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We must imagine and create the Africa we want- Transformunity CEO Arrey Obenson
September 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Joseph Besong

Africa’s greatest problem lies in the mindset of its people, says Arrey Obenson

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.

Obenson has been leading a big effort to support the COVID-19 response in his native 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.

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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

Cameroon has a Head of State who is not only out of sight but out of touch as well with his citizens,says Dr Eseme
Cameroon has a Head of State who is not only out of sight but out of touch as well with his citizens,says Dr Eseme

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.

According to Dr Eseme,the National Dialogue was a drama, written, directed and produced by the Cameroon government
According to Dr Eseme,the National Dialogue was a drama, written, directed and produced by the Cameroon government

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.

Dr Eseme with Hon Fritz Ngeka, and Barrister Agbor Balla at the National Dialogue, Anglophones are neither disabled nor begging for what is rightfully theirs, he says
Dr Eseme with Hon Fritz Ngeka, and Barrister Agbor Balla at the National Dialogue, Anglophones are neither disabled nor begging for what is rightfully theirs, he says

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.

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,says Dr Eseme
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,says Dr Eseme

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!

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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

I am a Proponent of the two states Federation says Balla in response to questions that he may have shifted his viewpoints. Photo Boris Esono, PAV
I am a Proponent of the two states Federation says Balla in response to questions that he may have shifted his viewpoints. Photo Boris Esono, PAV

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.

At CHRDA, We do not invent or fabricate but document and publish facts says Barrister Balla. Photo Boris Esono, PAV
At CHRDA, We do not invent or fabricate but document and publish facts says Barrister Balla. Photo Boris Esono, PAV

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.

Felix Agbor Balla-Human rights defender addressing participants during the International Nelson Mandela Day in Yaounde
Felix Agbor Balla-Human rights defender addressing participants during the International Nelson Mandela Day in Yaounde

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. 

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“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

Mabior Garang says the SPLM Aristocracy killed the vision of Dr John Garang.Photo credit ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP via Getty Images

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!

Mabior Garang says there is now a Movement for the second liberation of South Sudan
Mabior Garang says there is now a Movement for the second liberation of South Sudan

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” .

President Kiir and FVP Machar.The notion that the two leading protagonists working together is a panacea for South Sudan’s ills is naiveté at best, says Mabior Garang

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!

Mabior Garang, center, talks with other SPLM-IO delegates during a press conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2014.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.Photo credit www.ibtimes.com

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.

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Corruption Is Robbing Nigerians Of Democratic Dividends-Okey Sam Mbonu
August 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

The absence of a strong vision and rampant corruption impede Nigeria from reaping the dividends of democracy, says Okey Sam Mbonu
The absence of a strong vision and rampant corruption impede Nigeria from reaping the dividends of democracy, says Okey Sam Mbonu

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.

No party that sells its primary tickets to the highest bidder deserves to be in power anywhere ,says Okey Mbonu
No party that sells its primary tickets to the highest bidder deserves to be in power anywhere ,says Okey Mbonu

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.

Young and dynamic with a strong vision, Okey Sam Mbonu remains a player to watch in the future of Nigerian politics
Young and dynamic with a strong vision, Okey Sam Mbonu remains a player to watch in the future of Nigerian politics

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.

*Culled from August Issue of PAV Magazine

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Africa Has Not Been A Priority Region For The Trump Administration-CFA President Mel Foote
August 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

President Trump really has not had any discernible agenda for Africa, says Mel Foote

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. 

An operational concept of unification, that allows African Americans, African
immigrants, Afro Latinos, and Afro Europeans, to cooperate is still needed, says Mel
Foote pictured here with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya

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!

While most of the Africa-focused organizations in the U.S. have disappeared, the CFA under the leadership of Mr Foote continues to respond to the call of Africa
While most of the Africa-focused organizations in the U.S. have disappeared, the CFA under the leadership of Mr Foote continues to respond to the call of Africa

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!

*Culled from August Issue for PAV Magazine

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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 submit@merckfoundation.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.

Dr Kelej and the Merck Foundation have partnered with African First Ladies on diverse projects to mitigate the effects of Covid 19
Dr Kelej and the Merck Foundation have partnered with African First Ladies on diverse projects to mitigate the effects of Covid 19

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.

The Merck Foundation rallied a group of top African artists to use music in thanking frontline actors and sharing safety tips
The Merck Foundation rallied a group of top African artists to use music in thanking frontline actors and sharing safety tips

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.

*Culled from August Issue of PAV Magazine

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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
Marieme Esther Dassanou
Marieme Esther Dassanou
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. 

*AFDB
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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.

Charles Lufumpa is the African Development Bank’s Acting Chief Economist and Vice President for Economic Governance and Knowledge Management

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.  

*AFDB.

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Nigerian Actress / Screen Writer Pens Coronavirus hit African lockdown series
June 30, 2020 | 0 Comments
Tunde Aladese

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.

Tunde Aladese  won an Africa Academy Award in 2018
Tunde Aladese won an Africa Academy Award in 2018

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?

Tunde is the screenwriter  of the mini-series nightly show titled MTV Shuga Alone Together highlighting the problems of Coronavirus
Tunde is the screenwriter of the mini-series nightly show titled MTV Shuga Alone Together highlighting the problems of Coronavirus

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.

*Q & A facilitated by Ruth Sparkes and MetFilm School

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From Kenya To East Africa, African Made SUV Mobius Eyes Continental Market
June 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Joel Jackson is the Founder and CEO of Mobius Motors specialized in the building of vehicles in Africa for Africa

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.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had a special test drive of a Mobius car in 2014
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had a special test drive of a Mobius car in 2014

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.

Designed specifically with the rugged African terrain in mind, brand new Mobius cars sell cheaper than used foreign cars in Kenya
Designed specifically with the rugged African terrain in mind, brand new Mobius cars sell cheaper than used foreign cars in Kenya

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.

* The full interview is featured in the upcoming July issue of Pan African Visions Magazine.For more information on Mobius cars click here

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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

Prof. Joao Bosco and Dr. Adesina
Prof. Joao Bosco Monte says he looks forward to stronger and more diverse cooperation between Brazil and Africa during Dr. Adesina’s second AFDB Term.

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.





Under Prof João Bosco Monte IBRAF has been a vital link between Brazil and Africa

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.

After 3 years of the Youth Technical Training Program in partnership with the AFDB   we are very pleased to identify that many young Africans applying some successful Brazilian experiences in many parts of the African continent ,says Prof João Bosco Monte

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.

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