'Exciting' New Challenge Liberia's Max Bankole Jarrett, BBC Veteran Discusses Appointment to Kofi Annan's APP Secretariate [interview]
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A year before the rice riots of 1979, Max Bankole Jarrett left the shores of his homeland, Liberia for boarding school in London, England, but even as war raged on, his voice as a producer and presenter for the popular BBC Network Africa morning programme, always kept his ears on the ground and his homeland, in tune to his progress at Bush House.
Last week, Jarrett was unveiled as the new Deputy Director of the Africa Progress Secretariat, headed by former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan. Jarrett is on a two-year loan from the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
The APP Secretariat among other things, explores innovative financing methods for investment in Africa's agriculture, investment, and energy sectors. The panel's 2014 Africa Progress Report is due for publication in May. Backed by its Secretariat, the Africa Progress Panel consists of ten influential Panel Members, chaired by Annan.
The panel members include Michel Camdessus, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Peter Eigen, Founder and Chair of the Advisory Council, Transparency International and Founding Chair and Special Representative of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); Bob Geldof, Musician, Businessman, Founder and Chair of Band Aid, Live Aid and live8, Co-Founder of DATA and ONE Advisor and Advocate, Graca Michel, wife of late South Africa President and icon, Nelson Mandela, President of the Foundation for Community Development and Founder of New Faces, New Voices, Strive Masiwa, Econet Wireless; Linah Mohohlo, Governor, Bank of Botswana; Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, from 1999 to 2007, who oversaw the country's first democratic handover of power and administrative reforms that accelerated economic growth; Robert E. Rubin, Co-Chair of the Board, Council on Foreign Relations and former Secretary of the United States Treasury and Tidjane Thiam, CEO, Prudential PLC.
Jarrett also serves as a member of the Governing Council of Africa 2.0, a Pan-African Civil Society network of young and emerging leaders from Africa and the Diaspora and serves on the Advisory Board of the Washington DC-based Center for Sustainable Development in Africa. He received his B.Sc (Hons) in Economics in 1990 from the London School of Economics and Political Science and his M.A in African Studies (Specialism: The Political Economy of Tropical Africa) in 1996, from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. He was born not very far from the Atlantic Ocean in Monrovia, Liberia.
Jarrett has over twenty-three years of professional experience in the field of political and socio-economic affairs as an international broadcaster, writer and analyst in the media sector; and, as an Executive Office aide, speech writer and team leader in the United Nations system. His most recent duties as a UN officer included serving as an Adviser to the Executive Director of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA), a policy-oriented think tank that brings together a range of stakeholders to promote dialogue, and, provides a platform for African voices to be heard.
Thirty five years after leaving Liberia's shores, Jarrett tells FrontPageAfrica he is looking forward to his new challenge as he recalls his time at the BBC, his work on the progress panel and giving back to his homeland.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How Long Has It Been Since You Left Liberia And What Were The Circumstances?
JARRETT: I left Liberia at the age of 9 in September 1978 to attend boarding school in South West England. From that date, I have never spent more than 8 weeks a year in Liberia.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You Spent 11 Years At The BBC Before Venturing Into Work With The United Nations. Why The Change And You Must Have Had Some Fond Memories?
JARRETT: I have very, very fond memories of my BBC years. I feel we made some very good programmes during my time there and it was a joy and a privilege to work with some brilliant and committed broadcasters from Africa and UK including Elizabeth Ohene, Robin White, the late Christopher Bickerton, K.B. Mensah, Neil Curry, Julian Marshall, Josephine Hazeley and Ben Malor.
They were indeed among the best years of my 23 years of professional life so far. I left the BBC initially on a so called 'career break' of one year to lead the work on a "Broadcasting 4 Development" initiative, which involved establishing a studio facility in Addis Ababa at the HQ of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and establishing partnerships and programmes to train broadcasters in the region on reporting on issues the ECA works on.
We also had plans to make what would today be called podcasts, long before they were common. I made the change because I need a change from simply asking questions from my "hot seat" as a lead presenter of Network Africa and producing programmes on the trends and the issues and wanted to make a contribution to advancing the agenda from a base on the continent.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You Are On A Two-Year Loan From Position At The UN Economic Commission For Africa. How Did You Manage That Arrangement?
JARRETT: The arrangement was essentially between the UNECA and APP leadership. I was one of the names forwarded for consideration from ECA. After my CV was reviewed, I was invited to Geneva for an interview with Mr. Annan in September last year. A few days later I was most honored to receive a letter from Mr. Kofi Annan himself stating that I had been selected and granted this opportunity to work with a leader who I respect immensely, and he very dynamic team here at the APP Secretariat.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Who Would You Say Is Responsible For The Peak You Have Achieved In Your Still Young Life?
JARRETT: The road has not been an easy one, and I would say that I am fortunate to be standing on the shoulders of giants and walking paths which my ancestors, such as the former Vice President H. Too Wesley (my maternal great grandfather & Liberia's first indigenous VP) have helped to clear for me. I do the best I can with what I am given. And I have been blessed in this generation to have a very supportive family (Jarrett, Benson, Wesley) where my elders especially my parents and late grandmother the former Liberian diplomat, Julia Benson Wesley, sacrificed a lot to ensure that I was afforded the opportunity to have a world class education from several of the best schools and universities in the world, but also and more importantly through the example they showed me in how to live honorably and make a contribution through their promotion of the values of studying, hard work, humility, respect for others and the will to do as much as possible to help others where one can. I also want to mention my late uncle the long serving diplomat and former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, of Liberia and Ambassador to the UN, New York, Ambassador Sylvester Omotunde Jarrett, whom I spent many hours talking to about Liberian history, diplomacy and politics when he was forced to seek safety in London due to the civil war. He and my grandma were both mentors who I try to emulate in my work as a professional in the realm of international affairs.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: What Is The Africa Progress Panel All About?
JARRETT: The Africa Progress Panel (APP) consists of ten distinguished individuals from the private and public sector who advocate for shared responsibility between African leaders and their international partners to promote equitable and sustainable development for Africa. Mr Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel laureate, chairs the APP and is closely involved in its day-to-day work. The life experiences of Panel members give them a formidable capability to access a wide cross-section of society, including at the highest levels in Africa and across the globe. As a result, the Panel functions in a unique policy space with the ability to target decision-making audiences, including African and other world leaders, heads of state, leaders of the industry, plus a broad range of stakeholders at the global, regional, and national levels.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How Can African Governments And Organizations Benefit From The Work Of The Progress Panel?
JARRETT: The Panel facilitates coalition building at the highest levels to leverage and to broker knowledge, break bottlenecks, and convene decision-makers to influence policy and create change in Africa. The Panel has exceptional networks of policy analysts, including academics and policy practitioners across Africa. By bringing together experts with a focus on Africa, the APP contributes to generating evidence-based policies. For example, the 2013 Africa Progress Report helped frame top-level discussions around the extractives industry in Africa. Africa's oil, gas, and mining sectors offer tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people, but - despite the high growth - the benefits of this natural resource wealth have not reached nearly enough people. This year we will be looking at investment and financial issues, especially as it relates to the need to transform the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do You Think There Is Hope For Africa In The Wake Of A Lot Of Bad Governance, Corruption And Other Damaging Reports Emerging Each Day?
JARRETT: We clearly have a long way to go on that front. However, I think that things have changed positively from when I was a child. The spotlight is on, hence we are getting to be more aware of the details and it is a debate in the public discourse. Think back to the days when your grandpa one of my heroes the late Albert Porte was going around with his manuscripts to expose malpractices under the Tubman administration and later taking on the mighty Mr. Steve Tolbert. Think about the openness of the discourse, then and now where any radio station can openly debate these issues and the leadership is having to respond not my simply jailing those who raise the issues. That said, I am personally appalled by the venality of many of our leaders in Africa today still. How can they live in such opulence in the midst of poverty and knowing that much of the money belongs to the people of their countries? I don't know. I hope for change and live by the Ghandi mantra; Be the Change You want to see the world. That's the ultimate yardstick. Not the talk. Once you are in the office, do or did things change for better or worse on these issues.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: How Can The Panel Assist In Pressing For Better Governance, Transparency And Accountability?
JARRETT: The APP position is that in governance, as in economics, the story of the past decade has been one of steady progress throughout Africa. Multiparty elections are now firmly established, there have been moves towards greater transparency, and for the most part, armies have stayed out of politics. Many countries have also become more peaceful.
The roots of democracy must be protected with vigilance, however. Large pockets of low-intensity conflict are perpetuating instability, and the region has continued to witness political violence, natural resource conflicts, terrorism, separatism and high levels of crime, including drug trafficking and organized crime. While business governance has been steadily improving in Africa, corruption and lack of transparency remain pervasive concerns, undermining social, economic and political progress at many levels.
For ordinary Africans who are obliged to pay illegal charges for education, health or the marketing of goods, corruption are a source of diminished opportunity. For investors, corruption raises the costs of doing business, with damaging consequences for economic efficiency and job creation. And corruption has corrosive effects on political systems, making it possible for leaders to use their office in the pursuit of private gain rather than the public good. It is ultimately up to African citizens and governments to combat corruption through their national political systems. However, global and regional initiatives and measurement tools can provide support. As APP showed in the 2013 Africa Progress Report, lack of transparency is particularly harmful in Africa because it leads to inefficient and inequitable use of the continent's huge resources of oil, gas and minerals.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: You Are Also A Member Of The Governing Council Of Africa 2.0, A Pan-African Civil Society Network Of Young And Emerging Leaders From Africa And The Diaspora As Well As A Member Of The Advisory Board Of The Washington DC-Based Center For Sustainable Development In Africa. Do You Think These Portfolios Have Prepared You For The Challenge Ahead With The Africa Panel?
JARRETT: I am very new to both those roles (since the middle of last year), so I think the experience of APP will most likely feed into them than vice versa. We shall see.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do You Have Plans To Return To Your Homeland Someday; Any Political Aspirations Or Plan To Give Back?
JARRETT: I would like to make a contribution that provides jobs for people and products for the market and my prime focus for that will be playing my role in making the family farmland which my father Dr. Bankole Jarrett purchased in Haindee area of Bong County the mid 1970s productive. I have absolutely no political aspirations, but will always be available to provide guidance to politicians who I feel have the real interests of the people at heart and trusted family members who do, such as my younger cousin in law Ben Sanvee who is exploring making a run for the Senate in the county of my birth Montserrado. How has it been for you to make the transition from a renowned journalist to an African Policy expert? It has been a most interesting journey so far, not without stumbles and very difficult periods and challenges. However, I am still standing today and I give thanks for all I have learned and experienced
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Do You Miss The BBC And Any Plans For You To Return To Journalism or You've Been There And Done That?
JARRETT: I don't miss the BBC as that chapter is closed. However, I do miss the camaraderie of my media friends and colleagues from those days. Many are still my closest friends who I am in contact with regularly. I am interested in doing media again in the future, such as moderating special debate programs for television, and especially making historical documentaries. The first one that I am mulling over is that that tells the story of the links between Ghana, Yorubaland, Jamaica, Nova Scotia, Freetown, Barbados and Liberia, through my personal family history and the blood running through my veins. All I need is time and someone to come up with the money to commission it!
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