VEYE Tatah is a German based Cameroonian publisher. She is the founder of Africa Positive, a magazine with a mission to celebrate and promote a better image of Africa. In recent times, Africa Positive has collaborated with Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation to focus on migration as a subject as it concerns Africa and Europe. The team recently visited Nigeria as part of its work. Anthony Akaeze, a freelance journalist, caught up with Tatah in Lagos, and engaged her in a discussion about her work and experiences living in Germany. Excerpts:
You came to Nigeria as part of a team to conduct a migration workshop. How has the experience been?
It’s been very positive. Because you know, people think of migration as something isolated. But through all the trainings we conducted, they’ve realised that migration is just the result of policies that don’t function in the country and I think that’s where we have to make the connection because if we understand that migration can’t be dealt with in isolation, that’s when we start solving our common problems: poverty, lack of water, electricity, lack of perspective for the youths, lack of jobs. So we can look at the big picture and that’s what we are trying to point out and it was very impressive the way they took it.
You came from Germany, a country you’ve lived in for long and which has been in the news for sometime over migrants from Africa and the Middle East. We see some of the images on TV but as someone who lives in Germany, how would you describe the reception by Germans?
You know, it depends how you arrived the country: whether you arrived legally or illegally. The German government has procedures that each person who enters the country has to go through and they follow it to the letter. The question is, are you migrating as a refugee, or as a worker? We have to classify what type of migration it is. You know, there’s illegal or legal migration; there’s migration for studies or business. Which category does it fall in? When you come legally, you are welcomed. Even when you come illegally, they still welcome you. They treat your papers and decide if you can stay or go but the process is very transparent actually.
As someone who left Africa for Germany, how easy was it for you to integrate into the German society?
To integrate into the German society, you have to be extremely hardworking and pushful. This is because Germans are more reserved. They take a lot of time to know somebody before they open up. We Africans, you know, we are open, we are friendly, so, when we come, we are confronted with this conservative society. So you have to be open to the people, meet with them, no matter how reserved they are because you have to live with them as they are in the majority. You cannot withdraw and say, oh, they are not friendly. That’s the way I did it. I was pushful. I made friends with them, worked with them, I volunteered a lot as a student, I volunteered a lot in organisations. That’s how I got to create a big network and it’s making things work for me. But unfortunately a lot of Africans stay within themselves and do the same things that they used to do in Africa. They live in Germany but behave as if they are in Nigeria, Cameroon or Ghana. That won’t benefit them or their children. You need to work with the people in the country. That’s what moves one forward.
The issue of racial profiling, discrimination, is it something common in Germany?
It exists a lot but I think it exists also in our own African countries. In our countries we call it ethnicity, tribalism. In Europe, it’s discrimination and racism. You know, it exists everywhere; so I don’t really see it as an issue because I believe when you are hardworking and show your competence, the people can trust you. The doors are all open to you. You see, what we are doing today is because we’ve shown in the past 20 years with my organisation, Africa Positive, that we in the Diaspora can build our own institutions with our own money and hardwork, a credible and transparent institution. If you can achieve that, you will gain the respect of the society you live in. I think our organisation is like a role model to other Africans to show that you can work hard and transparently make a way without going through short cut.
I know Africa Positive collaborates with Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation on the migration programme. How were you able to do it?
It was a long process. We’ve been existing for 20 years but when we celebrated our 15 years anniversary, we started cooperating with Erich Brost Institute, University of Dortmund and after working 3-4 years, we sent in a project proposal to Bosch Stiftung and they accepted it. They were impressed with the project we did with them and want to continue working with us and I think that’s what we want to encourage in people: competence. Show your competence, your discipline and the passion for what you do and people will see it and when they see you, they will support you. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is. So, I think, we have to start changing the mindset and believing in ourselves, that we can be solutions to our own problems and not waiting for Europeans to come solve our problems and that’s a message I take back to African countries when I travel and that’s why I’m here (in Lagos).
As someone who has lived outside Africa for long, what are the things that strike you when you travel within Africa and what advice do you have for African leaders?
I’m actually pan African. I love Africa, that’s why I started this project, Africa Positive. When I visit African countries, most of the time, I feel very sad because I see the mass resources that are available in our countries, the potential and opportunities in the midst of suffering and I ask myself why are we Africans unable to build countries where each and everyone can participate in the richness of our countries. Why can’t we work together? You see people of different ethnic groups who don’t like each other but prefer to go and marry foreigners. Something must be wrong with us. So, if we can’t value each other, how do we expect foreigners to value us? This mindset makes us dehumanize ourselves and when we start dehumanizing one another, we don’t care about other people’s needs. You see someone having so much money but doesn’t care about his neighbours. How do we think the world sees us? How can we gain respect from the world if we cannot treat our own brothers and sisters with respect? The world will start respecting us when we begin to treat our black brothers and sisters with respect. So, it has to start with us. We have to be the change that we want to see in others. Why should the Igbo abuse the Yoruba, the Yoruba abuse the Hausa (and vice versa). In Cameroon, the French abuse the English speaking people(and vice versa). We are racists ourselves, we blacks. Until we stop our racism, the world will never stop treating us the way they do. The disadvantage of black racism is that it prevents us from developing. How? Because when you have competence, because we are of different tribes or ethnic group, there’s nobody to push you ahead. They won’t give you the opportunity to show your competence and build the nation. They will prefer to put somebody there who’s incompetent. That’s why you see our economies are not doing well; our politics is far from ideal because we have the wrong people at the wrong places. It’s all due to the wrong mind set. Money alone cannot change our countries. We have to change the way we think. If we change the way we think, with our resources, in the next fifteen years, Africa will be the best place to live in.
Africa Positive, you say, is 20 years this year. How did you come about the idea and what impact would you say it has had generally?
I arrived Germany at the age of 19. My parents were not that rich, they were middle class. I had a very good childhood, good education, boarding school, I didn’t lack anything. When I arrived Germany and was watching the TV, I realised that every single picture they showed of a black person was either of hunger or war: pictures of bones and flies in the eyes. You know, I had never seen those pictures of black children with flies in the eyes. I’m sure they were pictures from Ethiopia or Somalia. It shocked me so much because in Cameroon, I had never seen such. It kept troubling me. I was living with Germans when I arrived the country and I’m somebody who, if I have an issue (to deal with), I’m always trying to look for solution. What could I do to change this perception of Africa, because anything Africa is bad. War, corruption. I mean, it’s not as if corruption doesn’t happen in other places. Corruption is everywhere. Even in Germany, we have corruption but it’s corruption on another level. So, it bothered me. The worst was that, during Christmas period, you would see big posters asking for money to be donated to Africans. And I thought, but I didn’t know they were sending money to feed us in Africa. It used to bother me and my pride and when I started studying computer science in University of Dortmund, I thought that if that’s the Africa Germans want to show their people, we Africans have to show the Germans a different picture, the Africa you know, the one I know. It doesn’t mean Africa doesn’t have challenges. It does, but it’s not only problem. It has negative and positive sides: our culture and tradition and way we relate. We have positive issues but we have to put them side by side with the negative. But as a young girl, what could I do? I had no money or contact in the press. So I started writing to German televisions and newspapers and asking them why they liked to portray Africa like that. Some really took time and replied me, saying Germans like to read negative news. So, I thought, why don’t you own a newspaper but I had never written an article in my life so I talked to an African colleague from Sierra Leone called Usman Sanko who was studying statistics. He said, Veye, you have a good idea, when I was in the university in Sierra Leone, I used to write (articles). I can help you and we will produce the newspaper. So we produced the first Africa Positive magazine. It was like 20 pages with Nelson Mandela (on the cover). That was in 1998. Why did we put Nelson Mandela? Because that was the only famous African whites could respect. Because, to me, I thought we need African role models, positive role models. So I chose the name Africa Positive to provoke discussion, a magazine that, when they flip through, they will never see a bony child or children with flies in their eyes. It was like saying, you can’t portray a whole continent, a whole race as poor or primitive. So we published the first one. Since I was a student, I borrowed money from my parents but I didn’t tell them what I wanted to use it for because they wouldn’t have given me the money. I used it to publish the first Africa Positive magazine. That’s how we started. I didn’t even know how I would publish the second edition but because of my passion, we kept forging ahead and now we are celebrating 20 years. It’s a quarterly magazine. The quality of the magazine has made it one of the most read by the German elite and educated class. So it shows, even if you are doing something voluntarily, the passion and vision you have matters. I never knew I would be coming to Nigeria or Senegal to talk to journalists. I’m not a journalist, I’m a computer scientist and we deal a lot with information and journalism to me, is sharing information, bringing information to the people and to me, it was about using information to bring about change; not only entertaining people but bringing about critical change in the society to benefit the masses. That’s how we need to develop our countries.
How do you sustain the publication?
We have subscription and we, as publisher, also sponsor. I’m a business woman, I have a company. If you have a company, you have the possibility of doing donation to an organisation, so I donate to the organisation to publish the magazine. To me, it’s like a hobby. Some people will use their money to buy cars, I use mine to promote the African image. I believe that if we Africans don’t invest in things that are dear to the African continent and are waiting for Europeans or Americans to it for us ( they may not). The things that are important to us, they are not important to them. Why do we always have to outsource our problems to other people to solve? For me, it’s something to think about. If electricity is dear to Nigerians, I think it’s in your interest to sit together — the government, civil society, to see how to solve the problem. To me, it’s like local solution to local problem and Africans being in charge of their solutions.
What are the things that drive you as a person?
I grew up in a household where I would say equality was strong. My parents taught us to treat people equally, to respect and value each person. Don’t, because you have money, be arrogant. These are values that drive me. If I see a child or mother… like now there are a lot of Nigerian migrants coming from Italy to Germany…how can we help them? They are not my children but I would like to help them because I want them to be successful. Because I’m thinking of Africa in the next 10 years in Germany. I want them to be successful. I don’t want drug dealers or prostitution, I want people to be proud of Africans.
What’s your view of the separatist movement in southern Cameroon fighting for self rule for the region?
Well, you know, the French and English systems are different, they are two different mentalities. I think the people in southern Cameroon understand themselves better with Nigerians than with French Cameroonians and I think, due to the fact that they had been marginalized, in regard to their culture, their schools, the lack of industries, despite being richer in resources…You can’t continue to do that. This was a political problem that could have been solved on the table but since those people profiting from the system don’t want to sit down and talk with those they are oppressing, that’s what led to the current situation. It’s really unfortunate but it brings us back to the point that Africans don’t value each other. Just because one is English speaking, the French ruling government think they can do what they like. If we could value each other, we will create a system in Cameroon where every child, whether he is French or English speaking, Hausa or whatever, will enjoy the peace and resources in Cameroon. I’m not for war but about creating a society that is just, a fair society where each and everyone, no matter the background, should have their chances of navigating the society without prejudice not only in Cameroon but Africa.
– Dec. 20, 2019 @ 4:58 GMT |