The following is a "Questions and Answers" interview with EUCLID Secretary General Syed Zahid Ali regarding EUCLID's new headquarters agreement and actual implantation in The Gambia.
Question: Secretary General Ali, you have now returned from your official visit to The Gambia to finalize the new headquarters agreement for EUCLID. Could you give us an overview of what that means for EUCLID, and the context for this decision?
Answer: As you know, EUCLID has had an headquarters agreement with the Central African Republic since March 2011, and this agreement is legally standing in spite of challenges in the country. To a large extent, EUCLID is the result of the work and vision of Professor Faustin TOUADERA who was the rector of the University of Bangui until 2008 and then Prime Minister of the Central African Republic between 2008 and 2012. EUCLID has a somewhat complicated history: it began as an extension (Distance Learning institute) within the University of Bangui, which was also a joint extension with 2 other universities. In view of the demand and interest expressed in the Euclid programmes, mostly by foreign government officials, it began possible and expedient to have the Participating States constitute EUCLID as an intergovernmental organization with a university charter. This is a rather complex procedure as well, which must culminate in registration with the United Nations and the formalization of headquarters (HQ) agreement. This process took place between 2008 and 2011, and the natural choice for the HQ agreement was Bangui in view of the long history and roots associated with the University of Bangui and Professor TOUADERA who was then the Prime Minister. Things were progressing very well with the appointment of a National Focal Point and of an Academic Coordinator at the Prime Minister's office. In addition, EUCLID was formally allocated office space in the Prime Minister's tower called Tour PETROCA, assigned a qualified Academic Coordinator, and about to hire additional staff.
When was that and what happened then?
2012 was a very good year, with Prime Minister TOUADERA participating in a graduation event in New York and approving the additional staff and office allocation mentioned above. However, at the end of 2012, in December to be precise, the political situation in the country completely changed. Prime Minister TOUADERA was replaced, and a few months later a military coup by a rebel coalition called SELEKA took power, resulting in the appointment of a President of transition. Security conditions in the capital Bangui became dismal, and political continuity was disrupted. It become clear that EUCLID's still developing HQ would have to be relocated or at least co-located. It also become obvious that the country's international image, as well as diplomatic standing, had been affected. Finally, EUCLID wanted a fully operational and staffed HQ that would be attractive to visit, and with local staff able to discharges all key functions and reduce international distribution of tasks that can be localized.
Tell us about the relationship between EUCLID and The Gambia.
The Republic of The Gambia became EUCLID's 12th Participating State in July 2012 under the signature of Dr Mamadou TANGARA, the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology. This participation was the result of the interest expressed by government staff, followed by the usual of institutional and academic validation of the programs offered and of the degree-granting mechanism. At that time, there was no thought at all that The Gambia could or would become be involved in the headquarters process. However, then the situation become extremely difficult in Bangui geographically and for C.A.R. in terms of governance and international relations, a discussion began. In New York, Ambassadors NIYONZIMA (Burundi) and KAAMBI (Comoros) in their roles as EUCLID High Stewards met with Ambassador TOMMY (Gambia) to give a full briefing on EUCLID and the HQ situation. Both Ambassador knew the Foreign Minister since she had just been appointed after serving as a colleague as Permanent Representative of The Gambia.
There was also a lot of phone calls and emails between EUCLID and the government, after which the matter was discussed in Cabinet meeting in the presence of H.E. President JAMMEH who gave his approval to move forward.
It was very important for EUCLID and Gambian officials to organize a visit of senior officials first to discuss all the details and then to finalize the agreements, which was done at the end of June 2013.
Why did EUCLID choose The Gambia?
The discussion developed naturally with stakeholders in The Gambia rather than as part of a systematic approach to many candidates. However, it should be noted that The Gambia has all the attributes that were important to EUCLID:
- its political stability with a strong a visionary leadership at the highest levels of government
- it is English speaking and has the strong legal tradition of the Commonwealth
- it is majority Muslim country known for its religious tolerance
- it is a very pleasant and highly rated tourism destination
- it is a small country which makes it possible for EUCLID to be well understood, properly guided, and in this context EUCLID can also make a more visible difference.
After period of due diligence on both sides, The Honourable Minister of Higher Education, Dr TANGARA, requested that the Ministry's (MoHERST) Permanent Secretary, Dr. Pap Sey, make a presentation to the Cabinet in the presence of His Excellency President JAMMEH. Ministry coordination as well as approval at the highest level was necessary to successfully proceed. Early June, a preliminary visit to The Gambia was accomplished by our International Faculty Coordinator and at the end of June the High Level Delegation arrived in Banjul to finalize the arrangements.
I can safely say that all four EUCLID senior officials were impressed by the professionalism, coordination and support they encountered in The Gambia.
How quickly will the Gambia HQ be operational?
The headquarters agreement and relocation has immediate legal but also practical effects. Immediately, EUCLID has set in motion all the practical steps expected in this case, including securing office space and equipment, staffing, and core operations. We expect staffing to increase in 2014 as we will have finalized budget projections around November 2013.
What then of the Bangui HQ?
The headquarters agreement signed with the Central African Republic in March 2011 has not been terminated, and the legal status secured for the office and staff will continue to serve the specific needs of the government of the Central African Republic as an Official Capacity Building Office tasked to support the efforts of the government to transition to a new era of democracy, stability and development.
What are the procedures that now have to be followed to communicate and register EUCLID's headquarters and nationality?
Indeed, there are many complex procedures that need to be done by EUCLID (a few) and by agencies of the government of the Gambia, which is why the documents that were signed give precise instructions to facilitate and expedite these procedures. For instance:
- filing the agreement with the United Nations
- communicating the Official Circular to UNESCO, IAU, and other academic networks
- applying for membership in certain associations related to Gambia's international relations.
Are you personally going to relocate to The Gambia?
No, simply because the distributed management of the organization made possible by technology, as well as my other commitments in my home country, would not allow it. My first term as Secretary-General ends in April 2014 according to the Statutes. It is a renewable appointment, but in the meantime an annual visit to the HQ seems more likely.
What else would you like to say as we conclude?
First of all, in my official capacity, I would like to express EUCLID's sincere appreciation to His Excellency the President of the Republic of The Gambia, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJ JAMMEH, who gave his approval and support to this relocation and to the entire process. My only regret about the trip to The Gambia was not to be able to meet His Excellency President JAMMEH who was on a nationwide tour to meet the people of The Gambia and find new ways to foster and accelerate development in this beautiful country.
Both Minister TANGARA and Permanent Secretary Dr SEY allowed this process to be completed very successfully, and indeed the MoHERST coordinated incredible effectively with the other Ministries and agencies including the Department of Immigration, National UNESCO Commission, University of The Gambia, and of course Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this regards, Papa SANNEH and Jainaba JAGNE deserve special credit for their highly professional and beyond-the-call-of-duty service to the Delegation and to the process.
Minister WAFFA-OGOO and her entire staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also to be acknowledged for their participation and support, especially in view of the Minister's extensive travel commitments which made her presence impossible during our short visit.
Last but not least, EUCLID has a special relationship and expression of gratitude to Yankuba CEESAY (Vice President's Office) who was instrumental in creating the EUCLID-Gambia relationship, as well as Mohammed LOUM of ECOWAS who worked closely with Yanbuka and EUCLID at every stage. These established relationships also provide EUCLID with an existing group able to immediately support and develop HQ operations.
On the EUCLID side, the entire team, including the faculty group, should be acknowledged. Of course, Ambassador NIYONZIMA, Ambassador KAAMBI, Under Secretary-General VAN PUYENBROECK, and International Faculty Coordinator CLEENEWERCK were actively involved. International DAO AGUERO and Assistant DAO OGBAZION should also be acknowledged for their back-office support. We are all excited to see more functions localized at the HQ in the weeks and months to come, and to be an agent of development in The Gambia.
For EUCLID to be headquartered in The Gambia is very good news, and this is also good news for all EUCLID stakeholders including government-sponsored students. In the mid to long term, I hope that other international organizations will follow in our footsteps and establish headquarters or regional offices here in The Gambia.