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A Turning Point For Protests in Nigeria with End SARS-Veteran Journalist Chido Onumah
November 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria,says veteran Journalist Chido Onumah
The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria,says veteran Journalist Chido Onumah

The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria, says veteran Journalist, writer and media trainer Chido Onumah. In an interview with PAV, Onumah opined that the protesters have largely achieved their aim which was to register their displeasure about the state of Nigeria using End SARS as the pivot.

“The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria. For one, it has galvanized young people and shown them the power of organisation and solidarity,” says Onumah.

While the Nigerian government may have succeeded in tainting the protest with unfounded claims that it was a movement of young people from the Southern part of the country eager to remove President Buhari, the last may not have been heard from the protesters ,Onumah said.

“I think overall the protesters achieved their aim, which was to register their displeasure about the state of the country using End SARS as the pivot. They must go back to re-strategise, build a pan-Nigerian coalition that addresses the major concerns of young people and citizens across the country and present a minimum agenda for the transformation of the country, an agenda that speaks to unity, freedom, equality and opportunities for all Nigerians wherever they may be in the country,” said the highly respected media personality.

Thanks for accepting to answer our questions Chido Onumah to discuss the current situation in Nigeria and the End SARS demonstrations. Could we start with a historical context, when and why was SARS created and what did it do wrong to incur the wrath of Nigerians?

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was set up in response to the spate of armed robberies in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, in late 1992. The history of SARS is reflective of its operation which was the cause of nationwide protests recently. Its history is rooted in the violence which has been the hallmark of not just the Nigerian State and its security apparatuses, but many of the neo-colonial states in Africa.

SARS has its origin in the confrontation between the Nigeria Army and the Police. Following the death of a senior army officer at a police checkpoint in Lagos in September 1992, the army went after any police personnel they could find. Many police officers allegedly resigned while others abandoned their duty posts and stations for fear of their lives. The violence the army visited on the police led to a breakdown of law and order and the collapse of law enforcement in the state for weeks. After the army ended its onslaught, the police returned to the streets and had to deal with an increase in the crime rate. SARS was a quick response to this crisis. Because there were anti-robbery squads in existence, “special” was added to SARS to distinguish it from these other anti-robbery squads.

Gradually, the operations of SARS extended beyond Lagos to other parts of the country. Almost from the outset, SARS became notorious for abuse of rights of suspects and detainees, but it wasn’t until about a decade ago that these atrocities attracted media and public attention. With the expansion of technology and social media in the country also came the problem of online crimes, the advance fee fraud or 419 as it is known in Nigeria. SARS took up the task of dealing with this scourge. SARS operatives, many ill-trained and poorly remunerated were unleashed on universities and cities across the country.

Rather than dealing with the problem, typical of law enforcement in Nigeria, they became the problem, extorting money from suspects, detaining people illegally, and sometimes executing suspects for failing to meet their financial demands. They also because pawns in the hand of politicians and influential members of society who used them to settle personal scores or advance their political and economic interests. Because it had special (no pun intended) power being that its leadership was answerable only to the Inspector General of Police, its operatives became law unto themselves.

May we know how the End SARS protests started, what was the final straw that pushed Nigerians on the kind of protests that we are experiencing today?

The crisis has been brewing for long. As I mentioned, for about a decade now the atrocities of the SARS unit have been the subject of social media commentary and reports of groups like Amnesty International. But the buildup to the current protests started in 2017 when some activists launched a campaign on Twitter to end SARS and reform the Nigeria Police. In 2017, a petition signed by over 10,000 people was submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly calling for a total disbandment of SARS. After the social media uproar, there were peaceful protests in cities across Nigeria.

The latest round of protests started in early October, first on Twitter and spilling over to the streets of major cities across the country after reports of the shooting of a young man in the south-south part of the country by SARS officers. Let us not forget that in September, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had planned nationwide protests against the insensate increase in the price of petrol and electricity which was called off to the chagrin of young people across the country after the NLC reached an “agreement” with the government. Before the increase in the cost of petrol and electricity, Nigerians had been complaining about poverty, corruption, insecurity, kidnapping, etc. The End SARS issue was just a trigger to propel young people who have been used—used as political thugs during elections—and abandoned by successive governments in Nigeria.

Who exactly are the people leading the protests, who speaks for the protesters?

They call it a “leaderless revolution.” Perhaps, that explains why it was sustained for so long. In the past when we had protests led by organised labour or members of civil society there were reports that government would pay off the “leaders” of such protests and after a few days, the protests fizzled. The protesters didn’t what to hear the word “leader.” It was a collective action. They didn’t want to be betrayed by so-called leaders. Of course, there are a few young people who because of their social profile or celebrity status are known across the country and around the world who directed the protests or presented demands to the authorities.

Overall, the peaceful protests remained leaderless, and the young people managed to make it work. Unfortunately, rather than government protecting the peaceful protesters, they hired other young people to disrupt the process and cause mayhem. That was the genesis of the violence and breakdown of law and order that the country witnessed in the last one week. Those hired by the State to disrupt the protests were so emboldened that they started burning cars and buildings while the security operatives watched. It created an opportunity for a lot of young unemployed youths who live on the streets to take advantage of the chaos to cause more destruction.

In Lagos, the deployment of soldiers who were seen in a video shooting at unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll gate was the trigger of the state-wide violence and destruction that followed. Seeing that security operatives had applied lethal force and subsequently abandoned their role to protect lives and property, enraged citizens took a cue and embarked on large scale destruction of public and private property, including forcibly raiding government warehouses where they helped themselves to all sorts of food items meant for distribution as palliatives to the people to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but wickedly shut away by state officials.  

The response of President Buhari potrays a leader who is out of touch with the realities of his country ,says Chido Onumah
The response of President Buhari potrays a leader who is out of touch with the realities of his country ,says Chido Onumah

There have been reports and counter reports on casualties, what are your own sources on the ground telling you about exact figures on casualties?

We do not have the exact figures. That will become clear in the weeks ahead when many of the judicial panels of enquiry set up by state governors submit their reports and they are made public. For now, the reports on casualties are sketchy and many can’t be independently verified. But from initial reports in the media, clearly many protesters were killed and injured.      

We have also heard incidents of a high court burnt in Lagos, buses burnt, prison breaks, etc., what impact do you think this could have on the true intent and purpose of the End SARs protests?

It is unfortunate that the peaceful protests took a violent turn. But the State should be held culpable, first for instigating counter protests and then standing idly by when there was a breakdown of law and order. There were things security personnel could have done to stop the violence without causing deaths or injuries. But they just watched and, in some cases, participated in the “looting” that occurred.

Clearly, the destruction was not carried out by the End SARS protesters. These were peaceful, focused, and organised protesters whose comportment was widely commended. The destruction was carried out by the precariat, victims of the violent onslaught of the Nigerian state over the last 60 years of political independence. Those who have lived on the fringes, who felt marginalised and left out of the prosperity and opportunity that the enormous wealth the country should have created. The End SARS protesters are organising online and offline and strategising on how to turn their efforts into a political movement that not only seeks to hold the government accountable but one whose members can run for political office.

What do you make of the way the Buhari administration has handled the crisis, did the speech of President Buhari help in anyway?

Perhaps, it would have been better if President Buhari didn’t make that broadcast. It was anti-climactic. People were expecting him, literally begging him, to address the country which would have assuaged feelings in the first few days of the protests, but he remained impervious to the anger and later death and destruction around him. And when he decided to speak, more than two weeks after the protests started, he did not address any of core issues around the protests. His insensitivity riled the protesters. President Buhari’s obliviousness is on a different level.

Following the broadcast, videos started circulating on social media to the effect that the person that spoke was not President Buhari and that the “real” President Buhari passed away in 2017 during one of his many medical trips to the UK. Because of the hollowness of the speech, it was drowned in conspiracy theories. Of course, it was President Buhari that spoke in a recorded broadcast to Nigerians on October 22. Unfortunately, we are dealing with an enfeebled president who is utterly out of touch with the mood of the country.

There are some who feel that the politics of 2023 may be playing a role in the End SARs protests, any currency to this school of thought?

Everything in Nigeria today is linked to the politics of 2023. The End SARS protests have nothing to do with the politics of 2023 but a lot to do with the crisis of poverty, underdevelopment, and abuse of Nigerians by the State and its institutions. Of course, there are elements who want to take advantage of the protests to further their personal and political interests. As I noted earlier, the anti-SARS sentiments have been on for many years. It was only a matter of time.

We understand a number of businesses belonging to APC kingpin Ahmed Bola Tinubu have been destroyed, any reason why he is targeted?

Tinubu has come out to say he does not own some of the businesses linked to him that were destroyed. The jury is still out on that and why these businesses were targeted. What we know, which is unfortunate, is the destruction of media houses belonging to Tinubu—The Nation newspaper and TV Continental. We hope the panel set up by the Lagos State Government can find answers to some of these questions. I have my doubts though. The state government is deeply enmeshed in the mess. Take the question of who invited the military. First, we were told by the military that it was fake news and that the military was not involved in the Lekki shooting. The Governor of Lagos State denied sending in the military. Now, the military says it was invited by the governor. It is hard to know what to believe. The governor has many questions to answer.

A number of sports, music and Nollywood stars have fully embraced the End SARS movement, what impact has their presence had on the protests?

The impact has been huge. It gave traction to the process. It reassured citizens, particularly the downtrodden who were the catalysts of protests in the past that the “rich also cry.” In this case, the middle class. Usually, protests start in low income neighbourhoods and it is easy to quell them because those involved are not “influential” or “important” people. This time, the centre of the protests was Lekki, the neighbouhood of the nouveau riche. The involvement of celebrities and Nollywood stars brought international attention to the protests and the violent attempt by state to shut down the protests. Those outside the country led protests in different cities around the world and those in the country were at the forefront of the protests. The country hadn’t witnessed anything like that.  

Nigerian music star Wizkid right, leads the End SARS protest in London. Star power was on full display during the protests in Nigeria and across the globe
Nigerian music star Wizkid right, leads the End SARS protest in London. Star power was on full display during the protests in Nigeria and across the globe

How should voices that are out for genuine change and reforms guard against opportunists trying to hijack the movement? We now see people, especially politicians, who have been part of the problems in Nigeria speaking in support of End SARS. Should they be trusted?

This was part of the concerns of the protesters. They are aware of this and are not taking any chances. Many of the politicians speaking out are trying to save face. Nigerians know the enemies of the people, those who feed fat on the misery of citizens and on the underdevelopment of the country, those who earn hundreds of millions every year for doing nothing, those who abuse their office and public trust, and those who steal directly from the people in the name of governance. For these groups, their comeuppance is near. Nigeria isn’t going to remain the same after the End SARS protests. People are ready for real change and they know they can attain it when they work together with determination.

We end with a look at the future. How far could the End SARs protests go, and what future do you see for the country?

The End SARS protests have redefined the nature of protests in Nigeria. For one, it has galvanized young people and shown them the power of organisation and solidarity. Of course, there are concerns and still plenty of work to do. Nigeria is a deeply divided country and one of the things government tried to do during the protests was to get other young people to break ranks. Government not only pushed the narrative that the protests were carried out by young people in the southern part of the country and that it was an attempt to remove President Buhari (a northerner) from power, they recruited other young people to disrupt the protests and instigate violence. The State did all it could to play up the fault lines in the country.

I think overall the protesters achieved their aim, which was to register their displeasure about the state of the country using End SARS as the pivot. They must go back to re-strategise, build a pan-Nigerian coalition that addresses the major concerns of young people and citizens across the country and present a minimum agenda for the transformation of the country, an agenda that speaks to unity, freedom, equality and opportunities for all Nigerians wherever they may be in the country.

*Culled from November issue of Pan African Visions Magazine.

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It is important that the universities collaborate with us in Sierra Leone -Foday Melvin Kamara
October 19, 2020 | 0 Comments

  By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

Foday Melvin Kamara is the Chief Executive Officer of Fomel Industries and National Industrialization Centre (FINIC) , a leading and only enterprise that in Sierra Leone and Ghana specializing in the manufacturing  and designing of Agricultural machines.

In this interview , he takes us through how he  started the only locally manufacturing and designing enterprise of agricultural machines in the country and first asked him to tell me how it all started.

 Ishmael : First of , please tell me about FINIC and what it does ?

Foday Melvin Kamara : The FINIC industry  founded in 1997 , came about from the awareness that us in Sierra Leone , and Africa generally , we are just too import dependent . we just wanted everything to be brought in and then that thinking made me to remember that if we are bringing in everything, we will lose a lot , not only money , but many are seeing the capital flight . Monies are coming from outside. We are the seeing the brains we are losing in the process because a brain that does not exercise, it’s a brain that will grow just like the muscles .The muscles needed exercise for it to grow bigger . If we do not manufacture and all the time its import, import , our brains will become smaller and we will lose and so that give us the kind of impetus for us to venture into machine systems design .we are over two decades now on the ground quietly.

Ishmael : How is it like working and operating in an environment where people mostly believe in overseas goods than locally made  products ? How have you been able to go through this and take a foot hole in the Sierra Leonean market ?

Foday Melvin Kamara : It’s actually a very , very difficult thing to do. Without the passion in you , its almost impossible . Our people’s mentality and mind set everything that is a machine , it is white made. Anything working in the form of machine , they say it white made. So, that mindset is there , for you to break that cocoon , and comes out and starts doing it your self , that trust level is very , very low . They won’t believe you , they don’t trust that the machines you manufacture are of standard and can stand the test of time , be able to perform its purpose. It is a big, big task. It is a hurdle.   But what keeps us going , its our passion , the love for mechanical things  that flows in my blood . How did it happened , only God knows , I don’t know? I just like machines . I can talk about them the whole of the day and don’t feel bored. So that passion is what carries me forward and of course the love for country as well because what we are doing in this country , we see it benefitting Sierra Leone more than it benefits me . Simple reason, we are like laying a foundation , we are like waking up sleeping giants . we are like telling people that yes, we can . we can do it . Any time we do something, that people feel its white made , and we did it and succeeded and bring in something new that even the white man hasn’t created or invented, that gives confidence to others particularly the youngsters that are growing up that they could best that our country have brains and let us not limit our brains , to singing, to football and  but let’s take it to other areas of science that will bring development for the country. And the workers that are working with me here, we don’t see them as employees , we see them as people with us for the common good of mama Salone.

 Ishmael :  what is your background ?

Foday : It’s a great one , my background actually I am an automobile engineer trained in Germany . That was long time ago . I did automobile engineering and you see mechanical engineering they are so related with automobile engineering . You know, automobile engineers can employ , mechanical engineers , and also Mechanical engineers can also employ automobile engineers. And then  One perfect good thing, that is clearly tells about this love affair is that things we are doing so much related to motor vehicles .some parts of machines that we are doing for threshing of palm bunches  to remove the bunches to extract palm oil is from motor engine . That’s a perfect relationship.  You know , this is one of the reasons why our machines can stand the test of time and why we are succeeding as a company.

Ishmael : As a company how have you been able to collaborate with government as some of your product has to do agriculture and other manufactures?

Foday : Yes!  One absolutely will expect that we should collaborate with government , meaning government to patronize us , government has anything to think about mechanization can come to people that is always  do this kind of work. That is our expectation and that what we are doing is bigger for the nation and us that are doing the job .we are expect that on that account , the government or governments go patronize us but that is not happening . I mean with that who should be blamed , me or the government? What I’m doing to me , it is more beneficial to country than to me as a personal person and then the government that our work will benefit for create employment for youths, they don’t patronize me . They don’t place me up there for the youths to see me as a role model , how can we industrialize . if we don’t industrialize , how would  that benefit the government . How unemployment benefits the government, badly because it  will create unrest , it will create chaos. People wants to work , there are no places to work , they will put their talents into a negative form . so, I expect that the governments , both present  and past t to patronize me . That’s how I see it . The time actually that I should spend to go to the corridors of power to lobby,  and buy from me , is difficult to do as long as I am not able to sing the political songs . It is something that I am not able to do , therefore , I prefer the government gives me task once in a while, developing machines systems that will be according to our circumstances to enhance productivity in the agricultural sector and also enhance value -chain  addition. This is one way we can push the country forward.

Ishmael : Has there been any collaboration with your company and technical institutions, colleges and universities to help students get practical skills in mechanical and automobile engineering .

Foday :  We would be really happy to get this kind of synergy as you put it. And we were one of those people that was with the Bio- led  administration started, they established the Science ,Technology and Innovation Directorate and then they appointed a leader to steer that office . we were very , very happy . we thought that we are  coming  to be recognised because really what we are doing is agricultural related , and we promote  production and processing but as time went by we realised, there is still more time actually. We realised that the focus for this  directorate is more of information technology , more on electronics . I mean , that there is nothing in my own ears , about mechanization. We have a lot of ideas , we tried , for bring ourselves close to the Chief Innovation Officer in the Science and Technology Directorate by writing him an email stating that , we have got a concept of making a garrie making machine with a potential to do thirty bags of gari in an hour. Yes , absolutely I mean it, but I didn’t have response from him and I wouldn’t say that he didn’t receive the mail from us , probably he may have wanted a different approach , maybe he had wanted me to go there , and put forward my case. Probably he didn’t like approach but where we are so serious about mechanization, not only electronics is a matter of just calling the person, and then we sit and then chat the way forward , positive things will come out. One collaborative area he did with me , though it was brief was the hands-Free  washing stations ,he sent one video of one working which we didn’t manufactured  and asked me if we can do it and then I said, of which we can do our own design without copying . Four , five days later we came out with our own design and it  is creating a big impact in the country and also in Ghana  for schools ,churches in both Sierra Leone and in Ghana. That kind of collaboration I expect to be continued according him , he has told the president about it and forward him the video . probably my approach , they don’t want. The collaboration with the universities is ongoing though not how I expect it to be . They sometimes have their students on internship here at FINIC , they will be us with us for one month, two months , and sometimes they used the factory as an incubator centre  to hatch their ideas when they are doing their projects. That was going on with Njala , Fourah Bay College , and the for the past four years , that collaborative venture , I am seeing it as much stronger as it used to be unless the last time we had a student who built a stove. It is important that the universities collaborate with us  because what they trained is more of  theoretical than practice but when the students leave the class room , then the theory just becomes something in the head , and something in the head, without been put into use , is as a good as a dead one. The world pays for  what one does , with that which one knows. If you know something in your head, and you do not put it into application who cares.  I expect that for them to give confidence to their graduates to send them to go through trainings . Thank God the Ministry of Education I think is coming out with some kind of innovative ways for train such people in collaboration with GIZ and also the World Bank they will be coming within the agricultural , technical and vocational institutions package to help people get practical trainings.

Ishmael : What about the Ministry of Agriculture ,part of their plans is venturing in mechanized farming . Has there any collaboration  with them?

Foday Melvin Kamara: Not yet , when we talk about production in  agriculture, almost all cases , people think about tractors, almost always when we think enhance rice production tractors come to their  minds. That has been the mindset . And these tractors, one we do not have culture to maintain them , we do not have the skills well enough to operate them . And so, if people like us are given the chance to come out with technology that his home grown , that is done considered the circumstances of this country will be very helpful. I have always said, we can use Okada to do lots of operations within the agricultural sector particularly production like in ploughing , processing and rice milling an okada can do that . so, if we have a sponsorship by way of patronage, a lot of things will come out that will enable to enhance in the boosting of agricultural productivity in the country both in terms of growing of the plants as well as adding value to them.

Ishmael :  As I see look around your office , there is poster reading FINIC can turn grass into an electricity tell me more about this ?

Foday Melvin Kamara : You know, it’s really , very , very sad , the scientist in this country are not known . They just don’t care about them . They care about musicians  , they care about the politicians . But let me say that any biomass , by biomass , I mean anything that is plant based you can turn it into gas . That gas in turn , run an engine and that engine runs a generator.  Yes we are able to build a biomass gasifier which you put palm kernel shells inside it , get turned into a gas , and then  you get a bye -product which is charcoal , which is the bio charm materials , like you see the one I have here,  you can process it into brisket used for cooking . If we can follow such a technology , we do not need to cut down trees in the name of charcoal making for the energy in the kitchen. When I was in a location seeing the number of vehicles coming in to Freetown from up country bringing down firewood . Just wood , not charcoal , it’s terrible ,  you will know that this country, deforestation is happening very , very strongly and in the next fifteen years is going to be sorrowful . that wood people are bringing is a waste of energy,  we are wasting one,  the gas there , they just used the wood for cooking , the gases that escape in the form of smoke but if we have  a technology that can transform into gasification process. 

Ishmael : How Covid-19 affected your business ?

Foday : Yes, I will say it  affected our business because the volume of our work we are doing would have been greater  . we are struggling but for every adversity ,there is equal opportunity . Covid -19 brought difficulty in the world but as same time , along with it some opportunities . One opportunity, the pandemic gave us , is the manufacturing of the hands free washing stations which FINIC manufactured and because of its demand we were able to open another branch of the company in Ghana.

Ishmael : How do you envisioned FINIC in the next ten years ?

Foday : It is a very good question , maybe I will be retired by that time, but I wanted to see FINIC is five West African countries . Presently we are in Ghana , and we are about sending our team there to go and trained our team members there in order to manufacture dryers for mango chips among other products. We are also in contact with some people in Guinea to as well trained them in manufacturing and designs, but we wanted to do it in a way we would be recognised through their government . we dint care how much they will pay we for it.

Ishmael: Great talking to you

Foday : Thank you , it’s a pleasure talking to you !

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African countries should structure post covid plans around the AfCFTA – Former Liberian Minister B. Elias Shoniyin
October 13, 2020 | 3 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

The more we can invest in our people, the more the future of Africa will be assured, says Shoniyin
The more we can invest in our people, the more the future of Africa will be assured, says Shoniyin

It is important that African countries be encouraged to formulate their post-COVID recovery plans around the opportunity of African Continental Free Trade Agreement-AfCFTA, says B Elias Shoniyin, a professional in international affairs, development and policy.

Shoniyin, a Liberian national who occupied key government positions in the administrations of Sirleaf Johnson, and George Weah, says the AfCFTA will embolden African countries to invest more in areas of comparative advantage, where they have maximum potentials.

Discussing the African response to COVID 19 with Pan African Visions-PAV, Shoniyin lauded the prompt response across the continent despite well-known limitations. In Liberia, while the experience acquired in previous battles with the Ebola virus continues to be useful, he urged the government of President George Weah to seek and bring in more expertise.

On the future, Shoniyin urges African governments to invest more in its people.

“I believe the most valuable asset of Africa is its people. Natural resources underground are not what make a people great; the capacity of the people to harness those resources makes them great. Our foremost challenge in Africa today is the limited capacity of our people. The more we can invest in our people, the more Africa’s future will be assured,” says Shoniyin.

Thanks for accepting to grant us this interview, we start with COVID 19, how is the situation like in Liberia?

B. Elias Shoniyin: Clearly, COVID 19 is global and every country on the earth has been affected – be it, by the extent of the virus infection rate or the deteriorating economic condition resulting from the pandemic. Liberia, bringing to bear its experience with the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to 2015, quickly built on and redeployed the health measures to protect our communities. As of now, we have officially recorded 1,321 COVID 19 cases, 1196 recovery and 82 death.

What do you make of the way the government of President George Weah has handled the pandemic in Liberia?

B. Elias Shoniyin: Noting the limited capacity of the George Weah Government, they are continuing to make efforts. Clearly, a lot more is required to fully address the pandemic; therefore, the Government is encouraged to seek and bring on board more professional expertise available in Liberia.

The outbreak of COVID 19 comes a few years after the outbreak of Ebola, are there any useful lessons from the Ebola episode that have been useful or could be better put to use in providing a better response to COVID 19 in your country?

B. Elias Shoniyin: There are many similarities between how Ebola and COVID 19 are transmitted. The obvious differences are COVID is a lot more contagious but less deadly than Ebola. As soon as the first known COVID 19 case was reported in Liberia, the dormant structures established during the Ebola outbreak were immediately reactivated. Strict social and public health measures were taken, including mass awareness, isolation of infected persons, and effective contact tracing. Many Liberians were skeptical of the government of Liberia’s initial handling of the virus, prompting fears of its prevalence. However, we are happy that society’s awareness drawn from the Ebola experience has contributed hugely to constraining social behavior resulting to the low number of COVID cases.

Liberia is now enduring a difficult period with all the economic and social indicators in the reverse ,says Shoniyin who served in two administrations
Liberia is now enduring a difficult period with all the economic and social indicators in the reverse ,says Shoniyin who served in two administrations

As someone who follows developments across Africa closely, what appraisal do you make of how African countries have fared in the fight against COVID 19, what are some of the positives and negatives that you see in some of the responses?

B. Elias Shoniyin: Generally, the response of many African countries to the pandemic was prompt. We are aware of our limitations in available financial and human resources, and the weaknesses in our health care systems; therefore, the most sensible reaction was what we did; that is, prevention. Measures to prevent the spread of the virus was the first and most emphasized course of action by many countries.

The President of Madagascar has touted a remedy called Covid Organics as an antidote to COVID-19, while the WHO has been skeptical about it, many Africans and African leaders have embraced it, where do you stand on initiatives like those of President Rajoelina which seek to make Africa part of the solution ?

B. Elias Shoniyin: I believe in the promise of Africa. Finding African solutions to problems that affect Africa should be supported by all Africans, but not blindly and on sentimental basis. while lauding the efforts of Madagascar to find an African solution to the covid crisis in Africa, I think it became unnecessarily political. when it comes to matters of medical concerns, it should be dealt with scientifically. there was no evidence or scientific data to confirm the potency/efficacy of the Covid organics, but many Africans went ahead to celebrate its discovery. I thought that was too early. As I said earlier, I laud Madagascar for the bold efforts. They should not be discouraged. Africa will continue trying to improve and evidentially confirm our discoveries.

In follow up to that , there has a passionate debate about the issues of vaccines for COVID 19 with people fearful that Africans will be used as “guinea pigs,” what is your take on this, what are some of the pros and cons that governments should consider before making a decision concerning vaccines?

B. Elias Shoniyin: I know Africans are haunted by a history of distrust, imperialism, and exploitation, in our engagement with the West. These are legacies of past relationship with the West that have remained the main cause of the modern-day suspicion by Africans. Despite the legitimacy of the suspicion, I see opportunities. The sad reality is Africa has not yet developed the competitive advantage for high-level scientific capacity and facilities to drive medical research to solve most of the World’s problems. Even though we do contribute in a modest way to solving some of these problems, the West remains dominant in scientific research, and thus, most of the medical discoveries are derived from Western countries. I think we should put our scientists and medical researchers to work to confirm the composition and safety of the COVID vaccines, and do not simply reject them, leaving more than a billion persons to face the Corona Virus threat on their own.

Let’s talk more about the Ministerial functions that you, occupied, how did you find yourself in government at such a relatively young age and what was the experience like working under President Sirleaf Johnson?

B. Elias Shoniyin: Prior to my public service life, I worked in the nonprofit sector for many years, starting at the young age of eighteen. In 2005 I encountered Ellen Johnson and was profoundly inspired by her advocacy, courage, and professional accomplishments. Later, that same year, I joined her campaign for the presidency of Liberia, developing campaign strategies and training modules for mobilizers. Following her election and subsequent inauguration as the first female President of Liberia – Africa, I was appointed at the Foreign Ministry as Assistant Minister for International Cooperation and Economic Affairs. That portfolio launched my international affairs and diplomatic profession, which has now spanned almost fourteen years. I have felt very lucky and blessed for the opportunity not only to serve with President Sirleaf, but also with other extraordinary personalities with long and distinguished professi0nal tenures, including Ambassador George w. Wallace, who was the Foreign Minister then; Ambassador Carlton Carpeh, Amb. T. Ernest Eastman (Fmr. Foreign Minister), Amb. William V.S. Bull, Olubanke King-Akerele (Fmr. Foreign Minister), Dr. Toga Mcintosh (Fmr. Foreign Minister), Amb. Sylvester Grigsby, and many others.

My time at the Foreign Ministry, working in the shadow of President Ellen Johnson, at a critical time of post-conflict recovery, state-building, and reconstruction of Liberia, profoundly shaped my world view and my development perspective. For President Sirleaf, preparing the generation after her for both government and corporate leadership was a key feature of her Administration. She was always intentional for seeking young talents and preparing them for national service.  I learned a lot from her, both ethically and professionally. No doubt, she is a towering figure.

B Elias Shoniyin is urging African countries to anchor their post COVID 19 recovery plans around the AfCFTA
B Elias Shoniyin is urging African countries to anchor their post COVID 19 recovery plans around the AfCFTA

After the departure of President Johnson, you served under President Weah as well before resigning, first what was the difference in vision for Liberia for both leaders, and what prompted you to resign?

B. Elias Shoniyin: I do recall in 2006, President Sirleaf inherited an entirely broken country, after fourteen years of devastating civil wars. She assumed leadership of Liberia with a clear vision of what was required to ignite transformative recovery. She had her eyes fixed on her goal of setting Liberia on an irreversible course to development. In this effort, she was prepared to make arduous decisions, even if it meant, working contrary to her Party’s expectations. In her twelve years, two terms leadership, emphasis was placed on Human capacity, building strong and sustainable institutions,

I relish the opportunity to have been called upon by President George Weah to serve with him immediately following his election, affording me the distinguished honor of serving in two successive administrations in post-conflict Liberia. I believe he has had good intentions for Liberia, but his limited professional experience may have held him hostage to delivering on his promise to the people of Liberia. He is trying to take some practical steps towards achieving key objectives, but it has been an uphill battle, with the strong partisan centered government he currently has going. Unfortunately, many of the key operatives of his party (Congress for Democratic Change) lack the requisite education, experience, and technical competence required to adequately get the job done. He has found himself caught between the difficult options of recruiting competences outside of his Party to get the job done, and running a government of tragical incompetence, but fiercely loyal partisans who spent most of their working hours attacking his critics on social media but performing decimally in their government duties.

My resignation as Deputy Foreign Minister of Liberia, in May 2020 was prompted by consistent policy and value incompatibilities. I served my country with dedication and respect for nearly fourteen years and I thought it was time to move on, and I did.

May we know some of the significant challenges that you faced while in government, and in terms of significant accomplishments, what are some that come to mind?

B. Elias Shoniyin: Like many other countries in Africa, public service in Liberia is truly difficult. Not by the responsibilities of the office, but more of navigating the deeply personally driven political space.  There were many challenges encountered in the course of my public service, including professional, ethical, and several attempts to blackmail me. Example of some of the most significant professional and technical challenges were the low human capacity mainly at the low and middle levels in government institutions due to the politicization of the system. Dominantly, most of those who entered or sought government appointments were motivated by the personal acquisition of public wealth and for unfair advantage over others. There were almost at all time, personal interest involved when getting tasks done. These self-interested actions slowed momentum, killed morale, and stymied productivity, making it difficult to derive the maximum results from the government’s actions. Despite these challenges, the inspiration, courage, and out of the box thinking ,President Sirleaf spurred, emboldened me and many others on her team to put in an average of fourteen hours a day in achieving the objectives of the post-conflict recovery programs. When we assumed office in 2006, the depth of the quagmire before us was scary – there was nothing that did not require fixing – the entire socioeconomic fabric of society was in shambles; from pipe bourn water to infrastructure (roads, ports, energy , education system, health system, massive unemployment, democratic structures, mindset, and a lot more. Looking back, I am proud of what we together achieved as a country. There is still a lot to be done in Liberia’s development drive; however, when one looks at from where we come, the new do appreciate where we are.

There are many who believe that besides handing over power after twelve years, there was very little that the government of President Sirleaf Johnson did to better the lot of Liberians, on hindsight, do you believe that there was more or room for that administration that you were part of to do more?

B. Elias Shoniyin: Criticism that President Sirleaf did not do much in her twelve-year tenure to bring about development in Liberia is unfair and latently motivated. President Sirleaf’ inherited a country severely battered by fourteen years of fratricide violence. Sirleaf’s administration did remarkably well with restoring Liberia to its prewar status. Considering the extent of the challenges she inherited, and where she left the country at the time of her turnover, I hail her for great work. A few examples of her Presidential accomplishment are as follows: She inherited a budget of 83M in 2006 and left almost US$600M; she inherited a reserve of US$6.5M and left US$154.8M; she successfully negotiated and secured cancellation of more than US$4.9B external debt; she inherited an unpaid wage bill of 36 months to civil servants, and cleared it all in five years, raised salaries by more than 2500 percent; she inherited an energy generation capacity of Zero megawatt and we left 126MW excluding electricity in some rural communities from the West African Power Pool (WAPP)  and the CLSG; she inherited a rundown airport and left a new Terminal and runway; she inherited dilapidated and/or limited roads, which she rehabilitated and constructed more than 800km of paved excluding the ongoing Karloken- Harper high way and the Gbarnga to Menikorma High way in Liberia; reconstruction and rehabilitation of many bridges including the Johnson Street and Waterside-Vai Town bridges; 2,103 public schools rehabilitated or constructed, furnished and staffed; five community colleges established in Grand Bassa, Bomi, Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Nimba Counties; construction of the Jackson F.Doe Hospital in Tapeta, Nimba County, and construction and rehabilitation of several hundreds clinic and hospitals including JFK Medical Center in Monrovia, and Phebe Hospital in Gbarnga, Bong County; and many more.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement was the harbinger of great hope for the continent, did you share in that optimism and can you situate the importance of the AfCFTA in the post COVID recovery plans for Africa?

B. Elias Shoniyin: I am sure counted in the number of those optimistic of the promise of AfCFTA. AfCFTA will unlock the untapped potential of intra-Africa trade and compel African countries to increase cross-border connectivity to facilitate the movement of goods and services. AfCFTA will not only increase trade among states on the Continent; it will also attract significant FDI inflow, particularly market-seeking investors who would want to participate in the expanded market of more than 1.4 billion consumers. Once we begin to harness the opportunities of AfCFTA, the benefits of trading among African states will have a multiplier effects on promoting increased agriculture production and a lot of intermediate manufacturing by small underdeveloped states, to support largest industries on the Continent. I believe that trading among us will spur unprecedented prosperity in Africa. It is important that African countries be encouraged to formulate their post-COVID recovery plans around the opportunity of AfCFTA. AfCFTA will also embolden African countries to invest more in areas of comparative advantage, where they have maximum potentials.

We end with a word from you on the future of Liberia and Africa, what are your hopes and what are your fears?

B. Elias Shoniyin: Liberia is now enduring a difficult period. All the economic and social indicators are in the reverse, after an earlier twelve years of steady reforms and transformation. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the economy was already sliding; now it seems to be in acceleration downward. The future is no doubt uncertain!

I believe in the promise of Africa, but I am aware that there is a lot of work to be done, particularly in re-orientating the mindset on how we see public service and developing the spirit of entrepreneurship. We will need to invest hugely in human capacity and infrastructure and build strong and sustainable institutions that are beyond the narrow aspirations of a few individuals. There are some countries on the Continent that are progressing very well along these lines and we are all proud of them.

I disagree every time I hear people inferring that Africa is rich – suggesting that the minerals or gems, and natural resources underground are supposed to make us rich without any efforts. I believe, the most valuable asset of Africa is its people. Natural resources underground are not what make a people great; the capacity of the people to harness those resources makes them great. Our foremost challenge in Africa today is the limited capacity of our people. The more we can invest in our people, the more Africa’s future will be assured.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to share my perspectives on my country and our Continent, Africa.

*Culled from October Issue of PAV Magazine

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Sustained Efforts Needed To Boast Brazil-Africa Relations -Prof Joao Monte
October 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

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

Sustained efforts are needed to maximize the enormous potentials of stronger ties between Brazil and says Prof João Bosco Monte ,President of the Brazil African Institute- IBRAF.  Speaking in a skype  interview to discuss the upcoming Brazil-Africa forum, of the flagship programmes of the IBRAF, Prof Monte says the similarity between the South American country and Africa are too many with ample opportunities for win-win cooperation.

 PAV: Dr Monte good morning and thanks for talking to Pan African Visions

Professor Joao Monte: It is a pleasure to talk with you, my friend.

PAV: Let’s start with an introduction of the Brazil-Africa Institute that you lead. Can you give an introduction of that Institute for us?

Professor Joao Monte: When I founded the institute 10-years-ago the idea was to give Brazilians to see what kind of synergies and activities that both sides could do together. I see a link between the two regions, Brazil and the African continent, not only because of the history; geography but because I see a potential similarity between both places. When I saw the possibility to interact, I understood that we could do things together and came to the idea to have the institute.

This is the idea we had for the institute ten years ago, and now it is found in many states in Brazil. Two-years-ago we opened one office in Accra, Ghana. We are thinking to have one more antenna of the institute, and we are trying to understand when and where it will be. The idea was to do it this year, but because of the situation of the pandemic, we had to change it for next year.

PAV: One of your flagship programmes is the Brazil-Africa forum, and the 2020 edition is scheduled for November 3-4, how prepared is the institute to host this event this year.

Professor Joao Monte: The forum is one of the tools we have to engage, to put together Brazilians and Africans. In the last seven editions of the forum we discussed many things, topics, brought so many high-level authorities from Brazil and Africa. More and, more, we are engaging with people from outside Brazil and Africa. The idea is to promote the forum and have leaders from many parts of the world to present their ideas, and have their voices heard. This year we are going to celebrate the tenth year of the institute and, in the beginning, we wanted to have the forum with a physical presence, so, people come into Brazil. But because of the pandemic, we needed to change, and it will be 100 % virtual.

The event won’t be a webinar; it is a well-prepared event. We have participants from Africa, Brazil and other regions, and the topic we are going to talk about will be “How the world will behave after the pandemic” because we are now facing an important moment, but, we need to understand how the world will act after the pandemic is important. Brazil and Africa should be together again, and we are going to discuss opportunities for Brazil and Africa during the forum this year.

PAV: Looking back ten years is quite some time. If you were, to sum up, the achievements you have recorded, what progress have you seen in the ten years you have been doing this?  

The Youth Technical Training Program is one of the IBRAF programmes working well to cement cooperation ties between Brazil and Africa
The Youth Technical Training Program is one of the IBRAF programmes working well to cement cooperation ties between Brazil and Africa

Professor Joao Monte: Just to clarify that the institute has ten-years already, but the forum has eight-years – we are now coming to the eighth edition of the forum. It is not easy to summarize in a short time what we have done in eight years of the event. I remember in 2016 I put together two Ministers the Minister of Agriculture of Brazil and the Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria to discuss opportunity possibilities that this initiative that we engage at the Brazil-Africa forum at that time could have. Our mandate is to be a catalyser, a facilitator, and I think that is what is there to promote the meeting between both sides of Brazil and Africa. We brought personalities to the event that brought ideas, which was the beginning of something as we had a Brazilian company that is now doing projects in Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana. They came to the forum, used the platform to engage with partners and then we now see positive results.

PAV: And for the 2020 forum may we know some of the highlights and personalities that will be answering present?

Professor Joao Monte: The forum this year like I said is on how the world will behave after the pandemic, and we have already confirmed some important participations. We have Jennifer Blanke, former Vice-President at AfDB, Michael Kremer, 2019 Nobel Prize Economist, Dr Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and others. We are bringing something else which is the launch of the initiative relating to business and investment between Brazil and Africa that is something for us in the coming years.

PAV: With regards to the theme for this year that is: “what next after the pandemic”, in what areas do you cooperation between Brazil and Africa in meeting the next challenges?

Professor Joao Monte: We are going to bring the President of Fiocruz – a Brazilian government company relating to the production of vaccines. They will produce the next year millions of vaccines for Brazilians and also for the African context.

Health is one of the areas I am very sure we can contribute to using the platform of the forum but also Agriculture. As I said, we are going to have the commission on Agriculture from AU. We are going to have the foreign Minister of Agriculture from Brazil during Lula’s time. So, agriculture is again another possibility of discussion.

Infrastructure is something very unique. We had a few companies from Brazil which have built roads, airports, ports and other infrastructure activities and, they will be again in the forum.  I am sure this will be a contribution we can bring to the movement in engaging the two regions. In the area of education, we are going to have experts to discuss what they are doing, and this can be an opportunity for interacting in this area.

PAV: May we know how the current President of Brazil is doing to forging stronger bonds between Africa and any comparison with his predecessors in this regard?

Professor Joao Monte: Last year we brought to the event the Vice- President of Brazil. He opened the Brazil-Africa forum in 2019.  It was good to hear from him that he was planning to come to Africa – he was planning to visit Africa this year in March but because of the pandemic and the borders we closed He could not travel – what I am saying is that when he mentioned that Africa could be a part of the Brazilian agenda I understand that this is something special, but we should not compare what we had during President Lula’s mandate and what we have now.

The current President did not point Africa as President Lula did in the past but now, we can still harness what President Lula said in 2003. He said:  “Africa will be a priority for this government”, and it was a reality as he travelled to Africa many times with his Ministers. The current President of Brazil did not say anything about having Africa as a priority but, from the voice of the Vice-President, we can have an important message that Africa was not erased from the core of the government. I am not a government official, so, I cannot talk on behalf of the government but, looking from outside I see that the voice of the Vice President was good to announce that we can still do things together.

I have spoken to private sector key personalities, and they say Africa is on their radar and they want to do things with Africa. But we need to put more people together to engage more and more, and this is good for the Brazil-Africa Institute because we have the best connections to put things together, Brazilians and Africans.

Not even the challenges of COVID 19 could stop Prof Monte and the IBRAF from holding the Brazil Africa Forum, now in its eight year
Not even the challenges of COVID 19 could stop Prof Monte and the IBRAF from holding the Brazil Africa Forum, now in its eight year

PAV: During the recent crisis at the AfDB you spoke out forcefully in support of Dr (Akinwumi) Adesina, and he was re-elected for another four-year mandate. Firstly, are you happy with his re-election and secondly in what areas do you see prospects to engage with the AfDB in meeting some of the objectives of the Brazil-Africa Institute?

Professor Joao Monte: I am happy with the re-election, and I understand what he did for his first term but, he will need more time to continue to give more visibility and bring more results for what he planned to do. I supported him because I understand his voice is important for the Africa context and he brings to the table the idea that Africa needs to change not only to receive things from outside but that Africa should engage and work together with partners –  something which is very important for the continent and the people. The agenda of the bank is very wide; the reduction and elimination of poverty are important to mention but I think there is one direction which he is doing which is related to Agriculture. Because of his background as the former Minister of Agriculture for Nigeria he knows what he is saying when he is talking about Agriculture.

Specifically, from the Brazilian context agriculture is one of the main assets that we have in this discussion. If you look back at Brazil four years ago, you will see maybe the same situation that is in other parts of Africa. We used to import foods, crops but now Brazil is one of the biggest exporters of food and commodities in the world (maize, corn, soybeans, sugar and others). We have so many possibilities of producing in Africa what we are producing in Brazil and the AfDB plays an important role.

From outside I think the bank can work more with Brazil in terms of attracting Brazilian voices, entrepreneurs, businesspeople to Africa. One thing I would like to mention is if we do not take the opportunity to invite people to come, and see what we have in front of us people will not see the potentials. The bank is playing an important role, but I think the conversation should be more precise, and the initiative of the bank with Brazil should be more aggressive and precise. I hope that in his second term he could put more attention to the Brazilian context.

PAV: In the build-up to the forum coming up in November, news came up indicating that you had been appointed as a champion of the UN Food Summit by the UN Special envoy for Food System Summit. What does this appointment mean for you and what do you think you can bring to the table? 

Professor Joao Monte: I am very honoured to be appointed as a champion of the Food System Summit for 2021. We need to give people the food that they need. I just mentioned that Brazil is producing more food than before which is very important, but we need to see how we can again work together. Being appointed as a champion of the Food System is the opportunity to raise our voice amongst others to bring benefit to the people, especially poor people in Africa and Brazil. With the experience we can bring from Brazil, I think we can help put some realities in the African context. We just started this discussion, but I am very excited to see the results of the engagements of the group of champions including myself.

PAV: We would like to round up with what you plan to do next after the Brazil-Africa forum, what other initiatives will you be working on, and what perspectives do you see for the future of  Brazil-Africa relations? 

Professor Joao Monte: The Brazil-Africa Institute has many activities besides the Brazil-Africa forum which is important for us.  Of course, this year has been a difficult year for everybody as we had to reinvent ourselves – we could not travel and meet people and so it was not easy to do everything we planned last year for this year. One of the activities we have going is the fellowship programme, we bring researchers from Africa to stay in Brazil for up to two months under my supervision to do research, bringing to the world some experience that Brazil is doing well in the South-South Cooperation platform. We can have health, education science, innovation, agriculture and so this is something we are still doing, and we launched a call last month and is still running until 12 of October, and they will arrive in February/March next year.

Also, we have “YTTP” which is Youth Technical Training Programme, where we bring young Africans to receive technical training, very sharp and direct training in areas that Brazil again is doing well, succeeding and when they go back home, they are easy to deploy with the knowledge they have received in Brazil. These youths stay in Brazil for up to two weeks – we started this programme in 2017 and, this year we had to reschedule, and the first group was supposed to arrive in April but had to be rescheduled for February. We are in the process of selecting people, and something new we learnt from this moment is the use of technology. We have launched a programme called Online Platform Learning, and we will be starting next year. We are finalizing the preparation of this programme.

What is going to be the future between Brazil and Africa? It is not easy to say that the relations will be strong or diminish.  But understand what we are doing, your job and my job, it is to keep talking, thinking and dreaming as without dreaming we cannot go far. The situation is not easy – it is difficult. If I looked back ten years ago, it was impossible to achieve the things we have now. We need to leave the message to the people that it is possible to engage Brazil and Africa, and we should be together. We cannot do things alone; we should be together to go far. I am very optimist and realistic as well for what is going to happen tomorrow, but I am very sure that if we stay quiet, and calm, too many things will not happen. That is why we should act precisely with strategy.

PAV: Professor Monte thanks so much for talking to Pan African Visions and keep the doors open when we come again next time.

Professor Joao Monte: Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to engaging more and more with you. Thanks again.  

*Culled from October Issue of PAV Magazine

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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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