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Radia Garrigues: CEO of an Incubator Providing Gabon’s Youth with Skills for the Future

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photo: World Bank

Radia Garrigues is the CEO of JA Gabon, a member of Junior Achievement Worldwide, one of the largest youth-serving NGOs that provides hands-on learning in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. The Gabon location opened in 2013 and has trained nearly 7,000 young people (4,000 in entrepreneurship). The incubator supports around 30 start-ups a year. JA Gabon provides free services, except for its new SME Space that is co-financed by Noble Energy.

“I’ve always been fascinated with entrepreneurship,” says Garrigues. “Throughout my career, I’ve sought to set up and implement projects and ideas, introducing entrepreneurial principles anywhere I go.”

Her flair for business is evident. She was previously CEO of a subsidiary to Hachette Livre, the French publishing company, as well as director of the Alliance Française in Abu Dhabi. When JA Gabon was first founded, it had two employees. Today, it has increased that eighteen-fold, supporting thousands of young people in the process. 

Across much of West and Central Africa, entrepreneurship has traditionally been seen as the last resort in terms of career choice but — pointing to waning civil service job opportunities in the context of the oil crisis — Garrigues feels the landscape is changing in Gabon. “This is part of the mission of Junior Achievement,” attests Garrigues. “It started in the U.S. 90 years ago to provide people with training in professional skills and financial management. It really does change people’s mentality and I see changes already in children as young as 5 and 6 that have participated in our programs.”

Nevertheless, Garrigues warns that entrepreneurship is not necessarily for everyone. “People tend to gravitate to what’s easiest and entrepreneurship is hard.” JA Gabon has several employability programs, including for young people with no schooling who represent the majority of the unemployed population. The incubator also engages in a lot of fieldwork and supports other vulnerable groups, such as teenage mothers who are more likely to be unemployed.

Training in soft skills benefits up to 2,000 young people a year, with women making up 41% of participants. Garrigues notes, however, that as beneficiaries get older, the proportion of women tends to decline. “We certainly have more girls than women in our programs,” she admits, adding that the proportion of women falls in particular as programs transition from secondary to third-level education. Capturing girls early, therefore, does not necessarily guarantee they will continue their professional development at the same rate as men.

As with many countries in the region, human capital remains a key lacking resource in Gabon, but Garrigues insists that reinforcing incubators’ capacity at the local level is an easy win for policymakers. “We grew so quickly and the hardest thing now is finding the right people to implement our activities, including good mentors.” In addition, she advises that donors should continue facilitating networking and exchanges between different incubators across the region. JA Gabon is an implementing partner of the World Bank’s Gabon Competitiveness and Investment Promotion Project and is also currently a member of the network of West and Central African incubators under the Innovation Africa Program (PAI), financed by the French Agency for Development with the World Bank as a member of its steering committee.

Garrigues applauds the enthusiasm of the government in Gabon to support the work of JA Gabon. “The political will here to boost entrepreneurship is very strong, coming from the highest levels, including the President. There’s now a Ministry of Entrepreneurship that was founded two years ago to promote youth entrepreneurship, which is very unusual for francophone Africa.” JA Gabon is also working in partnership with the National Office of Employment on developing soft skills, such as preparing CVs.

The incubator is engaging in high-level policy dialogue with the government to foster better conditions for entrepreneurs in the country. In July 2018, Garrigues was received by the Minister for Small and Medium Enterprises, Julien Nkoghe Bekale, in order to define a set of essential tools to developing Gabon’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and promote SMEs.

Garrigues has long urged new legislation to facilitate MSMEs’ activities. “We want our incubees to have all the advantages possible but there’s nothing right now for start-ups (nor for incubators), not even tax breaks for small or new businesses. Without seed-funding, people will see their projects as something short-term and give up.”

She says this while emphasizing that JA Gabon has “beneficiaries, not clients”. All of JA Gabon’s services, aside from the SME Space, are free and even then, they are co-financed by Noble Energy. “I don’t agree with all incubators being strictly private businesses,” she says. “So many people wouldn’t be able to access our services and so much of the country’s potential would be lost!”

World Bank

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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