Africa needs bold, decisive, committed leadership — ONE Campaign Africa boss

Nachilala Nkombo leads ONE Campaign Africa team to deliver on the group’s mission in Africa. As interim Executive Director, Africa, for the global advocacy group, her work is focused on strategy, policy, government relations and partnership building to secure transparency and accountability commitments in governance.

ONE Campaign Africa boss, Nkombo

ONE Campaign Africa boss, Nachilala Nkombo

In an exclusive interview with from Johannesburg, South Africa, the Zambian born global citizen touched on a wide range of issues impacting Africa’s development and stressed why public sector reform, transparency and good governance are key to fighting poverty in Africa. Our Executive Editor, Efam Awo Dovi, brings you excerpts of their conversationAfrica boss, Ms. Nachilala Nkombo

You have done work on aid effectiveness and trade reforms, what does Africa need?

Africa needs its own direction and its own plan. It needs bold and dedicated leadership that is willing to follow through with the plans. Africa’s biggest problem is not lack of brains and ideas; it lacks a critical mass of committed leadership to follow through on its priorities and can plan to optimise its own strengths. What we need is bold, decisive and committed leadership. Because it doesn’t matter whether we have a 100 million dollars in foreign aid or 100 billion dollars domestic money, we need a leader who is going to use that money properly, with a mission to change lives.

Right now, Africa needs to depend on its own self because aid comes with its own challenges. But there is still a role and place for aid. For example, when we are dealing with humanitarian disasters, or the severe malnutrition problem in the northeast of Nigeria where people are dying now and they are suffering in millions, the international community has a responsibility to respond and to help people who are in dire circumstances, and to help the government in a particular country. Aid also plays a role if it is smart aid and catalyses a community so that tomorrow they don’t need it.  Aid becomes a problem where it creates dependency – it means it is not effective.  Aid needs to have a timetable where it exits, but if it is continuously needed, then there is a problem: it is either not being deployed effectively or there is lack of leadership on the ground that will target it properly so it can multiply itself.

Why is public sector reform and transparency important in the fight against poverty?

From colonialism, most African countries have not changed the structures of their economies. An economy like Zambia, where I come from, whose main foreign earner and driver of economic growth is minerals, since independence nothing has really happened to change the structure of how the mining industry is managed. It means that the economy is not an environment where more industries can create more opportunities, it means that government and its citizens need to think about how that should change, but also think about how to harness the potentials in other sectors.

For example, agriculture is supposed to be a trillion dollar industry by 2030. But it will not be if there are no policy changes, it will not be if the infrastructure and the modernisation that are needed don’t actually take place. And that only takes place if you give people access to technology and access to bigger markets. The public sector gives direction and plays an important role in creating a level playing field and in dealing with the imbalances in the economy.

In addition to this, the tax revenues that are collected in Africa need to be deployed in a strategic and transparent manner, you can’t just throw money at the problem and how that money is being utilised is not clear. We won’t progress as long as things are happening in the dark. That is why I dedicated myself to working on reforms of the public sector and also transparency.

How do you feel when you see a country like Ghana, which became a lower middle income country a few years ago and then everything dipped again?

It makes me sad. It makes me sad that for sometime Africa made a case for debt to be cancelled so that that money is freed up to support economic development. If you look at a country like Ghana that dared going up and then going backwards, it makes me sad and tells me that there is something wrong in terms of the quality of structures we have to support our long term vision of where we have to be. And I have found out that the vision of our continent, not in all the countries, but in most countries, is limited by five years election cycle. So people just think and plan short term and not long term. The leaders plan towards re-election and not fundamental change. I find that we thus lack continuity in critical policy. If you are building a house it should be going up, even if you change a contractor, you should be building the wall to go up until you finish the roof. We lack the kind of institutions that will protect the development in Africa from the politics of elections.

But there are certain countries that give me hope; that are actually taking some steps to improve certain services in their countries.

What gives you hope about Africa’s future?
Adobe Spark Nach (6)On the overall Africa level, one of the things from a development perspective that has left us inspired, is the fact that we have, as a continent, reduced the level of child mortality; that is something to celebrate and be proud of. We need to ask ourselves whatever it is we did to bring down child mortality and saw that the numbers went down. Let’s bring the same resources; let’s bring the same resolve to reducing poverty.  We cannot say that an issue is a priority if we do not bring in the resources and capacities that are needed.

What gives me hope is that some innovations are coming up not only from the government side but also from the private sector and from young people. When you look at innovations such as MPESA, for example that has enabled access to banking services in Kenya, that model has been replicated in other countries.

For those sorts of things to happen, government regulation and policy needs to be right. Some countries like Kenya have taken advantage to provide health information, agriculture information on the mobile to reach those people in the remote areas that have not been reached. I think where there is success the focus should be how do we scale up and how do we draw lessons that can be applied to another problem.

My take in terms of policies to leadership to the issue of lack of continuity, especially when there is a change of government is that when leaders are focused on being re elected, they are not really looking at what are the long term needs of our country.

I interviewed former Malawian President Joyce Banda and she said the international community should treat leaders who take up the fight against corruption as victors and not victims, what is your take on this? 

Definitely, I agree with Dr Joyce Banda that leaders that are brave enough and are willing to fight corruption need to be supported internationally. But for me, I will recommend that the support should come from the grass root first, from within the country, because those are the people who bear the brunt of corruption. First and foremost, that leader needs to create a partnership and a social contract with the community.

“To fight corruption long term, yes we need leadership to drive it, but we also need institutions that demand accountability, that demand transparency. We cannot put corruption in the hands of individuals only; we can’t, we will always fail.”

Part of the challenge we have is that because there is too much poverty, you find that the electorate can be so vulnerable. Even though they know that a particular leader will fight corruption, they have the hunger issues of that day. And because they have hunger issues of that day, their judgement is actually blurred. I think what needs to be done is, those leaders who have kind of put themselves up to fight corruption, they need to set up some kind of a coalition. You don’t have to wait until you are rejected or you don’t have to wait until you are undermined in your fight against corruption. You need to connect to other people that are doing the same. You need to learn lessons from others in terms of fighting corruption.

To fight corruption long term, yes we need leadership to drive it, but we also need institutions that demand accountability, that demand transparency. We cannot put corruption in the hands of individuals only; we can’t, we will always fail.  For example, in most African countries, we have the Auditor General’s office that produces reports that monitor how government money is used. Those offices need to be strengthened. Parliament, they need to play a strong role in really monitoring the executive in the delivery of government programmes.

What I will say to leaders who are scared that fighting corruption comes at a cost is that, when you have your moment to be in power, set up these institutions.

Access to information; in some African countries there are laws that inhibit access to information. How does an MP, a journalist or a concern citizen participate in the fight against corruption under such a law?  So we need to get the basics in place – the basic laws, the basic institutions that are empowered to take care of these things.

What I will say to leaders who are scared that fighting corruption comes at a cost is that, when you have your moment to be in power, set up these institutions. Make them independent so that when you yourself you are in power and you have played a clean game, you can be investigated and come out clean.

Nachilala heads ONE Campaign Africa

Nachilala giving at an event with Nigerian talent Waje

Are African governments investing enough in the empowerment of women?

My answer is no. And the reason why I say that is that we know most food producers in Africa are women, but agriculture remain the sector which is under funded by most African governments.  Even for the funding that goes to agriculture there isn’t really recognition in supporting those crops or those products in a deliberate fashion that are targeted at women. Women have to struggle and find their own space and because of that economically they remain weak. If they remain weak economically it means that the negotiation of their role at the family level and community level is undermined.

…governments need to do more to make sure that every girl that needs to be in school is not inhibited either by poverty or culture or anything else. We need more than the talk.

The other critical area is girls’ education. I think personally that governments need to do more to make sure that every girl that needs to be in school is not inhibited either by poverty or culture or anything else. We need more than the talk. We need a deliberate effort to make sure that young people and young girls are having access to education and quality education that give them that ability to negotiate their way in life, and be able to support their family and contribute at the equal level as men to the economy and to the development of the continent.

At the ONE Campaign, what are you focusing on?

Last year, we were focused on two issues: fighting HIV and AIDS, particularly as it affects women. Globally, we are part of the mobilisation to make sure that governments in Africa and outside Africa put money in the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. And I am happy that we succeeded with that goal. We were able to convince several governments to allocate some money for that effort. We also helped women in Mali secured historic land rights.

The second priority we have had has been spotlighting the health crisis in Nigeria. For every person that is killed by terrorist in Nigeria, about 36 people are killed by malaria and 46 by diarrhoea; women and children die needless because of preventable diseases. There is a silent crisis that is happening in Africa, but particularly Nigeria because of the sheer numbers. Nigeria contributes a lot in terms of poor health indicators of the whole continent.

At the ONE Campaign, we believe that if Nigeria prioritise health, it won’t just save lives, it will safe money in the future to actually plough into the development of the country.

We have been working with civil society partners to try and get the government to make critical investments that are prescribed in the country’s laws.  They have a law that was passed in 2014 called the Nigerian Health Act and it requires that the government set up the basic minimum health package, where every Nigeria has access to basic health services so that death from preventable disease can be limited.

Nachilala with Ambassdors Pix 1For the last two years, the government has not provided financially for that law to be implemented. So we have been focusing on that and engaging government at different levels in Nigeria and also working with the grass root to also learn from them first hand how they are impacted by the health crisis.
On the HIV front, we went to the African Union and managed to secure political commitment from African Heads of States for them to increase finances for AIDS response.

“…it is not a nice thing to do for girls and women, it is a strategic thing for governments of Africa to do.”

When you talk to our political leaders on the issue, they agree with us, but it is the delivery when they go back to their country that is the problem. Even when they are in Parliament and they agree on something, making sure that these issues are in the budget and programmes so that the civil servants deliver on those issues and the people are aware of what is supposed to be happening, is important. In Nigerian for instance, most Nigerians don’t even know about the law, don’t even know that they are entitled (to basic healthcare); don’t even know that it is actually illegal for the government to ignore this law.

In 2017 we are continuing that work to make sure it is done. But also focus more on girls’ education because too many young girls in Africa are not in school.  We are bringing a spotlight on that issue and on that crisis because we think that it is not a nice thing to do for girls and women, it is a strategic thing for governments of Africa to do –- Nachilala-Leads-Africa.

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