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Somalia: A Sustained Fight for Human Rights paying off for Mama Zahra
March 25, 2021 | 0 Comments

By Samuel Ouma

Mama Zahra has beaten all odds to continue supporting the voiceless and the vulnerable
Mama Zahra has beaten all odds to give voice to the voiceless and the vulnerable in Somalia.Photo credit Twitter.

The task may be daunting but the crusade for better human rights in Somalia is one that Zahra Mohamed Ahmad better known as Mama Zahra has embraced whole heartedly. Under the canopy of the Somali Women Development Centre that she leads, Mama Zahra has worked tirelessly to empower women, counsel rape, war and victims of gender violence, provide free legal counselling, working on reconciliation and peacebuilding amongst many other human rights related initiatives.

Her efforts got a big boost recently when she was one of three Africans selected as recipients of the U.S State Department International Women of Courage Award. Assisted by an interpreter in an interview with Samuel Ouma for PAV, Mama Zahra says the award will serve as an encouragement to women in Somalia to keep making a positive change in society.

May we start with a reaction from you on the recent Women of Courage Award you received, how did you receive news about this? How did Somalis feel about it, and what does this mean for the work you do?

Mama Zahra: First, I would like to express my gratitude to the Almighty God for enabling me to bag this precious award because it means a lot to me and my people, especially women and girls. The information about the award came directly from the US Department of State Department and was received with joy by Somalis. I am sure it will encourage women, particularly those doing social works, to make positive changes in society.

Talking about the work you do; can you tell us a little more about the Somali Women Development Centre-SWDC ?

Mama Zahra: SWDC is a non-governmental and non-profit organization established in 2000 to empower women and other vulnerable groups such as IDPs, victims of rape, war, gender-based violence, and any calamity, be it natural or human, through access to knowledge and economic and social independence. We also focus on the human rights protection of the vulnerable groups by providing free legal aid services, enhancing reconciliation and peacebuilding, lobbying with the involved parties, and building capacity.

What is the situation like for women and girls in particular and human rights in general in Somalia?

Mama Zahra: The situation is not encouraging at all. Unlike other countries such as Syria and Kenya, refugees in Somalia who are mainly women and children live in unfavorable conditions. Overcrowding and lack of social amenities are heart-breaking. Parents are being forced to live in small tents together with their children.

May we know some of the successes you have registered, what changes have taken place in Somalia as a result of your work with the SWDC?

Mama Zahra: I am proud of the accomplishments we have achieved since 2000. First, the People of Minnesota and I had formed Somcare to oversee the treatment of 250 seriously injured in the war. Through the partnership, these people were successfully treated in Kenya’s Kijabe hospital.  Second, we have trained several women on legal matters, and they have been of great help whenever help is needed. Besides, we have trained female security guards in prison on how to handle female inmates.  We have also offered support to people living with HIV/AIDS, orphans, blind children, and university students from a poor backgrounds. By agitating for an increase in women’s representation, the quota has increased from 11/12 percent to 24 percent. Somali women are highly represented in Parliament, making it one of the highest in the continent.  Out of 275 lawmakers, over 80 are women.

In terms of challenges, may you know some of the most acute challenges you have faced?

Mama Zahra: There have been both personal and organizational challenges. As an organization, we were hard hit in 2013 after two male barristers who were mandated to train women lawyers were killed in a terrorist attack in a regional court in Mogadishu. It was a sad experience, but we had to move on. Later, I was expelled from a regional state of election for standing for what is right before losing my son under mysterious circumstances. My son, the founder of the first laundry shop in the Somali capital, was shot dead in the street. He also owned a start-up kind of organization that offered support to the young. I believe he was killed because he was innovative.

How is your relationship with the government in Somalia, how are your activities and those of the SWDC perceived, and what are they doing or not doing to improve on the situation of girls and women?

Mama Zahra: I work with many ministries in Somalia to achieve our objectives, and Somalis have embraced our activities beyond any doubt. We are doing a lot to improve the situation of women and girls. For instance, we have partnered with the government to offer free primary and secondary education; we own medical facilities where they receive treatment and provide finances to vulnerable individuals to help them settle down and feed their families.

Mama Zahra was among the women recognized worldwide by the U.S State Department  for demonstrating bravery and leadership in advocating for human rights, peace, gender equality, women empowerment, and justice
Mama Zahra was among the women recognized worldwide by the U.S State Department for demonstrating bravery and leadership in advocating for human rights, peace, gender equality, women empowerment, and justice.Photo courtesy

In terms of policy proposals, what suggestions or recommendations do you have that could help improve gender and human rights in the country?

Mama Zahra: People should pay attention to both local and international laws on human rights to better women’s lives.

With all the work you have done and the growing international, is the thought of political leadership something you have thought of or something you may consider if Somalis call on you?

Mama Zahra: I have no political ambition, but I support women’s leadership; women should be represented at all levels of positions.

Any message to international partners out there on what and how there could support the work you have been doing on the ground in Somalia?

Mama Zahra: So far, we operate in two regions, but with well-wishers and partners, we can move to other regions to impact more lives.  I plead with them to rally behind us to help us realize our goals.

What next for Mama Zahra after the Women in Courage award? What changes or developments should we expect from you and the SWDC?

Mama Zahra: I was awarded for what I did, but now through international help, I would love to improve the living standards of the IDPs, install DNA facilities that are only found in South Africa in the continent, and advocate for a high-quality healthcare system.

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Sierra Leone: Anti-Corruption Crusade Gathers Steam Under Kaifala
February 15, 2021 | 0 Comments

By Ishmael Koroma

We follow the law and the evidence, says Kaifala in dismissing claims that the ACC may be on a witch hunt of Officials of the previous administration
We follow the law and the evidence, says Kaifala in dismissing claims that the ACC may be on a witch hunt of Officials of the previous administration

Appointed in June 2018 by President Julius Maada Bio to head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission -ACC, Francis Ben Kaifala has achieved the feat of helping Sierra Leone shed the corruption prone image it had before he took office.

Young, bold, visionary, tenacious, and result oriented, Kaifala who left a flourishing private practice to lead his country’s crusade against corruption is yielding dividends with reports from leading international agencies like Afro Barometer, and Transparency International taking note. Last year, the efforts of Kaifala and his team swelled the public coffers with circa 10 billion Leones recuperated from people guilty of pilfering the national purse.

In an exclusive interview with PAV, Kaifala rubbishes claims that the corruption crusade has unfairly targeted officials of the previous administration. We follow the law and the evidence, says Kaifala, citing examples of officials in the current administration who have been persecuted for corruption.

Much work still has to be done to further weed out corruption, but the progress registered since he took office are indicative of the positive results that will continue to follow hard work, Kaifala said as he expressed optimism for the future.

We want to wish you happy new year and thank you very much for granting us this interview. May we start with a review of how last year went for the Anti-Corruption Commission, what worked well and what didn’t work well?

Francis Ben Kaifala : It was a great year , we did a lot of work in terms of enforcement, in terms of prosecution , a lot of prevention , we did engage in lots of massive public education and as you can see from the index we , those who usually check our work can confirm we did very well and that was the year we scored the highest in the Millennium Challenge Corporation Score card , we moved into 81% , Transparency International as well,  we moved by two points , we recovered more money last year , we gave the President, we recovered  over 10 Billion Leones  in a single year from the corrupt and we gave a cheque of 8 billion Leones to the president . Basically, it was a great for the fight against corruption.

 You have been heading of the ACC for two years now, in what shape did you meet the office and the overall state of corruption in Sierra Leone, and what are some of the changes that have taken place under your leadership?

Francis Ben Kaifala : Well corruption was very prevalent at the time I came in , as  you know Afro Barometer estimated that in 2015 -2017 that corruption was 70%, the same institution has now measured and says corruption prevalence has dropped by 40% so there is a huge 30% difference that has been  made within  this period of time and generally I think there is a lot  more awareness of the fight against corruption and in fact when Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law , the PFM Consortium did a survey recently compared to previous years, corruption perception and confidence of the citizens in the ACC to fight corruption was low as 19% now it is as high as  92%, so that is  a huge difference. I believe that we are making a difference.

Under the astute leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala, the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone is yielding tangible results
Under the astute leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala, the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone is yielding tangible results

 There have been several high-profile cases involving members of the previous administration of President Ernest Koroma, what is your response to critics who say these smacks of a political witch hunt?

Francis Ben Kaifala: Well, I don’t know what they mean by witch hunt. I don’t understand. We are operating within a toxic political environment and people used this thing to cover up their actions, so a man is given money to build a bridge, the bridge is not there, the money is not in the account and you called him to say where is the money and he says is witch hunt what does that mean? We are doing our job, and isolating ourselves from these kinds of cynical previews; we accept good criticisms it helps us do our work, some of it is just cynicism and we know the difference but the real name of the game is focus, is to continue what we are doing as long as we are producing the result for the country and that’s the most important thing and that’s what we are focused on.

There was a situation where former President Koroma was invited by your office, so how has that investigation been and any update?

Francis Ben Kaifala: Yeah, we have taken a statement from him, that investigation is under review now, we have taken all the issues into consideration and we will get back to the public on the details of that investigation.

How independent is the ACC in making decisions on cases it seeks to pursue as opposed to following instructions from President Maada Bio on who should be investigated?

Francis Ben Kaifala: The ACC is very autonomous, I don’t believe in independence, independence means we are like a republic on our own. we are not, we are working within the system and we consult, we give reports to the President on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. We are accountable to parliament, there are many things. so, I don’t like to use the word independent, I prefer to use autonomy and we are completely autonomous, that means we can do our day-to-day activities without some body calling and directing us what to do, without the State House telling us who to arrest, to prosecute and telling us what the outcome should be. So, I can tell you we are very autonomous.

In a situation where the present administration officials are found guilty of corruption, some people wonder whether the ACC would take action.

Francis Ben Kaifala : But we are already prosecuting people in the current administration, the director and other staffs in the Ministry of Information who took Commissions of Inquiry money, were prosecuted in this current administration, Dr. Sarah Finda  Bendu was head of the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration in this current administration , she is been prosecuted in court , we also entered into settlement with her and we are recovering 500 million Leones from her , she has already paid over 300 million Leones , the investigations we are doing at EDSA is not past administration , the investigations  that we have been doing at the Maritime Administration is not past administration , the investigations we are doing at State House, the former State Chief of Protocol who is  investigated was not of the former administration. So, I don’t know what they mean by the current administration, but I can tell you that we are doing more now with the current administration than any other administration. Of course, we will always ask past officials to account because many were corrupt, and we have recovered billions from them, we have prosecuted many, some are still standing trial, the former vice president is standing trial; it is just part of the work, but really, we do not differentiate between past and present we just do our job, we follow the evidence, we follow what information we have.

 Your job is very difficult; may we know some of the challenges that you have faced while running the ACC?

Francis Ben Kaifala : The resources, we don’t have resources, the entire office is running on a current expenditure of about 800,000 United State Dollars not even up to a million dollar for the year, we don’t have capital expenditure, we cannot buy cars, we cannot buy laptops, we cannot buy anything that is capital in nature.  The total allocation to the place  is so small even our  staff costs we have no room for expansion because the Ministry of Finance is limiting what we can do, so we have logistical constraints .Beyond that, we are also operating within a very difficult political system,  very cynical system where sometimes the people for one reason or the other prefer to be against us or in favour of us  but  we are focused on our work as always but there are many challenges everywhere , we have challenges with the judiciary , it has been difficult for them to impose custodial sentences, but recently we have had some encouraging signs in that regard with the court of appeal confirming the custodial sentences  impose on those who took the Commissions of Inquiry money so we are hopeful that things are going to move in a better trajectory with the judiciary, but generally our prosecutions are very good. We are having a very high rate of conviction we just want the punishment to be much more severe than they have been doing. Generally, it is more about logistics, it is about resources and personnel.

 Prior to taking over the job, you were a successful Lawyer, what motivated you to leave your private practice to take the ACC job?

Francis Ben Kaifala: To serve my country. Everybody deserves that on your CV, no matter what you do in private service if I was not here, we will not be talking today about the successes we are scoring in the fight against corruption. So, I saw it as an opportunity because as you know I was very active speaking against the injustices and wrongs in the society, corruption in the society and  I was given the opportunity by the President to lead that fight, and that is why I am here.

Presenting a check to President Bio. Under the eadership of Kaifala, the ACC has recovered millions of dollars in looted funds.
Presenting a check to President Bio. Under the eadership of Kaifala, the ACC has recovered millions of dollars in looted funds.

With you background in Law and the experience you have garnered as head of the AAC, what other policy recommendations or framework is needed to strengthen the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone?

Francis Ben Kaifala: I think that more resources need to be allocated to the fight against corruption, we need to have lot more expansion, the entire anti -corruption Commission only has 200 staff. That is not enough to police the entire country when it comes to the fight against corruption. So more needs to be done to strengthened our hand not just in terms of the laws but to make sure that we have the resources to bring more personnel on board and apart from that we have the logistics, the right equipment to deploy, recording devices, televising devices. Those are all things that need to be improve if we are to move things forward.

For 2021, what should Sierra Leonians expect from Francis Ben Kaifala and the ACC and any last word as we wrap up this interview?

Francis Ben Kaifala :  2021, we will continue doing it like never before, continue with massive, massive public education, massive, massive prevention drive, continue with more investigations, continue with more prosecutions and generally continue to launder the image of the country to show that we are ready for business and we are a country of people who are capable of looking after ourselves without stealing from ourselves.

*Culled from February Issue of PAV Magazine

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Cameroon: NASLA is “The Bedrock of Local Development” – Pioneer DG Tanyitiku Bayee tells PAV
February 12, 2021 | 0 Comments

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

Tanyi Tiku Enoh Achuo, pioneer GM of NASLA
Tanyi Tiku Enoh Achuo, pioneer GM of NASLA

The Pioneer Director-general of the National School of Local Administration, NASLA, Tanyitiku EnohAchuo Bayee has said the institution is the bedrock of local development, which is also the slogan of the school.

Director-General Tanyitiku Bayee and his deputy were appointed by a Presidential decree on March 25, 2020. They were subsequently installed by September 18, 2020.

According to him, one of his priorities is to effectively take off with the training business of NASLA. The Director-General in an interview with Pan African Visions began by explaining some of the successes achieved thus far.

PAV: Since you took over office as the first DG of NASLA, what have been the achievements so far?

DG NASLA: Achievements so far have been recorded both at the level of the provision of professional training (A) as well as at the level of administrative and financial management (B).

Achievements at the level of the provision of professional training:

The continuation of initial training of trainees of the ex-CEFAM: In conformity with article 75 of the decree on the organization of NASLA, the Directorate General continued training one hundred and fifty-three (153) trainees of the ex-CEFAM 2019-2021 batches of trainees.

The organization of NASLA’s training offer which involves the adoption of the training curricula during the session of the Board of Directors of 18 September 2020 and the production of a catalogue of continuous and specific training courses for staff of Regional and Local Authorities and Local development actors.

For the achievement in administrative and financial management, the setting up of management bodies and the adoption of resolutions governing their functioning have enabled NASLA to start its activities in compliance with standards.

Considerable financial resources have been mobilized, following the special disbursement instructions of the Prime Minister, Head of Government. These resources have been mostly made available by the following bodies; the Ministry of Finance (MINFI), the Special Council Support Fund for Mutual Assistance (FEICOM), The Ministry of the Economy, and Regional Development (MINEPAT). These resources disbursed so far, have enabled us to carry out many needed activities to enable us to take off conveniently.  

In terms of Renovation, rehabilitation of infrastructure and equipment of the offices of NASLA officials, the following have either been executed or are in the course of implementation: the transformation of dormitories into two classrooms to provide more training space; the rehabilitation of two classrooms, to provide a more conducive learning environment; the construction of a fence to better secure our campus; the signing of agreements between NASLA and P&T School of Public Works for renovation and use of some of their structures and classrooms; and the construction of a water supply system to alleviate water supply shortages on campus.  

Concerning the provision of qualified human resources to NASLA, the appointment of Directors and sub-Directors, to beef up the administrative set-up of NASLA and the recruitment of ex-CEFAM staff have been made. The situation of ex-CEFAM was not clarified by the instrument creating NASLA. The Director-General, therefore, decided to absorb all the staff through recruitment by NASLA. Additionally, some persons from the surrounding communities have also been recruited in various capacities and various mechanisms, into NASLA staff.

NASLA DG Tanyitiku Bayee being installed by the Minister of Decentralization and Local Development Georges Elanga Obaml

PAV: What are the priority areas of the NASLA DG?

DG NASLA: As the DG of NASLA, my most pressing priorities at the moment is to effectively take off with the training business of NASLA. As a reminder, the instrument creating NASLA provides the following in terms of its training: A diploma initial training of two years organized in three cycles (Cycle A for senior executives of local administration; Cycle B for the mid-level staff of local administration; Cycle C for specialized workers of local administration).

In-service training not exceeding six months for the staff of Regional and Local Authorities with graduates obtaining a certificate. Specific training not exceeding three months for local development actors with graduates obtaining an attestation.

The management of the institution has prepared the necessary instruments for the launching of the entrance examination for the initial training cycles and forwarded to hierarchy for the eventual launching of the examinations.

Also, a catalogue of the in-service and specific training offers has been prepared and is presently being disseminated to eventually interested persons. So you can see that our priority is to effectively start training which is the raison d’etre of the creation of this institution, meanwhile, we are continuing to out in lace necessary infrastructure for the seamless take-off, which should be hopefully soon.

We are hoping to launch the selection for our in-service training programme in the days ahead. We hope to be in full continuous training by the second quarter of 2021.

PAV: How important is NASLA in the smooth take-off of the decentralization process looking at the goal of NASLA which involves facilitating decentralization and local governance?

DG NASLA: The human being is at the centre of any development endeavour. For the decentralization process, as promoted by the Head of State President Paul Biya, to achieve the desired results of bringing about development and improvement on governance and the related standard of living of citizens, the people who are vested with its implementation should be qualified and properly skilled. This is why staff capacity building, as well as that of all connected actors, plays an essential role in the success of decentralization.

Presently, there is a marked deficit in the trained staff in our councils. The advent of Regions with the election of regional councils and assemblies makes this need even more pressing, for the said Region’s need to recruit qualified man-power to enable to function as an efficient administration. This is equally true for the other actors, like the newly elected Regional Council and Regional council executives; we have to be properly-versed on their mission and how to accomplish such.

In a nutshell, NASLA can be considered to be a very important institution in the success of the Decentralization process in Cameroon. NASLA is, therefore, as our slogan proclaims “the bedrock of local development”.

PAV: In 2019 MINDDEVEL revealed that more than 70 per cent of workers in Councils across Cameroon have qualifications below the standard. What is NASLA doing to equip Regional and Local Authorities with technical know-how?

DG NASLA: This question is very relevant for a study, that I was reading and that dates back about 10 years ago indicated that the deficit in qualified man-power for councils to function optimally at that time was 10,000 persons and about 3,600 staff would be needed for the Regions. This was ten years ago. This number must have significantly increased given that the ex-CEFAM, which was the school ensuring training for the local administration before now, could only train or graduate a handful of staff each year due to its organic constraints.  

NASLA has an ambition, in the medium term, to put in the job market, at least five hundred (500) graduates each year from the initial training cycle. This will be complemented by the short training that shall be carried out in the in-service and specific training cycles. As such, within a reasonable timeframe, the councils and regions should have enough trained staff to carry out the various development missions that the law devolves on them.

Officials of the Management team of the National School of Local Administration, NASLA
Officials of the Management team of the National School of Local Administration, NASLA

PAV: NASLA is an off-shoot of CEFAM. Is there any difference in the way the former is operating from the latter or how is NASLA different from CEFAM?

DG NASLA: It is true that NASLA, just like ex-CEFAM, is training for Regional and Local Authorities. It is also true that NASLA was created on the ashes of ex-CEFAM, and on the same campus for that matter. I would, however, like to point out that NASLA unlike what many people think, is a new creation; it is a new state institution that the Head of State created and not a transformation or reform of CEFAM. This distinction is significant for it makes for the marked differences between ex-CEFAM and this new institution. Firstly, the name changed completely from a Centre to s School. Secondly, the training cycles equally changed in their nomenclatures. Furthermore, the legal status also changed, for NASLA unlike CEFAM, is an administrative public establishment with a Director-General at its helm. CEFAM was headed by a Director.

I should also point out that ex-CEFAM did not have a cycle for degree holders which NASLA has. Equally, the structure of NASLA is different from that of ex-CEFAM, etc. so there are many differences these two institutions, which, however, are government instruments to provide our local administrations with qualified manpower. The operating procedures in NASLA are different from those of CEFAM. To begin with, the philosophy and mindset are different. So NASLA has not revised verso of ex-CEFAM but a new institution which has a mission to take care of the training needs of Regional and Local Authorities in line with the added and daunting missions devolved to them.

PAV: NASLA operates in a region that is going through a crisis for the past four years now. How has NASLA been able to function and keep its daily activities?

DG NASLA: it is a common knowledge that the North West and South West Regions have been in a crisis for some time now. This has, however, not stopped us from carrying out our activities at NASLA. Our modus operandi has been to focus exclusively on our mission.

In this connection, we have equally taken all necessary steps to live in harmony with the local community. For example, we have received local opinion leaders, like chiefs and elected officials of the region in general and Buea in particular; concentrated only on the achievement of our mission; given various jobs to children of the local community, which was appreciated. These are all measures that have enabled us to have an appeased relationship with our environment and ensured to an extent, our harmonious existence with people of the locality.

As for security on campus, we have instituted, inter alia the following measures; security guards who guard over the NASLA compound 24/24 hours; ensure that all visitors to the campus are adequately identified and planning to install surveillance cameras on campus. During events on campus, we enlist the reinforcement of our security by bringing the elements of the forces of law and order. I hope, when training effectively starts, to have some time of these security forces to permanently reinforce our personnel. Meanwhile, as every Cameroonian, I am hoping that this uncertain situation will rapidly find a permanent solution and come to an end.

PAV: When we look at the decentralization process, many observers say it is just a way for the government to continue exerting its powers on the local authorities. What do you say about this concerning the fact that NASLA is expected to have financial and other autonomy though still under the government?

DG NASLA: I must start by asserting that decentralization is a system of government where the state devolves some of its powers to local authorities as a means of bringing development closer to its citizens in all nooks and crannies of the country. It is not the abdication of the powers of the state over the national territory. The local authorities, therefore, function under the state. It is in reality a more advance form of delegation of powers. Local authorities remain dismemberments of the state and not independent entities. It is in this connection that State Supervision over Regional and Local Authorities is enshrined in our national law for the actions of these authorities must conform to national policies and law.

As for the case of NASLA which you mentioned in terms of its financial and legal autonomy, I will like to point out that NASLA operates as any other administrative public establishment in Cameroon. It is an institution of the State of Cameroon, established by Presidential decree and funded as well as administratively and financially supervised by this same state through competent state bodies. So it is not an abnormality for the government to continue to exert powers over NASLA, and even the Regional and local authorities for that matter. 

A sign post indicating the campus of the National School of Local Administration, NASLA in Buea
A sign post indicating the campus of the National School of Local Administration, NASLA in Buea

PAV: Looking back to 2016 the crisis in the NW/SWRs cantered on decentralisation and federalism. How important is effective decentralisation in bringing an end to the present impasse?

I have already pointed out above that there are various forms of governance. Governance by a delegation of powers to territorial entities is what is desired. Such delegation could take the form of decentralization or federalism as you mentioned. That State of Cameroon through the constitution of 1996, opted for Cameroon being a decentralised unitary state. So decentralisation was the form of power devolvement elected by Cameroon. This form of government has its modus operandi.

I believe that the State of Cameroon has been pursuing such. It is a process which entails imperfections which can only be corrected to make the system better functional. What is noticeable is the absolute commitment of the government of Cameroon to the success of the decentralisation process as a means to keep the unity of the country and bring about effective development that takes into consideration local realities and specific interests of various parts of the country.

As for the crisis in the North West and South West Regions, I think that still is within the latitude provided by decentralization, the government has taken various measures that take into consideration that specificities of the people of these regions in terms of administration, governance and development model and priorities.

More significantly, special status was granted to these regions with the creation of a Regional Assembly composed of a regional Council and House of Chiefs. This model draws from the administrative history of these regions. I believe that when these institutions shall go fully operational, many of the concerns of the people of the said regions will be addressed. Of course, the government is committed, I believe, to initiate and implement more measures that will better adequately meet the aspirations of the people of the North West and South West Regions within the framework of a united Cameroon.

PAV: Recently, the NW/SWRs elected members of the Regional House of Assembly and House of Chiefs. How important are these institutions in addressing the issue of decentralization?

DG NASLA: I already mentioned above, the significance of the creation of the Regional House of Assembly for the North West and South West Regions is an important measure to resolve the crisis that the said regions have been witnessing for the past four to five years now. This model draws from the administrative history of the concerned regions. The Regional Assemblies shall enhance grass root democratic participation and better taking into account the aspirations and needs of the people of these two Regions. Now that these institutions have been effectively put in place and are operational, it is our fervent hope that they will contribute significantly to bringing the crisis to an end.

PAV: This year 2021 marks five years since the crisis in the English-speaking Regions ensued, where are we right now and what do you think can be done to address the crisis?

DG NASLA: I believe that the crisis has abated to an extent, and this is due to the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders. Government has taken several measures, some of which I already listed above, to resolve the causes of the conflict, which unfortunately has not only grievously harmed the people of these regions but the entire country as a whole.

My take is that we should all keep working for the total resolution of the crisis so that absolute peace may return to the two regions in particular and our country as a whole. In this connection, I would on a personal note wish that all the parties of good faith keep up with dialogue efforts, for all human disagreements can only ne sustainably resolved through dialogue and reaching a mutual agreement.

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Cameroon: D&L Foretia Foundation will Continue Catalyzing Africa’s Economic Transformation
December 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

Fri Asanga, COO Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation

Fri Asanga, COO Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation

The Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation will continue its focus on Africa’s transformation through social entrepreneurship, science and technology, innovation, public health and progressive policies that create economic opportunities for all. This per the Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Fri Asanga, in an interview with Pan African Visions to look back at the year’s activities that the Foundation has organized and what is installed for 2021.

Before joining the Foundation, Fri Asanga was the Coordinator for FinScope and MAP Cameroon where she oversaw the activities of the financial scoping consumer survey in Cameroon on behalf of UNCDF and FinMark Trust.

PAV: 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and the Foundation is not left out, what measures were taken or have been taken to ensure staff does not contract the coronavirus?

Fri Asanga: The Foundation educated the staff on the virus, its signs and symptoms, how to prevent it, and other measures necessary for them to protect themselves and their loved ones. In a bid to curb the spread of the disease and protect staff, the Foundation closed its offices in March 2020 and everyone started working from home. When office activities resumed in September 2020, the Foundation ensured that all staff wear masks to work, Wash their hands before getting into the office premise, and maintain social distancing while in the office.

PAV: At the start of the Coronavirus in Cameroon, the Foundation moved swiftly to create the COVID-19 taskforce. What successes were recorded? And were there any challenges faced trying to communicate to the population?

The Foundation has been a leading voice on COVID 19 themed initiatives

The Foundation has been a leading voice on COVID 19 themed initiatives

Fri Asanga: The covid 19 community pilot project under the covid task force was launched on the 16th of April 2020. The pilot project was launched in a bid to accompany the government in the fight against Covid-19 through community involvement. Through the  project, the following activities were accomplished;

  • Training of community leaders on the identification of signs and symptoms of Covid 19
  • Distribution of flyers and posters in the simbock neighbourhood.
  • Training the community on how to locally produce hand sanitizers and wash hands properly.
  • Creation of local volunteers at the community level.
  • Translation of messages to local languages (Ewondo and Bamileke) Radio sensitization.
  • Myth debunking.
  • Creation of a WhatsApp group for better monitoring and follow up.
  • Organization of a covid Symposium to crown the project.

The COVID-19 Taskforce published more than 10 bulletins to educate the general public and advise policymakers about the pandemic. Each bulletin was written both in French and English to reach a maximum number of people. The bulletins covered specific aspects including the management of the pandemic, its implications for households and companies, and the measures to curb the spread of the virus just to name a few.

Also, the task force organized a series of webinar events where key policymakers and health practitioners were invited to share their thoughts and experiences to promote evidence-informed decisions in the country.

During the entire project, the following challenges were encountered: Most volunteers were students and were not available to fully participate in the program due to school activities. Also, some interested people did not have android phones nor computers to participate in the online symposium.

Another difficulty was encountered at the level of planning and organizing the radio sensitization programme as it coincided with an exam programme of community volunteers where a greater proportion of them was in examination classes. It was a challenge getting community members to attend the virtual symposium via zoom.

PAV:  What are some of the activities that the Foundation has carried out this year?

This year we organized the SBEC Activities for the year 2020 which involved; Regional forum on Business Networking on January 31st in Douala. Theme “The Pivotal Role of business networking to entrepreneurs in Cameroon”

– Regional Forum on the business network on February 27th in Yaoundé. Theme “Business networking, a valuable tool for entrepreneurial Growth in Cameroon”

– Business plan training online from May 12th to July 1st (5 modules). Theme “Business plan, an ultimate tool for fueling ambitions and entrepreneurial growth in Cameroon”

– Bookkeeping training online on July 29th.Theme “A Practical Guide for Bookkeeping”

– Webinar on “Surviving beyond the Covid-19 as an entrepreneur in Cameroon” on September 11th.

-Webinar on “The effects of Information Asymmetry on business growth in Cameroon” on 27th November.

The Nkafu Policy Institute organized a 1-week intensive training course on policy analysis. Two Nkafu Debates were organized on the themes; “Will more Taxes Increase fiscal revenues in Cameroon” and “Is market competition good for Cameroon’s Industrialization?

Under our Leadership and Democracy project, we organized about 10 events on Peace and Democracy. As part of our COVID-19 project, we organized about 10 webinars and invited experts to gain more insights on the pandemic, and how Cameroon and Africa are adapting.

We equally organized 2 events to disseminate the research findings of a Thematic Report on Starting a business in Cameroon, and another on Dealing with Construction permits in Cameroon

PAV: Let’s now focus on some activities you carried out this year. Firstly, talk to us about the Emerging Leaders Program for this year and what are some of the peculiarities?

Fri Asanga: The Emerging leaders’ program is a program organized by the Foundation to better equip today’s youths for transformational Leadership in Cameroon. This training program which identified 20 highly skilled and motivated Cameroonians below the age of 35, took place from the 25th to the 28th of October 2020 with renowned speakers based in Cameroon and the United State of America.

The second phase of this program is underway as these youths equipped with knowledge in leadership and democracy will organize similar events financed by the Foundation in their respective regions of origin.

PAV: The Foundation organized the STEM Program last year 2019 but this year there was none. Why so?

Fri Asanga: The STEM Program did not take place this year due to the advent of the COVID 19 Pandemic. The program was scheduled to take place mid-year but during this period, the COVID 19 pandemic was at its peak and all schools were closed.

PAV: What are some of the challenges that the foundation has had to grapple with this year aside from the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Fri Asanga: Moving to the virtual way of doing events was a great challenge as the entire Foundation struggled to adapt to this new system. Participants struggled with attending and using online video conferencing applications.

PAV: How have you found the situation of working from home or using the zoom platform for webinars by the Foundation better as opposed to using physical locations?

Fri Asanga: Firstly is the ability to bring in resource persons from all over the world to contribute to discussions during webinars. The distance barrier is broken through webinars. Next is the fact that participants who were interested in our events could now attend irrespective of their location or what they are doing.

PAV: This year 2020 is about rounding up, what are we expecting from the Foundation in the few weeks left?

Fri Asanga: The foundation has some events planned out for December. They include the following;

  • December 04, 2020Le Processus De Démocratisation Au Cameroun 30 Ans Après : Quel Bilan à l’Épreuve Des Crises ?(Online)
  • December 08, 2020COVID-19 and Africa: The Path Forward A Conversation with Dr Bernard Kadio (Online)
  • December 11, 2020 SBEC National Forum (Foundation Headquarters)
  • December 16, 2020 Social Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Lessons for Business Incubation in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. (La Falaise Hotel, Yaoundé)
  • December 18, 2020 One year into the COVID-19 Pandemic. What Lessons can be learnt? (Online )

Fri Asanga addressing 2020 Cohorts of the Emerging Leaders Programme

Fri Asanga addressing 2020 Cohorts of the Emerging Leaders Programme

PAV: What should we envisage from the Foundation this coming year 2021?

Fri Asanga: The Foundation will continue to work on 4 major projects

  • The DBI project which focuses on Liberating Entreprises to advance prosperity in Cameroon
  • The COVID-19 Project which is focused on Protecting Liberties while addressing the Corona Virus Pandemic
  • The Social Entrepreneurship Project that focuses on Business Incubator Practices in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Ghana
  • The leadership and democracy project which is aimed at Promoting Democracy and Governance in Cameroon

PAV: Is there anything you will like to talk about that we left out? If not, what is your last word as we sign off 2019?

Fri Asanga: The Foundation will continue its mission of catalyzing Africa’s Economic Transformation through social entrepreneurship, science and technology, innovation, public health and progressive policies that create economic opportunities for all.

*Culled from December issue of PAV Magazine

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Africa Remains The Land Of Promise For Billions of People-Dr Christopher Fomunyoh
December 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

 In the midst of all the challenges, it was not all dark and gloomy for Africa, says Dr Fomunyoh

In the midst of all the challenges, it was not all dark and gloomy for Africa, says Dr Fomunyoh

Africa remains the land of promise for billions of people and we owe it to posterity not to destroy or squander what the Lord and nature have graciously put in stock for us, says Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, NDI. In an interview to review the year in Africa, Dr Fomunyoh says Africa must play to its strength.

“We are the youngest continent on the face of the globe, we have the most youthful and resilient population, the most diversity and untapped resources and wealth; and if we don’t value all of these assets, the rest of the world will continue to turn us a blind eye.  We must respect our own lives and our own people for no one else will do so in our place,” says Fomunyoh.

Fielding questions on major socio-economic and political developments that defined the year in Africa, Dr Fomunyoh opines that in the midst of all the challenges, it is not all dark and gloomy for the continent.

Thanks for accepting this interview to review the year in Africa with PAV and we would like to start with COVID 19, what assessment do you make of the African response to the pandemic?

To a large extent, Africa has been luckier than other continents in the sense that our worst fears and the cataclysmic projections about likely deaths across the continent have not materialized.  Yet we must acknowledge that, like on every continent, the COVID 19 pandemic has had disastrous consequences in loss of lives and disruption of economic and political activity. As of this interview, based on statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), for the continent’s 1.4 billion inhabitants, we have had approximately 1.4 million Coronavirus cases and approximately 33,400 COVID-19 related deaths.  That’s far less than other continents, but it’s still regrettable and heartbreaking.  We must remain vigilant and respectful of preventive measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and other health measures.  We must not lower our guard, especially because the public health, social and economic infrastructures of most of our countries are not robust enough to withstand all the shocks of this pandemic.

From people like Archbishop Kleda in Cameroon with his herbal cure, to President Rajoelina of Madagascar touting the merits of COVID Organics as a cure, may we get your take on these efforts from Africans to be proactive in seeking solutions and instead of waiting for others to bring solutions for them?

We cannot discount that our rich flora and the unique species of medicinal plants that our continent possesses can boost immune systems and contribute to other healing therapies for coronavirus and other ailments.  The difficulties we face for such a global pandemic are in being able to scale up and sustain production on a national level and maintain quality control over therapies like the ones you mention.

What impact did the pandemic have on politics and democratic progress on Africa which you are well versed with?

The overall impact of the Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic on African politics has been very negative, as it has made it extremely difficult for citizens to exercise their rights and continue their advocacy for political space and good governance.  We saw that in a country such as Burundi, the government pushed through presidential elections in the heat of the crisis, and then the former Head of State who had been campaigning vigorously through that period lost his life from COVID-19 complications.  Eswatini (former Swaziland) just lost its prime minister to the pandemic.  Ethiopia was forced to postpone its elections because of the pandemic, and the inability to find consensus on the matter then led to a political crisis between the central government and leaders of one of the country’s regions – Tigray – that has now convulged into a full-blown armed conflict with thousands of casualties and lots of refugees and internally displaced persons.  In other countries such as Uganda and Guinea Conakry, regimes with autocratic tendencies are using the excuse of the pandemic to further clamp down on citizens’ rights and various freedoms, hence aggressively shrinking political space, and that is so shameful!

 With the youngest continent on the face of the globe, the most youthful and resilient population, the most diversity and untapped resources and wealth, if we do not value these assets, the rest of the world would not, says Fomunyoh

With the youngest continent on the face of the globe, the most youthful and resilient population, the most diversity and untapped resources and wealth, if we do not value these assets, the rest of the world would not, says Fomunyoh

In Malawi, we saw a court overturn the results of Presidential elections won by an incumbent and ordered for a rerun won by the opposition, can you put some context on this and what lessons Africa could learn from this?

Malawi turned out to be a beautiful story in the midst of otherwise dark clouds.  We must thank the justices of the Supreme Court of Malawi for their courage and independence in applying the law.  We also must salute the tenacity and peaceful commitment of political parties and civil society organizations which, on finding weaknesses in the previous elections, sought legal redress instead of resorting to violence as we’ve seen in some countries.  There’s something unique about Malawi as its people have faced several challenges in the path of the country’s democratic transition but have always risen to meet and surpass these obstacles.  I remember the 1993 referendum on multipartism, and various instances during which even the Malawian Defense Forces sided with citizens for political pluralism and good governance.  Lots of lessons to learn, and surely much that the rest of us Africans should be grateful to the Malawians for.

We also did notice the resurgence of the disturbing trend of leaders especially in French speaking Africa changing term limits to remain in power with Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire as key examples, what accounts for this setback for democracy and what needs to be done to avoid this becoming the new normal for African countries?

Despite the positive experiences of countries such as Senegal and Niger Republic, the alternation of political power and renewal of political leadership remain constant challenges in Francophone Africa. To date, only Benin, Mali and Senegal have seen multiple peaceful transitions from one elected president to the next at the end of two terms – and Senegal only after former President Wade was defeated as he ran for a third term.  Other countries have taken two steps forward and multiple steps backward, hence giving the impression of very fragile or yet uncompleted transitions.  As many of the Francophone countries are located in West Africa, the regional body (the Economic Community of West African states – ECOWAS) has in the past played an important role in upholding democratic norms in the region, and around 2015 came close to amending its protocol on governance to provide specific protections of presidential term limits. However, those efforts deserve to be reinforced to avoid further backsliding.

Today, many ask why should people trust the opposition when leaders such as Professor Alpha Conde in Guinea who fought for democratic reforms most of his adult life, and even Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire, get to power only to perpetuate and excel in the same undemocratic practices they vowed to fight?

That’s a very valid concern, and I believe pro-democracy advocates and civil society, as well as development partners should be urging these leaders to think about their legacies and how they think they will be judged by history.  Africa today yearns for leaders that can emulate the examples of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, or Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Botswana’s Festus Mogae, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and others that made their countries and the continent proud when they handed over power peacefully after serving their terms in office.

You were in Ghana for the 2020 elections where President Nana Akufo Addo was proclaimed winner, but the opposition is crying foul, how did the elections go from your perspective?

In fact, although in the past 20 years, Ghana has always experienced very close and competitive elections, the 2020 polls seem to be the closest both for the presidency and the parliament. Ghana’s two main parties — the National Patriotic Party (NPP), and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) — are both quite solid and do start every election with a substantial base of support.  As per the official results of the Electoral Commission, the next parliament will be divided right down the middle and will require a lot of tact and parliamentary agility and collaboration to get elected officials on both sides to work together.  With regards to the presidential race, the two main candidates and their respective parties set up their own data centers where they collected results from polling stations to track those officially announced by the Electoral Commission. I’m therefore hopeful that once they clean up their numbers, they will come to the same conclusion as the Commission.  I’m very confident that both presidential candidates are men of peace and committed democrats who mean well for Ghana and the continent of Africa.  They will not allow Ghana to go down the path of other countries that have experienced violence in the post-election period.

What lessons do you think other African countries can learn from Ghanaians?

Many lessons indeed: For example, that regular peaceful elections can be the norm in Africa.  By holding its elections on schedule every four years, and also taking steps to engage in electoral reforms after every exercise, Ghana is proving that all that comes out of African elections is not doom and opacity, and Ghanaians should be commended for that.  There’s open political space in Ghana that allows civil society and media to independently monitor the polls without any incumbrances, to the point where a coalition of civic groups (CODEO) now conducts parallel vote tabulations as a permanent fixture in the process since 2008.  Ghana also has strong and effective political parties that make it easy to gain citizen input into the policy formulation process and to run issue-based campaigns.  I hope that Ghanaians will share freely of these experiences as they exchange views and compare notes with other Africans.

Dr Fomunyoh with President Issoufou of Niger whose country is cited today as one of the success stories in Francophone Africa in terms of democratic progress

Dr Fomunyoh with President Issoufou of Niger whose country is cited today as one of the success stories in Francophone Africa in terms of democratic progress

What do you make of the EndSARS in Nigeria, with a myriad of problems across the continent, is there something that other African countries could learn or draw from that?

In my opinion, the ENDSARS movement in Nigeria was a spontaneous demonstration of how citizen dissatisfaction with government performance can erupt in unexpected ways.  It all started as a protest against police brutality, but then other grievances popped up in ways that the Nigerian government may not have expected.  A couple of lessons stand out for me, including the fact that police brutality and violence is unacceptable and must be stopped, and governments must put in place mechanisms to listen to citizen responses to their performance.  I am pleased that commissions are being set up in various states across Nigeria to look into matters of social justice and policing, and that Nigerian youth and civic leaders are having a seat at the table to make their voices count and their views heard.

May we get your take on the Building Bridges Initiative in Kenya where fierce political rivals are trying to chart a new political discourse and path?

That too is getting extremely heated and polarizing, and we can only wish that Kenyans, who have gone through similar experiences with past constitutional debates and reviews, are reminded to do the right thing for their people and the country.

In Cameroon, the Anglophone crisis continues to rage on with no end in sight, at this point in time, what do you suggest as a way forward to a lasting solution?

It is incredibly sad and revolting to see what began as a citizen’s petition regarding legitimate rights and grievances morphed into a crisis and now a full-blown armed conflict with its daily dose of killings and atrocities.  As I have said since 2016, when the crisis first broke, a military solution is the worst approach to settling grievances that are long embedded in historical facts and missteps.  The only solution is for genuine negotiations among all parties, and with third party facilitation.  So much death, damage and destruction have befallen the English-speaking people of former Southern Cameroons.  With now thousands of deaths, over 70,000 refugees in neighboring Nigeria, over 800,000 internally displaced and over 4.2 million people at risk of famine, everything must be done to bring the conflict to an end.  The international community and friends of Cameroon must do more to help us bring an end to the war and address the genuine grievances of the afflicted populations.

Despite the huge toll on people in the North West and South West Regions, the international community has remained so indifferent, why is the international community turning a blind eye to the crisis in Cameroon?

Some countries within the international community have made multiple declarations on the conflict, but their admonitions have fallen on deaf ears.  Even the last session of the United Nation Security Council meeting on December 9, 2020, discussed Cameroon; however, by now, it should be clear to everyone that simple declarations and statements alone will not suffice.  People are being killed and innocent lives lost daily in the North West and South West regions.  We are in the 21st century, and world leaders should not sit by idly or passively while these atrocities continue with absolute impunity.

President Biya has been largely absent from the scene, and no one seems to know exactly who is in charge; how important has his absence been as an impediment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict?

To many descendants of Southern Cameroons, Paul Biya has become a huge part of the problem, and a lot has been documented about how his government’s mismanagement of the crisis has exacerbated it.  When governing a country in conflict or crisis, leaders are known to exert themselves tirelessly in search for peace – in the Cameroon case we don’t see Biya doing that.  It’s difficult to say who is giving the orders today, but individuals must know that, ultimately, they will be held accountable for their roles in the massacres and atrocities.

As the succession battle plays out behind the scenes in Cameroon, there are some who have suggested that a President from the English-speaking regions of the country could be one of the confidence building measures, do you agree?

That was the spirit of the Federation that existed at reunification from 1961 – 1972.  At the time, there was an understanding as two equal entities the positions of president and vice president could alternate between leaders from the two cultural and linguistic entities that formed the Federal Republic of Cameroon.  Unfortunately, that too was abrogated by Francophone leaders who began a process of over centralization of power and attempted assimilation of the Anglophones.  At the fast rate of today’s deterioration, I am fearful that if the conflict is not brought to an end swiftly, it’ll go past the point where simple elite bargains will be sufficient or credible enough to bring peace and harmony.

And a word on your own political ambitions, if you are called upon by Cameroonians to answer the call for a new leadership in the country, is that something you are willing to consider?

The challenges at hand demand that we all shelf our personal ambitions until we can get our people out of the total mess and sense of distress and hopelessness in which they find themselves.  The situation is heartbreaking and depressing, it is extremely difficult to project into the future while surrounded by the current dark clouds that risk annihilating a whole generation of our people.

The year in Africa also saw the passing of big personalities from former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, to President Nkurunziza of Burundi, South African iconic Lawyer George Bizos, Manu Dibango and any word from you for these departed Africans?

Indeed, 2020 has been a very difficult year at multiple levels.  I knew President Jerry J. Rawlings personally, and had the pleasure on many occasions to visit with him in Accra, and to work closely with him on the African Statemen’s Initiative which was a gathering of former African Heads of State that were very active in humanitarian and other good causes across the continent.  His sheer presence and personality, his positive energy and big vision for Africa are unmatchable.  We will all miss him, just as his fellow country men and women of Ghana would.  Manu Dibango was also a class act of a legend – the world-renowned self-made man whose leadership in music and culture were unrivaled.  He too was an African legend and an ambassador for the continent.  It’s still very difficult to imagine that ‘Grand Manu’ is gone to his final resting place.  May the souls of these departed African leaders rest in perfect peace and their memories remain a blessing.

On Cameroon, Dr Fomunyoh says the only solution is for genuine negotiations among all parties, and with third party facilitation.

On Cameroon, Dr Fomunyoh says the only solution is for genuine negotiations among all parties, and with third party facilitation.

As we move into 2021, what will the agenda for the NDI look like with regards to its engagement with Africa?

NDI and its various partner organizations are committed to working to reverse some of the backsliding that we discussed earlier. For example, we are looking at providing multiple platforms for Africans to foster discussions on how to safeguard and consolidate the progress that has been made in some countries while drawing lessons from those successes to address shortcomings in other countries.  For example, we are gladly joining various African experts, advocacy groups and civil society organizations in what we hope will be a continent-wide conversation on constitutional term limits and the rule of law as tenets of democratic governance.  It is important to curb the resurgence of ‘life presidents’, something that the continent worked so hard to dismantle in the early 1990s, but that seems to be resurfacing in a number of countries.  In that endeavor, we take comfort in knowing that of the continent’s population of 1.4 billion people, more than 75 percent are youth 35 years or younger, a vast majority of whom aspire to have a strong say in the politics and public policy of their respective countries, and to be governed justly and democratically.

We end the interview with your wish for Africa in 2021, what will you like to see for the continent?

The new year wish for Africa 2021, is that we give our young men and women the opportunities to lead.  Our continent must play to its strength — we are the youngest continent on the face of the globe, we have the most youthful and resilient population, the most diversity and untapped resources and wealth; and if we don’t value all of these assets, the rest of the world will continue to turn us a blind eye.  We must respect our own lives and our own people for no one else will do so in our place.  The continent still remains the land of promise for billions of people, and we owe it to posterity not to destroy or squander what the Lord and nature have graciously put in stock for us.

*Culled from December Issue of PAV Magazine

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Most US Administrations Have Not Had Good Policies On Africa-Lawrence Freeman
December 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Many of the Presidents in recent periods have not had very good policies for Africa, says Lawrence Freeman

Many of the Presidents in recent periods have not had very good policies for Africa, says Lawrence Freeman

As the Biden -Harris administration warms up to take power, questions are been asked on how their African policy will look like. To Lawrence Freeman, while the potential of stronger ties and bonds are real, it is best not to have high expectations as successive U.S administrations have not had good policies on Africa.

The political and economic analyst with thirty years of experience working on Africa says the last President who engaged Africa in a substantive way was President John Kennedy in the 60s. Though the relations seemed to have reached an all-time low during the Trump administration, Freeman opines that successive administrations including the more recent ones of Clinton, Bush and Obama all considered Africa as a low priority area, giving the Chinese an opening to hold sway. Freeman who runs a blog on Africa and frequently travels the continent, says his goal is to see poverty eliminated in Africa in his lifetime.

Pan African Visions: It is not every day you see an American whose work has focused on Africa for some thirty years now, could we start this interview with what motivates or makes Lawrence Freeman passionate about Africa?

Lawrence Freeman: It started in the second half of the 1960s. Some people will remember that it was a time of political activism, and I was involved in High School and later on in College. One of the things I began to think about was the conditions in Africa – the fact that it is a large continent with so much land and why will the people go hungry. About 30 years ago I began to focus on Africa, and I began to write, had meetings started with some Cameroonians, Liberians, and then I ended up going to Nigeria in the 1990s which I have been many times. I now teach a course on African History and it has been my passion increasingly and every year I am more and more involved. 3 years ago, I set up my website so I can publish my articles. I am a researcher, journalist, consultant and my goal is to eliminate poverty in Africa in my lifetime.

Pan African Visions: How will you describe African policy under President Trump, what were some of the changes that you observed?

Lawrence Freeman: US policy under President Trump was not effective. I have to say many of the Presidents in recent periods have not had very good policies for Africa. Many of them do not understand Africa, and they already have an interest which is a low priority on the President’s list. The last President to engage himself in Africa was John F. Kennedy. He established a very unique relationship with Kwame Nkrumah and the latter was the first Head of State that John F. Kennedy brought to the United States on March 8 before any other country in the world. Trump has done very little; he has a programme called Prosper Africa which does not do much but focus on Trade and not a real development programme. He has involved himself in the Ethiopia dam issue in a very provocative manner by suggesting that Egypt may bomb the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam which was very unfortunate.

On the other hand, he has been very supportive of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his confrontation with Tigray and also very supportive of President Ouattara in the election in Cote d’Ivoire. But overall, I would not give him a very high mark, but that is not very different from President Obama or President Clinton.

Pan African Visions: Some people have described him as been dis-engaged, for African countries that yearn for genuine independence, was this not an opportunity to let them handle their affairs while pushing other colonial powers notably in Europe to scale back their influence on Africa?

Lawrence Freeman: The problem is the lack of a coherent policy for Africa from the United States. Africa should be independent but there are ways that a country like mine (USA) could help which China is doing to a great extent. We can provide long term loans with credit for infrastructural development; to assist and collaborate with African countries and not to dictate and tell them what to do. This is a big omission on the current administration and the previous.

Pan African Visions: The USA opposed the election of Dr Akinwumi Adesina for a second term as AfDB President despite his huge accomplishments and unanimous support from African countries and other international partners, and most recently the candidature of Okonjo Iweala at the helm of the WTO was also opposed, can you put some context on these controversial options from the USA?

Lawrence Freeman: For the case of Iweala it was clear that the Trump administration was supporting another candidate – this hurt the African nations as they wanted to have someone of prestige in that position. The question of the African Development Bank I do not understand that. I believe President Trump was giving some false information about President Adesina and somehow his people in the administration acted on this in a way to try and undermine the President of the AfDB. The AfDB has its procedures for investigating internal fraud or mishandling of funds and that should have been left alone for the AfDB to handle and they did and cleared him (Adesina) of any wrongdoings. I am not sure why or who gave President Trump this false information, but it was something that did not help build a strong relationship between the United States and Africa.

Tapped to serve as UN Ambassador,Linda Thomas Greenfield could introduce some positive policies for Africa that are useful, says Freeman

Tapped to serve as UN Ambassador,Linda Thomas Greenfield could introduce some positive policies for Africa that are useful, says Freeman

Pan African Visions: What kind of changes do you anticipate seeing on US-African relations in the Biden-Harris Administration?

Lawrence Freeman: Unfortunately, the group of people for the most part that President-elect Biden has been bringing out to the public represent long-term establishment figures, people who were in the Obama administration, and people from the Clinton administration which is going back some 20 years. These are people who do not have a vision for the development of Africa the way I do, and the leader of the United States should do. The interesting possibility lies with his pick for the UN Envoy Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She will not be in the state department where policies are made but she will be a member of the cabinet as UN Ambassador. She from contacts I have on the continent is viewed as a reasonable, thoughtful, even-handed representative in terms of dealing with problems in Africa and some of my friends in Africa think highly of her.

Because of her background as Ambassador to Liberia, working as secretary of State for Africa under President Obama, she has a background in Africa which very few people on the cabinet-level bring in. I do not know if she will be, but she could be a type of person that introduces some positive policies for Africa that are useful. The main problem we have now is that Africa needs development, specifically infrastructural development; electricity, roads, hospitals and this is where the United States could play a major role. Unfortunately, under several administrations and more emphatically under the Trump administration, they define the Africa policy not as simply for Africa but as countering China. They saw Africa as playing the game between the US and China and they used Africa as the chessboard rather than developing our positive policy.

China has done many good things for Africa such as their investment in infrastructure, rail and energy and I would like to see the United States do more, and for the United States to allow other nations like Russia and India to put their investment in infrastructure in Africa. I do not think that is going to happen during the Biden administration, but I am hopeful some positive steps will happen even though I don’t think Africa is going to be top on Biden’s list. It has not been on any President’s agenda.

Pan African Visions: If you were advising the administration what would be some of the priority areas that you see prospects of engagement with Africa?

Lawrence Freeman: We have a list of very important infrastructural projects in Africa that the United States should be involved in. for example, a project I have been working for over 20 years called Trans Aqua and it is a great water project to bring water to build a canal (2400km) into the Central African Republic and which will lead to the filing up of Lake Chad. Lake Chad is drying up and it is 90 per cent from where it was in 1960. More importantly by building this canal it will increase trade and development to all the countries around the Great Lakes; Congo, Tanzania, Uganda and the countries around Lake Chad which are without water such as Nigeria; Cameroon, Niger and Chad. We are working with the Italian government to initiate a feasibility study on Trans Aqua. The United States has had no role to play and has not even supported the project. This is a great project. These kinds of projects will transform the continent, and this is where economic powers like the US, China and other nations could contribute to providing long term low-interest credit because infrastructural projects take many years to complete. Nuclear energy is another area where I think the United States can contribute because the electricity deficit on the continent is so huge. I think most politicians think very narrowly – they think about tomorrow and I think about 40 years ahead.

My thinking is better – you have to think 20 to 40 years ahead to plan policies. The United States like other European leaders have no vision of a future 20 years to advance. This is very unfortunate, and the Biden administration is bringing the same old people who did not have a vision when they were in government 10 or 20 years ago and I do not think they are going to have one now. If they are smart, they will make me their economic adviser and maybe I can win them over to some of these long-term plans that we are developing.

Pan African Visions: For many Africans and African countries that look up to the USA as a model for the kind of democracy worth emulating, what message or lessons could be drawn from the recent US election?

Lawrence Freeman: The main thing is that the United States has a great constitution written by some brilliant founding fathers. In that constitution, they take care of all concerns concerning elections. The idea of having electorates is correct; all the procedures outlined in the US Constitution are working. The basis of the US constitution is the preamble and not all the separate by-laws. No matter what goes on there are rules set, dates set, the electors have to be certified, read to congress and the constitution works. We have not had any coup, but we have had several Presidents assassinated but we survived that. My recommendation to African Presidents is for them to study the constitution of the United States and all the documents involved. We are not going to have a civil war, we will not have riots, and we will move on to the next government – whether that government has any good ideas that is another question. A government will continue in the United States.

Pan African Visions: On the conflict in Ethiopia, you described it as a war won to preserve the nation-state, and seem to support the position of President Abiy who opted for force and not dialogue, can you shed more light on your arguments?

Lawrence Freeman: I have studied the Ethiopian constitution and the history of Ethiopia for several years. The main problem is that ethnicity became the basis of the constitution – they wanted to comprise with the various ethnic groups, and they set ethnic regional states. This caused a problem because it did not establish an Ethiopian identity with the same problem existing in Nigeria. The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) was the leading group that carried out the coup. They maintain power not only in the Tigrayan region but all over the entire country. PM Abiy set up the Prosperity Party which was not based on any ethnicity and the TPLF rejected that and made different moves to undermine the government. From my standpoint, it was a necessary action to preserve the nation. If that action was not taken Ethiopia would have ceased to be a leading nation in Africa.

Pan African Visions: Coming less than a year or so after he bagged the Nobel Peace Prize, is the world right in faulting Prime Minister Abiy for not doing more to explore a peaceful resolution or opening up to third-party mediation?

Lawrence Freeman: The situation in Tigray is that there was an attempt to set up negotiations, there was a dialogue going on. The problem is that the TPLF violated national law and the government declared they could not carry out their election in May due to the COVID-19 crisis and set it forth for next year. The TPLF went ahead and had elections and they took military actions. At that point, I think the PM did what he could do giving the conditions that existed in Ethiopia where you had this ethnonationalism which does not respect the centralize power that existed in Addis Ababa that represented the nation.

Pan African Visions: The conflict comes at a time when Ethiopia was grappling with a crisis over the Nile, what do you make of the insistence of Ethiopia to proceed with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?

Lawrence Freeman: First of all, the Grand Renaissance Dam is 75 per cent complete and nothing is going to stop its completion. This is a matter of national identity for the people and they have funded the Dam by themselves. The Dam is on the Blue Nile which comes down from Lake Tana which is inside the sovereign state of Ethiopia. The Egyptians have a legitimate  right to request that they not be without  water. What needs to be looked is that Egypt is not deprived of necessary water. But the Egyptians are using the legacy of the colonial period that nobody can disrupt the Nile unless they approve it.

The 1929 Water Agreement on the distribution of the Nile allocation was Sudan gets ¼ of the Water and Egypt gets ¾. In 1959 when both Sudan and Egypt were independent there was another agreement and this time between Sudan and Egypt. Again, Ethiopia was not allocated water from the Nile and was told not to build a dam on the Nile without Egyptian approval. Ethiopia is an emerging nation and has very bold economic programmes. The biggest problem in Africa is the lack of electrical power. Agreements on the water can be worked out and it should be worked out.

Pan African Visions: You were in Cote d’Ivoire for the elections and surprisingly spoke favourably about the controversial polls, what is it you saw that influenced the optimistic outlook that you painted of developments in that country?

Lawrence Freeman: This was my first visit to Cote d’Ivoire. Most of my visits have been to Nigeria. I did not know the significance of the Port in Abidjan which is the largest port in West Africa and has a railroad that goes into Burkina Faso and Mali. This has a lot of economic potentials and I also realized that the government of Cote d’Ivoire under President Ouattara has had good progress on the development of its infrastructure and economy, reducing poverty, increasing access to electricity and clean water. I met with some officials and attended some lectures which indicate to me that the country is moving forward.

As an observer in the election, I could see what was going on and I found that the population was very orderly. It was a hot day and hundreds of people were standing in line, no fighting, carrying out their affairs in a good manner. Even though there was a controversy around Ouattara going again for a new term it is legitimate under the new constitution which was supported by the people in 2016. It is something I believe he did not want to do – he had indicated that he will resign but the chosen candidate died unexpectedly. This is almost the same situation in the United States where you had several Presidential candidates that were in their 70s and you had many members of the congress and senate who are septuagenarians who seemed to dominate politics in many parts of the world. I believe there is a new commitment to the new government for economic empowerment and I am optimistic about that.

The people who opposed the election could not provide a viable alternative. They just attacked the government and called for a boycott which they got no vote. After the election was concluded on October 31, they declared themselves a new transition government. In 2010 3,000 people in Cote d’Ivoire  were killed because President Gbagbo would not leave the palace. Now in 2020 to have a group of people declare that they are the government it was uncalled for. I believe there is a lot that must be done but they are getting there.

Pan African Visions: Your position kind of mirrored that of the US Ambassador who said the US supported the sovereignty of Cote d’Ivoire in the elections which many considered as controversial, and in countries like Tanzania the US picks issues with the elections, does this selective criticism or biased critique based on interests not hurt healthy relations between the USA and Africa?

Lawrence Freeman: There are mixed signals, that I have no question about. The Ambassador in Cote d’Ivoire before the election said this election belongs to the people of Cote d’Ivoire and their institutions. And when the opposition tried to meet with the Ambassador (Richard Bell) after the election he did not meet with them. The Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the State Department supported the sovereignty of Cote d’Ivoire. That was very strong support for Cote d’Ivoire, and I was pleased to see it. In other areas that does not exist, and the mix signals is coming even in the same country. Like in Ethiopia you have President Trump who is criticizing Ethiopia for building the Dam and making provocative statements and then when PM Abiy intervenes in the Tigray Region Tibor Nagy of the state department came out in support of the Ethiopian government.

The problem is that there is not a coherent conception coming from the United States on what Africa needs. There is a loud discussion on “democracy”, but they do not understand democracy. It is not about how regularly you have elections but the ability of the citizens to discuss and debate important and profound ideas about the future of the country. In the United States we do not have that – everybody talks in 20 to 30sec sound bites, but real democracy like we had during our founding fathers, for that to take place in Africa everybody needs to have a minimum standard of living. Without economic development, real democracy cannot exist. Without a clear idea of what our policy for Africa should lead us to, we give mix signals.

Africa needs development, specifically infrastructural development; electricity, roads, hospitals and the US could play a major role, says Lawrence

Africa needs development, specifically infrastructural development; electricity, roads, hospitals and the US could play a major role, says Lawrence

Pan African Visions: The crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been raging for some four years with the US and the rest of the international more or less indifferent, may we know the US position on the situation in Cameroon from your understanding?

Lawrence Freeman: The problem of Cameroon is indicative of what we have done to Africa. It is a result of the dividing of Africa. A united Cameroon never existed up to this point and because the French and British divided a legitimate nation is similar to the ethnicity we see in Kenya and other parts of Nigeria. What started in 2016 with the demonstrations, protests and strikes with separatist movements that have come in. I do not believe in dividing nations. I was opposed to the division of Sudan to two nations. I do not want to see Cameroon divided up. What has to be is that there has to be recognition of one Cameroon which may be difficult under Paul Biya who has been in power for almost 4 decades, this is going to be a problem. What we should do is put forward an idea, a one Cameroon that has to be built under the conception of an economic mission for the country.

Let us establish a goal of where Cameroon should be in 5 or 20 years from now and make that mission a goal that unites all the people in the country and that everyone benefits from the economic benefits. That is the way I know how to unite the people. The prejudice won’t go away in the model, but they have the capability of going away in time as people see interest in working together. The interest of myself lies in the interest of another and that is a challenging path. I think the United States has eliminated Cameroon from the AGOA process, but sanctions are not going to do it. They do not work that well and you have to put something positive in its place. I will make a great economic mission for the country and unite everyone together and establish a Cameroonian identity, not a French-controlled identity.

Pan African Visions: We end with the last word on how you see 2021 playing out for Africa, what are your hopes and fears?

Lawrence Freeman: If you look at the problems we have now if we do not implement certain measures today, we are going to have problems 10 or 20 years from now. If you have an approximate population of two and a half billion and approximately one billion may be young people; if those young people do not have jobs, see their nation as providing for them then you can have very nasty operations and demonstrations, regime changes on the continent. On the other hand, we have all these very bright people, if we implement policies today that will bring about the kind of economic growth that is needed then you will not have an increase in alienation, anarchy and protests.

I would like to see the United States join with China and probably Russia to help Africa. They have to unite and assist Africa and not tell them what  to do, and not seize anything. I estimate that Africa needs at least a thousand gigawatts of power to give people access to electricity. These things are primary. If we can begin in 2021 with a robust commitment to developing, then I think Africa will have a very interesting and beautiful future. If we do not, then we could be facing more serious challenges over the years ahead. I am approaching 70 years and I am going to put everything I have to make those things happen. If more people in the United States, Europe, and Africa will work with me on that then I think we can make some improvements that will benefit billions of people that are not only living today but those who will be born in the future. And that is my goal and commitments.

Pan African Visions: Thanks for answering our questions.

Lawrence Freeman: Thank you for giving me this opportunity and I appreciate all the work you do.

For more information on Lawrence Freeman and his work visit his blog here

*Interview also features in  December Issue of PAV Magazine  

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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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