Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pan Africanism personified - a personal story on Ebola




 A few months ago I caught a cold, the normal flu. But this came with a splitting headache that made it impossible for me to do virtually anything. So I spent the next few days in bed. The interesting thing was that I caught this particular flu strain from my young toddler daughter, who had also caught it from one of her siblings. As flu goes, within about a week, my entire family had wet noses and was sniffling and sneezing all over the house.
In the throes of my pain and discomfort, I started to thank God for giving us the flu and not something more serious. I reflected on the Ebola virus that had ravaged through countries close to mine and devastated homes and families in one fell swipe. I gave thanks to God for the flu and reflected on how Ebola had come close to my home and literally ‘passed over’ us. 

At the beginning of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, my elder brother was the Deputy Commanding Officer of a 900 man United Nations Force in Liberia. They were based on the border area between Liberia and Sierra Leone (Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties). Incidentally, this was the area through which Ebola spread from Sierra Leone to Liberia.  He had been assigned there in December the previous year for a six month tour of duty which was to have ended in August 2014.

 Getting to the end of his tour of duty, then Ebola struck!  We were all waiting for him to return in time for the birth of his daughter, scheduled two weeks after his arrival in September. Then Ebola struck Liberia! Big Brother’s contingent of 900 soldiers return to Ghana was delayed week after week as the United Nations and the Heads of State of Ghana and Liberia battled with whether to permit Big Brother’s contingent to return to Ghana and be replaced by a fresh contingent or keep them there in Liberia for another six months or more, after all, they were already exposed to the risk!! The challenge for Big Bro as Deputy Commander of the force was how to keep 900 strong and virile Ghanaian soldiers confined to the barracks for weeks on end with absolutely no contact with the local Liberians who might be carriers of the deadly strain.

Back home in Ghana, we, his family were in serious prayers, first for his and his entire contingent to come home safely, because, knowing the historical relationship between Ghanaian soldiers and Liberian women, it was near impossible that none of the soldiers would defy the orders to remain in camp and steal out into town to bid farewell to a cherished lady friend, and by doing that, inadvertently bring the Ebola virus into the UN camp.  We fasted, we prayed and waited upon the Lord as their return was delayed day in and day out. Secondly, we prayed that he will come back home in time to share in the birth of his daughter.

After several weeks of uncertainty and diplomatic back and forth, the green light was given for the entire contingent to return to Ghana. All the soldiers and their property returned to Ghana safe and Ebola free!!  Less than one week after his arrival, we witnessed the birth of a bouncy baby girl who weighed 4.0kg.

Gratitude!!
One of my sisters also lived with her family of four and worked in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. Guinea was the epicentre of Ebola and the start point. In June 2014, my sister and her young son left her husband in Conakry to visit relatives in Europe. She was six months pregnant at the time she left. Due to the uncertainty of the health systems in Conakry she delayed her return until the birth of her daughter, hoping that the Ebola Crisis will be over by the time her baby was old enough to travel. Six months later in December, 2014, the crisis was still raging and had spread from Guinea to Liberia, Sierra Leone with isolated cases in Mali and Nigeria.  She was faced with a dilemma. Continue to stay in Europe, leaving her job and her husband in Conakry for as long as possible or return to Guinea with her toddler son and new born baby and take the risk of Ebola. After weighing the odds, she chose to return to Guinea where she had a life, family and a good job.

First, it was difficult to get any flights that would connect her to Conakry as most airlines had cancelled their flights to all of West Africa, not only Guinea. When she finally got an airline which had a stop in Conakry, she recounts that airline staff were shocked that she would choose to take her young children back into the uncertainty and stories of death that the Western media had spun around the Ebola Crisis!

Prevail she did, and thankfully, the virus passed over her, her family members and their friends in Conakry, her fellow colleagues at work, the pupils in her son’s school and even her household staff.

Gratitude!!
Other stories about family members and Ebola in Mali as well as an aborted peace keeping mission to Liberia in early 2015 for another family member shows how connected we all became to this continental crisis and how through it all, we became stronger and more united.

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, Moses and the Israelites go to battle against the Midianites with twelve thousand men, a thousand from each tribe. The Israelites won the battle. The most striking thing about this story is in the verse 49 where the army commanders came to Moses and reported that they have counted the men under their command and ‘not one is missing!!’. Twelve thousand men go to war against the Midianites and not one single soldier dies. Our God is indeed still in the miracle making business.

Gratitude!!
While I tell stories of gratitude, I also painfully recognise that a lot of families suffered as result of Ebola and many lost loved ones. We also remember the healthcare professionals who took their oath seriously in the care of Ebola patients and paid the highest price. These include Dr. Willoughby of Sierra Leone, Dr. Micheal Kargbo and Dr. Stella Adadevor of Nigeria. We remember your sacrifice and bless your families and their generations for your works. As Wole Soyinka will say, ‘may their shadows never shrink’. I also recognise that there are many untold stories of bravery, survival, compassion and hope that will stand the test of time and be told within families and communities. These stories must continue to be told. We must never forget so that we never repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Africa Union’s Agenda 2063 speaks of a vision of a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa and the seven aspirations are drafted to reflect Africa’s desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want. Ebola gave us a reason as a continent to put Agenda 2063 into practice in a way that connected all levels of Africans- the pan African institutions, individual nations and at the lowest levels, continental citizens and families such as mine.

Ebola became a by-word for West Africa. In the rhetoric of rallying support to help stop Ebola was the tacit international quarantine that all West Africans suffered. Flights stopped flying to ‘West Africa’. Anyone from ‘West Africa’ on a flight had to be monitored. Indeed, even my Ghanaian friends in the diaspora cancelled their visits back home because there were travel bans to ‘West Africa’.  West Africa therefore had to look inwards and support ourselves. I salute the Ghanaian government for making Accra for hosting the UN emergency Ebola Response Centre.

Gratitude!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

IN HONOUR OF DR. CARLOS LOPES AS HE BIDS FAREWELL TO THE UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA (UNECA)



In October 2016, Dr. Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) bid farewell to the organisation he had been heading since 2012. Dr. Lopes has previously served in many academic and political positions in his native Guinea Bissau and in addition worked in diverse offices within the UN before he was appointed as Executive Secretary of UNECA. 

I met Carlos Lopes when I applied to be a Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Fellow in 2012 and was privileged to work with him in 2013 during his first full year as the Executive Secretary of UNECA, based in Addis Ababa. My time working with Carlos or  ‘Sir’ as we used to call him, was a time of deep learning and understanding of the African continent.  I also learnt a lot about myself as an African and a potential change agent. During my time working with Carlos, He had four assistants, all female and we branded ourselves as ‘Carlos’ Angels’. Although we came from different backgrounds- one was Kenyan Indian, another was Angolan Portuguese, a third was French Guinea Bissauan and I was Ghanaian- we bonded well and worked to support Carlos implement his vision for UNECA.
 As he bids farewell to the role in which I get acquainted with him, I would like to share some of the memories I hold dear about the man who has influenced not only me, but greater men in Africa and beyond.

CARLOS THE PAN AFRICAN.
Carlos is an example of a true pan African. As an academic, his writings embodied his love for the continent and the everlasting hope he has for Africa’s economic transformation. I remember a meeting Carlos once had with the Ambassador of a European country who had funds to support UNECA. In the meeting, Carlos spoke of the exciting work that UNECA was involved in- building a credible database for statistics, the campaign on industrialisation and collaborative works with the other continental pan African institutions. Carlos spoke glowingly of his vision for UNECA and the new policy direction. Not once did he make a request for funding support. The Ambassador was visibly impressed. After the meeting, I asked Carlos why he hadn’t directly asked for funding support and that in my mind, he had painted a picture that all was well, we therefore risk losing the funds that may have come to us. He responded that there was no need to speak about the problems and challenges and that Africa does not need to beg for money. The money will follow good deeds and by this, we have more power and say as to how to use the funds. Rightly so, in a few months’ time, the Ambassador of the country in question brought a proposal to support the UNECA in more ways than we had previously envisaged and for a longer period of time than we had thought.
This was a key trend and something I learnt working with Carlos. Africa has a positive future, so many indicators are speaking to a rising Africa, and we should celebrate this more. We must tell our own story of change in a positive manner.

CARLOS AND CABRAL
 The first thing one notices when one walks into Carlos’ office is a small black and white portrait picture of Amilcar Cabral. Carlos has written extensively on Cabral’s legacy and it implications to contemporary Africa. These writings are in Portuguese, French and English and widely published and highly acclaimed. Cabral was Carlos’ ‘utmost hero’ and as his Assistant, I also came to love and revere the works of Cabral.
Another favourite of Carlos was Mario de Andrade, the Angolan revolutionary who became Guinea Bissau’s Minister for Information and Culture. Mario shaped Carlos in many ways and although Mario is not well known outside the African Portuguese community, he is one of the key players and influencers of his time. Carlos speaks lovingly of Mario de Andrade and how when he (Carlos) had finished high school, he served as an assistant to Mario and learnt about Pan Africanism at the feet of the Master. I was privileged to get to know these great men of African history and others like them (my personal favourite was Franz Fanon) through their own writings and through reading the writings of Carlos himself. Infact, the title of my blog is a quote from Amilcar Cabral, ‘Claim no easy victories’, but that is another story for another day. 

CARLOS AND AGENDA 2063
Addis Ababa in May 2013 was the one place in the world I would have loved to be in. and I was there. Africa was celebrating 50 years of pan African institutionalism- the creation of the OAU, now the African Union. Addis, the capital of pan Africanism, was abuzz with activity and I had front row seats to the event of a lifetime. The Pan African Congress, The Youth Forum, the Women’s Forum, the African Union Executive Committee Meeting, NEPAD, the Actual AU Forum, several side meetings, bi-laterals, multi-laterals, concerts, exhibitions, and many more. Carlos made time to share this space with Africa and his message of a prosperous Africa resonated on all the platforms he spoke on. I remember the warmth he received when he attended the PAWA event and during the Youth Conference, the fact that he listens to the Kenyan rap group Sauti Sol drew lots of tweets from young Africans! On a more serious note, Carlos, through the UNECA, played a pivotal and leading role in developing Agenda 2063. At all stages of the development of this great document which captures the aspiration of Africans for the next 100 years, Carlos and his able lieutenants in the UNECA ensured that all the statistical, analytical support that was required to strengthen the document was available. This was a ground breaking event and agenda 2063 continues to stand as a key monument to the spirit of unity and pan Africanism that existed during those heady days in May 2013. 

CARLOS OF MANY COLORS
Carlos also had an artistic and fun loving side. He was a photographer, a lover of art, painting, books and music. His house was filled with art works from all over the world and his music collection had songs from South Africa, Capo Verde, Ivory Coast and Angola, among many others.
Carlos was not only a mentor but also a friend who supported my dream to continue formal education, to better understand pan Africanism whilst being a mother and a wife. He understood the many aspects of my changing circumstances and made room for that while not compromising on quality and timeliness of work. I learnt to love my work and in loving my work, I excelled. I grew and blossomed. Indeed the year 2013 is my overall best year and this was so because I met Dr. Carlos Lopes and of course, became a Carlos Angel.
I have no qualms that Carlos’ exit from the UNECA will be just another step in the illustrious career that he had woven even before I met him and which I will continue to follow and celebrate. Each stage of your life has not been easy, but you have claimed the victory, you have told no lies and have hidden nothing from the masses.
It will be apt therefore to end with a quote from Cabral taken from a speech he delivered at the 3rd Conference of the African People held in Cairo where he stated that “We are for African unity, on a regional or continental scale, inasfar as it is necessary for the progress of the African peoples, and in order to guarantee their security and the continuity of this progress”
I wish you and Mrs. Mara well in your future endeavors. Looking forward to meeting with you soon.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

A NOTE ON THE AMERICAN ELECTIONS PART 2




My heart is broken, irreparably. It seems as if a long thin sword with serrated edges and dipped in vinegar and hot chilli pepper has sliced through my heart and with every pulse, I feel lost and at sea, oh so lost. My heart hurts. As if I have been jilted by my groom at the altar, left ajar with no sense of direction and no consolation. The dull but steady pain stays with me wherever I go, I cannot shake it off, whatever I do. It seems I have, what the Americans call, ‘the Blues’. 

Ok, enough of the dramatics. I guess the point has been made that my predictions for the recent American elections did not materialise. Who would have thought? The shock still ripples through the world and everyone, including me, strike that, especially me, is reacting differently. I had initially written a victory post to celebrate Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States (FPOTUS) and what that meant to me as a female African. Now that my prediction did not materialise, it seems right to check out the other side. What does a president who is not Hillary mean to me as a black female living in Africa? Every one is making projections, I have gladly jumped unto the Predictions Galore Wagon!!  Here we go!

Some of my friends are trying to convince me that there might be a silver lining afterall, with the new incoming president who shares some of hardline views on God, abortion, gay marriages, etc. I am not convinced. I foresee dread and desolation, trepidation and terror and a general dismantling of the existing institutions of diplomacy that has kept this world from another world war.
1.     
  Goodbye to AGOA and all fair trade policies with the US  
This was a candidate who had repeated called Africans and Blacks unsavoury names and profiled us in unfavourable terms. I do not expect that his foreign policy will focus much on Africa except in terms of the usual looting mentality. The African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) has its negatives but it has also supported Africa to take advantage of trade with the united states in various forms and this has helped build local industries. With his insistence on making America become insular and inward looking, I do not forsee a continuation of AGOA in any shape or form. Infact, expand this grave prediction to other American incentives that support the building of African institutions such as the MIllenium Challenge Account (MCA), Obama’s Young Africans Leaders Initiative and all other like minded state funded programmes are on their way to being scrapped. What should we expect rather? Sale of our mineral rights, sale of real estate. I actually would not be surprised if he makes a bid to buy some African Countries.
2.     
  Goodbye to presidential visits to the African continent
All us presidents have, one time or another during their presidential terms, visited a few countries in Africa as part of their foreign policy. I do not forsee this happening. Isn’t this the president who has said that he will be too busy in the White House to travel? And even if it does, that particular African presidential host should expect to be insulted and ridiculed in his own country or soon afterwards. Infact, I warn whichever country that seeks to invite this particular US president to visit. Beware of the consequences.
3.     
  Goodbye to any form of aid, trade or bilateral support to local charities
This president has already said clearly that he will stop funding for the American charity Planned Parenthood. Also, even with his buckets of money has not put one cent into any form of charity or support and has a track record of tax avoidance and misrepresenting his financials.
4.     
  Goodbye to my US visa
Immigration has been one of the cardinal points of his campaign. The promise to build a wall and sack all Muslims and Mexicans. Plus other unsavoury comments about immigrants, most of who work in his casinos and hotels. Smh. So for those of us whose US visas have expired, don’t expect it to be that easy to get a renewal and for those who are now going for a US visa, my advice is for you to hurry up and get it before January 20th, because your chances will just get slimmer and slimmer. But I wonder what will happen after he has repatriated all the undocumented immigrants. Who will do all that work? The scrubbing, tomato picking, potato peeling, the cleaning and the washing? How will American travel companies survive if we are all refused Visas?Well, we wait to see this changing socio political landscape. The good thing however is, that all your long lost friends and family members who travelled to the us and did not bother to check up on us here will now be coming home, no menace intended. And we will be waiting to serve them their right levy for all the missed funerals, births and weddings.
5.     
  Goodbye to gender equality and womens empowerment
The issue of gender equality has been set back for about 100 or more years. All the inches of ground, painfully gained and held on to by women over the past 144 years since the times of Susan B Anthony are at a great risk of being trampled upon. I predict that there will be a great depression in the feminist arena. I also predict a strong underground movement. I am sure all the women, if there will be any, in his cabinet will be his version of women. Blond, model and brainless. This is a man who when confronted with the fact that he harassed certain women replied that they were not beautiful enough to warrant his harassment! SMH. A person who has gone through three marriages and openly brags about his ill treatment of women. I shall continuously pray for the women who have to work closely with him Thankfully I won’t, because, me, beautiful me, still not fit his perception of beauty, thank God!

So overall, it’s a rather bleak picture. I see the next eight, yes, eight years, as a serious retrogression on all the progress we have made as a civilised people learning to live together with each other’s differences. God help us all. 

Author’s note: Part 1 of this blog was written on the eve of the American election. I look forward to publishing Part 1 on 8th November 2020 when Hillary becomes President. Insha Allah

Monday, May 23, 2016

What does African Union day mean to you?


In May 2013, I was among the privileged few who witnessed the Africa @ 50 celebrations in Addis Ababa. I am forever grateful to being given this opportunity to be physically part of this historic occasion and most lucky to have done that as technical assistant to Dr. Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of UNECA. 

One of the key deliverables that came out of the AU Summit that year was support for Agenda 2063, a forward looking strategy document aimed at transforming Africa into ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena’. Agenda 2063 brings together all the many documents that the African Union has subscribed to but most importantly, Agenda 2063 comes with seven key aspirations  that seek to capture the Africa we want in the next 50 years. 

In between the whirlwind of organising events, meeting  Heads of States, finalising speeches, attending conferences, writing press statements and the many other last minute issues that come up on such a high level event,  I never forgot the significance of the occasion. I never, not for a moment, forgot that it was the sweat, blood and tears of my recent ancestors that made it possible for me to walk through the majestic halls of the African Union building. I never, for a minute forgot the blood, dignity and identity that my forefathers and foremothers sacrificed to ensure that their dream for ‘the total liberation of Africa’ was achieved. I felt the weight of history lying heavily on my shoulders. If our past leaders were been able to achieve so much in an era of typewriters and fax machines,  then we have no excuse not to do much much more for generations yet unborn. 

As we celebrate another African Union day this year, permit me to share with you the significance of the AU day to me in my multiple realities. In the same format as the response of an African President was when he was asked whether he had ever taken a bribe. 

As a human being:
As a human being living in Africa, I am more prone to die through preventable diseases such as cholera and malaria; it is more probable that I will experience wars and conflicts; I am more likely to live under one dollar a day and for either myself or my children to suffer from malnutrition. I have less access to education, healthcare facilities are far from me or are inadequate and I have a high likelihood of being employed in the informal sector or not employed at all. I will die earlier than my European and American friends and my cause of death is 33per cent more likely to be maternally related. 

Quite a sad picture, isn’t it? And I could go on and on. But there is hope. On a positive side, the UNDP’s annual Human Development Report (HDR 2013) shows that all African countries have positively improved in all the categories since 2000 with the largest improvement recorded in health. Africa is doing something to improve my quality of life. 

Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063 states that ‘We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent’.  

In this regard therefore, I have hope that as a human being living in Africa, poverty will be over in my generation.

As a woman:  it is an undisputed fact that women are a critical cornerstone of Africa’s economic development. Statistics show that women provide about 70 per cent of agricultural labour and produce about 90 per cent of all of Africa’s food. Investing in women can yield a significant boost in economic growth, otherwise known as “the gender dividend.”

Despite these positive statistics, a woman in Africa is more likely to be illiterate or less educated than her brothers, most likely to be married off at an early age, have less access to agricultural extension support and does not own the land she cultivates. Unless this vicious cycle of the underlying causes of poverty is broken with education as an enabler, African women will continue to be relegated to the dark prehistoric ages of witchcraft and sorcery.

Several of the Agenda 2063 aspirations speak to the role of women in achieving the objectives of the agenda. For example, aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063 speaks to ‘An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children’. Also, Aspiration 3 states it in a different way, ‘Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law’.

In a previous blog post, I classified three E’s needed for women’s growth and development as Education, Economic stability and Empowerment. These are still relevant today.

As a mother:  the numbers of women who still die from preventable pregnancy related causes in Africa are staggering. Whilst in developing countries, it is rare to know of women who have died as a result pregnancy, in Africa this is the norm.

Do you know that every day in 2015, about 830 women died due to complications of pregnancy and child birth?  And that of the 830 daily maternal deaths, 550 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and 180 in Southern Asia, compared to 5 in developed countries. The risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a maternal-related cause during her lifetime is about 33 times higher compared to a woman living in a developed country.

As a mother, the AU day is significant not only to push forward a focus on tackling maternal mortality but on the future of my children, my nieces and nephews.

Did you know that Africa is the only continent where the youth population will significantly expand and that between 2010 & 2100 the African youth population will almost triple. This means that by 2100 almost half of all the world’s youth, including my children, will be African.

Did you also know that almost one third of sub-Saharan African youth lack basic skills and that Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest secondary & tertiary school enrolment  and whatever skill set that they have  do not meet the needs of the 21st century labour market ‘Jobless’ growth.

What does this foretell for the future of Africa’s children (including my children) and the educational systems they are being trained in?

Aspiration 6 focuses on ‘all citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man is left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors.

As an African: The rhetoric of a ‘rising Africa’ is all around us. The statistics show that Africa is indeed on the path to economic prosperity. This is great news. Overall, Africa’s economic performance is strong, we are more resilient to shocks and there are key ongoing economic policy changes. In addition to this, we can also applaud the handling of the Ebola virus crisis.

However the threat of terrorism and religious extremism continue to plague the continent. One case is point is the Chibok girls. I am saddened whenever the plight of those young women come to mind. My prayers continue to be with them wherever they are and with their families. Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda continue to brainwash our youth into committing atrocious acts of terrorism.

Yes, democracy is the norm in many African countries but it seems as if our definition of democracy is skewed in favour of life presidents and oppressive regimes.

Aspiration 4 which focuses on peace and security states that ‘Mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. As a first step, dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution will be actively promoted in such a way that by 2020 all guns will be silent. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education’.

There certainly is progress but sometimes, the challenges outweigh the progress. But we must press on, nevertheless. No one will develop our continent for us but ourselves. The reverse is not the case, sadly.

In conclusion

In effect, the celebration of the African union day should not be a mere rhetoric or an excuse for Africans to have a good time. It is to remind us that there is work to be done. It is to spur us to work harder, shout louder, think further and make change happen. If not for us, for our children. I want to make change happen, so that in the year 2063, when my granddaughter is walking through the halls of the African Union Building, she will be proud of not only her grandmother, but all the Africans in this generation who consciously worked for the greater good of all.

The target is clear, the milestones defined, the signs cannot be missed. Agenda 2063 sets the strategic and unifying framework for a socio economic revolution within our generation. This is not just a dream. It is our reality and that reality must change for the (much) better.  

I am Teiko Sabah and I am African. I am the African Union.

Happy African Union Day!!!
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About the author:
Teiko Sabah is the 2013 Mo Ibrahim African Leaders Fellow with the UNECA. She is interested in Africa and pan Africanism. She writes a monthly blog on pan Africanism on https://teikosabah.blogspot.com

 NOTE: African Union Day is celebrated annually on 24th May to commemorate the establishment of the OAU.