Interview with H.E. Jestas Abuok Nyamanga on his term-in-office as Chair of the OACPS Committee of Ambassadors, August 2020 to January 2021
Brussels, 27 April 2021/OACPS:H.E. Jestas Nyamanga wasintroduced to the 927th Meeting of the Committee of Ambassadors (CoA) of the then, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States on 20 February 2020. In less than one month, the tenure of the incumbent leadership team would come to an end and a new Secretary-General would take office; the ACP Secretariat would temporarily close its doors for the first lockdown in Brussels; and the revised Georgetown Agreement would enter into force, giving way to the launch of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). Most notably, on 1 August 2020, during the East African presidency of the Committee of Ambassadors, H.E. Jestas Abuok Nyamanga, Ambassador of the United Republic of Tanzania, would be named as the Chair of the OACPS CoA for the period August 2020 to January 2021.
The OACPS Press Office interviewed Ambassador Nyamanga – who, as outgoing Chair, is still a member of the Troika of the OACPS CoA – on his tenure, his accomplishments, his challenges, and his impressions during this remarkable time.
Press Office: At the start of your tenure as chair, you identified a number of priorities; in retrospect, how did you address these priorities?
My position as Chair of the Committee of Ambassadors wasan incredibly rewarding experience.The Tanzanian presidency of the OACPS identified the key priority areas to bring the Organisation closer to the OACPS We Want; leading the efforts to ease the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis in the Member States of the OACPS; overseeing the conclusion of the negotiation of the post-Cotonou Agreement between the OACPS and the European Union (EU); taking forward the agenda for change and restructuring; leveraging “South–South” engagement; focusing on connectivity; securing the financial stability of the OACPS; and maintaining OACPS unity and solidarity.
Taking a look at the journey, I am tempted to say that we didexceptionally welldespite the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I say ‘we’ because it is not something that I did alone. It was certainly team work by ministers, ambassadors, and the Secretariat. A lot of groundwork was already laid by previous Chairs of the Committee of Ambassadors. I am not going to try to highlight all our accomplishments in the six months, but a few deserve to be mentioned:
- The OACPS managed in the midst of a pandemic, to reach a political deal on the post-Cotonou Agreement. I want to thank all who participated in this negotiation process for their courage, commitment and dedication;
- Through an exchange of letters with the European side in November 2020, the Cotonou Partnership Agreement was exceptionally extended until 30 November 2021. We secured funds and redirected them to other programmes. We initiated engagement with the EU Commission and submitted a formal request to them to extend the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) Programme to 30 November. We held a successful Council of Ministers meeting by Video Conference, in the course of which we made decisions that will positively impact not only our Secretariat in Brussels but also our constituencies in our respective regions;
- We secured the necessary resources to implement Council’s decision on the restructuring of the Secretariat. A financing request to the tune of €6.693 million Euro was submitted to the European Commission on 8 October 2020, and subsequentially approved, before the entry-into-force of the Sunset Clause;
- We fostered complementarity and mutually beneficial partnerships with other countries and organisations to promote multilateralism and global solidarity – these included a discussion with H.E. Charles Michel, President of the Council of the European Union (EU), on 15 September 2020, and the consultative meeting of the OACPS Bureau withDr. Gerd Müller,Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development,representing thethen, German Presidency of the EU;
- We called on the EU and other global partners to ensure equitable and affordable vaccination throughout nations of the OACPS, as necessary;
- We shared our concerns with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) about the often unique needs of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), given their geographic situation, limited arable lands, and notable reliance on food imports,. Following that consultative dialogue, on 10 December 2020, we both called for debt relief, technical help to pursue innovation and technology, and an enabling environment for private sector investments in the agri-business sector;
- Through the President of the Council, Prof. Palamagamba Kabudi, then, Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation of the United Republic of Tanzania, we engaged and lobbied the members of the Joint ACP-EU Parliaments on a number of issues of interest to the Organisation, including the listing of third countries, regarding anti-money laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CFT), fair trade, security, and economic affairs;
- Taking into account the misgivings about the proposedautonomous tariff quota(ATQ) regulation by the EU, we conveyed the concerns of our Members to the EU Council and called for the reduction and eventual elimination of duty free ATQs for frozen tuna loins and hake. During this period, we also noted the substantial progress made by the Secretariat to prepare the OACPS Strategic Plan of Action for Fisheries and Aquaculture (SPoA), for the period 2021-2030;
- With the Secretariat and the Member States, we searched for more appropriate mechanisms to reach out to the Member States to meet their political and financial obligations. When we started our tenure, only 21 countries had made payments towards the 2020 budget (which was approximately 38% of the total amount of assessed contributions towards the 2020 budget) and by 31 December 2020, 51 countries had made their payment, which was about 64% of the total amount for the 2020 budget. Despite this slight improvement, more commitment is still needed to fulfill the financial commitment of the Member States;
- The Framework Programme for support to ACP Agriculture Value Chain Development was set;
- We increased our visibility by participating in a number of public consultations to influence policy formulation and fora, such as the World Cotton Day; and a webinar on BREXIT, among others. We also engaged with civil society by taking part in the EU-Africa Civil Society Conference on 16 October 2020 where MrsJutta Urpilainen European commissioner for International Partnerships and I were panelists;
- During this period, the OACPS Secretariat relocated its offices to the new building to start the process of the renovation of the OACPS Headquarters Building. I was honoured, alongside the Secretary-General, to inaugurate the new offices on 5 October 2020;
- We negotiated issues of our divergences in the post-Cotonou Agreement while remaining united, with one voice. Furthermore, the support of the OACPS Member States to the Nigerian Candidate for the post of the WTO Director General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was instrumental in enabling her to secure this post. I am proud of the continued unity in the OACPS.
Even with this record of achievements, more can, and still needs to be done.
As you can see, none of the achievements may be attributed to a single person. It is the result of our collective actions. I would therefore like to use this opportunity to commend every one of us for these achievements. I assumed the position as Chair of the Committee of Ambassadors when I was relatively new in Brussels, but I have benefitted from the wonderful and dedicated support from ambassadors and the OACPS Secretariat. I have seen how I have profited from others’ knowledge, wisdom and experiences. I would like to thank them all for their dedication, guidance, positive attitudes, encouragement, and indeed their important contributions to our Organisation. It was a joy to work with a diverse group of persons who shared one common goal of serving our organisation.
I am grateful for the exemplary work done by my government in carrying out its responsibility during the Presidency of the Ministerial Council and the Committee of Ambassadors. I appreciate the guidance, dedication and continued support received from Hon. Professor Palamagamba Kabudi, the President of the OACPS Council of Ministers; his deputy, the Honourable William Tate Ole Nasha; the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Ambassador Brig. Gen. Wilbert Augustine Ibuge, and all the officials from the entire government.
Last but not least, I want to appreciate and thank the staff of my embassy for providing technical, administrative, and protocol support for my work.
Press Office: What do you consider to be themajoraccomplishment(s) of your presidency and why?
Among the accomplishments listed above, three are historical in nature. These are the reaching of a political deal of the post-Cotonou Agreement, managing the transitional measures, and the restructuring of the Secretariat.
As for the conclusion of the political deal on the post-Cotonou Agreement,anyone who has run a marathon knows that the last few metres are the hardest and at times, the longest. The final parts of our negotiations were indeed very tough as we were also negotiating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am grateful to the Members of the OACPS for the dedication and commitment shown in that negotiation process, which we eventually concluded in December 2020.
Another major accomplishment was the setting of the framework for the transitional measures.As the new post-Cotonou Agreement could not be applied by the expiry date of the current legal framework, it was necessary to adopt transitional measures to extend the application of the provisions of the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement. Inlight of this, through the exchange of letters with the European side in November 2020, on behalf of the OACPS, the Cotonou Partnership Agreement has been exceptionally extended until 30 November 2021. By this extension, the provisions of the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement will be applied with the aim of maintaining continuity in relations between the EU and its Member States, on the one hand, and the Members of the OACPS, on the other, until the new Agreement enters into force.
Another major accomplishment was the Restructuring of the OACPS Secretariat. I am pleased that during my tenure at the helm of the Committee of Ambassadors, we provided our Secretariat with new Staff Regulations which were approved by the Council of Ministers in December 2020. Major restructuring of the Secretariat is therefore on-going, including the establishment of the Employment Regulations.
Press Office: Conversely, what were the biggest challenges during your tenure and how did you address these?
In any success, there must be some challenges. One of the challenges during my tenure was the COVID-19 pandemic. When we began our mandate in August 2020, hardly did we expect that all our activities would be carried out on digital platforms. But such is life. We rolled up our sleeves, defied the odds and got to work to achieve what we had set out to do.
During my tenure, the Secretary-General was immensely helpful with advice and guidance. His absence, because of illness, given the major issues and reforms that were going on at the time, was a challenge. However, I am grateful that Assistant Secretary-General Escipión Oliveira Gomez, the officer-in-charge at the time, was instrumental in advising and supporting me in the discharge of my duties. I want to thank all members of the Secretariat for their hard work, commitment and dedication to our Organisation. They really made things happen.
Another challenge related to securing consensus among the ambassadors on the new staff regulations of the OACPS before this issue was presented to the 111thSession of the OACPS Council of Ministers for decision. The revision of the staff regulations has been ongoing for the past five years. To move forward with this issue, I went the extra mile to seek and build consensus among my colleagues in the Committee of Ambassadors. We eventually got the breakthrough. For this, I thank every member of the Committee of Ambassadors, the Outgoing Bureau, the Sub-committee on Establishment and Finance, the Ambassadorial Working Group on the Staff Regulations and the Secretariat, for putting forward the broader interests of the Organisation on this matter.
Press Office: The OACPS is in the midst of a period of transition and change. What do you see as being the way forward for the OACPS – both for the institution and the Member States?
At the level of the institution the major issue now rests with the reforms and restructuring of the OACPS to align with the Revised Georgetown Agreement. I understand that reforms and restructuring aremassive undertakings, but I see the zeal and commitment for that from our Organisation.Now that the new staff regulations are in place, the task ahead is on its implementation to harvest the fruits in terms of reducing payroll expenses and employing new professional staff who will give greater impetus to the Organisation.
At the level of the Members State, I look forward to seeing various measures being taken in relation to transforming the OACPS into a dynamic and effective inter-governmental organisation fully responsive to the global challenges of an unsettled and multi-polar 21st century.The post-Cotonou Agreement is premised on achieving the structural transformation of OACPS economies. It is also people-driven, because the issues touch on the ordinary lives of all OACPS citizens. In line with the globally endorsed 2030 Development Agenda, the OACPS adopted in May 2017, the policy framework entitled, “Towards the ACP we want”. The document cites three pillars that would steer the work of the OACPS in the future: (i) Trade, Investments, Industrialisation and Services; (ii) Development Cooperation, Technology, Science and Innovation/Research and (iii) Political Dialogue and Advocacy. It is my hope that more measures and mechanisms will be put into place to achieve these key pillars.
Press Office: You will be succeeded by Ambassador Luteru of Samoa, what words of advice would you give to him as he picks up the baton?
Ambassador Fatumanava Dr. Paolelei Luteru, oftheIndependentState of Samoais one of the most experienced ambassadors on OACPS affairs. He has a lot of administrative acumen with undoubted commitment and dedication for OACPS affairs. Watching him closely, we all admire his regal dignity, gentle grace, and calm composure that are universal traits of a good leader. I am honoured to call him my friend. I am very sure that under his leadership, the OACPS will do great things in the coming months.
I would just want to reassure him thathe is not alone, the Committee of Ambassadors is blessed with members of the highest caliber with deep knowledge and experience. This is an organisationof very committed and very dedicated ambassadors, supported by the Secretariat. It has people with a positive mindset who are always thinking of the betterment of the Organisation. My key advice to him would be to create trust, be patient, and listen carefully. Developing the right level of rapport with ambassadors and the Secretariat takes time and patience, but you cannot achieve what is in the best interest of the Organisation without it.
Another point I would like to make to my successor is that the process is often as important as the outcome. Results are better obtained if there is buy-in along the way. I once again wish to assure himthat the United Republic of Tanzania remains committed to the OACPS and that, personally I will give him all the needed cooperation and support.
Press Office: The Member States of the OACPS, and indeed the entire world, are facing an uphill battle with COVID-19 and the ensuing socio-economic and developmental challenges, what do you see as the key ways the OACPS can render assistance to its Member States to recover and regain the ground lost to COVID-19?
The Members of the OACPS, similar to the rest of the world, are indeed facing an uphill battle with COVID-19. In recognition of the convergence of multiple economic, environmental, political and humanitarian threats, which pose grave risks to the wellbeing and livelihoods of OACPS members, the OACPS should keep appealing for solidarity and cooperation to tackle the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, and call upon the international community for support, especially fordeveloping countries and in particular, the most vulnerable, to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Despite the fact that Members of the OACPS have valuable experience in containing outbreaks and that most countries have already taken decisive action to mitigate the spread of the virus, the emergency health response capacity of some Members of the OACPS must be enhanced by providing immediate support to their public health systems. It is necessary to take on board the lessons learnt from the pandemic
In this globalised, inter-dependent, and inter-connected era, no one is safe until everyone is safe. The OACPS should continue to promote collaborative, transparent and robust coordinated approaches and partnerships within the OACPS and through other global partners to tackle the pandemic and its impacts.