Interview with the High Commissioner for the Republic of Cameroon in Canada By Brooke Ward, March 29, 2017
His Excellency Anu’A-Gayle Solomon Azoh-Mbi has spent nine winters in Ottawa, as the High Commissioner for the Republic of Cameroon in Canada. This is his first international posting, but having previously spent more than 20 years in the diplomatic division of the office of the President of Cameroon, he is beginning to look forward to the day when he will return home, and truly retire, in the highlands of northwest Cameroon. Though he feels the tug of familiarity, he is also fully prepared to go back to a somewhat different reality than he once knew.
Back in Cameroon, rural life is being displaced, and quickly, says Mr. Anua’A-Gheyle.
“The village of today is the city of tomorrow,” he says. “Issues of urbanization constitute a big part of the challenges facing many African countries today.”
That is why it is critical to help individuals and governments prepare the way for that change. While the gathering engendered by urbanization makes it easier to provide essential services and presents new opportunities to lift people out of poverty, it also changes the entire concept of community, and brings about new challenges from governance and social infrastructure to managing sewage and mass transportation; from pollution and environmental conservation to job creation and crime reduction.
“The whole concept of sustainable urban development is very important, very topical. There is a real need, not just for Cameroon, but for all of Africa, and elsewhere too,” says Mr. Anua’A-Gheyle. Even the most developed countries are not immune to urban challenges, he points out, noting that gentrification is a key contributor to urban poverty and deepening inequalities in North American cities.
“The biggest challenge in development is inclusivity,” he says. “A nation cannot develop by leaving behind the majority of its people.” Unfortunately, in a development context, many local leaders and other government officials do not really understand what is expected of them, says Mr. Anua’A-Gheyle.
“They think they are responsible for roads, water, maybe electricity, but it goes well beyond that,” he says. “It’s not about skyscrapers and roads. It’s about fulfillment, about the lives of people being changed for the better. You need to have a vision.”
Back in 2015, Mr. Anua’A-Gheyle recognized ICCCASU’s potential to help establish and share a vision for a better urban future for all. He took it upon himself to invite the whole African diplomatic group to get involved in the first conference and was instrumental in getting his government’s support to host the second conference in 2017. The entire concept of North-South and South-South alignment and cooperation and the idea of leveraging Chinese and Canadian experiences for African benefit fascinated the High Commissioner and made him “want to jump on board.” Mr. Anua’A-Gheyle is a fan of China’s advice to “Create your own way” in development, but he also knows that the experience of others is a valuable teacher than can help African nations big and small to “carve out a path for [their own] development.”
“I believe we should be interested in all areas of university, government or civil society that can influence or affect the development of our countries,” he said. “The best way of bringing about transformational change is simply by engaging in it for yourself.”
“[ICCCASU] is growing partnerships, strengthening networks and broadening perspectives,” he continues. “Together we are able to draw out the challenges and establish a scientific framework, with a holistic approach, to address those challenges by sharing empirical experiences and research.”
The High Commissioner has high expectations for this December’s conference, including advancing the process of bringing together stakeholders, pooling resources and knowledge and further strengthening networks. He wants the outcomes of ICCCASU II to inform and influence policy, to enhance networks among African countries, and for African countries of all sizes to be informed and involved. His big wish would be to see the establishment of an institution, or a hub of some kind to serve as a permanent platform for urban studies in Africa.
“I like intellectual debate and discussion, but I always look forward to that which is concrete,” he explains. He believes that ICCCASU II can deliver. “The transversal effects of this conference could be enormous.”