In October 2016, Dr. Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) bid farewell to the organisation he had been heading since 2012. Dr. Lopes has previously served in many academic and political positions in his native Guinea Bissau and in addition worked in diverse offices within the UN before he was appointed as Executive Secretary of UNECA.
I met Carlos Lopes when I applied to be a Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Fellow in 2012 and was privileged to work with him in 2013 during his first full year as the Executive Secretary of UNECA, based in Addis Ababa. My time working with Carlos or ‘Sir’ as we used to call him, was a time of deep learning and understanding of the African continent. I also learnt a lot about myself as an African and a potential change agent. During my time working with Carlos, He had four assistants, all female and we branded ourselves as ‘Carlos’ Angels’. Although we came from different backgrounds- one was Kenyan Indian, another was Angolan Portuguese, a third was French Guinea Bissauan and I was Ghanaian- we bonded well and worked to support Carlos implement his vision for UNECA.
As he bids farewell to the role in which I get acquainted with him, I would like to share some of the memories I hold dear about the man who has influenced not only me, but greater men in Africa and beyond.
CARLOS THE PAN AFRICAN.
Carlos is an example of a true pan African. As an academic, his writings embodied his love for the continent and the everlasting hope he has for Africa’s economic transformation. I remember a meeting Carlos once had with the Ambassador of a European country who had funds to support UNECA. In the meeting, Carlos spoke of the exciting work that UNECA was involved in- building a credible database for statistics, the campaign on industrialisation and collaborative works with the other continental pan African institutions. Carlos spoke glowingly of his vision for UNECA and the new policy direction. Not once did he make a request for funding support. The Ambassador was visibly impressed. After the meeting, I asked Carlos why he hadn’t directly asked for funding support and that in my mind, he had painted a picture that all was well, we therefore risk losing the funds that may have come to us. He responded that there was no need to speak about the problems and challenges and that Africa does not need to beg for money. The money will follow good deeds and by this, we have more power and say as to how to use the funds. Rightly so, in a few months’ time, the Ambassador of the country in question brought a proposal to support the UNECA in more ways than we had previously envisaged and for a longer period of time than we had thought.
This was a key trend and something I learnt working with Carlos. Africa has a positive future, so many indicators are speaking to a rising Africa, and we should celebrate this more. We must tell our own story of change in a positive manner.
CARLOS AND CABRAL
The first thing one notices when one walks into Carlos’ office is a small black and white portrait picture of Amilcar Cabral. Carlos has written extensively on Cabral’s legacy and it implications to contemporary Africa. These writings are in Portuguese, French and English and widely published and highly acclaimed. Cabral was Carlos’ ‘utmost hero’ and as his Assistant, I also came to love and revere the works of Cabral.
Another favourite of Carlos was Mario de Andrade, the Angolan revolutionary who became Guinea Bissau’s Minister for Information and Culture. Mario shaped Carlos in many ways and although Mario is not well known outside the African Portuguese community, he is one of the key players and influencers of his time. Carlos speaks lovingly of Mario de Andrade and how when he (Carlos) had finished high school, he served as an assistant to Mario and learnt about Pan Africanism at the feet of the Master. I was privileged to get to know these great men of African history and others like them (my personal favourite was Franz Fanon) through their own writings and through reading the writings of Carlos himself. Infact, the title of my blog is a quote from Amilcar Cabral, ‘Claim no easy victories’, but that is another story for another day.
CARLOS AND AGENDA 2063
Addis Ababa in May 2013 was the one place in the world I would have loved to be in. and I was there. Africa was celebrating 50 years of pan African institutionalism- the creation of the OAU, now the African Union. Addis, the capital of pan Africanism, was abuzz with activity and I had front row seats to the event of a lifetime. The Pan African Congress, The Youth Forum, the Women’s Forum, the African Union Executive Committee Meeting, NEPAD, the Actual AU Forum, several side meetings, bi-laterals, multi-laterals, concerts, exhibitions, and many more. Carlos made time to share this space with Africa and his message of a prosperous Africa resonated on all the platforms he spoke on. I remember the warmth he received when he attended the PAWA event and during the Youth Conference, the fact that he listens to the Kenyan rap group Sauti Sol drew lots of tweets from young Africans! On a more serious note, Carlos, through the UNECA, played a pivotal and leading role in developing Agenda 2063. At all stages of the development of this great document which captures the aspiration of Africans for the next 100 years, Carlos and his able lieutenants in the UNECA ensured that all the statistical, analytical support that was required to strengthen the document was available. This was a ground breaking event and agenda 2063 continues to stand as a key monument to the spirit of unity and pan Africanism that existed during those heady days in May 2013.
CARLOS OF MANY COLORS
Carlos also had an artistic and fun loving side. He was a photographer, a lover of art, painting, books and music. His house was filled with art works from all over the world and his music collection had songs from South Africa, Capo Verde, Ivory Coast and Angola, among many others.
Carlos was not only a mentor but also a friend who supported my dream to continue formal education, to better understand pan Africanism whilst being a mother and a wife. He understood the many aspects of my changing circumstances and made room for that while not compromising on quality and timeliness of work. I learnt to love my work and in loving my work, I excelled. I grew and blossomed. Indeed the year 2013 is my overall best year and this was so because I met Dr. Carlos Lopes and of course, became a Carlos Angel.
I have no qualms that Carlos’ exit from the UNECA will be just another step in the illustrious career that he had woven even before I met him and which I will continue to follow and celebrate. Each stage of your life has not been easy, but you have claimed the victory, you have told no lies and have hidden nothing from the masses.
It will be apt therefore to end with a quote from Cabral taken from a speech he delivered at the 3rd Conference of the African People held in Cairo where he stated that “We are for African unity, on a regional or continental scale, inasfar as it is necessary for the progress of the African peoples, and in order to guarantee their security and the continuity of this progress”
I wish you and Mrs. Mara well in your future endeavors. Looking forward to meeting with you soon.