Why such a grandiose send off for Eric Chinje?
Eric was leaving and the fact that our community does too many of these events where they celebrate people only when they are dead. Every time someone dies, people gather and talk so much about how he was great and all of that. We thought we have to try and turn this thing upside down and recognize people while they are still alive and recognize the work they have done. Eric has done really good work and we wanted to recognize him and thank him for the work.
2) What are some of Eric Chinje’s major achievements warranting such a banquet?
Herbert Boh:We walked into Television house(Cameroon) a group of journalists many of whom had been trained by him; all of whom had been coached and mentored by him in the opening days of TV. Because he was the star before stardom started, he was the inspiration for many people. I think one of the things he did was give liberty for people to do stuff, create stuff. He sat in the newsroom and told people I need for you to do something for you to start a program.
I remember him talking the late Ben Berka Jovens into starting Sports Parade. I remember him talking me into starting Sports Vision; Jean Lambert Nang into starting FouFouFoot. Julius Wamey into starting “The World This Week” The team that Akwanga Joe led on “Minute by Minute” to start off that program. I remember him working into TamTam weekend and getting it off. Telepodium and bringing Kemayou into the house and getting him to work.
The amazing thing in those days was that even though I worked on TV and on Sports, I went out and got the first car that Telepodium had. I negotiated the car on sponsorship. It was huge cross collaboration the bulk of which happened thanks to Eric.
And I think that his authority at that time was recognized to the point where the president spoke to him and not to the director of TV. Pulled him into those fireside chats, gave him interviews and we have done a longer interview with him where he talks about the behind the scenes – things that happened before the interview with the president, after the interview with the president and what other people thought of the presidency and about what others thought he should not ask by way of questions. That was the level of influence I thought he had.
But we were in a country where I believe the person who was the natural leader, had emerged as the national leader of TV was not going to become its boss. They wanted somebody else who had read french; somebody else who was acquainted with the political system, who was going to take rent to become the General Manager and I think that is how he was passed off for someone else. That is TV.
Ever since he left Television to the World bank, he has done work that is completely amazing. Eric has been very vocal about the fact that there are not enough Africans at the bank and his leadership position at the Africa society pushed a lot of that to happen.
He is extremely vocal about the fact that the shift to do more business with governments was the wrong approach for the bank to take. That developing the private sector in Africa was an important part. He started the African roundtable which brought African businesses into the World Bank business. He challenged the World Bank to deal with African businesses and to give businesses to African companies. He brought African artists, African musicians into the picture in the sense of businesses. His latest project now African Media Initiative is basically saying so far journalists in Africa unable to find funding have resorted to creating newspapers themselves when they are supposed to be the employees of people who own newspapers and because they are doing that you get newspapers that are not enterprisers. He is working on how to get those newspapers to become enterprisers. His latest position at the bank was working with World Bank Institute on pushing that initiative.
Now when he goes out to work on governance that was the other thing he brought at the bank. He said look we make all this noise about what we are going to do with development money including loans that we give to countries but we do not even care about the billions that the country wastes when they roll up their budgets.
Anybody who has seen Cameroon’s budget this year, they would remember that less than 1% of the budget is for agriculture but agriculture is 70% of employment, 40% of GDP. How do you do that? Everybody who has seen the budget knows that a certain Sec General at the Presidency of the Republic spends 2.9 million fcfa a day in fuel. A day? What do you do with it? Drink it? If an ordinary civil servant can go to work driving their own car, buying their own fuel to go and work, why is it that a privileged minister of government who is already well paid, well lodged needs the subsidy from the taxpayer to fuel his car and go to work. Why? So you get all these things where its being taken from the poor and given to other people. The push that Eric was making about lets put the floodlights on what government is doing with its own money, is essentially key.
You get all this system where people come to the World Bank and ask for loans to fight malaria in Africa but the same governments are taking custom duty for nivaquine, mosquito nets. It is a total contradiction. They ask for money to fight HIV/AIDS but the same governments do not run a campaign against HIV/AIDS. Its a point where it is absolutely key for our governments and for those who watch our governments especially journalists to say look you have to put your money where your mouth is and do what is right and I think Eric has pushed that agenda very well. I can just wish him well where he is going and hope that he will get more success than he had at the bank which is already a lot.
What are some of the differences you have experienced while working as a journalist in Cameroon and now at the Bank?
Herbert Boh: I don’t work at the bank as a journalist. I work as a Communications Officer. And when we went to journalism school the thing they taught you was the Communication Officer is the enemy of the journalist because the Communications Officer’s job is to prevent the journalist from getting to news. It is two different jobs completely. They pay me so I can tell the press what the press wants to hear or what we want the press to know. We have messages and talking points. Journalists have to go beyond that because what I tell the press, there is something else the press needs to discover on their own. Very actively any journalist that stops at what I tell them has not done their job. And so I do not think it is the same job.
I don’t think I will ever give up journalism because I think that is more exciting, more demanding more accountable job and especially for Africa I think that it is the job that is totally indispensable. If we allow a big group of people to prevent journalists from getting to the news and to getting to the details behind those talking points that people are spinning out we really are just going to hear propaganda. And so to some extent it is not too much different from what oligarchies and dictatorial governments from Africa roll out prevent journalists from Africa from getting to the truth.
Herbert Boh is currently Senior Communications’ Officer at the World Bank and President of Cameroonian World Bank-IMF Staff Association (CAMWISA) and spoke to Lambert Mbom shortly before the close of the send-off party for Eric Chinje last December 11, 2011 at Hamptons Conference Center, Largo, Maryland, USA.