Dr Richard Dackam Ngatchou, one of the renowned United Nations diplomats and an expert in demography, who lives in Canada, opens up to The Bridge Magazine. He shares his view about the royal wedding and the opportunity it provides for bridging cultural differences by bringing the nations of the world together.
As the world gets ready to witness another British royal wedding, The Bridge Magazine interviews a high-ranking United Nations expert in demography and population studies.
Experts in demographics are highly aware of how personal experiences impact on human behaviour and the psyche, and consequently influence our interaction in society, as well as population and socio-economic improvement.
“A peacemaker, smart, a patriarch, sociable and altruistic” is how Dackam Ngatchou was described by the Congolese Government and United Nations High Commissioners whilst he acted as a United Nations Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Award-winning Dr Dackam Ngatchou recently put his experience in program management into practice after being thrown into the challenging environment of a war zone. He successfully led a team to dramatically improve the state of sexual violence and women’s mortality in childbirth in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With over thirty years experience in program management, evaluation, policy promotion, strategic communications and training and research in the field of “population and socio-economic development”, the Cameroon-born Dackam Ngatchou joined his family in Canada after his retirement. He spoke to The Bridge Magazine on Wednesday 2nd May 2018.
As reminder, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says it “is the lead UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled”.
Their work involves the improvement of reproductive health.
He appears to be serene, welcoming; his modulated voice evokes a sense of accomplishment. He has great social skills.
Feel free to follow the interview below to learn more about Dr Richard Dackam Ngatchou.
The Bridge Magazine:First of all Richard, many thanks for making yourself available to talk to The Bridge Magazine.
1 ) The royal wedding news is too topical to be ignored. We will start with your opinion on the British monarchy and its apparent popularity in Europe and the world.
a) Megan Markle and Prince Harry are getting married on May the 19th this year. It seems as if the British monarchy is making a diplomatic move towards the Pan-Africanism movement –albeit only a superficial gesture in the perceptions of anti-monarchists and republicans.
The wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Merkel is part of social change that breaks down social class barriers in the millennial generation. The expansion of communications on a global scale facilitates the dissemination of norms, social practices and values. Cultural changes also affect the European aristocracy; nowadays, unions between members of royal families and commoners are more and more frequent: For instance, The Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein, got married to Angela Brown, an Afro-American Panamanian in 2000.
To quote Vidiadhar Surajprasad «We live now in one and the same global civilization”.
b) On the other hand, those with a more rational or factual approach believe that the British monarchy’s knack at surviving and remaining popular stems from its ability to evolve. First with its acceptance of Kate Middleton, a commoner, and now with its’ allowing Megan Markle, an American woman of African descent, to marry into it. What do you think about that?
The universal can be defined as the fusion of differences. The idea of the civilization of the universal was once expressed by Senegalese poet, cultural theorist and former President Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906 –2001). In his collection entitled ‘Chants d’Ombre’ (1945), he invited Africans to respond to the revival of the World.
He also explained that Social differentiation by race was an instrument of the ignorant because there is only one race: the human race.
We are all human. Prince Harry got married to Meghan just like several African heads of state got married to Europeans/Caucasian women.
2) You are fearless one must say. What was it like to take a role in a country torn apart by civil war?
One of the United Nations’ Goals is to achieve ‘the realization of international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian nature’.
When I was acting as head of the United Nations agency, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in DRC, I was trained to conceived and lead a humanitarian project, from an ethical and social perspective. I have great awareness of what to do and know how far to go when there is a humanitarian crises.
3) Pan-Africanism is a worldwide intellectual movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent. Do you have any advice for the movement?
The pan-Africanism can be considered as a theory of international relations, it aims “To create in Africa and for Africans a new civilization suitable for Africa and the new times, which is the fruit of a real culture”.
In his book entitled Africa Must Unite the deceased President of Ghana and Africanist leader Kwame Nkrumah, (1909-1972) explained why Africa, African States and peoples must unite.
The analysis of Pan-Africanism includes specific techniques such as discourse analysis, genealogy, deconstruction, cultural analysis, ethnography or participatory observation.
Today Pan-Africanism is a postcolonial theory in International Relations. We pay tribute to the work of the key thinkers of Pan-Africanism, such as Garvey on the foundations of Pan-African movements, and Dubois of the first half of the 20th century.
4) According to a survey, three times out of five, prime misters and head of states in the UK and worldwide are eager to have in their advisory team high profile United Nations diplomats of your calibre. Is it a role you would like to add to your robust CV?
Heads of state from developed countries have a long tradition of using the results of high-level studies and research to decide. It engages in policies based on tangible evidence of interest in their country.
To avoid any conflict of interest, I will rather advise African Head of States than Western Head of government / Presidents.
5) The world’s nuclear race is making headlines again. In a world where power seems to be the most important factor in international relations, is it utopic or realistic to promote peace or to believe in a peaceful world?
I am a layman on international security issues related to nuclear energy. However, peace in the world does not rely on nuclear power. Historically, there have been more wars due to religious feud, imperialism, the expansion of empires than the possession of atomic weapons.
Using nuclear weapons means bombing in a controlled manner. This entails some risks, as history has shown, but control over this resource offers great opportunities. A single gram of uranium furnishes as much heat as three tons of coal or two tons of oil; it is much less polluting than fossil fuels.
Nuclear used for peaceful and non-explosive purposes is not a bad thing. Nuclear energy contributes to social and economic progress and to increased human capital assets. Numerous studies indicate that nuclear power systems in operation today in developed countries have excellent technical and economic efficiency and are acceptable to the environment.
When nuclear power is used for bad purposes or misused, negative consequences are observed, for example, the accumulation of high-level radioactive waste and the proliferation risks of nuclear weapons, for example, raise fears in civil society. A city like Hiroshima was destroyed in 1945 with the explosion of one kilogram of this element. Nuclear energy enjoys varying levels of support from policy makers and the public in different countries.
6) You are originally from Cameroon; you have travelled the world for more than 30 years as a United Nation consultant diplomatic expert in demography, and you now permanently live in Canada. Demographic studies usually help experts in the field to understand more complex and useful socio-political trends. Is it being able to forecast future scenarios of political and social stability in sub-Saharan countries and in Africa as a whole that has mapped out your choice of country for retirement?
African countries, taken individually, are too small in terms of population to project their emergence in the long term. The size of the population of all CEMAC countries, for example, taken together is smaller than the population of the DRC.
Only one State, “Africa”, forms a population of more than one billion; such a country from the point of view of international relations would be located after China and India and could achieve economies of scale. The emigration of young people from Africa to other continents would be reversed in favour of migration between the regions of “Africa”. Africa will enter the first window of opportunity by 2030 to take advantage of this large proportion of the potentially active population, which will be larger than the inactive population (the 15-year-olds and the over-65s).
The demographic dividend ahead may be a demographic bonus if the new generation of African leaders will be the champions of good governance.
There is also a lack of a strategy to ensure transparency in the management of public goods, the duty to report through a culture of evaluation of the country’s development policies and programs (at central or local level). The peer review experience in the framwork of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development
(NEPAD) was a good idea that was poorly designed and poorly implemented.
7) You grew up in Cameroon and this has certainly influenced your dietary tastes. Verdant Cameroon is believed to be blessed with seafood, in general, meat, fruit and vegetables of all sorts. What do you like to have on your plate?
- N’Dolé with prawns. N’Dolé is the Cameroonian name of Vernonia’s food varieties…
Enjoyed with plantains and / or foufou (corn semolina).
- Koki or Cornille cake made from white kidney beans and palm oil with ripe plantain banana. This dish is best appreciated with plantain when cooked the day before.
8) If you were to give free consultancy to the Prime Minister of the UK and the President of the United States, what would it be?
My free consultation will focus on the effectiveness of development assistance to African countries. How to make aid more effective in African countries in the spirit of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008).
It is now the norm for aid recipients to forge their own national development strategies with the national ownership; for donors to support these strategies (alignment) and work to streamline their efforts in-country (harmonization); for development policies to be directed to achieving clear goals and for progress towards these goals to be monitored (results-based management); and for donors and recipients alike to be jointly responsible for achieving these goals (mutual accountability).
9) What is your favourite colour and why?
Blue (different shade of blue) is associated with the United Nations flag: blue represents , peace, tranquillity and hope.
10) ‘Brain-draining’ from Africa to Western countries is one of the major issues of our modern era. Do you think this issue will ever be resolved?
When a single state called “Africa” regrouping all 54 African states, if not the majority, will exist, the migration of Africa to other countries will decrease completely. I am optimistic about this prospect, especially as for Africans, one country, one government, one currency, etc., is the only strategy for the current countries to continue as regions in the new country. “Africa» beyond 2050. The brain drain of Africans to other countries will be told in history books in 2060 as a necessary passage of the ancestors that we are to build the new “Africa”.
Political instability in Africa, widening wage disparities and employment opportunities have encouraged international migration. In most cases, host countries benefit from migrants’ contributions, but international migration also means the loss of life forces for many countries of origin and can lead to political, economic and social tensions in countries of destination. Remittances from migrant workers remain an important source of foreign exchange and make a substantial contribution to the GDP of many countries. Emigrants are encouraged to make productive investments in the communities of origin.
11) On top of reading, playing chess, gardening and visiting historical sites, do you have any other hobbies?
I had the chance to visit almost all African countries in my professional life –a hobby that I never gave up,is documenting what is positive and authentically specific to each country and not copied practices. By putting together these positive practices based on African cultures, and by negotiating the global coherence of non-contradictory values, we will find a model that can finally accelerate the process of socio-economic development of Africa from a pan-African point of view.
12) Is there any particular influence you have had in your life?
Those who have influenced my life are: my father, a primary school teacher, a high school teacher and my wife.
My father has always repeated to me the famous phrase of Socrates “Know thyself” and you will become yourself. This advice always helps me to decide, knowing my strengths and weaknesses. A good mastery of my abilities has always helped me to successfully complete the activities that I accept to undertake.
A year six teacher of elementary school made me enjoy reading. Instead of reading the syllabus, I read the entire book. This gave me an advantage over my classmates in Science classes. Another teacher told me in 4th grade of secondary school (year five in Britain) that I was good at Mathematics; since this revelation, I became relatively good in Maths up to university.
My wife Esther has always been a great moral support. We were smitten before leaving high school, and so we got married.
13) Beyond all the spin, propaganda and typically presumptive statements about Africa, it is one of the food-attics of the world –yet it is portrayed by the mainstream media as the world’s leper. Beyond Black Excellence and Pan-Africanism trends, The Bridge Magazine strongly believes Africa needs to cooperate with the West to thrive. Do you share the same view? If yes, why? If no, why not?
There is no friendship between countries. There is only the relationship of interest. Cooperation between independent states is a situation of exchange in which each partner must seek not to lose in the long term.
When one of the countries in foreign affairs is not independent, we are in an exploitative relationship in which the dependent country is the loser.
External assistance, although welcome, should not be a substitute for the action of the country itself. If this is the case, addiction develops which makes post-assistance efforts more difficult to provide and more uncertain for consolidating progress. In response to the failure in development assistance, international organizations now agree that programs and projects must be implemented by nationals more than they have contributed over the past two decades to help improve human resources.
Whereas in the past, all the projects carried out in an unorganised country, make it possible to improve the efficiency, the effectiveness of the programs of the population policies, and the impact of technical cooperation.
14) What do you say to this typical presumptive statement: ‘the African continent earns very little profit out of its own resources; its’ production sector is virtually non-existent or requires modernisation.’ …?
Africa’s natural resources worldwide could be rated as followed: Mining sector: 97% copper; 80% coltan; 50% cobalt; 57% gold, 20% iron and copper; 23% uranium and phosphates; 32% manganese; 41% ovanadium.
I have always perceived Africa as a whole rather than fifty smaller countries.
Africa does not transform its own natural resources, which are exploited and exported in their raw state. Countries providing raw materials are poorer than the countries that produce market finished products. Africa must regain control over the local transformation of its own resources by reducing tax evasion and transfer pricing manipulation by oil, gas and mining companies, which is done with the complicity of corrupt officials.
You are right the production sector in many African countries is weak and requires modernisation.
15) Do you have a family? If yes, tell us a bit about your family.
I was born into a family of thirty-two brothers and sisters. I grew up in a polygamous family. Our father was the head of the household. 25 children out of 32 went to University which was exceptional for a large family living in a rural area.
I have a wife and five children (one girl and four boys. They speak at least three foreign languages, plus my native language (Medumba).
We are grandparents whom enjoy the company of our grandchildren.
16) Do you think about family planning in the UK, in Africa, and in the rest of the world?
In the UK, the age population pyramid has a high proportion of older people. Fertility in the United Kingdom was 1.89 children per woman (2015) of childbearing age. It is not enough to replace the previous generation. Unable to ensure the replacement of its population by birth, the only solution left to the United Kingdom, is to open its borders to immigration. Immigrants and their offspring will then compensate the low fertility gap. This also applies to other European countries.
In Africa there are 4.78 children per woman of childbearing age (2015). The planning program in most African countries aims to decrease fertility.
In both cases, family planning aims to reduce infertility to give every woman who desires , the chance to have a child.
The development program evaluation reports show that the rapid growth of the African population is an obstacle to the objectives of health, food security and development, because of the varying traumas.
Controlling population growth (fertility), impacts the economic, social and cultural concepts of society.
Economic development entails all aspects of human development such as: health and education which are factors that can decline fertility.
For a sustainable [RDN1] program in Africa, it is essential to “reduce the average number of children per woman to achieve the average projections of the United Nations”. Family planning (measured by the prevalence rate of contraception) correlates closely and negatively with population growth.
17) Do you believe in the depopulation conspiracy theory?
In the 1980s, governments in all African countries became aware that the rapid growth of their populations was a breakdown in their socio-economic development.
The support of the International Family Planning Federation (IPPF) was not a conspiracy of developed countries to stop the growth of African populations.
The USA, Japan, are largest donors of FP programs and since 2010 the UK, has also pledged to support FP programs in Africa. These programs aim to reduce the still very high maternal mortality and infant mortality rates in Africa.
African scholars who argue that family planning programs are involved in a plot to reduce the African population do not understand that if every African woman makes an average of 2 children- the African population will still continue to grow until the end of the century.
18) You speak and write English and French at a proficiency level. You hold degrees and qualifications from some of the world’s most renowned universities: a degree in Maths from Yaoundé, Cameroon, a PhD in Demography from Paris 1, Sorbonne, France, and a further professional training and related qualification from London, UK, Montreal, Canada, Newyork, Havard USA, to list a few.
What was it like to grow up and study in Cameroon?
Growing up in my native country has shaped me in all aspects: mentally and physically. In an increasingly materialistic world, having little need is already a wealth. Growing up in Cameroon has taught me the value of not being envious.
If I had a choice, I’d choose the same journey to discover the world as an adult. Television in Cameroon was introduced in 1985; our only distraction in the village was outdoor sport and reading.
I left Cameroon for the first time to study for my first postgraduate degree in Paris. I visited many other countries and continents afterwards. I already had a level of judgment to analyse cultural differences and select what suits me.
19) Onto being a university lecturer: libraries and bookshop shelves are heaped with your publications. What inspires you? What is your best publication and why?
It’s hard to say what we like the most about these children. A book that is published is like giving birth to a child. It can grow, become popular, and prosper even after
the death of the author.
My publications, in the domain of science of demography:
- Richard Dackam Ngatchou (2004): Censuses of Population and Housing in Africa: Products to Address the Development Agenda. UNFPA / CST-Dakar, Dakar, 2004, 190 pages
- Dackam Ngatchou. R. Mfoulou R., M. Sala-Diakanda (1990): Population and Health in Central Africa, (IPPF), London, 1990, 125 pages.
To list a few.
Beyond data life cycle that intends to contribute to sustainable action-oriented development planning and monitoring, and the world development agenda, thank you Richard, for taking time to speak to The Bridge Magazine.