Mbonu says the pervasive corruption culture in Africa’s most populous country is making it difficult for the country to meet its development obligations.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Pan African Visions, Mbonu who mounted a presidential bid in the 2019 elections says a year after the re-election of President Buhari, the lack of a strong vision and rampant corruption are preventing Nigeria from reaping the dividends of democracy.
On the upcoming US elections, Mbonu says the US-Nigerian council is undergoing critical structural reforms with a view to broadening its tent, and playing a more impactful role on US-African ties. While the current Administration has taken a laid-back approach to Africa, Mbonu believes that it is in the interest of the next administration irrespective of party to step up its game in Africa to curb the marauding Chinese presence.
It has been over a year since President Buhari started his second term of office, what assessment do you make of his leadership?
President Buhari’s current and final term has been bedeviled by some major problems, including:
-Lack of vision, which manifests through the limited delivery of democratic dividends, such as economic growth via a diversified economy.
-Lack of a broad view of national governance issues, because his core inner-circle is of one mindset, thereby robbing the President of the diversity of thought necessary for progress, in a highly diverse country like Nigeria, especially on security and the economy.
-Finally, the President has had to deal with economic uncertainty occasioned by COVID-19, and the collapse of the Oil Industry. The COVID-19 is nobody’s fault, but the collapse of the Oil economy should have been anticipated way before now.
What do make of the way his government has handled the coronavirus pandemic?
Well, Buhari’s government has adapted well with existing public health protocols in other countries. However, the COVID-19 has revealed the under-belly of the Nigerian economy, which is that a huge chunk of the economy, perhaps more than 75% is unregulated and informal. Most Nigerians basically survive by going out on the streets every-day to “hustle”. Thus if they don’t go out, for a week or two, they may die of hunger. Many people essentially went berserk out of hunger and deprivation, during the state mandated lockdowns.
May we have your take on the suspension and subsequent detention of Ibrahim Magu former Chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – EFCC ?
My recent extended exposure to Nigeria showed how corrupt the country really is, especially among the political leadership. We have witnessed former state governors who essentially plundered their states beyond recognition, walk away from jail (maybe temporarily), thus giving everyone a license to plunder.
However, what is so troubling is that an entity like EFCC could also be mired in the very essence of their existence, corruption within a corruption fighting agency.
If the allegations are proven, it erodes the trust of all international partners who depend on the credibility of their crime-fighting partners, to maintain sanity and economic stability via standards rooted in the “rule of law” in the world. A situation where every entity and everyone becomes beholden to corruption, will eventually lead to a chaotic “everyman for themselves” doctrine.
There isn’t, and won’t be enough police to contain all out corruption in the country, thus ultimately leading to a complete grounding of the country.
What is your take on the National Assembly hearings on the misappropriation of funds in the Niger Delta Development Commission?
The NDDC saga, is another showdown that the problem of Nigeria is really the thieving elites versus the masses. If serious prosecutions do not happen, then the executive branch would have failed to get a grip on the evil of corruption.
It is really sad, because, if you think about the mind-boggling figures involved, you wander, why public officials need to steal in an unconscionable manner like that. However, if you take a look at the physical appearances of these people, you know they won’t live very long. It’s obvious from their distended stomachs from excessive consumption of alcohol and the like, organ failures, high-blood-pressure, obesity, heart problems, etc. So what is all the stolen loot for?
Nigerians have now had the opportunity of comparing leadership and governance from the APC and the PDP which are the dominant parties, which of these two parties has responded more to the expectations of Nigerians?
None. It’s the same people going back and forth in different color-painted buses. President Buhari could have done a better job of reining in some excesses, and setting some examples, by signaling intolerance of corruption from his own party members, as well as prosecute members of other parties. However, Buhari still has a chance to set some example before his term is over.
On the other hand, the first of these two parties (APC and PDP), to open up their primaries, without excessive nomination fees to new-generation candidates, and a corruption-free nomination process, will ultimately prevail in the moral battle for the soul of Nigeria.
No party that sells its primary tickets to the highest bidder deserves to be in power anywhere, because that candidate who “bought” the ticket, does not owe the electorate anything, except to recoup their money, and empower their family to their heart’s content. That is why you frequently see a governor who plundered their state and failed to pay salaries walk the streets of Nigeria without outrage.
Do you agree with those who think that a third major force or party will be a healthy development for democracy in Nigeria?
A third major party is a viable route, but that third party may ultimately have to ally with one of the big two, in order to pull-off a national victory. There are many other intricacies to address, but it is doable.
You did get into the 2019 Presidential race, but dropped out, could you share some of the lessons that you learned from the experience and any plans for 2023?
Yes, my Campaign team calculated that the Labour Party, which is technically the third largest party, with existing structures in all 36 States, was a good vehicle to challenge the status quo. However, it turned out that the Labour Party needed substantial internal reforms, in order to float a national candidate. We came close to clinching the party’s nomination, but met resistance from the party’s national leadership who did not see the vision we saw.
The shocking end was that the party actually did not present a presidential candidate after I dropped out, because there was no other candidate of caliber like myself to fly the flag of the party. However, there are a few good people at the party leadership level, and maybe they learned enough lessons to get it right in the future.
As we do this interview, the US is bracing up for elections in November, how is the Nigerian American Council that you lead preparing for this?
Well, we have actually commenced an evolution at the Council, which is now veering off in a new direction, to embrace the entire African Diaspora via a new “National Council for African Diaspora (NCAD)”, which you’ll be hearing about very soon (August/September 2020). The new NCAD vehicle will encompass the entire African Diaspora, and is poised for more impact in US and Africa in the near future.
May we know what changed negatively or positively for US-African relations in the first term of the Trump Presidency?
While the current US Administration has not placed a lot of strategic interest on Africa at the moment, however, the traditional US institutions and organs like the State Department, continue to perform their traditional roles of engagement with Africa.
However, most of us in the policy-circles expect that the US beyond 2020, regardless of who wins the election, will as matter of necessity engage more with Africa, because to disregard Africa, is to capitulate to the Chinese, who are now having a field day in Africa.
If care is not taken, the Chinese will take charge of strategic sources of African input in the global economy, especially in the area of expendable natural resources.
What is at stake for Africa in the elections and what are some of the recommendations that should guide the choice of voters especially those of African origin?
Politics is consistently about protecting or preserving one’s interests. The African Diaspora should not be guided by emotions, but by a clear strategy of preserving their interests in the US and beyond. Once the community determines what those interests are, then they should invest in candidates or programs, or movements that will protect those interests.
Could we also get a word from you on the reaction of African countries on the murder of George Floyd, when the same African countries remain silent on flagrant atrocities that take place across the continent daily?
George Floyd opened the eyes of Africans to racism in the US, in ways they never knew existed. It has also forced continental Africans to begin to evaluate how their own police enforce the status quo in their law and order.
Africans within the continent actually need to make greater efforts to cultivate and maintain cordial effective and cooperative relations, with their African-American cousins. African-Americans are the most prominent black Diaspora on the world stage; their struggles should garner strong solidarity across Africa. However, in reality we find that because of colonial mentality, and a profound lack of enlightenment, many Africans inside the continent, do not see the struggles of African-Americans as their struggle as well.
This is where the continentals who migrated in the past 20, 30, or 40 years effectively come in, as the bridge between the continent of Africa, and the West, especially the US.
About 70% of current African leaders, from Buhari to Biya, etc, do not have a clear understanding of the need to raise the stakes, in the Africa versus the rest of the world dynamics, which could be a win-win situation for all. I believe only newer generation continentals with exposure to Africa, Europe, the America’s and even Asia can address the gap.
Africa Has Not Been A Priority Region For The Trump Administration-CFA President Mel Foote
August 13, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Very little has been done by President Trump in articulating and fostering a concise African policy, says Mel Foote, President of the Washington DC, based Constituency for Africa. In addition to not paying a visit to Africa in his first term, the President’s utterances and actions have not been helpful in forging stronger ties with Africa, says Mr. Foote, a highly respected veteran of African Affairs in the Washington, DC circuit.
Fielding questions from PAV, Mr. Foote says the upcoming Presidential elections will have profound implications on how the U.S interacts with Africa and the rest of the world.
“Should Trump win re-election, we certainly should not expect anything of significance for Africa, and certainly no new initiatives. On the other hand, should Vice-President Biden win, we can certainly expect a stronger hand of friendship coming from the U.S., although the attention of President Biden will most certainly be on responding to the COVID-19 impact in the U.S,” says Mr. Foote.
“While clearly President Trump has not engaged much with African-Americans during these four years , African-Americans have not done well with the Democratic Party either as both sides routinely promise things in exchange for votes, but deliver little,” Mel Foote charged.
Still, the CFA leader believes that the African American vote could be decisive in swaying the election either way and for this to happen, their turnout must mirror 2008 levels when President Obama won the elections, Mr. Foote says.
Thanks for accepting to grant this interview, can we start with your assessment of the state of US-African relations?
Since assuming the Presidency of the United States, President Donald Trump has done very little to advance any significant U.S. – Africa policy agenda. He started off on the wrong foot, by insulting African countries, calling them “shithole countries”, and followed this up by putting African countries, including Nigeria on a list to restrict U.S. visas! The first lady Melania Trump visited Africa last year, but did not focus on any real substantive agenda, and there has been little or no follow-up.
What was the Trump agenda for Africa and what impact did it have on the traditional ties that the US has had with Africa?
President Trump really does not have any discernable agenda for Africa. The U.S. is only peripherally involved in major movements on the continent, i.e., the Continental Free Trade Agreement; efforts to respond to climate change on the continent; and efforts to respond to COVID-19. Having said that, the U.S. State Department has been helpful in the peaceful transition to democracy in Sudan. The US played a role in the peaceful elections in the DRC. The US seems to be on the right side in pressing for democratic reform and leadership change in Cameroon.
President Trump is wrapping up his first term of office with Africa been the only region he has not visited, what message does it send to the seriousness with which the US takes its ties with Africa?
Given all of the challenges the Trump administration is facing as it wraps up its first term, including the global COVID-19 pandemic, no one can expect President Trump to make a trip to Africa any time soon. In fact, for security reasons, the President is not able to travel to Europe, Canada, Asia or anywhere else, until such a time that a vaccine would be available! Most of the Africa-watchers in Washington, would have questioned his motives for making a trip to Africa anyways, given some of his rhetoric, and his abhorrent disregard and treatment of black people in Africa and here in the United States.
Elections are around the corner, what could be at stake for US-Africa relations come November?
The US Presidential Elections in November will certainly be important for Americans and for the entire world! Should Trump win re-election, we certainly should not expect anything of significance for Africa, and certainly no new initiatives. On the other hand, should Vice-President Biden win, we can certainly expect a stronger hand of friendship coming from the U.S., although the attention of President Biden will most certainly be on responding to the COVID-19 impact in the U.S.; putting Americans back to work; and getting the U.S. economy going again.
What guarding principles or recommendations do you have for African Americans in making their choice of who to vote in November?
African-Americans certainly are in position to determine the outcome of the elections, if we turn out to vote at the level of 2008, when Barack Obama won the election. The Trump re-election team is working hard to make it difficult for Black people to vote, and clearly want to limit the potential! While clearly President Trump has not engaged much with African Americans during these four years — African Americans have not done well with the Democratic Party either! Both sides routinely promise things in exchange for votes, but deliver little! Unfortunately, we can expect little to achieve for Africa and for African people, regardless of who is elected!
What do you make of the way Africa reacted to the recent murder of George Floyd?
With the advent of social media, the entire world witnessed to murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota police! While thousands of blacks have been systematically murdered by police across the United States, it has always been covered up, with police claiming that they were defending themselves and had to use lethal force! African immigrants have generally stayed out of the issue of police brutality, but increasingly are being caught up as the police are only seeing them as black people, and not as Ethiopians, Guineans, Nigerians, etc. The George Floyd murder reverberated across the world including across Africa! The African immigrant community also has been caught up in the global protest, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The emotional responses from Africa during the George Floyd included calls from the Minister of Culture for aggrieved African Americans to come back “home,” what is it that African countries could do to build bridges to its diaspora?
Africa and African people are certainly coming to realize the potential of the African Diaspora, for remittances, for trade promotion, for tourism, etc.
Thus, the African Union’s launching of the Diaspora as the “Sixth Region”, in 2012! However, much work remains to be done in Africa and here in the Diaspora, to make this Sixth Region a functional reality. The biggest challenge is to how we can develop an “operational concept of unification”, that allows African-Americans, African immigrants, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Europeans, etc., to cooperate!
As we speak, the African Union Mission in Washington DC has gone without an Ambassador since October 2019 when Ambassador Arikana was recalled, what do you make of this?
We all applaud the tremendous effort of Ambassador Arikana Chihombori to engage the Diaspora, during her three years as the Permanent Representative to Washington. She was tireless in her approach, and did much to wake the Diaspora up to the possibilities in Africa! On the other hand, Ambassador Chihombori was clearly functioning as a part of the African Union Commission and operated under their organizational policies and procedures! She served at the pleasure of the AU Chairperson, and like all Ambassadors, was subject to recall for any reason as determined by the Chairperson. The African Union has an “Acting” Representative in place here in Washington, and given the COVID-19 pandemic, the AU is certainly suspending efforts for the time being, to formally fill Ambassadorships around the world! I do expect that the way Ambassador Chihombori departed the position, unfortunately will hurt efforts in the future for the AU to focus on African Diaspora issues and engagement. They will likely focus on bilateral issues with the U.S. government, and with institutions like the World Bank and IMF!
What plans does the Constituency For Africa that you lead have for the 2020 annual Ron Brown African Affairs Series?
The CFA 2020 Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series will take place virtually, between September 12 – 19. The theme for the Series this year is, “Advocating for Africa in the Mist of the Pandemic”! While most of the Africa-focused organizations in the U.S. have disappeared, or have severely reduced their programming during the Coronavirus pandemic, CFA has clearly adjusted, and continues to respond to the call of Africa, albeit with minimum resources. In some respect the programming is even better today in that we have much better access with the use of ZOOM and other information technologies, to reach leaders across Africa, and throughout the Diaspora around the world! We are planning to release the agenda for the 2020 RHB Series next week.
Mel, we like to end with a last question on what is been done by you and other veterans of African advocacy in Washington ,DC, to ensure that there is continuity in the great work you have done for decades?
I am pleased to say that CFA has always prioritized preparing the next generation of leadership to support Africa. I recall my own experience in coming up, how the Black leaders at that time were not attuned to helping me or any of the up and coming folks, to prepare for leadership. One of my bosses told once told me when I went to him about career advice, “You must pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”! In other words, he was not going to do anything to help me to advance my career! I decided then and there that if I am ever in the position, I would take a much different approach to the next generation!
I am extremely proud of my role in the formulation of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), that was launched by President Barack Obama, after he became President. President Obama sent an aide to see me late in 2008, and asked me to offer my thoughts on what approach the President could take in regards to Africa, in that when he arrived in office, the U.S. economy was in total freefall, we were fully engaged in fighting two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), and he needed to spend his first year or so in fixing the economy and getting Americans back to work! He also followed George W. Bush in office. President Bush, despite his limited knowledge and interest in Africa, ended up being perhaps the most successful U.S. President in history in relationship to Africa, allocating $15 billion to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and $5 billion to launch the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which provided new development support for Africa.
President Obama wanted to show Africa that he, as a son of the continent, was indeed very much interested in the affairs of Africa, but he needed to spend his first year or so, fixing the monumental problems in the U.S. I wrote a paper for the President Obama, and suggested that he not spend his political capital trying to get African old tyrants to do the right thing, but focus his attention on the young, the up and coming generation, and preparing them for leadership! President Obama loved the idea, and went on to structure YALI!
Friends In Need, Friends Indeed:Q & A With Dr Rasha Kalej On The Merck Foundation Response To COVID 19 in Africa
August 13, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed its agenda, but the Merck Foundation under the leadership of its CEO Rasha Kelej remains a dependable development partner for Africa. From continuous engagement with African first Ladies, to raising awareness and showing appreciation to frontline actors, Dr Rasha Kelej sheds light on the response of the Merck Foundation to Covid 19 in Africa in the following Q &A
With the first ladies that you work with, what initiatives have been embarked on in response to COVID 19?
Merck Foundation has raced to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic in partnership with 18 African First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Information and Education focusing on four main areas: community support , training doctors and community awareness through our “stay at home “ media recognition awards and children storybook. To give a brief ;
1) Community donations: the lockdown imposed in most countries had hit the daily workers and women the most, making it very difficult for them to survive. Therefore, we partnered with the African First Ladies of Liberia, Ghana, DR Congo, Zimbabwe, Niger, Sierra Leone, Malawi (Former) and Burkina Faso to support livelihood of thousands of women and families of casual and daily workers who are most affected by the Coronavirus (COVID -19) lockdown. The relief contribution was also undertaken in Egypt with the aim to support 500 families.
2) Coronavirus Healthcare Capacity Building: We strongly believe that building professional healthcare capacity is the right strategy to improve access to quality and equitable healthcare specially during this vicious pandemic, therefore, Merck Foundation will strongly continue their current capacity advancement programs and will specially focus on building Coronavirus healthcare capacity through providing African and Asian medical postgraduates with one-year online diploma and two-year online Master degree in both Respiratory Medicines and Acute Medicines at one of the UK Universities. This program is in partnership with African First Ladies, Ministers of Health and Academia across the two continents.
As part of our strategy of responding to coronavirus lockdown, we scaled up to more African and Asian medical postgraduates to provide online medical specialization scholarships. We will now focus more on online scholarships which will be for one-year diploma and two year master degree in several specialties such as: Diabetes, Cardiovascular Preventive Medicines, Endocrinology and Sexual and Reproductive Medicines. We invite Medical Graduates to apply for these courses by email us on email@example.com
3) Community Awareness: We also launched ‘Stay at Home’ Media Recognition Awards in partnership with First Ladies of Ghana, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi (Former), Namibia, Niger, Guinea Conakry, Burundi (Former), Central African Republic (C.A.R.), Chad, Zimbabwe, Zambia, The Gambia, Liberia and Congo Brazzaville, Angola, Mali, Mozambique for English, French, Portuguese and Arabic Speaking African countries. The awards have been also announced for Middle Eastern, Asian countries and in Spanish for Latin American Countries. The theme of the awards is ‘Raising Awareness on how to Stay Safe, Keep Physically and Mentally Healthy during Coronavirus Lockdown with the aim to separate facts from myths and misconceptions’. The winners of the awards will be announced soon.
4) Community awareness for Children and Youth: We also launched an inspiring storybook called ‘Making the Right Choice’ in partnership with 18 African First Ladies. The story aims to raise awareness about coronavirus prevention amongst children and youth as it provides facts about the pandemic and how to stay safe and healthy during the outbreak. It also promotes honesty, hard-work and the ability to make the right choices even during the most challenging times. The story has been released in three languages: English, French and Portuguese.
There is also a song out -My White Army song from a group of 11 artists from 11 African countries in three languages ; for ur first time in Arabic , French and English. on the pandemic, how did you come about this initiative?
I started this song as an idea of creating an inspiring pan African song which aims to thank the doctors and nurses fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus battle, who are risking exposure to the virus so everyone else can stay home and stay healthy.
I strongly believe, it is important for the people on the front line; doctors, nurses and health workers to know how grateful we are. I did not want this to be a one-off thank you, but one that becomes a regular act of gratitude across our communities. I have heard stories of horrible behavior against our health workers, such as, landlords are forcefully evicting them due to paranoia that they might spread COVID -19. It is shocking, illegal and inhuman behavior”.
Through the My White Army song, singers representing Africa are expressing our love, respect and gratitude for doctors, nurses and health workers, the frontliners in the coronavirus battle. It is their messages of support for those braving the outbreak to help others.
This is the first time in Africa and may be in the world that 11 singers from 11 African countries in three languages have participated in one song, to support the medical staff during this difficult time.
The title of the song- ‘My White Army’ simply refers to the team of health workers who wear white uniforms to save and defend us against the coronavirus pandemic which seem like a battel to the world.
What criteria was used in picking the 11 artists that were used for the song and what is the feedback you have received since the song was released?
The criteria I used was to approach singers from Arabic, English and French speaking countries with a representation from East, West, North and South Africa. Of course, I approached many singers, but I selected the ones who showed passion and great interest and were willing to work under this difficult times and restrictions.
I must say am happy with the team of singers that could come on board, but this is the beginning of series of projects and songs to be done from different countries including Portuguese speaking countries. Singers from all countries will be contacted and represented in the future to create songs to address different sensitive topics in Africa.
The 6th edition of Merck Africa Asia Luminary took place in Ghana last year , what souvenirs did you take out the forum and with COVID 19, what plans for the next one?
Of course this year we will not be able to conduct the luminary in Zambia in October like it was originally planned due to coronavirus pandemic new regulations. We will conduct our forums online this year and we will postpone the luminary to 2021. Hopefully by then everything will be under control.
You were listed last year amongst the top 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine; how did you receive this news?
I am very proud to be listed among the 100 Most Influential Africans of 2019. This recognition is very important for me and for Merck foundation as it acknowledges my efforts, my team’s efforts for empowering infertile women and extensively working on eliminating stigma associated with infertility through our historic campaign ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ that aims to empower infertile women through access to information, education and change of mind-sets. I am very passionate about this cause and I love my work and my achievements as an African woman.
Through this movement, we have succeeded to initiate a cultural shift to de-stigmatize infertility at all levels: By improving awareness, training local experts in the fields of fertility care and media, building advocacy in cooperation with 18 African First Ladies who are the ambassadors of this movement, I love to work with them. And also, by supporting childless women in starting their own small businesses. It’s all about giving every woman the respect and the help she deserves to live a fulfilling life, with or without a child.
May we have an idea of any other initiatives or projects that the Merck Foundation will be working on in the course of the year?
In addition to the four areas we are focusing on to respond to COVID 19. We will focus online speciality education like as mentioned earlier. And of course all our awards which can be conducted remotely. The full focus will be on our community awareness through our social media channel. I am very prod that we reached 3 m followers on all our channels including my private channels @Rasha Kelej . I am still thanks to all technology platforms , in close contact with all our partners , as our Alumni and new candidates to ensure that Merck foundation is on the right track to realize our vision.
Conversation with Marieme Esther Dassanou, Coordinator of the African Development Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa programme
July 29, 2020 | 0 Comments
|She previously led IFC’s Gender Secretariat’s work on advancing women’s inclusion in the insurance and financial sectors.|
Marieme Esther Dassanou is the Coordinator of Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) the African Development Bank’s flagship pan-African initiative, which aims to bridge the $42 billion financing gap facing women entrepreneurs in Africa.
She previously led IFC’s Gender Secretariat’s work on advancing women’s inclusion in the insurance and financial sectors.
In this interview, she outlines progress made with the AFAWA initiative and its future plans.
You recently joined the African Development Bank as AFAWA coordinator. Can you tell us more about the initiative?
AFAWA is a pan-African initiative launched by the African Development Bank at its Annual Meeting in Lusaka, Zambia in May 2016 to promote gender-inclusive financing and unlock the women entrepreneurship potential in Africa. Through AFAWA, the Bank seeks to bridge the $42 billion financing gap faced by women-empowered businesses (WEBs) by deploying financing instruments better suited to addressing their finance needs for the growth of their businesses.
These financial instruments are coupled with technical assistance to financial institutions to better address the needs of WEBs as well as capacity building for women entrepreneurs to increase their profitability and bankability. AFAWA also includes a business-enabling environment component to ensure regulation is conducive to enhancing the ability of financial institutions to lend to women. Through AFAWA the Bank aims to unlock up to $ 5 billion in the next five to six years.
Why is it important for the Bank to have such a vehicle or mechanism in place?
The development and growth of women-owned businesses on the continent is a priority for the African Development Bank. The continent’s women entrepreneurs start businesses faster than anywhere else in the world, and in most countries represent at least 30% of formally registered businesses. Taking into account the informal economy, one could comfortably say that women represent the largest part of the SME sector. Thus, aiming to develop our continent without them would not make economic sense. They are fundamental and key drivers of sustainable economic growth and widespread and inclusive prosperity.
It is important to support these businesses to grow by ensuring they have the financial and business tools they need. AFAWA, through its Guarantee for Growth programme, supported by the G7, the Netherlands, Sweden and Rwanda, is a good starting point. Implemented together with the Africa Guarantee Fund, the programme reduces the guarantee requirements for women when they need a loan. AGF is a pan-African financial institution that provides financial institutions with guarantees and other products specifically intended to support small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa. Together, we will work with financial institutions to enhance their understanding of women entrepreneurs and their different risks, which should be considered in the development of financial services for women.
The Bank is also further leveraging its lines of credit, trade finance lines and investment in equity funds to increase access to finance for WEBs of a certain size even more. The partnership signed with the Women Entrepreneurship Finance Initiative (We-Fi) supports the Bank in increasing it financial coverage for women entrepreneurs through these traditional instruments, as well as increase trading opportunities for women entrepreneurs and grow the fashion and creative industries.
What are the commitments so far?
The program has so far received commitments from G7 members, including France, the UK, Canada, Italy and Germany, as well as the Netherlands, Sweden and Rwanda. AFAWA has also received its first tranche of funding from We-Fi , a portion of which will go towards enhancing to the capacity of women-owned businesses to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
We invite other governments, especially our regional member countries, to partner with us in helping to bridge the finance gap for women-run businesses in Africa.
On the implementation front, what ground has been covered?
We’ve made great progress since the G7 Biarritz Summit last year. On 31 March 2020, the Board of Directors of the African Development Bank approved the two mechanisms that will enable us to de-risk women-led businesses and increase their ability to access to loans with lighter collateral requirements. We’ve been slightly delayed by COVID-19, but we expect that the Guarantee for Growth Programme will be operational before the end of 2020.
In the meantime, we are leveraging the Bank’s lines of credit, trade finance and equity funds to enable women to access funds and grow their businesses. The Bank is also ensuring that the SME component of its COVID-19 Rapid Response Facility (CRF) package, has a part specifically dedicated to women businesses. The Bank is also exploring opportunities to work with equity funds in enhancing the ability of women enterprises to further participate in the COVID-19 response to increase their operations and production.
Who is eligible to borrow?
It’s not only about borrowing. The access to finance gap is in part due to the inability of women-owned and led businesses to access funding, their lack of skills in presenting financially viable businesses, and an environment that is not always conducive to increasing women’s access to financial services. The AFAWA approach addresses all these areas. Thus, depending on their needs, women entrepreneurs will be eligible at different levels including access to finance for those with viable and bankable projects and also access to training and capacity building for those who may not yet be eligible to borrow but could improve their financial management skills, record keeping, marketing and any other area to enhance their bankability.
African Economic Outlook Supplement: Here is how African countries can deal with COVID-19, reopen economies and accelerate recovery.
July 8, 2020 | 0 Comments
Charles Lufumpa, the African Development Bank’s Acting Chief Economist and Vice President for Economic Governance and Knowledge Management speaks on the recent release of the African Economic Outlook 2020 Supplement. He shares policy recommendations to cushion the shock of COVID-19 on countries.
How has Africa’s economic trajectory changed since the 2020 African Economic Outlook launched in January?
Almost everything has changed since January. The outbreak COVID-19 pandemic has distressed the global economy, particularly African economies. At the time the projections for Africa’s economic growth and prospects were prepared in January 2020, no one anticipated the magnitude of disruptions that COVID-19 would cause.
Both the pandemic and the containment measures put in place by governments to limit its spread have had important economic implications. International travel restrictions, school and workplace closures, cancellation of public events, restrictions on public gatherings and closures of national borders and non-essential businesses have had an unprecedented impact on Africa’s economic, health and political landscape.
The direct and indirect consequences of the outbreak have upended the strong upward trajectory of many African countries through 2019. Our analyses, projections and forecasts in the AEO 2020 Supplement reflect this sharply changed landscape.
Why is the African Economic Outlook 2020 Supplement necessary at this time?
The pandemic has reversed the strong growth projections reported earlier in our 2020 African Economic Outlook due to the significant economic and health-related disruptions it is causing African countries.
To account for the impact of the pandemic on Africa’s socio-economic landscape, it was necessary to reassess the situation and revise our growth projections and outlook for 2020 and 2021.
The AEO 2020 Supplement presents revised projections for Africa’s economic growth and outlook for 2020 and 2021, assesses the impact of COVID-19, and offers policy prescriptions on safe strategies to reopen economies and accelerate recovery after the pandemic.
What are the main policy recommendations to spur 3.0 percent growth in 2021?
It is important to first underscore that projections of a 3-percent growth recovery in 2021 are subject to major downside risks arising from both external and domestic factors. For instance, there remains a non-negligible risk of a second wave of COVID-19 infection, which could necessitate that African countries reimpose physical distancing, lockdowns, and quarantines.
We should also not forget other natural catastrophes such as the locusts swarms in parts of East Africa that are hurting farmers’ yields and livelihoods. Other exacerbating factors such as subdued commodity prices, high debt burdens, and tightening global financing conditions are likely to increase the uncertainty of Africa’s projected economic recovery.
The AEO 2020 Supplement emphasizes a multi-pronged policy approach to addressing the pandemic that involves: a public health response to contain the spread of the virus and minimize fatalities; a monetary policy response to ease liquidity constraints and solvency risks, a fiscal response to cushion the impacts on livelihoods and to assist businesses; a labour-market response to protect workers and their jobs; and structural policies to enable African economies to rebuild and enhance their resilience to future shocks.
Actionable details on how to implement these policy responses are presented in Section 3 of the Supplement.
How can African countries build economies that are more resilient against future shocks?
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is certainly not the last major shock the continent will face. In the AEO Supplement, we emphasized the need to accelerate structural reforms to help African countries build more resilient economies and become better prepared to face future shocks.
By increasing productivity and addressing obstacles to the business environment, African countries could revive their productive base and increase levels of industrialization. These resilience-boosting reforms would require investment in human capital to build a workforce with the right skills for high-productivity sectors and bridging the infrastructure deficit to advance Africa’s industrial development.
Moreover, promoting economic diversification will help countries adapt to an increasingly volatile global economy and better shield their economies from future shocks. This will require targeted policies that boost agricultural productivity and move labor from low-productivity to high-productivity sectors as well as supporting competitive sectors such as agro-processing, digital technologies, or information and communication technology-based services, which have proved critical during the pandemic.
Other challenges that will need to be addressed in order to achieve faster-growing and more resilient African economies include: formalizing the informal sector; ensuring political stability, good governance and transparency, and stronger protections for property rights.
Nigerian Actress / Screen Writer Pens Coronavirus hit African lockdown series
June 30, 2020 | 0 Comments
Tunde Aladese is an African film actress and screen writer, she won an Africa Academy Award in 2018, she has recently been a studying BA in Filmmaking at MetFilm School .As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, a popular series called, Shuga went into a mini-series nightly show titled MTV Shuga Alone Together highlighting the problems of Coronavirus on 20 April 2020. Tunde is the screenwriter.
The show was originally to be broadcast for 60 nights, but it’s now been increased to 65 nights and its backers include the United Nations. The series is based in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Cote D’Ivoire and the story is told through with on-line conversations between the main characters. In the Q and A below she discusses the series and her career plans
Do you remember how you fell in love with films and writing? Was there a particular film/ script? Did it make to feel a particular way? Anything growing up that pushed you in this particular direction?
This is a difficult one because it’s never really just one thing. It’s the gradual growth of a lifelong romance. My love for writing started with prose, making sorry imitations of any book I enjoyed in order to somehow prolong the experience that the book had given me. Cinemas weren’t much of a thing in Nigeria at the time when I was growing up but VCR was big business and watching movies was a big family pastime.
It’s hard to pick just one film because the exposure was constant, and the genres were varied. It was the eighties so there was a lot of that B movie style action. Also, a lot of the glam mini-series type content, usually centred around a woman who succeeded against all odds. There was ‘The Sound of Music’ which my siblings and I could quote in its entirety. Arthouse came later, as options widened. I didn’t have a proper understanding of how films came to be for quite a while and a couple of appearances on kids’ variety shows were a surreal experience.
I guess primary school drama club was my first proper sense of trying to create a narrative out of thin air and get other people to help bring it to life. But I can say that I fell in love with the film business, this idea of actors and directors and storytellers on screen after reading biographies of some old Hollywood movie stars between the ages of 10 and 13.
I think that was when I began to understand the process of how all that came to the screen. The possibility of anything like that being a tangible and viable career plan, came much later.
Please expand on the origins of when and why you decided that career in the screen industry was for you.
I’m not quite sure I decided. I think the timing was fortunate for me. My first job after university led to an introduction between my boss and a producer who was about to make a radio drama series for the BBC in Nigeria. My boss showed him some ideas I had put down and I got invited to be part of a writers’ room, something I’d never heard of. I couldn’t believe someone paid me that much money (not a huge amount but at the time I was making almost nothing) to do something I’d been doing for fun all my life. I figured ‘I could get used to this…’ Success was not immediate but over the next couple of years, enough opportunities came my way that when an international cable company became interested in producing Nigerian series, I actually had a little experience under my belt and could pitch myself for some writing opportunities.
Why did you choose Metfilm school? What’s unique about it? What were you experiences there? What were your education experiences beforehand? Where did you grow up and where did you go to college / university… what did you study before?
My first degree was in English Literature, from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. After almost 10 years working professionally as a screenwriter, mostly in television, I wanted new challenges and a wider canvas. I thought learning formally about all aspects of film production would help me with that. Choosing Metfilm was a combination of timing, location (Berlin had been popping up a lot in my timeline in the months preceding), language and investigating their alumni and the things they had gone on to do since leaving the school. It’s a great way to study the European arthouse film aesthetic, which I was very interested in, without having to take the time to learn a whole new language. And because it’s an English speaking school in a very European city, you get to study with students from a wide variety of countries from all over the world.
Tell me about MTV Shuga – how did the project come about about? 60 episodes – it’s quite an ask… how did you manage to complete it?
We’re still trying to! And I’m not going to deny that it is a challenge. I just take it one block at a time, and fortunately I don’t have to do it all on my own. There’s a co-head writer and co-director who alternates blocks with me and of course, the SAF team. I had worked on 2 previous seasons of the series, including one season as Head Writer and had therefore had some contact with some members of the team. They reached out within the first couple of weeks of lockdown in Germany and told me about this idea they were throwing around, and asked whether it was something I would be interested in coming on board for. I’d been sitting home for 2 weeks, reading about everything going on all around the world, from news headlines to social media posts sharing people’s emotions, so I knew as soon as they asked that there was potential here. I didn’t imagine at the time that it would be 65 episodes (yeah, it’s 65 now)! We’re recording 41-50 this week and then my co-head takes over again for the next batch.
What’s the response been like? From the audience and the industry?
To be honest? I don’t know. I usually try to stay away from comments because you get drawn in by the good stuff and then one negative comment and you might spend the rest of the day overthinking. I do understand that reactions and feedback from the first few episodes was quite exciting. It’s been challenging trying to find ways to maintain and increase the momentum and interest. But I did say I was looking for challenges, right?
What are you working on now, what are your plans for the future?
I’m almost done with this season of Shuga and there are a couple of things lined up for me to switch over to from next month. But nothing that I am at liberty to talk about right now.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about becoming a screen writer / considering a career in the screen industries?
Read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies. Figure out what you like, what excites and moves you and why. And then try to put it into your own work. Write, write, write. Even when you hate it, keep at it. I had a period of about 6 years from secondary school into university where, everything I wrote, I hated soon after. But that made me question why I hated it and what I needed to do differently. The trick is to keep writing so that when an opportunity comes your way, you have something to show of your ability that will make them at least consider you. Don’t wait for someone to find you and make you a writer. And then of course, seek out those opportunities. I know this is a bit glib, and won’t work out for everyone, but it will for some. Oh, and I should mention this magic trick. The first time I went to a writers’ workshop, everyone there introduced themselves as a writer except me. I didn’t think I had the right to claim that about my hobby. The people present in the room made me say it ‘I’m a writer’. When I returned to my life, I started introducing myself that way. And people remembered. And the calls started coming.
From Kenya To East Africa, African Made SUV Mobius Eyes Continental Market
June 29, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
In the hugely competitive world of cars, Mobius, a Kenyan based company manufacturing luxury SUVs, has carved a niche for itself, and is set for expansion into the East African market.
Designed specifically to handle the rugged African terrain with consideration for income levels, business needs, vehicle loading and more, Mobius vehicles are a strong combination of very high level durability, and very high levels of affordability, says Joel Jackson, its Founder and CEO. Speaking in a skype interview with Pan African Visions, Joel Jackson who was pushed into car manufacturing because of the transportation challenges he faced in Kenya while working with a forestry NGO, says Mobius is developing cars specifically for the local market.
“To get the combination of high durability, and affordability with a free one-year warranty covered, and authorized servicing in a way that has not been offered before is a truly unique proposition from Mobius,” says Joel Jackson.
With roots firmly established in Kenya, Jackson says the next phase involves expansion into other countries in East Africa and eventually across the rest of the continent.
PAV: Good morning and thanks for granting this interview to talk about Mobius cars. Can we start with an introduction of the company and its products?
Joel Jackson: Mobius is a new car company in Kenya, and we design, manufacture, and sell vehicles suited specifically for the African markets. We launched our first generation vehicle in 2015, and we are preparing to launch our next generation vehicle now, and the vehicle is built in Nairobi factory in Kenya.
PAV: When you say the cars are designed for the African market what do you mean by that, and how different are your cars from Japanese, American, French or even German cars?
Joel Jackson: Firstly, they are very durable; they offer the same type of performance as an SUV in the Kenyan market, but they are also very affordable as well. Our position in price is just over $13,000 for a brand new SUV which is unparalleled in price offering in the market. So, it is a combination of very high-level durability, and very high levels of affordability but offered in a very attractive package which consumers find very appealing.
PAV: You are from Britain, what prompted you to get into the car business, and why the choice of Africa, and why Kenya out of 54 African countries?
Joel Jackson: My first experience in Kenya was working with a forestry NGO on the coast of Kenya, and it was quite an eye-opening experience. I spent a lot of time moving around in the rural areas of the country and I really had first-hand experience of the kinds of transportation challenges the people in those communities were facing so that was the original inspiration for Mobius to develop a car that was durable enough to handle the kinds of roads, terrains I saw in those areas. Although I planned to be in Kenya for a relative short stint, and move back to the UK and continue my career as a management consultant, I ended up staying in Kenya and founded Mobius, and I have done that since.
PAV: Let’s talk about the work force of Mobius, how many workers do you have and are there Kenyans or Africans who actually participate in the production process of your cars?
Joel Jackson: Yes. So today we have about 55 people on the team, and that continues to grow. We have been fortunate to hire some incredible people from all around the world with very deep automotive experience. The vast majority of our team are Kenyans, and that includes Kenyans who have been educated abroad, worked in different car companies for a while and decided to move back to Kenya and join Mobius.
PAV: With regards to the models that you currently have, could you tell us the kinds of cars you have in the market at the moment?
Joel Jackson: Our next generation Mobius 2 vehicle is currently available for pre-order, and our customers can log into our website and pre-order the vehicle. It is an SUV offering which gives customers specifically developed rugged performance for rough road driving environments. It has many of the key features customers will expect in a vehicle, power steering, air conditioning, an optional Wi-Fi enabled tablet entertainment system in the vehicle as well. But it is specifically developed for high durability, drive performance, and a very low price rate.
PAV: We believe there are many car companies in Kenya, how is Mobius copping with the competition from Japanese, French, Italian, and German cars?
Joel Jackson: The vast majority of cars in Kenya are mostly imported from countries like Japan. Those vehicles tend to experience high import duty when they arrive, so in many cases cars are mostly doubling in price. We are one of the few car companies operating on the continent which means we do not experience the same taxation as imported vehicles. What Mobius is doing is developing a car specifically for the local market which is highly differentiated regarding its combined durability, and affordability and that is a unique offering in the market.
To find an SUV at this price rate; we are the only one offering. Even when you compare Mobius to a five, six-year-old SUV import from Japan, our vehicle is lower in price, brand new with a free one-year warranty offer, assembled, and authorized servicing. So, it is a genuine, exceptional proposition to the consumer.
PAV: What has the response been from the consumers regarding sales, how excited are Kenyans about using your products?
Joel Jackson: Kenyans are really excited about the introduction of Mobius. We have already generated hundreds of pre-orders with minimal marketing to date and that is largely based out of the positive experience customers in Kenya have already received for our first generation vehicle we launched a few years ago. There is a huge anticipation in Kenya for the launch of our next generation car, and again our brand is well perceived in the local market.
PAV: With regards to expansion, do you plan to limit yourself to just the Kenyan market or what plans do you have in place to expand production to other African countries?
Joel Jackson: So, we plan to expand to other countries in Africa very quickly. We will be starting expansion out of Kenya initially within East Africa, and the focus there is stabilizing the production and distribution systems. One of the unique elements to Mobius that we are pioneering is a new model of sales and service for the customers, so beyond offering fantastic products in the market we are also looking to offer a better sales and service experience as well.
We have built in Mombasa a new sales and service centre that we will be launching later this year and that centre is quite different from traditional dealerships, you find in East Africa. It will be run by Mobius and has quite a distinctive architecture, it combines service operations alongside a show room facility, and we will be building such facilities across East Africa in the coming years. We will be expanding the Mobius brand presence in the Region, and we will also be offering customers much closer touch points for servicing their vehicles outside the major cities alone in East Africa. This is the big focus of the company in the coming years to scale up our distribution to reach many customers not just in Kenya, but across East Africa. Long-term as that system is stable, we will look to replicate in the other regions of Africa.
PAV: With regards to challenges, what are some issues that you have face?
Joel Jackson: The first challenge is setting up global supply chain for a product such as a vehicle, there are thousands of components going into it and each of those components have different suppliers, sometimes, the same suppliers. In our case, our primary sourcing, and has been in Asia and one of the things we have heavily been investing is building a body chain in Kenya, building that ecosystem of suppliers in Kenya in the coming years for the contents of our cars. We have a view of driving industrial change in Kenya and across East Africa and to create more jobs, and the increase in skilled levels across countries. So there has been a lot of investments in so far as working with our existing suppliers to improve the production capacity. We will be doing more work in the coming years as we drive up local content in our cars even higher from where we are today. That’s certainly been one of the big focus areas of the business.
The second challenge has been in setting up the right talent base in the business to do what we do. Obviously as I have mentioned earlier, developing a vehicle in an African context is new. We are really pioneering the development launch of vehicles specifically suited for the African market. Finding the right kind of skills sometimes can be challenging particularly when you are talking about specific engineering kind of skills. But again, we have been fortunate to hire a really strong team over the previous years and develop our in house capabilities in those areas. But again, when you are starting on a baseline where sought of expertise does not exist, you have to progress as you build that over time.
PAV: Is there any kind of support or partnership that you have received from the Kenyan government as you go about business in Kenya?
Joel Jackson: Yes, we are already working according to the existing incentive scheme that the Kenyan government offer, and we are in discussion with the Kenyan government about how we can work more closely with them over time to improve the incentives that are offered in industry. We are also in discussion with the government about potential purchase of our vehicles, clearly these vehicles are well suited to the African context, and this extends to various government ministries and different parastatals which may want to buy products suited for their needs. There is also in Kenya a buy Kenya, build Kenya initiative that we are a big supporter of, and we see a kind of natural synergy in Mobius supplying Kenyan made vehicles to Kenyan government.
PAV: What impact has COVID-19 had on your activities?
Joel Jackson: At the moment as we finalize the preparation of the vehicle ready for launch, there is a lower degree of impact on Mobius than it will be on other car markers around the world who are actively in production and revenue generation. Clearly, COVID has had a major impact around the world and across all sectors. Majority of our team are working at home at the moment for obvious health reason and exercising social distancing for those who do need to be in the office, and at the factory. The first sign of this situation as we look forward to post COVID-19 world is that Mobius really has unique potential in the Kenyan and East African context to be a real proponent of change and recovery in the economy by driving job creation, and skill creation in the country, as our local content increases, and the supply chain in Kenya, increases. As our production increases, we need to be hiring more people on the production line, there is a knock-on effect to the economic potential. We also need to expand the knowledge of the workers to expand their knowledge of automotive processes.
These are value-added skills that will benefit the economy more generally, and ultimately the intention of Mobius as we drive our production volume is that we are starting to export content from Kenya to other countries in East Africa and as you export contents you drive up GDP. There is huge development potential of Mobius particularly in post COVID-19 world where there is even more need for stable manufacturing operations as a backbone for economic recovery
PAV: There is a lot of talk on the continent about the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, are you looking forward to that?
Joel Jackson: We are. We welcome any news that will make the trade of goods easier, quicker, and cheaper. We think the African Union has a huge potential long-term to benefit from the same type of trade or regulation that we see in the EU for example. We think our vehicles are well suited to a broader Pan-African market, and we see clear potentials in other markets beyond East Africa, so, we are all in favour or encouraging the free movement of goods. We think also on the supply chain as well as we invest in greater self-reliance in Africa to boost local industrialization. In Africa, we need to encourage more suppliers to come on board. There are many benefits, and we think everyone can win by increasing the movement of goods long-term.
PAV: How does your company give back to the community?
Joel Jackson: There are a number of ways as I have already referenced regarding industrialization, job creation, skills creation, all of these things can make a big difference to many people’s lives as they get jobs they enjoy doing, get a good salary, and get a good environment that their skills can develop. Also, one of the unique characteristics of Mobius is that we are positioning our vehicles as enablers of mobility. So really there is a two-prong social impact potential of Mobius; one is in driving industrialization, and two is driving access to mobility.
So not only in the SUV offering that I was describing earlier, but also with a feature configuration of that platform that is currently under development that will enable owners to physically plug in different modules for different businesses with. It could be a public transport business, delivery service, and a wide range of applications. Those are the kinds of businesses that these entrepreneurs can run to generate income with and crucially the kinds of services that enable users in their communities to benefit from transportation. So, for everyone one entrepreneur owner of a Mobius vehicle there can be hundreds of more beneficiaries.
We hope that when people buy Mobius to run public transport businesses with, in turn we will see more people in communities in rural parts of Africa benefiting from all the kinds of services that the transportation system literary provides. So, industrialization, and mobility are two really important elements to what Mobius is doing.
PAV: Looking at the economic conditions of Kenyans and Africans, how affordable are the cars with regards to the economic realities you see?
Joel Jackson: Relative to the incumbents in the market they are really affordable. As I mention earlier, if you buy a five or six-year-old SUV in Kenyan today imported you are paying well over $20,000. For a brand-new Mobius SUV you are paying a price starting from around $13,000. So, it is truly exceptional in that respect. But equally, many customers when they buy, they buy the vehicle with vehicle financing, and we have already work with a number of customers, and their banks to help to set up vehicle financing lines that they can purchase their vehicles with. Obviously, vehicle financing is something that we will be placing more and more emphases on over time as we expand our market, and we hope long-term with more vehicle financing products available many more customers in East Africa will be able to buy these vehicles.
PAV: We end with an opportunity for you to make a direct pitch to Kenyans and Africans out there on your business, why should they go for a Mobius made car as opposed to a Toyota ,Honda or some other brand ?
Joel Jackson: To get the combination of high durability, and affordability with a free one-year warranty covered and authorized servicing in a way that has not been offered to date, is a truly unique proposition, and it’s a very attractive vehicle that is a lot of fun to drive in, and we will encourage customers to come visit our showroom and see for themselves
PAV: Mr. Joel Jackson thank you for talking to Pan African Visions.
Joel Jackson: Likewise, it was great to be with you and thanks for taking the time.
Second Term For Adesina At AFDB Will Deepen Ties Between Brazil and Africa- IBRAF President João Bosco Monte
June 17, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
The re-election of Dr Akinwumi Adesina to second term of office as the President of the African Development Bank-AFDB will greatly deepen and broaden ties between Brazil and Africa says Prof João Bosco Monte ,President of the Brazil African Institute- IBRAF .
In an interview with Pan African Visions, Prof João Bosco Monte lauded the great achievements of Dr Adesina including his whole hearted endorsement of partnership with the IBRAF on hugely successful exchange programs on Agriculture that have benefited many African countries.
“I am optimistic about the possibility of Adesina being re-elected to the presidency of the African Development Bank, especially when we see Brazil as a country that can work very closely with Africa, not only at the government level, but also with the private sector,” says Prof João Bosco Monte in the interview which also discusses the IBRAF, racism , and the future of relations between Brazil and Africa.
Prof Joao Monte thanks for granting this interview, could we start this interview with an introduction of the Brazil -Africa Institute that you lead?
The Brazil Africa Institute, when was founded, I had the idea to put together Brazilians and Africans from many perspectives. The collaboration and the partnership that we can see between Brazil and some African countries are very obvious. But Brazil doesn’t know much about Africa, on the other hand, Africa doesn’t know everything about Brazil. So, the genesis of the Brazil Africa Institute, when we created it, was to put together both sides of the Atlantic and have mutual and respectful Knowledge and understanding about each other.
And now, after ten years of the conception of IBRAF we can see many opportunities that we can put together between the two sides, African and Brazilian. Not only the government, and I could say mainly the private sector can understand the potential of collaboration and opportunities that we can see from both regions.
The agenda of the Brazil Africa Institute brings many possibilities for interactions. One of the activities that we have annually is the Brazil Africa Forum, which brings leaders, Heads of States, Ministers, diplomats, private sector, the civil society, in order to discuss one important topic for Brazil, Africa, and for other regions. And this gives me the opportunity to emphasize that when we talk about Brazil and Africa, we should include all the latitudes on the agenda.
Could you also shed some light or put historical perspective on relations between Brazil and Africa, how important are the ties between your country and Africa?
Since 2006, when I started to visit Africa, I saw clearly, a very important connection between Brazil and some African countries. Actually, when I visit Africa, in many countries I feel just as I am in Brazil. On the other hand, whenever I see Africans in Brazil they say “Well, this is just like home. This is just like Africa”. In this regard, there is a very particular relationship between the two sides of the Atlantic.
And it’s important to emphasize the historical ties that Brazil has with Africa. Not because of slavery, and I can say, very sadly, Brazil is one of the places that had many slaves from Africa. But besides this, Brazil has a historical connection with Africa, and now we can see the roots of Africa in Brazil, in the gastronomy, in the music, in the clothes and the way that we dress, and I can see that Brazil is very connected with the continent.
We are doing this interview at a time when racism has also taken centre stage with world protests following the killing of Floyd Georges in the USA…what are race relations like in Brazil?
The killing of George Floyd in the US brought to the international arena a discussion about racism and how countries, how organizations, how governments, how people are acting about this theme. It’s a bit very unique. We can see demonstrations in many parts of the world, not only in the US, against racism, that are asking the governments to bring the new policies to eradicate racism from the face of the world.
In Brazil, we do have problems with racism, and some demonstrations, some protests, also came to this discussion here essentially to highlight that historical inequalities are behind the great disparities faced by black people in the labor market. Less access to education is one of them, as well as more precarious living conditions. The governments of Brazil, I’m talking about Federal and State governments, should start to discuss what kind of argument we can bring to the table, to bring to poor people, and also black people as well, the possibility to have a better life. So, the agenda that we have to include now in Brazil, and also in some parts of the world, should include the discussion about racism, but also how can we bring dignity to people who don’t have the eyes of the state.
One of the partner institutions that the Brazil -Africa Institute works with is the African Development Bank, what do you make of the recent standoff between with external partners notably the USA? How has it been like working with current AFDB President Dr Akinwumi Adesina, and what do you think a second term for him is deserved?
We have many partners around the world. One of the key partners of the Brazil Africa Institute is, indeed, the African Development Bank, and this was emphasized in the last years, and I’m very proud to say that this partnership is because of the confidence and the vision of President Adesina. I had the opportunity to discuss with him, in many occasions the potential of collaboration between African countries and Brazil, and he’s very familiar with the possibilities of collaboration. Now, when we see countries like the US bringing issues about the leadership of President Adesina, we should understand what, specifically, are the reasons that the bank is being attacked by the US Government. We need to see the details, but we also need to see a concrete reason and the objective that the government of the US is bringing to damage the reputation of president Adesina. My personal opinion is that he’s doing a very good job, and this is important for the bank and for Africa.
Watching the situation from outside I can see that many African leaders, many former Head of States, are now supporting Adesina and what he’s doing at the bank. This is important to emphasize because the leaders who are dealing with him, who had the opportunity to deal with him, are bringing to the table a very strong message that he’s doing the job very well. And this emphasized that he needs to have the opportunity to have a second turn. My feeling is that, in five years, is not possible to change the whole situation, and what he was doing in the last five years was bringing a discussion, a dialogue, among many people, many organizations, and bringing the flag of the bank, and the demands of the continent to partners around the world, including Brazil. That’s why I emphasize and defend the possibility of President Adesina to be reelected.
What did you make of the allegations levied against him and were you satisfied with the defense he put up to deny any wrongdoing?
It is very relevant to mention that the Ethics Committee of the African Development Bank received the response from President Adesina in a very positive way. So, I don’t think we need to go any further to make this clear and I particularly feel very satisfied with the answers given by him.
In 2017 the AFDB and the Brazil Africa Institute launched the Youth Technical Training Program to train young African professionals in research and technology, how is the program working out?
Three years ago, the Brazil Africa Institute started a very important program, bringing young Africans to Brazil to receive training in areas that the country achieve great results. And the African Development Bank actually was the first door that we knocked to start the talks, to show the evidence, and the possibilities of bringing these young Africans boys and girls to Brazil. This was a valuable moment for us, and the Bank received it very well, and the voice of President Adesina, followed by his team, was very helpful and proactive. And we started with agriculture, which is related to the mind of President Adesina. This was in 2017, and after this activity that we have launched with the bank, we started to develop other initiatives with some other international organizations. I’m sure that the beginning of this program, with the African Development Bank, was a crucial moment for us to reach other areas, other activities and to amplify our partnerships around the world.
I am sure that the start of the Youth Technical Training Program in partnership with the African Development Bank, was a crucial moment for us to reach other areas, other activities and expand our connections around the world.
After 3 years of the program, we are very pleased to identify that many young Africans – now with more knowledge and skills – are applying some successful Brazilian experiences in many parts of the African continent, which clearly demonstrates the importance of south-south cooperation.
What expectation would you have for a second Adesina term at the AFDB especially with regards to prospects of more projects and partnerships with IBRAF and Brazil as a whole?
I am optimistic about the possibility of Adesina being re-elected to the presidency of the African Development Bank, especially when we see Brazil as a country that can work very close to Africa, not only at the government level, but also with the private sector. And I see President Adesina’s vision as something that we can have coincidences with the activities of the Brazil Africa Institute.
How is the agenda of IBRAF going to look like for the rest of the year especially with the challenges posed by COVID-19? We will like to end this interview with your perspective on the future of ties between Brazil and Africa, in what areas or sectors do you see potential for additional cooperation and what needs to be done on both sides to make the bonds stronger?
Like all organizations in the world, we are adapting to this situation of isolation and remote work, which of course is not an easy task. As an international organization, it is very necessary to be close to people in many parts of the world, participating in meetings or activities organized by us or our partners.
I think the Brazil-Africa agenda for next year is very positive and I am very optimistic about the future of these relations. Many areas can be addressed, and Brazil is already doing things with Africa in various activities, in many fields. I see agriculture, again, as a possibility for Brazil to become more and more involved with Africa, especially in the context of transfer of technology. But it is important to emphasize that Africa must know more about Brazil and African leaders must be open to seeing Brazil as a potential partner. On the other hand, Brazilians must look for the possibilities to get involved with Africans, and we need to understand more and more the potential that we have before us.
The role of the Brazil Africa Institute is to emphasize that the moment that we have now is very appropriate for Brazil and for Africa. Not only because we see the market potential to sell and buy things, but also because the partnership we see between the two sides is very unique and can last for a long time.
For the second half of 2020, we are still planning some activities, such as the YTTP, with an edition in September and the other in October. We are bringing Africans, from West Africa, to receive training in Brazil, as we have done in the last 3 years. In addition, we are starting the IBRAF Fellowship Program for South-South and Triangular Cooperation, with the objective of facilitating the dialogue between African researchers and local professionals, enabling the exchange of knowledge in various fields, through a platform for expanding contact with the top sustainable development practices in Brazil.
Certainly, our desire is that the result of all the activities that we are developing can somehow contribute so that Brazil and Africa are better prepared for the post-COVID era.
From Lost Boy To Beacon Of Hope For Global Refugees- Manyang Reath Kher On The Sharing Award
June 17, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
From the wreckage of the South Sudan civil, a new generation has emerged with fresh hope on how to better the lot of refugees across the globe. One of the perfect epitomes of this new generation is Manyang Reath Kher who was part of the 4,000 Lost Boys who was fortunate enough to land a ticket to the United States in 2001.
A University Lecturer at George Mason University today, Manyang Reath Kher is better known for using the social enterprise 734 Coffee to advocate and conscientize the American population on the plight of refugees. Working with others under the aegis of the NGO Humanity Helping Sudan, Manyang Reath Kher has partnered with some other organizations to come up with the Sharing Award to understand and support the most vulnerable in society-refugees.
In an interview with Pan African Visions, Manyang says the Awards are intended to support individuals and organizations that work on sustainability, social inclusion, and diversity to recognize the humanity and hard work of refugees.
“My advice to successful citizens and especially those considered lost boys, is to invest in South Sudan. The country will not move forward if those of us who have learned and excelled in our respective professions or ventures do not return to invest our time and financial resources,” Manyang says.
Thanks for granting this interview to talk about 734 Coffee and the Sharing Awards, first could we start with an introduction and your journey from South Sudan where you hail from to the United States?
I currently teach Human Rights at the George Mason University (Virginia). I also steer the social enterprise 734 Coffee, as we take the lead on human rights advocacy for refugees and distribute conscious consumer goods to educate the broader American population. When I, Manyang Reath Kher, was three years old, my village was attacked and destroyed by unspeakable violence. My uncle was killed while trying to help me escape. I managed to survive and lived in three different refugee camps for the next 13 years. Blessed by the hands of parishioners, I am one of the 4,000 Lost Boys who was fortunate enough to land a ticket to the United States.
How was the adaptation process like for you and what motivated you to come up with 734 Coffee and how long has it been running now?
I have a burning desire to help my fellow refugees who are forced to make their new homes in a foreign land. During my senior year in high school, I began working to develop my nonprofit, the Humanity Helping Sudan Project, and recruited others to help me with this effort. Founded in 2008 in Richmond, Virginia, my award-winning NGO seeks to provide aid and assistance to the Sudanese Diaspora in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. HHSP’s mission is to create sustainable solutions to help alleviate suffering in the region by providing over 40,000 displaced people in refugee camps with materials and resources to battle famine, agricultural training and cultivation of indigenous crops, and clean drinking water through expansion of water wells and springs. Within the past 8 years we have gained national recognition and top sponsor dollars to do just this as well as further enriching thousands around the world with my story, and the plight of the Sudanese refugees.
There is coffee from so many countries, what makes 734 coffee unique and how has it fared in the USA market?
In the world today, racial injustice continues to be prevalent, however, when we couple that injustice with another factor, it becomes a heightened situation that needs immediate attention. Refugees already experience unimaginable social injustices and human rights violations, especially during the current political climate in the United States, that impacts the entire world. However, when refugees (especially those of African descent) do make their way to the United States, they are met with yet another desperate circumstance, that is the racial divide in America that systemically leads to racial injustice.
734 Coffee exists to level the playing field for the often-forgotten refugee population that hails from East Africa. 734 Coffee uses America’s most popular beverage as a gateway to introduce Americans to the world refugee crisis and how the U.S government’s actions play a part. The 734 Coffee project distributes Arabica coffee from the Ethiopian and South Sudan region of Gambela; it caters to over 250,000 refugees, many of whom historically have been relocated to the United States. New policies in the U.S have not allowed for many refugees to find refuge here in America, this puts a burden on neighboring countries that already struggle to maintain an economy.
Coffee is Ethiopia’s number one source of export revenue generating about 30% of the country’s total export earnings yearly. Using Fair Trade coffee, to create opportunities, educate and build the local economy.
In terms of distribution, how wide is your network in the USA and considering that it has become a brand of its own, are there plans for expansion beyond American shores?
734 Coffee currently distributes coffee to commercial and residential complexes including Hosteling International, The WhyHotel (Tysons Corner and Arlington Campus), The Warner Building (D.C) and The Louis at 14th by Greystar (D.C); specialty coffee shops, TimGad Cafe (Reagan Center and F. st., D.C), Porter’s House (D.C) and Z-Zoul Cafe (San Francisco, CA) ; retail stores, Takoma Park Co-op (Takoma, MD).
Commercial and residential complexes and specialty coffee shops:
734 Coffee plans to expand distribution to South America, Europe, the middle east and Asian in the future, but the next couple of years are focused on North America.
What are some of the challenges that you faced in the course of taking 734 coffee to where it is today?
Of the many challenges that 734 Coffee has faced on its journey to where it now stands, we have noticed two developing trends. The first, the bigger players in the space are undoubtedly ready to defend their market-share like any business would, regardless of our mission and the positive output that we have on the world. Second, establishing partnerships and deals at the intersection of social good and profit has been a daunting task.
We understand you are working on a very important project dubbed the Sharing Award, could you shed some light on this?
The Sharing Award is the result of a partnership between Humanity Helping Sudan, 734 Coffee, The Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and One Journey Festival. It was inspired by the generosity of The Tides Foundation following the spotlight placed on HHSP by the refugee-focused film THE GOOD LIE, and the advocacy of its award-winning producers, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Karen Kehela Sherwood and Molly Smith. The purpose of the award is to support innovative individuals and organizations that work on refugee sustainability, social inclusion and diversity in order to build communities that welcome refugees, recognize their humanity, value their hard work, offer them a path to dignified work and have respect for their cultural differences, religious ideals and political beliefs.
The Sharing Award was launched earlier in June — World Refugee Month — to shed as much light as possible on the many organizations that are moving the needle on refugee issues.
Who is eligible to benefit from the awards, what is the application process, what exactly will you be looking for in successful applicants?
- The Sharing Award Winner (individual or organization) will be awarded our prestigious Vision Development Package:
- A cash prize of US $5,000,
- Acceptance to the world-renowned Atlas Corps Fellowship,
- Invitation to attend the exclusive 2021 Nexus Youth Summit, a global community founded to bridge communities of wealth and social entrepreneurship, where the most innovative social entrepreneurs gather to discover new ideas and collaborate on world changing projects (choose to attend in New York City or Washington, DC – virtually or in person).
- Applications will be reviewed by a select committee from Ashoka. Ashoka is known for its transformative program that supports the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.
- 1st Runner Up will be awarded:
- 3 Months of business mentoring support through the highly regarded Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Jumpstart accelerator program.
- Invitation to attend the exclusive 2021 Nexus Youth Summit.
- Applications will be reviewed by a select committee from Ashoka.
- 2nd Runner Up will be awarded:
- Invitation to attend the exclusive 2021 Nexus Youth Summit.
- Applications will be reviewed by a select committee from Ashoka.
- All Finalists (top 20):
- Thanks to an innovative co-review partnership with Unfunded List, all of the Finalist applications will also be independently reviewed by an experienced evaluation committee. Each finalist will receive helpful and candid feedback regardless of whether or not they win.
- Special Nomination(7):
- Additionally, 7 applicants will also be nominated to receive an Ashoka review.
Individuals and organizations that submit an application for The Sharing Award must fulfill each and every one of the following criteria to be deemed eligible:
- Individuals and organizations must have fully developed conceptual ideas or existing projects that focus on tackling challenges faced by migrants and refugees. Examples include projects in the areas of: entrepreneurship, job opportunity, education, leadership development, capacity building, interfaith dialogue, integration, developing welcoming communities and civic engagement.
- Applicants must have a valid mailing address where postal mail can be shipped.
- Applicants must have a bank account (eligible financial institution account) in the name of the organization or individual (special circumstances will be considered).
What do you make of the political and economic developments in South Sudan, and what is it “lost boys” who have eventually turned out to be amazing success stories could do to help build or contribute your home country forward?
The political and economic landscape in South Sudan is an ever improving one with the people’s voice slowly but surely making a dent in actions taken by the government. With new appointees that have fresh ideas, I think that there is a lot of hope that we can look forward to.
My advice to successful citizens and especially those considered lost boys, is to invest in South Sudan. The country will not move forward if those of us who have learned and excelled in our respective professions or ventures do not return to invest our time, financial resources and key partners.
Yours has been a tale of resilience in the face of great odds, what message can you send the millions of refugees across Africa and the world going through experiences similar to what you went through?
Accept that Life is NOT “Supposed to be Fair”: Know that there is no single way that life is “supposed” to be. Demanding that life meet our expectations is a sure fire recipe for a miserable existence. Life is a game with no rules. Life just happens to us regardless of our best intentions. Our only path to happiness lies in being open to receiving whatever life throws at us with Gratitude.
*For more information on the awards and how to apply visit here
AFDB: Supporting Adesina for second term in US Interest-Former U.S Exec Dir to the AFDB Mima Nedelcovych
June 8, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Unless the US government is holding some secret that the American public is not aware of, I see absolutely no reason why it should not wholeheartedly support the re-election of President Akinwumi Adesina for a second term at the helm of the African Development Bank, says Dr Mima Nedelcovych Former U.S. Exec Dir to the AFDB.
In an exclusive interview with Pan African Visions, Dr Nedelcovych says “If competing with the Chinese in Africa is primordial to the US, then supporting the position of our African fellow shareholders in the AFDB and supporting President Adesina is in our own interests.”
Adesina has established the framework for furthering the critically important role that the AfDB is playing in the development and inclusive growth of the continent, says Dr Nedelcovych. With his vision and execution of the “High 5s” for Africa, Dr Adesina has contributed tremendously to the development of the continent, and President Obasanjo and other former African Presidents have every reason to come out in public support of the champion that the current AFDB President is, Dr Nedelcovych says.
On the whistleblower allegations that triggered the current tensions between AFDB partners, Dr Mima Nedelcovych says the internal inquiry did its job fully in line with statutory guidelines. “ For me, those accusations that were made public and investigated by the Ethics Committee, have been responded to in great detail by President Adesina to my full satisfaction,” says Dr Nedelcovych
Dr Adesina and the AfDB have stepped up when most needed for an African institution to lead the way in the responses to the Covid-19 pandemic ,says Dr Nedelcovych who also shares his take on expectations for a second Adesina term, and how U.S -African relations have fared under the first term of President Donald Trump.
Dr Mima Nedelcovych served as the 1989 to 1993 as the U.S. Executive Director to the African Development Bank (AfDB) may we start this interview with some historical context on the relationship between the USA and the African Development Bank?
The US is the largest non-regional shareholder of the AfDB, and one of the major contributors to the African Development Fund, the concessional window. The AfDB has always had strong support from the US and that continues to be the case.
What was your working relationship like with the AFDB leadership at the time, what are some of the pleasant and less pleasant experiences or souvenirs that come to mind?
The pleasant experiences were seeing the AfDB take up its role as the major development institution on the continent under the visionary guidance of then President, the late Babacar Ndiaye. It was during the time I sat on the Board that the Private Sector Department was officially set up (previously the bank did not make non-sovereign loans) the African Export Import Bank was established, the African Business Roundtable was formed, and generally speaking the realization that the private sector was going to be the engine of growth was finally accepted. On the unpleasant side are memories of certain African countries falling in arrears to the very bank they should have been championing while keeping current on other MDB engagements.
In a recent letter, USA Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin expressed misgivings about the outcome of an internal inquiry that cleared AFDB President Akinwumi Adesina of any wrong doing and called for the appointment of an outside investigator, what did you make of the letter and the US position?
The US Governor, as does every shareholder, has the right to question management’s application of policies and guidelines as established by the shareholders themselves. Upon receiving the letter from the US Governor, the Ivoirian Governor, as the Chair of the Governing Board this year, in my mind did the exactly right thing. She took into consideration the supposition made by the US Treasury Secretary, reviewed it in the light of the formal procedures and guidelines, and concluded that the policies were followed and that the Ethics Committee cleared the President beyond any doubt.
Furthermore, she has asked that the whole whistleblowers statute be formally reviewed, so that it may remain effective, but not become abusive to the proper conduct of the bank. She has asked that an external well-respected individual be recruited to provide an outside unbiased perspective within the next six weeks, so that this matter is cleared up and does not smear the Annual Meetings and the election of the President. The full review of the whistleblower statues and its applications will take a longer period and should not impede the normal functioning of the bank. It is at this point that the shareholders should come to agreement as how to treat similar accusations in the future, balancing the need for such a statute for proper governance with the assurances that serious charges can be properly documented and not be issued lightly or frivolously.
Beyond your stint at the Bank, we know you continue to monitor developments closely, have frictions of this nature or such stark contrast in positions been common between the USA and the AFDB?
Frictions are always to be found in international organizations; it is the nature of the beast as every shareholder has the right to their own opinion. Having said that, I must admit that this “disagreement” is the starkest of any I have seen in the past between the US and the AfDB.
What were your impressions after reading the whistleblower report, were you convinced with the responses from Dr Adesina and do you think the internal inquiry did its job in line with statutory provisions that guide the resolutions of incidents of that nature at the AFDB?
I have known President Adesina for quite some time, including in his previous positions as Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria and at the Rockefeller Foundation, and I am fully convinced with the responses provided by him to the accusations of the whistleblowers. And yes, the internal inquiry did its job fully in line with the statutory guidelines. If there is something that the USG or other shareholders know and/or that the whistleblowers know, then that should be presented to the external individual that will be appointed to conduct the review. For me, those accusations that were made public and investigated by the Ethics Committee, have been responded to in great detail by President Adesina to my full satisfaction.
Considering that Dr Adesina was literally endorsed by all African countries and was on course to get a second term since there was no challenger, some see in the U.S position a form of opposition to Dr Adesina, what information are you getting from your networks, does the US have an issue with a second term for Dr Adesina?
That question is better posed to representatives of the USG. I have been out of government for over 25 years now and happily since in the private sector, where the African continent is finally and truly becoming a very promising market for investors.
What do you make of reactions from people like former President Obasanjo, the Nigerian Minister of Finance and others who have come out forcefully to speak in support of Adesina?
President Adesina, in his vision and execution of the “High 5s” for Africa, has contributed an awful lot to the development of the African continent. He and the AfDB have stepped up also when most needed for an African institution to lead the way in the responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. So, President Obasanjo and the large number of former African Presidents that came out in support of President Adesina have every reason and right to come forward and publicly support their champion.
In a recent open letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr, the first ever U.S Representative to the AFDB called on the US to support Adesina, may we have your views on the letter, and do you share his call for the US to back Adesina?
I am in total alignment with my good friend Harold Doley, Jr’s accolades for all that President Adesina has achieved to date, and I would add that Adesina has established the framework for furthering the critically important role that the AfDB is playing in the development and inclusive growth of the continent. As for the US backing Adesina, unless the USG is holding some secret that the American public is not aware of, I see absolutely no reason for the US to not wholeheartedly support the re-election of President Adesina.
What is your assessment of the way Dr Adesina has managed the AFDB in his first term, in what areas have you seen progress and what would you like to see from him in a second term?
President Adesina came in with a very big vision and mission embodied in the High 5s that I very much supported from day 1. This was and is the necessary vision to bring the African continent into the mainstream of the world economy. The basic tenets of the high 5s that I certainly experience every day as a business person in Africa, those being that farming is a business and a growth sector, that without power you cannot industrialize, that without industry you cannot create inclusive growth and wealth, that without integration you cannot scale and be competitive, and that without those 4 you cannot achieve the 5th of improving the quality of life of Africa’s people are at the core of that mission.
Big visions take time to implement and are often not easy to execute. They required structural changes in the body of the bank, which included both the reorganization and the strengthening of the professional cadre and morale in the bank. As an outside observer, champion and client of the bank, I see these changes taking root and the results beginning to give fruit. What I would like to see in his second term is to give him and the AfDB the time to ripen those fruits to full fruition and in consonance with the fruition I see of the African continent as a whole in today’s world economy.
When we last interviewed you in December 2016, you opined that the Trump Administration will discover the reality of good deals in a rapidly changing Africa, what changes have you seen in US-African relations in the first term of President Trump?
The best thing that has happened is the passing of the US Build Act that has created the US Development Finance Corporation with all it new tools and authorities that could make it a major player on the continent. Furthermore, the Prosper Africa Initiative that recognized that prosperity is a two-way street, is good for American business as it is good for African business and the uplifting of the African population. The reauthorization of the US EXIM Bank is another very important element. Taken as a whole, and especially as evidenced by the goal of having “Deal Teams” at each US Embassy, coordinating all the arms and tools of the USG, will be a big boon for US businesses entering or already operating in Africa.
What do you make of the fact that President Trump has not visited Africa in his first term, does this not send the wrong message to the kind of US-African relations that people like you and many others have been advocating for?
As an American doing business in Africa, whether President Trump visits Africa or not is of no particular concern to me. What is of concern is to get the full-blown support of the USG through the Deal Teams and that those teams and the vision of that support is effectively executed. And that is why all those new instruments are important.
A very astute African business colleague once remarked that the African business train is leaving the station. The Chinese have clearly gotten on board, now it is up to Americans to decide whether to board and participate in that economic growth or not. I would add that simply bashing the Chinese is not the answer, the answer for our mutual benefit is providing our African colleagues an alternative option, a solution to their problems and turning them into opportunities.
We end with a last word from you on how you see this standoff between the U.S and the AFDB eventually playing out and if you do not mind a word on your company Africa Global Partners as well.
The way I look at it, the African Development Bank is the continent’s most prominent and influential multilateral player and is one of the few such institutions that the US has a commanding say over the Chinese. If competing with the Chinese in Africa is primordial to the US, then supporting the position of our African fellow shareholders in the African Development Bank and supporting President Adesina is in our own interests.
Two years ago, I turned over my mantle as President of the Initiative for Global Development, and returned to Chairing the two companies I have been associated with since departing the AfDB in 1993, AfricaGlobal Partners in DC and Schaffer International in Louisiana. We are both advisers and developers of projects, and our sweet spot is the nexus of agro-industry, clean energy and infrastructure. I also proudly sit on the Boards of the US owned Vista Bank Group (focused on SME lending) in West Africa, Fayus International, a Sacramento, CA based food processor and distributor operating throughout Africa, and the Niger Delta Partnership Initiative in Nigeria.
Cameroon: Collective Efforts Needed For Efficient Results in COVID-19 Fight — Dr Martin Mokake
May 28, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Dr Martin Mokake, Director of the Buea Regional Hospital say for them (medical personnel) to put their lives in danger is not much of a problem, but putting their lives without the necessary protective equipment is uncalled for. The Director was speaking to PAV’s Cameroon Reporter in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
The Director has stated that it is impossible for you to suffocate to death while wearing a mask, while also detailing the psychological difficulties the health personnel go through taking care of COVID-19 patients.
” Together if we organize ourselves individually, and respect the measures put in place by the government, and the Ministry of Health we will be able to fight this deadly virus and win,” says Dr Mokake
PAV: Some Cameroonians still do not believe that coronavirus exists. What do you say to them?
Dr Martin Mokake: Coronavirus is here; it is ravaging the society, killing people, and making others very sick, and yet, I do not understand why someone would not believe it exists. Sometimes I have heard a lot of postulates; some people say it is a way for hospitals and governments to make money. The question I ask myself is that all governments will come together from Europe, Asia, America, Africa to formulate something that deceives the whole world, I think it is far fetched.
Coronavirus has come to kill us, to make our lives difficult, it has come to destroy economies of many countries, and I think the earlier we start believing and seeing that coronavirus is not our friend, then that is the first step to defeating coronavirus. If someone does not believe then he will not take the measures lay down by the government, and WHO. When they do not do that the infection rate climbs.
PAV: There is the call from the government for everyone to wear face masks, how long should an individual wear these masks, and what are the potential health risks of wearing the masks?
Dr Martin Mokake: Recently, I have read a lot about masks choking people to death, which is completely false. I will employ you to do a little exercise, cover your nose, and mouth tight and do not breath; you will found out that you cannot do that because your brain will not even allow you to do that. A mask cannot suffocate you to death, it is impossible.
Looking into wearing the masks, normally we can wear a surgical mask for approximately 3 hours, and it needs to be changed. However, surgical masks are not for everybody. First, they are rare to come by and definitely we cannot have that for everybody. What we use in the society are masks that are made up of fabrics, and sometimes people factually complain that they do not breath well with those masks, it is a possibility. I will advise that if you are not in a position, in an area where there are many people, or if you are alone, why would you want to wear a mask?
The standardized masks have been made in such a way there are filters (the air you are breathing goes through the masks, and the air you are breathing is not the air in the mask — air without the masks). I have heard theories of carbonmonoxide poisoning because of masks, and factually it is impossible. However, there is always a nasty feeling when you put on the masks for long hours; the air you exhale usually comes out with the body temperature and so, it is hot. Without the masks, you do not feel that but with it, you feel the hot air. We need to make a decision here, wear the masks and save lives with its inconveniences or not to wear the masks and be exposed.
PAV: As a doctor, you work with nurses, especially in the COVID ward, what are some challenges you and the nurses go through on a daily basis?
Dr Martin Mokake: Our challenges are enormous. I want to salute the medical personnel that are risking their lives to save human lives. We have been victims of slander, victims of molestation, people have beaten up medical personnel, people have spat on them, and people have abused them and accused them wrongly. Yet, those are people who never come to the media, or social media to justify themselves.
Many people think since we are medical personnel we do not have feelings, or we do not have, “heart” or we do not have families. Putting our lives in danger is not much of a problem, but putting our lives without the necessary protective equipment is uncalled for. We have been having a lot of challenges fighting against the COVID-19 with the limited resources we have, blaming nobody as we all know that no government was prepared to fight the virus. Fighting the coronavirus comes with various psychological difficulties; when you think how medical personnel are completely exposed. If you have a little fever or headache you think you are down as well. It is not a secret that we have had a lot of medical personnel with the South West Region tested positive for COVID-19. We are trying within the Regional Hospital in Buea to put mental health nurses and clinical psychologists at the disposition of our medical staff and our patients to make sure that we can boost their psychology.
PAV: Many people in the society have accused hospital staff of tagging anyone as COVID patients. Does the hospital do that?
Dr Martin Mokake: I think they may have a point, and they may also have to listen. Sometimes people want to see what they want to see. We in the hospital have advised that if you do not have something pertinent to do in the hospital please do not come. It does not mean if you come we will catch you and lock you up, it simply means the hospital is a high risks area where people can get infected. We do not have the logistics to keep people, so there is no point coming to the hospital and say you have flu, someone is going to quarantine you for any reason. Nobody tags anybody a COVID-19 patient.
Not every cough or flu or fever is COVID-19. How do we know it is not COVID-19, we have to examine you are take some simple steps. So do we assume that this flu is not COVID-19 and send you home to die? Our society is always about accusation, and yet, the reality needs to be handled. We are not going to tag anybody, we have strict rules in this hospital that do not disclose the identity of anybody’s test death or alive. Families have the results in their pocket, but they do not belief it is COVID-19 because they feel that it is a stigma. It is not and nobody goes to buy it in the market.
PAV: Does the hospital burry COVID-19 patients?
Dr Martin Mokake: We should know that the hospital does not burry patients. We have heard rumours that when people die the hospital takes them away and burry. It is unethical, and the hospital is never going to do anything that goes against medical ethics. It is responsibility of the council to do the burial. When a COVID patient dies in the hospital it is there the hospital’s responsibility ends, the council comes to the hospital, disinfect it for burial. We do not even disinfect graves, nobody does that. So if you slammed the hospital for not coming to disinfect the grave we will forgive you for ignorance but it is our responsibility to educate you on what it is supposed to be.
PAV: There is a situation now in Buea where people who may have symptoms to call instead for the call to be picked in Buea it is done so in Yaounde wasting so much time. What is being done to decentralize the call centres?
Dr Martin Mokake: Yes, the national numbers that have been given (1510) is still a centralized call system. This is one of the things we have been discussing in meetings, and they are working on, to decentralize. We understand that every society has its peculiarities. For example, a mother in Ekona wants to call because she has symptoms and knows how to speak just Pidgin English, and she calls and someone respond to her in English or French, and she cannot really understand they become frustrated. We have tabled this problem, and we have told them (Officials in Yaounde) that this is something that the population is not happy about. The national call centre should be decentralized why not even at the level of the sub divisional level that within Buea you have a call centre in Buea, Limbe, Tiko, and Muyuka and there we will be able to serve the population even better.
PAV: How equipped is the Buea Regional Hospital to take care of COVID-19 patients?
Dr Martin Mokake: It is equipped to a certain level; we do not have ventilators here to put people on artificial ventilation. We have been working with other partners to try to equip the ward (COVID ward). What we have is a 20 bed facility (refurbished with the help of MSF, and the government of Cameroon). We have 10 beds for the confirmed cases, and 10 for the suspected cases. We are working with the protocols from the WHO as stipulated from the time of the Ebola virus. We are also constructing a 24 VIP area whereby we are going to use for isolation as it is in the roofing stage. An ambulance has been set aside for the transportation of COVID patients. The hospital spends a lot to take care of its patients and staff.
PAV: How long should someone wait for the results of their test?
Dr Martin Mokake: Testing has evolved recently because we had a problem whereby we will send the tests to Yaounde it will take one week before we get the results and it caused a lot of psychological problems to the patients. Now, the testing centre in the University of Buea is fully functional, and we have our results 24 hours or 48 hours maximum. In this case it has help in the management of patients. The workers including myself have routines times when we see that we should be tested to make sure that we are ok and not also serving as a source of contamination to our patients who are not suspects.
PAV: Any Message to the Population?
Dr Martin Mokake: We just want to encourage the population and thank them for their understanding. If you have any symptoms please try to contact any health personnel around your vicinity, and they will advise you on what to do. Together if we organize ourselves individually, and respect the measures put in place by the government, and the Ministry of Health we will be able to fight this deadly virus and win. We will continue the fighting because even when we are tired we cannot stop fighting because our primary aim is the community, and our patients.
The picture now shows a rising level of infections within the South West Region. As at May 27, the South West Region has a total of 97 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Region. The major areas include: Mamfe, Kumba, Buea, and Limbe.
COVID 19 & Beyond:Time For Africa To Look Inward For Solutions-Former Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
April 22, 2020 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
As Africa grapples with adequate measures to cushion the ravages of COVID-19, Dr Ammenah Gurib-Fakim says it is time for the continent to take ownership and leadership in solving its own problems.
Speaking in a skype interview from Port Louis, the Biodiversity Scientist who served as the first Woman and 6th President of Mauritius, says it is time that Africa digs deep in its pockets, bring out all the philanthropists , business community, governments , and all the full resources available to power the continent forward.
“Africa has resources, and should be able to change the narrative, work with the international community but more importantly should start investing in ourselves. Up until we start doing this, we will always be in the narrative of waiting for other people to come and help us,” says Dr Ameenah Fakim as she urges the continent to invest in institutions, and training human capital.
Addressing concerns about testing vaccines in Africa, Dr Ameenah Gurib Fakim says using Africans as guinea pigs should be out of the question.
“Whenever a trial is done on the continent it must be done in the right way, with the consent of the person, we do not talk about “guinea pigs” but volunteers, so the person who is participating in the clinical trial must have given his/her consent,” she said.
PAV: Madam President Good afternoon, and thanks for accepting to grant this interview.
Dr Ameenah Fakim: Good afternoon and you are welcome.
PAV: Let us start with the situation in your home country. How is Mauritius fairing with regards to the coronavirus pandemic?
Dr Ameenah Fakim: We have been in lockdown for the past two weeks, and as of today we are counting over two hundred and fifty (250) infected cases and seven (7) deaths.
PAV: There are concerns about the capabilities of healthcare infrastructures across Africa to handle the pandemic, how equipped, and prepared are health facilities in Mauritius?
Dr Ameenah Fakim: In Mauritius ever since we got independence, we have systematically invested in the health sector; the health service is free in Mauritius. We have also invested in the past fifty-plus years on social security nets. This has been one of the pillars in Mauritius, and right now I am very pleased that our founding fathers of this country had this vision to set up a social security net especially the wealth gap.
We are going to be stretched a bit. We keep getting a lot of infections, and what we are encouraging people to do is to stay home so that the pressure does not build on the health services in this country. Having said this, I am concerned about what is going to happen in the African continent because unfortunately, the infrastructure is going to be pushed a great deal but more importantly, if we look at the advice of the WHO they are talking about social distancing, washing hands properly, and in many places, unfortunately, these are still luxuries.
Many people are leaving in cramped conditions in one room, social distancing is out of the question, access to water is an issue, social security net in many of the fragile states is out of the question, and even food is an issue. We talk about people staying home, those operating in the informal sector they are going to be challenged because if they do not work, they do not eat. So unfortunately, in many of these places, the concerns are there that the COVID may not get them, but hunger will.
PAV: Let us talk a little more about the pandemic, what should Africa brace itself for, just how bad could this be and what impact do you see socially, politically and economically for the continent?
Dr Ameenah Fakim: The interesting thing about what is happening in Europe, and what we are observing in many parts of West Africa is that it has not hit so badly so far. I am not going to be controversial here, but could this be because Africa has been hit by so many of these pandemics they have developed somehow a little bit of resistance but already we are seeing that South Africa has enacted all the measures of social distancing, and all that so they are taking it very seriously. Whether we get the true picture of what is going on in Africa depends on the capacity to test. Now, do they have the means to do all the testing? That is the issue
We are just praying that the right measures will be taken on board in the African countries so that more importantly people stay away from those who are infected, and those who are infected have their tests, and have the appropriate care that they need.
In terms of political impact, one thing we have to address is what the COVID has done which has revealed the state of our institutions in the continent. When we talk about the state of our institutions, first is the healthcare system which we find will not be able to cope that much. The second issue which I have always been talking about is the exodus of our competence from the continent, and right now we need all the capacity we can have to be able to handle this and you know the ratio of Doctors to population is very weak on the continent. So, I fear that we may not have the appropriate human capacity to be able to tackle this pandemic. In terms of the pressure politically, time will tell but I think many governments will be under a lot of pressure to be able to address this crisis which the health sector is facing.
PAV: Leaders like Mohamadou Issoufou of Niger say the world needs to consider a Marshal Plan for Africa to help cushion the impact of the pandemic, is this something that you subscribe to?
Ameenah Fakim: I have signed a letter which we sent to the G20 in terms of the measures. We have a plea that people come together, governments come together, institutions come together to capitalise the institutions to help provide the social security net, provide medication all these. These are all our wishes that we will like to put to governments, and institutions. When we talk about the Marshal plan that was of course in 1948, it was done for a particular purpose, for reconstruction immediately after World War II. Right now we are talking about a global pandemic and this calls for countries to come together.
The scenario now is not the same as it was then. My narrative all the time has been African countries have got fifty plus years of post-independence history. It is time that we look at the continent, start digging in our pockets, bringing all the philanthropists, business communities, government because Africa is a very rich continent.
Africa has resources and should be able to change the narratives, work with the international community but more importantly should start investing in ourselves. Up until we start doing this, we will always be in the narrative of waiting for other people to come and help us. The international community has been going a great job of helping us. Beyond the solidarity, we need to start looking at ourselves and I mean this very seriously beyond the health crisis, we have a young population and we need to start investing in them.
We need to start investing in our institutions, training our human capital is our responsibility, keeping the population is our responsibility, so let us all come together to use our resources for the betterment of our institutions, and, of course, our human capital.
PAV: The African Development Bank is setting aside big sums to help African countries fight the pandemic. Considering the poor track records of managing resources across the African continent, is there a message you have for African leaders on how to manage these resources?
Dr Ameenah Fakim: If you look at a country like Rwanda, Paul Kagame after the genocide turned things around. This country does not have many resources, but I think it is leadership. We need to start looking at our leadership as I said invest in our institutions because this is something that will go beyond the lifetime of the leader. We need to start building our institutions, and it comes with investment, with investment in human capital, and in our people and institutions. We need to start building, it should have started yesterday, as we are here with COVID-19, we can start immediately after the pandemic is over but go and invest in our institutions.
Next thing I will also like to point out is that Africa has just signed up to the Continental Free Trade Agreement, there is nothing to prevent West or East Africa trading together, bringing the necessary goods and services and encouraging the movement of people so that we can promote brain circulation so that we can promote human capital, trade, goods and services across the continent. So, this is something we need to start looking at very seriously.
PAV: There has been a lot of controversy in recent times about the vaccine and testing that are needed in Africa coming from two French doctors who said Africa should be the centre for some of these testing. Being a scientist and a former leader, do you think Africans should be concerned about participating in trial runs for any potential vaccines?
Dr Ameenah Fakim: Clinical trial is an inevitable step in drug development and vaccine development. Now, do we need to incorporate Africans in clinical trials? Yes, we need to incorporate Africans. We need to do it in the right way, the same way we do it in the United States, Europe, Asia, and other areas. We need more Africans in these clinical trials. The reason why we need more Africans in these clinical trials is that genetics matter. Whenever a drug is developed in the North it is tested with Caucasians, in Asians, unfortunately, we do not see many Africans being part of the clinical trial panel. Genetics matter because whatever dosage is being developed for a Caucasia or Asian person may not be the right dosage.
Whenever a trial is done on the continent it must be done in the right way, with the consent of the person, we do not talk about “guinea pigs” but volunteers, so the person who is participating in the clinical trial must have given his/her consent. Coming back to the issue on whether we should use Africans as “guinea pigs”, certainly not. Everything must be done appropriately but we need more Africans in these clinical trials so that the dosage and the drug whenever we are prescribing to African genotype it makes a big difference to his or her health.
PAV : Let us talk about leadership from former Presidents like you, former Prime Ministers, across the continent, what role do you think they can play in addressing such a pandemic and generally trying to make sure that Africa stays on the right path to progress?
Dr Ameenah Fakim: I think past leaders have the responsibility of mentoring and this is what I have given myself the task of mentoring girls in science because of my background. We need to educate our girls and to bring them there we need to be a role model for the girl who is growing up in a village in Africa to know that it is possible to reach a certain position through hard work. In the current pandemic, we have the responsibility of advocating, speaking to governments, addressing, and seeing how we can provide best practices. I feel that at this moment in time, we need to be able to know what are the best practices and how do we also speak to the people so that they can adopt best practices so that we can get this pandemic behind us.
Having said this, getting the pandemic behind us is short term, what we have to ensure is that the conversation and the communication still go on because a second or third wave is not impossible as it is already happening in some countries as we have seen in China, Singapore. We have to make sure that when we address this issue on the continent, the conversation remains alive so that we do not get this issue again and again, and I can assure you that we have not seen the last of the COVID. We have not seen the last of any pandemic because climate change will be the next pandemic we have to settle.
PAV: Let us end this interview with an opportunity again for you to make a direct statement to everyday hardworking Africans on safety ad survival measures. How can they walk their way around this troubling time and with all the wave of panic across the continent can you also give a positive message on the way forward?
Dr Ameenah Fakim: I think what we have to do in this incident is to communicate, communicate to the people, encourage governments to do tests, tests and more tests. Hopefully, with the necessary financial measures that are been put in place, we will be able to provide the safety nets for those who are desperately in need for it. It also calls for a time of solidarity and I know that at the level of the African Union, there is an effort to get people to contribute to a fund so that they can then use that to help those people who are in desperate need. Here I have a special thought to those children because I am also working with Save the Children in Africa and I know that they have huge needs as well.
PAV: Madam President thank you so much for talking to Pan African Visions
Dr Ameenah Fakim: Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure and as I said let us work towards getting rid of this COVID virus fast so we can start building ourselves again.
*Interview conducted earlier this month for Pan African Visions Magazine. To get Copies contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com
Cameroon:Law On Official Languages Will Yield Results If Embraced By All-George Ngwane
March 22, 2020 | 0 Comments
Following the promulgation into law on the promotion of Official Languages (English and French) on the 24th December 2019 by the President of the Republic, the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism is heralding a nation-wide mission aimed at exchanging views with targeted professionals on the merits of this law on Bilingualism. The Sun newspaper’s Managing Editor Wasso Norbert Binde caught up with a scholar on Language Commissions, prolific writer and conflict management panAfricanist Mwalimu George Ngwane to shed some light in an interview on some of the black and white provisions found in the law.
Mwalimu, first of all thank you for accepting to grant us an interview on the law of Official Languages in Cameroon. As a scholar on Language Acts and Commissions,What is the novelty in this law?
Thanks for inviting me to engage your readers about this law. As you may know this is the first time in the life of our country to have a law on bilingualism. Granted that Article 1 sub 3 of our constitution stipulates that English and French are of equal status and granted as well that there exist a plethora of legal instruments that make bilingualism in Cameroon a state policy. I must also add here that barely in its two and a half years of existence the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism has been associated with the conception of such a law. So for me the added value is that this law now transforms our official languages from a state policy to a citizen policy action instrument. In other words the law on bilingualism can be seen as an important step on the journey to upscaling the language rights of Cameroonians especially those from the minority official language community. It is now the responsibility of all public entities to make bilingualism a more robust user-centered and citizen-friendly activity.
But certain sections of the law have come under criticism right from the time the bill was sent to Parliament
That is true and I am sure you are referring especially to Section 19 and Section 26 which on the surface are controversial with regard to those of us who come from the Anglophone regions of the North West and South West. Just to refresh the minds of your readers Section 19 says Official correspondences between public entities shall be written in either of the two languages while Section 26 says English and French shall be used indiscriminately in ordinary law and special courts. Now these two Sections can be examined through the Language Commission prism of Inference and Interpretation. By Inference we may jump into the conclusion that correspondences or court communication in the Anglophone region may be rendered in French even though the language community is predominantly English-speaking- something which the Anglophone lawyers fought against as from 2015. But by Interpretation, at least from the perspective of any language body it must be made clear that laws on Official Languages focus on the principles of proportionality and specificity. Proportionality means Official language used is reflected by the proportion of language users in that community while the principle of specificity is informed by the historical and linguistic specificity of the language community. More so Section 26 sub 2 says court decisions shall be done following the language choice of the litigant. One can replace the legal term “litigant” with the global term “user” to mean that oral or written communication in any situation must respect the language choice of the user. This is what is called the principle of active offer. However with regard to official written correspondences served in either of the two languages it would have also been ideal to write both languages side by side as it is the case between Welsh and English in the United Kingdom or one language above the other as it is with some other bilingual communities.
Let us take the case of our courts, what do you do if the Magistrate or Legal personnel does not speak or understand the language of the litigant?
I am told that the courts normally have Interpreters even though complaints have been made about some of them in relation to their mastery of oral translation. But this is an area to be examined seriously so that our courts and other public entities have Interpreters whose integrity and performance cannot be questioned. Secondly there is a need for public servants at a certain level and in this case Magistrates and others of their rank to be sufficiently bilingual. So the recommendation to your specific question is that bilingualism is something which all professional schools must henceforth take more seriously. Our government and I am sure this is within the purview of the Commission on Bilingualism should be working on what Canadians call the Public Service Official Languages Appointment Regulation or what we may simply call the Bilingualism Proficiency Appointment Charter. This is a Charter that places premium on appointment to certain positions in the public service based on the individual’s bilingual capacity. Third, team spirit is very important in the dispensation of bilingual communication so having less bilingual and more bilingual personnel or two from different language communities working side by side is an option to also consider. And this should be from the front desk workers like mail officers, secretaries, janitors, security guards etc to the highest working level.
You just talked of translation and we find poor translation in some of our official documents, billboards and public notices; what is the problem?
I am happy you said some of… because frankly the bulk of our translation is fantastic. Cameroon has about the most talented professional Translators and Interpreters in the world. They are found in most continental and world bodies, ample testimony that our Schools of Translators and Interpreters meet up with global standards. When the Commission on Bilingualism visited the various Ministries and parapublic institutions they discovered that most of them have Translation units. So the problem with some of the poor translation you are referring to cannot be due to a lack of professional Translators. Could it be that some of the Translators are not functionally empowered, could this arise from the erroneous notion that a minimum knowledge of the two languages can just qualify you as a Translator or could it just be a neglect of the fundamental role professional Translators play in our society? I am sure members of the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters can best answer your question.
Now, let us come back again to the law proper, what do you consider as some of the strong sections in this law?
I am sorry I cannot quote all of the positive sections by heart. However I know of one that stipulates the right of every citizen to freely communicate in the language of their choice so expressions like “je ne comprend pas ton Anglais la” or “ you are even speaking Mbouda French” should now be stigmas or pejoratives of the past. Another section also talks of the state providing incentives for greater proficiency or what is called bilingualism bonus. I also have in mind I think it is Section 16 that encourages code switching which means using both languages alternately in the same official speech.
And which are the dark areas or sections?
I prefer to call them the grey areas because they are a little loose ended and open to subjective implementation. We have already talked of Sections 19 and 26 although I must add that other public entities like the health sector where diagnosis and prescriptions are made by the medical practitioner to a patient in a language the patient does not master. How about the notion of bilingual colleges today/ How about the monolingual medium of instruction in some professional schools including those in the Anglophone region? Yet and on a very personal assessment I feel much has been covered in our bilingualism journey from the time I was arrested and locked up in March 1990 just for writing and questioning the validity of our bilingualism state policy to today where state officials use both languages effortlessly. Thirty years after it is both a personal vindication for me and a linguistic paradigm shift for the government. Of course we have not yet arrived but we are on track.
Finally what sanctions are written in the law for those who violate these provisions?
Well, sanctions have not been implicitly built into the law. We all wish they were because implementation is a problem with especially state officials. But my take is that first those who do not implement the law expose themselves to self-sanctions because they limit their chances on career upward mobility. Second I think it must be Section 27 of this law that says the state shall ensure the monitoring and evaluation of the law through an Advisory body. That Advisory body I am certain is the Commission on Bilingualism which has the role of receiving complaints or petitions from the public on the violation of their linguistic freedom or abuse of their language rights. It has already been doing this through its webpage and telephone hotline 1518. Most language commissions prefer the tongue rather than the teeth approach to sanctions. By this they carry out investigations, send reports to other state bodies like Human Rights or Parliament, call the violator to order through oral or written means or sometimes do a kind of name and shame report on the violator.
Any final word Mwalimu?
No law is static and when it comes to law on languages it is always prone to revisions and amendments based on public feedback and contestations. The Welsh Language Act of 1993 has been revised so many times and already in 2015 they have a new language law called the Wales Measure. I was privileged thanks to the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship offered me in 2016 to have understudied the Welsh Language Commissioner in Wales. Other Official Language Acts in Northern Canada, Belgium, Spain and Ireland have been subjected to revisions and amendments after being tested on the field. It is therefore advisable for governments to be sensitive to citizen response to the law on languages. But before then let us give the language law a chance to be tested on the field for like it is said in French “le macon sera connu au pied du mur”.
My pleasure Sir
*Culled from The Sun Newspaper. Photo Illustrations by PAV