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A Synopsis of International Relief and Development’s Recruitment and Professional Networking Event. By Lambert Mbom.

With a staggering unemployment rate and the search for jobs (fulltime employment for many), Virginia-based International Relief and Development (IRD) decided to contribute to the recovery effort and relieve some distressing citizens. It organized a networking event, a job fair of some sorts on Tuesday January 11, 2011.

The conviviality and camaraderie evident in the exquisite Palomar Hotel Conference Center in Rosslyn, Virginia generated more than enough heat to beat the wintry snow gathering outside and even more sooth the unemployment stupor.

A reception desk staffed by four of IRD’s corps served as initial point of contact. Each guest received upon arrival a sign-in sheet for data collection; upon completion, one had the opportunity to present one’s resume and to receive literature on IRD’s mission and activities. This arrangement was simply classy and helped a lot to ease traffic in the Vivace Room.

Just at first contact, one could decipher the true hallmarks of IRD. Rooted in its DNA is the desire to help and to be of help. This was amply borne out by staff that showed they had imbibed IRD’s philosophy.

Looking rather perplexed, as I waddled through the crowd, a young woman walked up to me and inquired if I needed help. I was too shy to say so; she left me, not without describing to me where the different sectors of IRD were located in the hall.

Each guest received a “cheat sheet” at the entrance entitled “recruitment outlook.” It was a panoramic view of the job opportunities available at IRD. I quickly scanned through in search of what even remotely resembles my sphere of competence. True to the advert for this event, IRD ‘s eyes were on “business development professionals and seasoned chiefs of party, engineers, program and finance professionals with 10 years or more of experience.” There were opportunities in business development, infrastructure, security, health, community stabilization, democracy and governance and finance.

My face fell for my initial inspiration for this event was an opening in the communications department – communications associate to be specific, listed on IRD’s website. As I fidgeted with the list, my heart throbbed for some strange reasons and I could feel a cold rush of sweat down my spine. It was just devastating when I did not find anything on communication.

Not wanting to feel disappointed, I tried hard to convince myself that may be security could be a good alternative. This too did not fare well as the available positions had to do with security risks an area I have neither expertise nor experience. I was counting on the fact that security jobs are common among African immigrants in the US.

Then I said let me try healthcare, another popular employment source; after all, with the avalanche of experience working in a group home and as a residential counsellor could be relevant. This self-brainwashing or consolation was short-lived as I discovered the positions available were mainly senior level management in nature.

I turned next to Community stabilization and the sheer number of aspirants lined up to present themselves made it evident that mine was going to be a very long shot in deed.

Having learnt to always be upbeat, positive and make the best out of every situation, I decided I was going to write a story on the event. While I made up my mind on this self-assigned task, yet another lady approached me. She quickly asked my country of origin and I said Cameroon. She joyfully indicated she too is Cameroonian. Then she inquired to know what my interests are. Imagining she was also job-hunting, I paid scan attention to her, reluctantly telling her I am a freelance journalist. As would be imagined, I was too ashamed to let her know that in fact, I had no place in this event. The cynicism of a disgruntled job seeker was in display.

By some stroke of luck, I met the IRD’s Communications guru Jeffrey Grieco fondly called Jeff. I waited in line to introduce myself to him. He seemed to have been the most popular person everybody wanted to chat with or get his attention. I clinched a spot and asked him a few questions.

As to the raison d’etre of the event, Jeff quickly pointed out that such events were normal within the DC metro area and given too that IRD has new interests and new contracts, the event was necessary. IRD deployed its entire ‘etat-major’ with the different sector leaders cheerleading the event. He also indicated that the event provided an opportunity for IRD to fill its resume bank from where it shall pick out qualified candidates to staff various missions abroad and IRD’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

In answer to whether the event had lived up to expectations, it was a resounding yes. Even though intended for mid-level and senior level, many of whom had come in earlier on in the evening, Jeff noted that this was a home run far above expectations. More than 250 persons showed up, he revealed, majority of whom were below the mid-level, yet relevant to IRD’s mission.

In terms of IRD’s priorities, Jeff jocularly harped on building infrastructure, community stabilization programs around the world especially in conflict and post conflict countries like Yemen, Pakistan Iraq, Afghanistan etc he added it is also IRD’s business to provide healthcare; and one crucial area for IRD is working for democracy and good governance.

Jeff was quite confident that in spite of the Republican controlled house and the party’s agenda of fiscal responsibility bent on cutting spending, US international development effort and agenda would neither be thwarted nor affected.

The high point of this event came in when I met with IRD’s President and CEO Dr Arthur B Keys Jr. He is the brain behind IRD’s success story. He defined IRD’s mission as one intent on helping people honourably attain self-sufficiency. IRD accomplishes this through its multi-sectoral engagement of development. Essential to the distinctness of IRD’s work, he opined, is the fact that IRD seeks to go to where everybody else has not been or would rather not go.

On the challenges besetting the organization, Dr Keys pointed to the fact that given the exponential growth of IRD within 12 years of its birth, maintaining this robust growth and being able to remain creative and on the cutting edge of international development was central to him.

To Dr Keys, this event is comparable to a funnel through which individuals whose skills and experience match the demands of IRD would be “drafted” and sent to the fields.

Stranded on the floor, looking somewhat dazed and in search of some “occupational distraction”, Dan Puls IRD’s Chief Advancement Officer quickly came to my rescue. Once again, in characteristic IRD style, he engaged me in a discussion. Noticing my passion for communication, he introduced me to IRD’s social media pilot program namely: voices.ird.org. His passion for Africa especially for Sudan was breathtaking as he recounted different events organized for Sudan. In the spirit of the evening, he generously offered to “hook me up” with a pal of his that had links with the African media outlet – AllAfrica.com

As the evening wound down, I got to meet Jim Lanning through Dan. Jim is a man of many worlds, in fact a polyvalent. He saved my evening. Hearing I am from Cameroon, he asked if I had met one of IRD’s cadres of Cameroonian descent, Elsie Tama. Nego, I retorted. He darted across the hall in a bid to connect us. Much to his dismay, Tama said she had already spoken to me. She turned out to be the same person I had snobbishly put away under the mistaken assumption that she too was prospecting for a job. I was lucky she gracefully agreed to an interview.

Having been there from the genesis of the IRD project, she spoke with ease on the mission of the IRD as a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to work for the poor and vulnerable. Again, she proudly noted that IRD would go where no other NGO would go. IRD would do whatever it takes to get to the most difficult of places to provide requisite services.

Elsie intimated that one of IRD’s greatest challenges was the lack of enough money to accomplish the great feats IRD would love to undertake.

It was quite heart-warming to learn of IRD’s presence in Cameroon among its worldwide locations. There, she was resettling refugees from Central African Republic and Elsie noted that plans were afoot to expand programs in Cameroon to include agriculture.

When pressed on the issue of good governance as a precondition for development, Elsie was quick to point out that IRD does not let governance issues get in its way or let political issues deter it from accomplishing its mission.

I transitioned then to getting feedback from some participants. For Ivoirian born Kader Cisse a freelance consultant in DC, it was quite a very positive event with great people, good discussions, good networking.

Cameroonian born Patrick Elat, a consultant within regulatory environment and finance, described the evening as wonderful and very interesting. He noted that IRD’s personnel were very available and ready to help. The event proffered him an avalanche of very useful pieces of information. He rated it as 4 on an ascending scale with 5 as excellent. This initial stage had been very successful and he hoped the efforts would bear fruits in follow up. He stressed that follow up was critical for him.

Luna Liu, Graduate Assistant, Executive Master of Public Management Program of the University of Maryland thought it was a good event. She however left quite discouraged albeit. She did not get the chance to talk to senior level management. She was forthright on the fact that IRD did not care about junior professionals like herself and found much to her dismay and discontent that there were few to no opportunities for international students.

I might not have gotten a job offer but in its essence this event expanded my network or circle of friends. One thing is certain – it was a golden opportunity to think outside my regular box and surely if something comes up, I can count on these folks. Thanks to IRD and kudos for the event. Its level of professionalism can only be described in the superlative and this is indicative of the calibre of work IRD accomplishes in the field.

IRD desribes itself as ” a non-profit humanitarian and development organization dedicated to improving the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. IRD specializes in conflict and post-conflict environments and works in more than 40 countries. With the help of local groups and donors, IRD builds sustainable, community-based programs that address relief, stabilization and development needs in the areas of health, agriculture, infrastructure, emergency response, and governance. For more information on IRD, visit http://www.ird.org.

Emerging from the Global Crisis: Growth in African Low Income Countries(LICs) – December 17th 2010 event at the Brookings: A Precis. By Lambert Mbom

From L to R: Ben Leo, Dr Suruma, Mwengi, Hugh BredenkampHow did the African low countries fare in the face of the recent financial meltdown was the theme of a recent event at the Brookings Institution. Organized by the Africa Growth Initiative of the Brookings, the framework for the event was a recent paper published by the IMF on the impact of the crisis on low-income countries(LICs) in Africa entitled: Emerging from the Global Crisis: Macroeconomic Challenges Facing Low-income Countries”.

A deductive methodology with a general picture of the situation in Africa preceded a presentation on one of these LICs’ handling of the crisis. Uganda was the case study. It is also worth noting that by way of style, the IMF paper was comparative in its analysis in terms of the past and projections into the future.

Hugh Bredenkamp, IMF’s Deputy Director in Strategy, Policy and Review department and head of the Low-Income Countries Strategy unit, was just the right person to discuss the highlights of the paper. The IMF specialist focused on three questions namely: Why did the dire predictions of the impact of the financial crisis on low-income countries not come home to roost? What predictions for the future from the lessons learnt? What common themes going forward emerge from this crisis?

The gist of Hugh’s presentation was the fact that Africa was able to weather this crisis better than three previous crises chiefly because of strong buffer policies. Unlike before, Africa also registered a comparative v-shaped recovery. During previous crises, the growth trajectory tended to remain extremely depressed if not negative for some years; With this meltdown, LICs have also followed the sort of V-shaped recovery trajectory.

The context of this paper was the sad reality that in the face of the economic downturn, the global focus was on its impact on advanced economies and to some extent emerging markets and very little on the implications for poorer countries. The familiar scenarios of cutting aid budgets, evidence of an already downturn in foreign direct investment and remittances already playing out, warranted the IMFs call for and on behalf of the low-income countries not to be left out.

The unexpected did not befall these countries and Hugh proffered five reasons why this crisis was different for low-income countries namely:
1)The high success of the global stimulus effort.
2) Donors heeded the call and did not cut aid budgets. Many of the multilateral scaled up their financing to shore up most of the deficits.
3) LICs were able to participate in the global stimulus effort or at least run countercyclical policies.
4) Unlike with previous crises, not only was the depth of this less severe but so too was the duration.
5) This success story is largely because these countries were in a very different macroeconomic situation going into the crisis than they were in the face of previous crises. This is a reflection of at least a decade and a half of strong policy efforts in low-income countries to put their economies on sound footing.

Hugh spent some time on what he called strong policy buffers. The indicators of these include fiscal deficits, public debt, inflation, reserves and current accounts. In the face of declining revenues during the crises, government spending increased as a share of GDP in 2009.This meant larger fiscal deficits. In contrast to the pattern in previous crises, LICs did not cut spending very much. Instead of cutting spending during a recession due to declining revenues, most of these LICs were able to take the right countercyclical measures.

For the future, given the effective defense the policy buffers provided the LICs in the face of the crisis, they should be effectively rebuilt to relatively strong positions. Chief indicators of this position would include, declining current accounts, recovering fiscal balances, public debt continuing in an upward trend in the short term but resuming downward path over the medium term. Unlike in advanced economies where fiscal consolidation requires austerity budgets, with the LICs increased spending is crucial and highly recommended.

Even though a homogenous pattern as a one size-fits-all is not an adequate recommendation, some common themes however emerge with respect to the future:
1) Countries need to strengthen their domestic fiscal revenue efforts. This they can achieve by fixing the design of their tax systems and in particular by fixing the tax administration. This will pay off in terms of government revenue markedly.
2) A cautious borrowing strategy to cover up the infrastructure gap and meet some other development needs is crucial. This must be accompanied by mobilizing domestic savings through reforms of domestic financial systems, which could include expansion of access to financial services to a broader population.
3) Reforms in the business sector especially with trade are important. Trade not just regionally between the LICs in Africa but also with the rest of the world holds a great promise for growth.

The second part of the discussion focused on a corroboration of the foregoing analysis. This onus fell on Dr Ezra Suruma, distinguished ministerial fellow at Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative. As a former minister of finance in Uganda, he fleshed out the macro analysis of the IMF.

Dr Suruma indicated that in the morning of the crisis, their initial reaction was to understand the precise meaning of the crises. While some imagined that the crisis would lead to a realignment of the world economic order, in view of the emerging power of China, Brazil, India to name but these, others viewed it as merely an indication of the impact of the financial crises in the West and its loose credit practices.
Of prime concern then was how the country’s banking sector was going to shore up the effects. The fear was that some capital funds would be transferred to help troubled countries weather the storm and this would affect the LICs.

Dr Suruma affirmed the general tenor of the IMF’s paper namely that the pursuit of good macroeconomic policies provided the requisite cushion effect for LICs to weather the crises.

According to this seasoned public official, the major implications of the crises were the depreciation of the Ugandan Shilling, decrease in Foreign Direct Investment and the depletion of foreign remittances. On the exports, flowers market suffered greatly.

Regional trade especially within the East African trade bloc helped a lot especially compensating for the declining European markets.

With respect to Hugh’s recommendations, Dr Suruma noted that these were no novelties. Uganda like many other countries has been struggling to increase its revenue and had moved from 5% in the 80s to 14%.

Being part of the East African community, there is a yearly attempt at harmonization of the tax codes and there are enormous challenges involved. Lastly, attempts are afoot to extend financial services to the rural areas.
Dr Suruma noted that even though LICs did not suffer as much as they could have in terms of real per capita income, one real challenge still remains namely that the number of people still suffering from poverty has increased and probably as a result of the crisis. He noted that according to the African Development Bank there was an increase of 50 million people living below $1.25 per day in 2009 and an additional 30 million people in 2010 because of the crisis. The poverty puzzle thus remains a great challenge.

Ben Leo of the Center for Global Development then synthesized the previous discussions. First, he delineated a larger scope situating within a larger historical perspective the African LICs response and coping mechanism with the crisis. Historically, the first decade of the new millennium stood out tall relative to the other post independent decades. This very strong performance is verified in three cardinal indicators namely: The GDP per Capita growth was up by about 2% during the 2000s; inflation was at an all time low below 7% as well as fiscal deficits.

Three factors facilitated this economic buoyancy of the 2000s namely: government reforms that greatly enabled institutional capacity, benign macroeconomic environment with the commodities sector showing a steady upward trend in spite of their volatility and lastly, the resolution of conflicts. In the previous decades, over half of the LICs were embroiled in conflicts of some sorts but in the 2000s, none of these had active conflicts.

In the third part of his discourse, Ben Leo fleshed out why the impact of the crisis was less severe on LICs. Firstly, many of these nations moved towards more concessionary external funding.

Then HIPC and multilateral debt relief initiative helped in creating space for the countries to be able to respond adequately.

Thirdly, the relatively low integration of these countries in global financial markets in spite of the presence of many foreign banks in sub-Saharan African countries helped reduce the ripple and spillover effects of the global financial crises.

Lastly, the resilience of the aid budgets was also crucial.

Ben focused the last part of his discourse on questioning some aspects of the paper. He inquired to know why the low-buffer low-income countries did not expand fiscal spending in a counter cyclical way. Yet another intriguing phenomenon reported by the IMF’s paper was the fact that most of the countries that took countercyclical fiscal policies financed 50% of these domestically. He sought to know how much of this was Central Bank financing? Lastly, why is the IMF projecting that those LIC with lower buffers preceding the crisis are going to build those buffers up faster than the other countries? How are these countries going to achieve this and what practical policy lessons can be learnt across all the countries from this?

As always an intensive interaction followed these presentations with
a question and answer session.

Some Africans in a post event chat.

From L to R: Rumana, Moyo, Asmah, Salela, Tien

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The Role of Africa’s Regional Organizations in Conflict Prevention and Resolution: A Resume by Lambert Mbom

From L to R: Kimenyi, Hoover and Dr Rugunda.

On Tuesday November 23 2010, Brookings institution hosted a conversation between Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda and US State Department’s John Hoover, Director, Office of Regional and Security Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs.

In his prefatory remarks, Mwangi Kimenyi director of Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) of the Brookings Institute set the tone for the discussion within the backdrop of the mission of the AGI, which seeks to address the issue of how to deal with the problem of economic growth in Africa. The AGI seeks to transform economies in Africa, create jobs and improve the quality of life.

He noted pathetically albeit that despite the fact that Africa’s resources bank is exceedingly rich, paradoxically, Africa is still very poor. One of the most important ingredients of wealth creation namely peace is sadly absent. It is only within an environment of peace that wealth creation is possible. This event sought to highlight continental initiatives to achieve peace and stability.

In his two-part presentation, Dr. Rugunda harped in the first instance on a description of the whys and wherefores of conflicts in Africa before proceeding to show how the African Union (AU) and other regional economic blocs have been instrumental in preventing and resolving conflicts in the continent.

There is no denying it that Africa has had the lion’s share of conflicts especially within the last fifty years. Economic, political and social factors account for why conflicts arise exacerbated by poverty, bad governance and weak states clearly epitomized in the case of Somalia.
Then the expert described the topography of conflicts in Africa. Dr Rugunda walked the audience down the historical trajectory of the types of conflicts that have bedeviled Africa.

First, there is the resistance against colonial occupation with the emergence of such groups as the Mao Mao of Kenya.
Then, Africa had actual struggles for independence prominent among which are the revolt of the Portuguese colonies such as Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and Zimbabwe.

Next, were the proxy wars common during the Cold War competition between the East and the West. For example, in Angola, there was the MPLA a pro government group supported by the Soviet Union and the Socialist Communist bloc while UNITA had the blessing of the West.

Additionally, wars for liberation – e.g. Uganda in 1981 fought for the liberation from the despotic Idi Amin and Milton Obote. This is the post independence era where some countries experienced turmoil in a bid to free themselves from the shackles and dictatorship of their own ilk.
Lastly, Inter-national conflicts with land disputes such as that between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

These have had enormous consequences: In terms of lives lost, in Sudan alone estimates run to 2 million dead; when extrapolated to the entire continent, the numbers are astonishing; then there are the injured, internally displaced with Africa alone accounting for at least 30% of the entire number and the disturbing sky rocketing number of refugees.

Economically, Oxfam estimates that 18 billion dollars per annum is what Africa loses because of conflicts. Dr Rugunda considers these figures conservative and proposed Brookings should crunch the numbers for a more realistic statistics.

Other consequences of conflict include the destruction of infrastructure, investment cost as nobody wants to invest in a politically volatile environment and the inevitable complete paralysis of economic activity.
In terms of responsibility for containing, controlling, preventing and resolving conflicts, the speaker, pointed to the global mechanism of the UN Security Council.

At the continental level, the African Union has the solemn mandate to provide this.

Dr Rugunda made a bold and contentious assertion that African leaders have put in place parameters that guarantee a conducive environment for economic activities and subsequent prosperity for the community. This, by pledging they want their countries to be stable; they want their countries to be guided by the rule of law, democratically governed, characterized by respect of human rights of people, and ensure no unconstitutional changes of government.

The second part of his discourse focused on describing the instruments available to prevent and resolve conflicts in Africa. The two most prominent instruments within African Peace and Security architecture (framework to help Africa resolve conflicts) are the African Peace and Security Council based in Addis Ababa and the Panel of the Wise currently led by President Thabo Mbeki.

Africa is also mobilizing forces to deploy as and when it becomes necessary.

The African Union works in synergy with regional economic groups. These are essentially regional economic groups, which also have in-built mechanisms for preventing and resolving conflicts. These blocs are a great asset to peace initiatives on the continent. These include:
ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States
SADC – Southern African Development Community
IGAD – Intergovernmental Authority on Development
ECCAS – Economic Community of Central African states
COMESA – Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
International Conference on the Great Lakes
The basic philosophy underlying this cooperation is the fact that unless there is peace and stability, talk of economic growth and prosperity is useless. These have become major instruments to ensure peace and stability in their regions.

These regional economic communities are able to forge peace because of the following reasons:
a) Geographical and political proximity – In the case of Sudan for example, the countries of IGAD are better place to intervene given their geographical proximity
b) These groups also have the capacity to respond quickly
c) They also understand better the dynamics at play
Yet one must not lose sight of the fact some of these regional communities may have stakes in a particular conflict and in intervening end up rather complicating it.

A case in point is Democratic Republic of Congo where you had Rwanda and Uganda supporting the rebels while Namibia and Zimbabwe were supporting the government. The Lusaka Accord of 1999 ended the stalemate and resolved the conflict.

Two instances of regional interventions worth mentioning are ECOWAS’ intervention in Sierra Leone in 1997 that stabilized the country before the UN stepped in. In 1999, thanks once more to ECOWAS, the situation in Liberia came under control.
The East African community under the leadership of Uganda and in cooperation with SADC helped Burundi which has emerged today from the doldrums.

Sudan is another case in point whereby through the work of IGAD, the over fifty years’ old war ended and a deal brokered now known as the Comprehensive Peace Accord.

Apart from these regional economic communities, the African Union has worked hand-in-glove with the United Nations with AU increasingly owning the mechanisms.

In Darfur, there are UN troops, which are under UNAMID the UN-AU hybrid under the command of Dr Gambari.

There are also UN troops in Southern Sudan and Sudan overseeing the implementation of the CPA.

In order to ensure that relations between the UN and the AU are smooth intimate and mutually beneficial, the UN has appointed Kenyan Ambassador Zachary Muburi-Muita as UN Assistant Secretary-General, Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union.

These relations have paradoxically also seen some drawbacks. First with reference to the Western Sahara recognized by the African Union as a separate state while, the UN and International community are still dragging their legs recognizing Morocco as legitimate first.

Another case in point is Somalia while the International community is concentrating on piracy, than dealing with the source of the piracy from mainland Somaliland. The African Union thinks a holistic approach fighting in the mainland will pacify and eradicate the piracy.

One issue complicating Africa’s search for peace is drugs. With the US waging a virulent attack against drugs in Latin America, the drug merchants found a new and easier route through West Africa taking advantage of weak institutions, weak borders and weak security. The deaths in Guinea Bissau may not have been just political but also drug-related.

Conclusion: Dr Rugunda was quite upbeat stating categorically that Africa has adequate capacity and mechanisms and Africa needs support and reinforcements in terms of resources and capacity. A stable and peaceful Africa will enhance sustained economic development resulting in prosperity not only for Africa but also for humanity.
There has been enormous progress made in conflict resolution and prevention, as there has been a move from 20 conflicts brewing on the continent within the last decade to just about four on the continent.

Part II:
John Hoover then mounted the rostrum. The lynchpin of his presentation was portraiture of what the US is doing to help Africa in its conflict prevention and resolution ideals. He quoted lengthily from President Obama’s speech in Accra Ghana in July 2009.
“We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans. All of us must strive for the peace and security… Africans are standing up for this future…. We welcome the steps that are being taken by organizations like the African Union and ECOWAS to better resolve conflicts, keep the peace, and support those in need…And we encourage the vision of a strong, regional security architecture that can bring effective, transnational forces to bear when needed.
America has a responsibility to work with you as a partner, advance this vision, not just with words, but with support, that strengthens African capacity. …we stand ready to partner through diplomacy, technical assistance, and logistical support…”

He proceeded then to analyze these providing evidence of US engagements with Africa in its desperate search for peace.

In all of our countries, there is often a gap with what leaders say and what actually obtains on the ground, in terms of what governments actually do. This is not the case with the foregoing words of President Obama.

There is no gap between the above words of President Obama and what we actually do on the ground, intimated Mr. Hoover. These are not just inspirational words of a charismatic leader and not much else.
These words infuse and inform what we do daily not just at US State department but also throughout the US government. It really informs what we are doing with African governments and regional organizations to promote peace and security in the continent.

Africa’s future is up to them. Africans have the will and capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts on the continent. Our business is to support Africa to help prevent conflicts.

Engagement with the AU has become a priority under the Obama administration. Since 2006, the US established an independent diplomatic mission to the AU. The US is the only non-African government to have established this bilateral relation.

There is also an American Peace and Security advisor embedded at the AU.

The AU has also recently accepted to have another civilian disaster-planning expert embedded at the peace and security division at the AU.

Secondly, the US is stepping up its engagements to support the regional African Peace and Security architecture. Among the many programs, activities and policies the US government is providing Africa highlights include:
– The US has invested 700 million dollars to equip, train and provide support to AU missions in Burundi, Darfur and AU mission to Somalia AMESOM. Without this AMESOM mission, Somalia would be run by El Shabbab;
– There is 4 million dollars project funded by the State department to help AU upgrade its Command and Control Communications Network as part of support to African standby force;
– USAID provides support to ECOWARN & CWARN, which are early warning systems for conflict prevention in West and East Africa respectively.
– Since 2001, the US has provided 2 million dollars yearly to construct and maintain the military supply depot in Freetown and currently working to transfer complete ownership to ECOWAS;
Thirdly, there is the US African command engaged in all kinds of capacity building activities; they recently sponsored an exercise called African endeavor that brought together civilian and military leaders from 25 countries in Africa the issue of interruptability of communications network cropped up.
Peace keeping training is the bread and butter of the US capacity building efforts on the continent. This focuses on national forces and still supports regional efforts like the standby brigades and Africa standby forces. These are the building blocks to the standby brigades.
Since 2005, the US has provided training and equipment and in some cases logistical support to 125 000 African peacekeeping troops from 25 partner nations.

This is primarily under the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program – ACOTA. ACOTA program costs about 50 million dollars annual program. This is fantastic investment. This is so because of the following reasons:

It is providing the peacekeepers on UN and AU missions with the resources they need. As of June 2010, there were 34.000 African peacekeepers on mission deployed in Africa.

When these get home, they have become more competent and professional and so are an integral part of the modernization and professionalization of Africa’s national armed forces.

When the time comes and the African Standby brigades are organized, the peacekeepers who have returned home will be ideal candidates.
ACOTA is also engaging in a transitional phase where African groups should be able to provide peacekeeping training on a sustainable basis. Hence, the US is providing more resources to training centers around the continent.

The US is here to stay and to help, concluded Mr. Hoover.
This session was followed by a Q & A.

From L to R:Tien of DIWDC, Dr Emma Osong of Catholic University of America, Balemesa of the Peace Corps

Participants discussing after the event.

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The Desperate Search for Peace in Cote d’Ivoire: Exploring the Options? By Lambert Mbom.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI declared January 1 every year World Day of Peace. January 1, 2011 marked the 44th World Day of Peace, among the many dark spots on the world’s radar is the African country, Cote d’Ivoire. The political impasse witnessed in the wake of second round Presidential elections is as disconcerting as it is challenging. Even more so as the country inches gradually towards an all out war with both sides stuck to their guns.

I am no expert in Ivoirian politics and seek to proffer some generalities dabbling in a terrain I lack any formation in. I love Cote d’Ivoire if not the country, at least its music and soccer.

One would have imagined that Cote d’Ivoire has learnt its lessons with its tumultuous recent past marred and scarred by a bloody civil war. This does not seem to be the case.

The amount of literature on the Cote d’Ivoire debacle is spectacular and indicative of the high stakes. If you love African music, there is no way you would miss out the rhythmic “Couper Decaler” characterized by the constant movement of the wrists like a conductor and the accompanying butt protrusion.

African soccer would be incomplete without the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. They are a great force to reckon with in African soccer and even in the world arena. Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue are household names in African soccer with these individual talents scintillating and reigning in English premier soccer.

Economically, Cote d’Ivoire has a reputation for her leadership in exporting coffee and cocoa. The odds would be quite high if you are a consummate consumer of coffee that you have not tasted of the toasts from Cote d’Ivoire.

If you are Roman Catholic, must be thanking God for the magnificent basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro even if taxpayers were bilked of $300 million for its erection.

And we can go on and on. One thing, which is immediately evident, is that Cote d’Ivoire is an infinitely blessed and rich country. Socio-culturally its rich music and brilliant soccer team, economically its preponderance of resources to name but these. Yet, the one drawback casting a dent on its progress is its politics or better still lack of selfless leadership.

In the face of the seething crises deteriorating each day and gathering fuel for the Armageddon amidst desperate attempts at peacefully resolving the crises, worth examining are the different scenarios that could play out while there is still time.

One of the first options in such circumstances is often the formation of a coalition government. This seemed to have worked in Kenya and Zimbabwe in the recent past. Who will form the government in Cote d’Ivoire? Will Gbagbo be willing to play second fiddle now? This would have been a near ideal strategy to work things out and plan for better elections given the experience of the recent mirage. Gbagbo has already ruled out the possibility of such a coalition and both seem to be stuck on either their way or the high way. This scenario is quite unlikely. After all it has become a common ploy failed incumbents avail to stay in power.

Another scenario is for one of these “Presidents” to stand down. The question is, even if Gbagbo bows out, will the South allow the Northerner Ouattara to rule, lead and govern? Some reports make us believe that Gbagbo has the support of the military and the indigenes. He is in command of most of the national institutions or so it would appear. If Gbagbo departs voluntarily or worse still if forced from power, the prospects of a military coup d’etat to unseat Ouattara would be quite high.

And is this not the same prospects with the North which already before the elections has been a thorn in Gbagbo’s flesh having refused to disarm? Can Gbagbo sustain it through without the North and even more so without the international community? By the way, who is funding and militarizing the North?

The foregoing reveals one thing, namely: the crises in Cote D’Ivoire is a multilayered crisis and not just between Gbagbo and Ouattara. On one level, it is between the Muslim North and the Christian South; at another level, it is between an incumbent and the opposition; then between a purported nationalist and a puppet of Western imperialism with France given her voracious appetite for anything African championing this. It sure is a complex situation requiring tact and candor.

One of the complex layers is the false dichotomy in African politics in general especially during elections namely: the Scylla of nationalism and the Garybdis of Western Imperialism. Fifty years after gaining independence even if nominally, ten of which years Gbagbo had the reins of power, using nationalism or conversely whipping up anti-Western/European sentiments is simply a façade. The political architecture of the world has greatly changed and to think that Cote D’Ivoire will only now become truly independent is a pie in the sky. The West has grown off the backs of Africa. A strong sign of nationalism is shaking off the shackles of the foreign aid dependency syndrome and not merely sending the French off to bring in the Venezuelans. We live in an era of globalization and independence goes with interdependence.

It is myopic to concede to the platitude that Gbagbo is a nationalist; or to whitewash Ouattara as a puppet of western imperialism. A nerve edge neutrality balancing national interests in the complex web of international trade and agreements is crucial to any form of nationalism.

Yet another emerging scenario is the call for a recount of the votes. Recounting the votes may not be the solution given that there has been so much talk about irregularities and there are no limits to these. Rather than merely recount the votes, it may be worthwhile pursuing a re-run. Agreeably there are a number of issues to be sorted out based on the disputed election. Given the UN, AU, France and the US demonstrated interest in the crisis, it would not be too much to ask that these cough up the requisite dough to bankroll an election re-run.

The problem may not be with the money but with agreeing to conditions for the re-run. The confusion over the roles of the independent electoral commission and the constitutional council, the role of the UN and International observers would be issues demanding urgent consideration. This is also an unlikely option.

After ten years of enjoying Presidential power and privileges, why in the face of the enormous potential for harm, can Gbagbo not relinquish power? There is something “nicotinic” about power, which corrupts so absolutely.

It is on this puerile argument namely that Gbagbo has had his time in office that I would urge Gbagbo to be a man of valor and a man of honor. Give peace a chance by letting some other person taste the trappings of Presidential power.

Why would he want to go down the path of his predecessors like Charles Taylor et al? If the situation in Cote D’Ivoire spirals out of control and deteriorates, Gbagbo would stand to blame. Why cripple a burgeoning democracy and buoyant economy then spend the evening of your life facing trials for human rights violations and perpetuation of crimes against humanity?

Just as with Gbagbo, one may pose the same questions to Ouattara. Is it not greed and self-aggrandizement engineering this persistent desire to lead Cote D’Ivoire? There is no denying it that Ouattara has endured a lot and shown signs of fortitude and forbearance.

Yet if his primary motivation is service and the common weal, then in the face of the gathering nimbus clouds foreboding disaster, for the sake of this same greater good, peace should be given a chance. If you were driving down a boulevard in Bouake and found a car from the opposite direction driving towards you, would you stay on because you have right of way?

The last and least obvious scenario is to go beyond both Gbagbo and Ouattara. Does it not strike anyone as odd that these two politicians have dominated Ivoirian politics for too long? This may not be long enough as Presidential terms of many African dictators or even as long as their predecessor Boigny. Yet they have been on stage for long enough boringly and annoyingly disruptive of any meaningful development for this powerhouse. The time to put both aside is now.
One cannot help but ask if there isn’t any way of circumventing both Ouattara and Gbagbo? Can Cote d’Ivoire move forward without both candidates? If it were possible, platonic, as it may seem, this would appear an ideal situation.

Elections have not proven to be the magic wand to the woes plaguing this entity. And while there is still time, I recommend again these words of the trio Collectif Zouglou:liberez mon pays – Free my country. They are as relevant today as they were five years ago. These words must again be replayed to Gbagbo and Ouattara.

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