The Most Difficult Job of My Life – Beavogui

MOHAMED Beavogui, director general of the African Risk Capacity, ARC, is an expert in Agricultural Finance, who is very passionate about his job. But his current task, according to him, is the most difficult in his 30 years of experience working with different international development institutions. Why? He is working in a continent which is yet to develop an insurance culture. This makes it exacting convincing governments to insure their countries against disaster risk given the catastrophic effects of climate change and its attendant droughts, flooding and cyclones. But he is forging ahead with the task for the simple reason that his long working experience had exposed him to the disastrous effects of climate change induced disasters on the investments and livelihood of people in different countries he has worked and his determination to mitigate them through the ARC.

Beavogui, an assistant secretary general of the United Nations, UN, who was elected as the first African general manager of the African Risk Capacity in January 2015, during the third annual Conference of the Parties, COP, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, served as the director of Partnerships and Resource Mobilization and senior advisor to the President of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. Prior to this, he worked for seven years with the United Nations Office for Project Services, UNOPS, in New York, as a senior project management officer and subsequently as regional director for West and Central Africa.

Earlier, he worked at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, in Burundi, as chief technical adviser and in Rome. Also, he worked in the African Regional Centre for Engineering Design and Manufacturing, ARCEDEM, in Nigeria, and for the government of Guinea.

Fortified with all these experiences, he is eagerly working to ensure that African countries do not lose their investments and development gains to disaster risk. How he is tackling this onerous challenge is what he discussed with Maureen Chigbo, editor, Realnews on the eve of COP 7, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March. Excerpts.

Realnews:  African Risk Capacity has been in existence for some time 2012 but it is not well known. What does it do?

Beavogui: African Risk Capacity was established by the African Head of States in 2012 as the specialised agency of the African Union with the objective to support African countries to manage and finance disaster risk. The value proposition of African Risk Capacity is to combine early warning to let people know when a risk is coming, contingency plan to get people ready with complete plan to respond to disaster risk and then financing. It means that when you have the plan, you have to have money to finance it.

Realnews: You talked about early warning. Is it really enough to prepare people for the terrific effect of disasters bearing in mind what happened in Mozambique where they had early warning yet the effect was catastrophic on the country and has been described the as worst.

MOHAMED Beavogui 2
MOHAMED Beavogui 2

Beavogui: Early warning is in two parts. It is a risk profiling – just understanding the risk that may be done to a country and this is done through cutting edge technology model software. One of them is used and developed by ARC itself but has gone global. You can have warning but if you do not take action to prepare yourself, to prepare properly according to the warning that is coming, then the early warning has no meaning. What happened, for example, in Mozambique, is that they knew that it was coming. They knew at least at the central level. Globally, they were warned. We in ARC were observing the speed of the wind; they knew it was coming but they did not have the right contingency planning to face it.  Remember when there was warning in the United States that a cyclone was coming, you saw them putting planks on the glasses; you saw them moving by millions from the region that was going to be harmed. Yes, you cannot stop the destruction completely depending on the strength of the wind like in cyclone for example, but you can reduce the risk to lives by taking people out of that region. The Mozambique case is more difficult because this is a very, I will say, poor area if we can express ourselves like that. So, people don’t have the means to go far from there. And they have been going through this kind of cyclone for several years, but it never reached this magnitude. So they thought it would be anything like in the past. Unfortunately, climate change has done its worst. And now, the disasters we are seeing are not only more frequent but much stronger in terms of magnitude. That’s what happened.

Realnews: You talked about climate change and some heads of States are not taking it serious like the early warning you provided to the government of Mozambique which was not taken seriously…

Beavogui: (cuts in) We didn’t provide early warning to Mozambique. Let’s be very clear on this. But we were seeing it in our own models. But we know Mozambique has a very sophisticated system and with the help of donors, they see what is happening. Infact they had warned people that this was going to happen. But as I told you, the livelihood of people are not very strong in that region and you can see the impact. Many of them thought that it would be like the usual experience. It will be another one we will cope with it, but unfortunately it was worse.

Realnews: Many nations are concerned about climate change but it appears that President Donald Trump of the United States has a different view. As the director general of ARC, how do you see Trump’s position on the issue of climate change and its impact on the environment?

Beavogui: Let me tell you one thing, one of the countries that is doing a lot to vis-a-vis climate change is the United States. Why? Because the private sector, the market understood that you cannot ignore climate change any more. If you want to do business, you have to take care of it in terms of energy, infrastructure and even products that people buy. They will not buy products that are climate sensitive. Unless you take that route you will miss the market. So, therefore, America is doing it. They may not be putting the resources that are expected at the federal level, but at State level – States like California is a front runner regarding climate change management definitely.

Realnews: Let’s come down to Africa, you talked about empowering the media to report disaster risk. How can ARC do this? You have done this capacity building workshop, but it takes more to ensure sustained reportage of disaster risk to do follow-up stories and not just stop at reporting only when the disaster takes place?

Beavogui: First of all, what we wanted is to have a network of journalists across Africa that understand issues related to climate change and disaster risk management and start working with them in each of those countries to make sure that they can convey the right messages; help us sensitize and play the role of advocacy at the country level so that the governments take this more seriously. And also allow the exchange of information between nations on the continent. So they can capitalize on each other’s successes. Now our idea is not just to have this meeting. This is a meeting where we are presenting to the first batch of journalists why we think we should work together. But it is a two-way dialogue. We want also to hear from the journalist what they want from us. So for us this workshop is just the beginning of our relationship with the journalists, We will like this to continue with us feeding them and them feeding us on what is happening with knowledge, data and what is happening in the countries. We would also like to continue this type of meeting at least once a year. This is our wish. And we hope to get more journalists who are interested in the subject and increase the number of participants. We want them to be more knowledgeable and also interested in the subject.

Realnews: What is the response of the African governments to ARC?

Beavogui: The response of the African governments is different depending on which country you are in. As we told you this morning, 33 countries have signed the ARC treaty, 25 have an MOU with us and we are working with them. Remember, we need to sensitise. We need to train them. We don’t want to do it for the countries, we want to train the countries to have people who are capable of doing what is necessary to be done.  So we train in risk profiling, contingency planning and risk transfer – that is quantifying in terms of resources; and what does it cost, and being able to negotiate with the banks and insurance companies. Being able to come to the point that they can even issue bonds themselves; or understand what is risk pooling – I need to insure you, you need to insure me. If I go alone it will cost so much. If 10 of us do, it will be cheaper and we can dictate our conditions because we are many.  These are the things we want to start doing first in such a way that our governments are involved and they take the necessary steps. Now that takes time. Also, countries don’t understand insurance at that level. You know even ourselves – to insure your car you are not even happy. But you still insure because in many countries the law forces you to insure your car. Now imagine at government level – how many countries in the continent insure their buildings against fire. How many of them insure their cars even though they have personal cars to be insured?  It’s a culture that we need to develop.

Realnews: How difficult is your job because of this culture – people don’t trust or want to do insurance? And now you are talking about governments not wanting to insure their countries against risk. Is this not what ARC is all about?

Beavogui: Absolutely, I won’t lie to you. This is the most difficult task I have had in my long working life.

Realnews: How long?

Beavogui: Over 30 years. But I embrace it for a reason. I used to work in agricultural development – in agric financing.  And I saw very frequently in the field investment in rain fed agriculture done by IFAD, World Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank. Frequently, we have seen particularly that you invest; your project moves the first year, third year and the thing is flowering and suddenly you have a big drought or flood.  And the budget itself, although it is done by the biggest investment development institution in the world, everything will be flushed down. Then I thought how can we accept to lose development gains. It may take some time but when I was approached by ARC, I thought this is the way. What I want to see today is that every investment that is being done in the region regarding drought, flood, cyclone or diseases, we must insure these investments. Because, imagine you have agricultural project and in the third year something happened, if you had an insurance component into that project you can just trigger and then you have the resources to keep afloat until you can move forward. But if you don’t have anything, everything collapses. And to take up that person who has collapsed is very serious, very difficult and expensive. We have calculated the cost benefit analysis and if you help someone who has been hit, for example by drought right at the beginning, you can see from each dollar four dollars down the road. If you help him at the beginning the one dollar you need to use to keep him afloat will yield four dollars six months later. It is very easy to explain. Imagine that at the beginning of a drought, someone has nothing to eat because the harvest is gone, but you come in help him to get some food and wait for the next season so he can keep up, survive. That’s one. Second, if you leave him what will he do? He has nothing to eat. He will sell his implements, eat his seeds that he will have to plant next year and then next year will come and he will have nothing to do. He will leave, migrate to slums in the city or take the Mediterranean. If you wait that six months and you want to help him, it means you don’t have to give him food but the implements; and you will have to buy the seeds for planting and sometimes he has lost a lot of things and his children are not even going to school. That’s why it is important to intervene early enough to keep him afloat. Sometimes I recognize that the insurance bailout that comes in is not enough but it can allow people to live three to six months until the big help comes. Because the way big help is mobilized is an appeal that is done to donors, then donors put conference together and at the conference each one pledges and then by the time the money comes its three months, six months, nine months. Insurance may not cover the total cost of intervention. But it can cover the cost for people to stay afloat until that big intervention comes in and with the effect that people keep their assets. Second, the cost of intervention becomes two or three time less than what it would have been without insurance, particularly considering the statistics in the last 10 years there has never been enough resources compared to the request of countries when there is a disaster risk. So, I think it is an extremely good instrument that people should grab. They should grab it because you save peoples livelihood. Secondly, you reduce cost of humanitarian aid.  Third, you protect investment and finally, you take control of your economy; you stop begging. Let’s be realistic.

Realnews: From what you are saying are you getting IFAD, African Development Bank to help insure agricultural programme in countries?

Mohamed Beavogui
Mohamed Beavogui

Beavogui: Yes, we are approaching them. They are open. Some of them are already doing some work in the field. But of course it is a specialized area. That’s why we need to work together. The endeavour is so big that we need to be complimentary. With African Development Bank for example, we have created a fund which is called African Disaster Risk Financing Initiative. We are now trying to fill the forms so we can help countries to have access to pay premiums. Premium is the problem. You know when they sit in the government they think of health, education – they are competing priorities. We want to help people until they get used to it for the next two to five years and naturally the processes will kick in.

Realnews: Is there any other information you will like to give on ARC?

Beavogui: I think African Risk Capacity has learnt a lot in the last five years. What we will really like as decided by the African Heads of State is that we see bigger participation of the African development. This is an investment that can have a very positive impact on countries more particularly now. Protection against climate risk is entering as an element of rating by big rating companies globally. So if you are protected, you may access the market and obtain loans at lower rate than if you are not protected. We think that this is for the continent, for protecting livelihood and really it is by putting our effort together that we can succeed and we will like to massively support countries working with us with no financial obligation. You can come, use the tools, test them and once you have tested them you can decide if you want to go on or not. But at least you can learn, you can see and you can act after that.

– May 17, 2019 @ 16:45 GMT |