Monday, January 1, 2018

Oppong Weah- my inspiration for Africa!

I was naturally a pessimist. Full blown and unapologetic. The glass was always half empty for me. The-sky-is -falling, ‘what good can come out of Bethlehem’ sort of person. Why not? Living in Africa in itself a big risk- the 6 killer diseases range freely here, armed robbers and 419ners, civil war , drought, famine, you name it. Every day was a blessing. Seriously.

 It also didn’t help that my training made me so pessimistic. NGOs always base their projects on the ubiquitous, pervasive and ever present (3 words meaning the same thing) ‘problem statement’. This very important part of a project proposal is designed to state in very graphic and detailed manner what is wrong with any chosen project, making the case for donors to therefore see the need to put in their money to solve this problem.  In a competitive fundraising world, the more detailed, graphic and gross your problem statement, the higher the probability that you will get funding for two, three or five years. During the project period, 50% of your time is spent on writing reports, lessons learnt and attending conferences where you learnt new methods to better identify, state and clarify the problem. This puts you in a better position at end of project to restate the emerging problems and trends for which you require another two, three or five years of funding to address. And the cycle continued

So it came as a surprise to me when my mentor and friend Carlos Lopes saw, and continue to see hope, in the Africa Rising agenda.

‘Really?’ I said, ‘is Africa really rising? From what and to where?’ and how long will it last?

Carlos is the unapologetic optimist about Africa. In Africa, he saw only positive prospects even through the times of the Libyan uprising which saw the death of Muammar Gaddafi…and the loud silence of the African union (they were more interested in planning AU@50, in my opinion), pirates in the Somalian waters, almost civil way in Cote d’Ivoire and even Ebola in Guinean, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Carlos had unrelenting hope in Africa’s youth, promising economic growth, social uprising, technological progress and the resilience of Africa’s women. For Carlos, there was no ‘problem statement’, only ‘the promise of the future’.

Eventually, some of that optimism rubbed off on me. But it took me some time to unlearn the tricks of my trade, which I had perfected over 15 years of writing proposals and to which I had a full tool box of… (Ahem) tools such as problem tree, solution tree, the 5 ‘W’s, fish bone or Ishikawa, log frame, outcome mapping, PEA, PEST, STEP, PESTLE, PRA, RBA etc. I have re-leant that  ‘Africa Rising is not a rhetoric. It actually is happening.

So it was not a surprise that the runoff for the Liberian Election was being delayed by a court case. George Oppong Weah and the current VP in a legal stand-off. Of course, incumbency will always work to the advantage of the incumbent. However I still believe in the mantra of ‘power to the people’. Kudos to the people and the institutions of Liberia who have made it possible for an illiterate footballer to rise from the slums to become President.

I am even more intrigued by Oppong Weah himself and his tenacity in all this. So the analysis twelve years ago, when he stood for elections for the first time, was that even with his millions, he did not have a high school certificate, let alone university degree. We heard the conspiracy stories which got him to lose the run off, déjà vu, in favour of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. However, in the twelve years when he was in opposition, he did not just stand on the side-lines of history waiting his turn to be president; he did one thing that I highly commend. He ‘sharpened the saw’.

Stephen Covey, in his widely acclaimed book- the 7 habits of highly effective people, states the seventh habit as ‘sharpening the saw’. This habit is about learning, relearning and feeding back the learning into any skill or trade you have. This is calls ‘learn, commit, do’.  Covey postulates, and rightfully so, that it is not enough to move from dependence to independence (the first three habits) to interdependence (the next three habits)  but also to continuously improve yourself in both personal and professional spheres of influence… in other words, to ‘sharpen the saw’. Anyone who cooks knows that even the sharpest knife will become blunt with constant use and that once in a while, it is important to sharpen your knives to be able to continue to get the most out of it. 

I was privileged to do the entire 7 habits course in one of my previous roles. This training supports leaders to understand and to use practical methods to ensure they continue to be highly effective. One of my course mates did not agree with the underlying philosophy behind Stephen Covey’s work. His philosophy that a person, by his own skills, can become highly effective by himself, this friend believed that the systems and structures, i.e. the environment in which a person lived in, had a lot to contribute to a person’s success in a way that made the 7 habits deeply flawed. I agree with him on that but also note that the extent to which a person can be successful involves both the environment, and how a person understands her surrounding environment enough to utilise the 7 habits to her advantage. But I digress…back to the new President. 

During the twelve years Oppong Weah was in opposition, he sharpened his saw. We are told that he went to school, became a senator, run as vice president, etc. in some he was successful, in others he was not, but in all, he learnt lessons and used them to move on the upward spiral of learn, commit, do with every experience giving him a deeper understanding of these habits. In all truth, I think 12 years of sharpening the saw will make Oppong Weah a better president. Sometimes, we have to be grateful for the time spent in the wilderness of life.

Oppong Weah is an important jigsaw in the African Union’s vision of: “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena.” Oppong Weah is my inspiration for 2018. Africa can indeed become prosperous by us and for the benefit of our citizens.

For a self-confessed pessimist now turned Weah-timist (and cautiously optimist), I am blown away by the trend of change on the continent. One victory a year. In 2017, it was Nana Addo Akuffo Addo becoming President of Ghana after 8 years in opposition, in 2018, the story of democratic change is in Liberia. I have hope for Cameroun, Togo, Rwanda and almighty Uganda. The winds of change are blowing, bringing with it hope, positive change, stability and prosperity for all African citizens.

On a wonderful aside, I recently read a book about the meaning of Chinese names and how they are linked to the epoch in which persons were born or to the hopes that their parents had for them, very much in line with African names. One name that resonated with me was Zhen Hua meaning Vibrate the Universe. I look forward to Mr. Oppong Weah vibrating the universe, beyond his boundaries!

Happy New Year, Mr. President! And to you, I give the words of Cabral ‘…tell no lies claim no easy victories, …’.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

16 days is here again

Yes it is and now over!  My question to myself when I first heard of this 16 days, why do we need a whole 16 days to celebrate one event?’ all the other events are just one day abi? But I have come to appreciate the importance of this day. 

16 days of activism against Gender based violence is the period between 25th November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women)  to 10th December (Human Rights Day) each year. This period is used to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls across the world.

Facebook recently reminded me of a memory that took place a few years ago. I was privileged to meet with Kofi Annan on one of his private visits to Addis Ababa during my time as a Mo Ibrahim fellow. The interesting part was that I met with him alone in his hotel room. We had an interesting discussion about life and he gave me seriously great advice (some of which I have forgotten… I was too awestruck!). 

This memory is of interest to me because of the on-going Hollywood scandal of powerful men using their power to abuse and rape young women who come to them in lower capacities. I met with a powerful man and he treated me with respect. There was not a moment when I felt abused or objectified.  I left that meeting better than I entered and the memory of the meeting will last a lifetime. Simply priceless.

The continuous mistreatment of colleagues and friends just because they have XX chromosomes, must stop. It is good to know that more women are willing and bold enough to look beyond the stigma and speak out. The hashtag ‘me too’ has been trending for some time now and is, once again, bringing how we treat our women to the table for discussion. A subject that has been taboo for so many years, is being exposed in the most shocking of ways. 

Once again this year, we celebrate 16 days of activism against gender based violence. The statistics are shattering…one out of three? Wow. And we sit idle? Should we accept this? Should any society accept this? There is work to be done and it has to start with you and me and with our sons and our daughters. 

This year, I was privileged to join an event that celebrated the 16 days in a unique way- advocating for the dignity and rights of alleged witches. The advocacy directed at the traditional inherently patriarchal system that perpetrate this out-dated custom and the gatekeepers of the above- chiefs, shrine leaders and local opinion leaders. Not surprisingly, our best advocate was also from the customary system…a traditional chief who is working alongside these alleged witches to ensure their reintegration into their local communities as well as a wider level change of custom as it affects women simply because they are women. 

On that note let me take you to Mozambique on July 11, 2003, the African Union adopted the  Maputo Protocol and this entered into force two years later in 2005. This ground breaking protocol seeks to bring women’s rights issues back on the agenda and specify what African governments will commit. This document has had its fair share of challenges and backlash but it has stood its ground. The most important section to me today is Article 5 which speaks as about the ‘elimination of harmful practices’. This clause (d) of this article is an omnibus clause that enjoins state parties to ‘protect women who are at risk of being subjected to harmful practise or all other forms of violence, abuse and intolerance’. This is in line with Ghana’s Criminal and Other Offences Act which criminalises all harmful offences against women…including trail by ordeal.

I do not think that it is coincidence this years the 16 days period is the same time all these accusations of sexual harassment is coming out…some of them as old as I am. But one thing I am clear, there will come a time, and surely sooner than we expected, when vulnerable women will be protected and not ostracised from their communities because someone had a bad  dream about them; and widows are not beaten to death by sticks and stones due to accusation of witchcraft.

Happy 16!!

Share with me how you spent your 16 days by leaving a comment in this blog or at

Thursday, June 8, 2017


The debate between gender equity and gender equality has been raging since the times of our foremothers. We know for a fact that due to the historical and social disadvantages that women have suffered for so long, many a times, there is the real need to support women to come up to a level where they are able undertake, as per Caroline Moser, their reproductive, productive and community management roles in a manner that adds to society and to their worth as individuals. 

My favorite African heroines, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Madam Dlamini Zuma have proved that women’s contribution make a difference in our lives.

Whilst gender equity has been defined as equal treatment simpliciter, equality on the other hand, leans towards the notice of fairness and justice. The analogy is one of two children, one who is healthy and the other is malnourished. The malnourished child deserves to get extra nutritious food and care whilst the healthy child must be maintained to ensure she continues to be healthy. That is equality.
Similarly, gender equality and gender equity has clear distinction. Treating women on par with males when it comes to property rights, when it comes to job and promotion, when it comes to economic and social independence is gender equity.

While providing women with affirmative actions in a patriarchal society, providing them leave accompanied with salary when they are pregnant, providing with prenatal to neonatal to postnatal care, providing better health care as they are more prone to calcium deficiency in post menopause phase, etc. constitute gender equality.

I would like to celebrate some of the greatest inventions that have supported the gender equality paradigm to make women more able to compete in the public sphere.
In no particular order, here they are;

The renowned economist and author, Ha Joon Chang, is of the opinion that the computer is not the greatest invention of the 20th Century. He postulates, and I wholeheartedly support his hypothesis, that this award should be given to …….drumroll…….the washing machine. This invention relieved women of the burdensome but necessary, time consuming but important chore of repetitiously washing clothes, wringing them, drying and ironing.
An informal study of almost 600 women done in the UK reveal that women now spend only about 18 hours a week on housework as compared to 44 hours a week in the 1960s. This reduction can be attributed to the introduction of technology such as the dishwasher!!
By freeing the woman of this burden, she is able to put her mind and body to use of other equally important areas such as studying to pass an exam, learning a trade or applying for a job.
More and more in Africa, the washing machine is becoming a staple in most homes, (provided you have stable electricity and can pay the exorbitant electricity bills). It is a fact that not all African cloths can be washed in the washing machine without some form of shrinkage, but the utility that that the washing machine provides goes a long way to reduce the drudgery of washing.   

I remember learning how to grind pepper with two stones. One stone is large, smooth and flat and the second small stone is shaped in the form of a small cylinder the size of milk tin. Through a complicated process that most African women are aware of, pepper, tomatoes and all other vegetables are ground into a smooth paste for cooking. The downside of using your bare hands to grind, especially pepper was that for the rest of the day, the residual pepper burns your fingers. A most uncomfortable sensation! 
The Kitchen blender solves this problem in an efficient way.  Food can be chopped, ground, mixed, crushed, squeezed and sliced effectively without substantial damage to any body part. This invention also ensured that food is cooked timeously, hygienically and is aesthetically pleasing. The time that is saved from these arduous tasks can be applied to other equally important tasks such as reading a book or learning a trade or searching for a job. I look forward to when the fufu pounding machine and the palm oil dehusker will also become a staple in Ghanaian kitchens. Other inventions in the same category are rice cookers, the fridge and the microwave.

Did you know the disposable diaper was invented by a woman? All hail Valerie Hunter Gordon, who invented the disposable diaper in the 1940s. This seemingly innocuous invention revolutionalised child care forever and saved mothers from a lifetime of soaking, disinfecting and then washing every single diaper used by a child. We love our children to bits, but not the tasks that accompany such a tiny bundle of joy! Kudos to Mama Val who died in 2016 at the ripe age of 94! Other inventions in this category include the pacifier, the baby rocker, the sanitary towel, and all other disposables such as spoons, plates, napkins and cups.

This cooking appliance has saved thousands of lives, especially African lives. The statistics are startling. WHO  estimates that 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass and that over 4 million people (mostly women) die prematurely from illnesses attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels. Further, the report states that more than 50 % of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by particulate matter or soot inhaled as a result of household air pollution.
Clean fuels such as gas therefore provide a welcome alternative to extend the lives of women and children. The drudgery of spending time to light firewood and tend the fire to an appreciable heat level is also drastically reduced as just a spark can ignite the gas cooker (be careful!!). Other inventions in this category as the clean cook stoves, electric stoves and microwaves.

The Caesarean section has been part of human culture for ages however, before modern times this relatively simple procedure almost always resulted in the death of the mother. The perfection of the C-Section technique by modern physicians has ensured that more mothers survive childbirth and continue to lead successful lives as mothers, caregivers and active citizens. The pain and apprehension of a pregnant woman who is scheduled to undergo a C-section has been greatly reduced by the introduction of modern medicine, hygienic environment, antiseptics and anesthesia. It is now normal for women to elect to have her babies by C-section and to have as many as four babies by this procedure. Other upgrades and inventions in this category are ultra sound scans, improvement in hygienic surgery methods, anesthesia and various pain medications to support women through pregnancy and child birth.

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women.  This protocol was adopted in 2003 and entered into force in 2005 after it had been signed and ratified by the required 15 member nations. It seeks to provide a holistic protection of the rights of women to enjoy fully a social, economic and political life devoid of fear and intimidation. More than 12 years the entry into force of this protocol, we still see great lapses in fully exploiting the potential of the African woman.
The dream of equality and equity is slowing shaping up. We have examples of female African Presidents and Parliamentarians to tell us this is possible. But the pyramid is still bottom heavy. The struggle must surely continue.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

#Citizens-not-subjects (Part 1)

Ok, so earlier this year (and we are just now entering the month of March), a newly inaugurated President’s speech was shot down because a few of the phrases seem to have been taken from another speech without the right academic recognition (aka plagiarism). One good thing that came out of this bruhaha is the now popular phrase #citizens-not-subjects. Without holding brief for this newly inaugurated President (by the way, congratulations, Mr. New President!), as I know he has the arduous task of re-engineering a broken economy, I would like to discuss the concept of citizenship within the context of the new Africa, Agenda 2063. This is more significant to me because Ghana, the first African country south of the Sahara to gain independence will be celebrating this milestone soon. Indeed, many other African countries will be celebrating their sixtieth independence anniversary in the next few years.

JJ Rousseau postulates that the social contract is the third and highest form of society. In fact, this social contract transports man from a state of nature where life is, as described by Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The three stages described by Rousseau, are (a) the state of nature, where man is free and independent, (b) society, in which man is oppressed and dependent on others, and (c) the state under the Social Contract, in which, ironically, man becomes free through obligation; he is only independent through dependence on law.

Inherent in a society under social contract is the active role of man in ensuring that the State is transparent, responsive and accountable. Democracy becomes the tool that measures the socio-politico intercourse between man and the State. Citizen’s vigilance and their continuous fight for their rights and freedoms keep the State engaged whilst the State is also desirous to keep citizens tame. This conflict continues to this day. To balance this equation, citizens needs to continuously play an active role in ensuring that hard earned tax payers monies are used to provide social services that go to the core of the social contract. 

As Africa moves into sixty years of celebrating independence, I would like to share a few examples of persons who decided to take their citizenship very seriously and are remembered for this.

Nii Kwabena Bonnie III (Kwamla Theodore Taylor)

Nii Kwabena Bonnie III   (aka Boycotthene) was a Gold Coast (Ghanaian) radical nationalist and traditional ruler who in 1948 organised the single most successful massive boycott of all time in Ghana’s political history. This boycott ultimately led to Ghana’s independence nine years later in 1957.

The significance of Nii Bonnie’s action is the process of inclusiveness and the advocacy he employed to make independence a reality. Nii Bonnie travelled the entire country explaining the reason for the proposed boycott. He further engaged the colonial government to reduce the cost of European goods on the market.  The state’s lack of response led to two key events in Ghana’s history. The 28th February road incident and the Accra riots. For going beyond what was required of him as an individual, I elevate Nii Kwabena Bonnie to the status Citizen Extraordinaire. 

Dedan Kimathi

Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, as he called himself, is the ultimate independent struggle nonconformist. A leading figure in the Mau Mau revolution, he was viewed with disdain by his fellow Kikuyu, Jomo Kenyatta. Kimathi is known for taking a more militant approach to the deprivation of Kikuyu lands by British colonialists in the 1950s. Kimathi rallied his tribesmen to the cause of independence and freedom and was a thorn in the flesh of the British colonialists. It is believed that the MauMau movement was a key contributor to the hastening of independence for Kenya.

Amilcar Cabral

Amilcar Cabral was an agronomist and freedom fighter in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. Cabral led the PAIGC's guerrilla movement against the Portuguese government, which evolved into one of the most successful wars of independence in modern African history. The goal of the conflict was to attain independence for both Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Over the course of the conflict, as the movement captured territory from the Portuguese, Cabral became the de facto leader of a large portion of what became Guinea-Bissau. Cabral had a unique system of guerilla warfare in which his fighters, also tilled the fields and operated a barter system where goods were sold at a lower price than European goods and a mobile hospital that took care of soldiers and the elderly in the Cape Verdian and Guinea countryside. Interestingly, the assassination of Cabral did not demoralize the PIAGC as the Portuguese had expected. Cabral’s death rather energized the revolutionary movement and once again, hastened the path to independence of both Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau.
The call for Africans to be citizens and not subjects is therefore inherent and has been played out in many instances in Africa’s call for independence. 

The future of citizenship

As we move into the future of Africa, we must embrace a new Social Contract. In the words of Carlos Lopes, ‘just as Rousseau’s Social Contract did, we need to create a new Social Contract that is based on the original principles but goes beyond them. It needs to address current challenges, such as creating a redistributive system that is “solidaristic” and helps to enhance both intra-generational and inter-generational equity as well as create new institutions that can lift people out of poverty’[1].

One of my favourite quotes is from the American Anthropologist Margaret Mead. She states that ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has’. This quote is deeply significant as Africa moves to achieving Agenda 2063. Everyone matters, and anyone who is willing to, can become a #citizen-not-a-subject. We all have what it takes. Accountability to the masses should be deeply ingrained in the state machinery, it is our right, not a request.

Agenda 2063 speaks to the indomitable spirit of the African as a person whose rights will not be trampled upon easily. Aspiration 2 speaks to the ideals of pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s renaissance. 

As we celebrate the sixth decade of Africa’s independence, I repeat the words of President Nana Akufo Addo/Woodrow Wilson/George W. Bush/Bill Clinton
"I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens building your communities and our nation. Let us work until the work is done,"