January 6, 2023

When change is necessary or desirable

By Donu Kogbara

ALL human beings are deeply flawed, and we all need to change aspects of ourselves. And one of my new year’s resolutions is to take religion more seriously going forward. 

I am a Catholic and totally in tune with the moral values that Catholicism teaches. But I am not very devout. 

I have missed Sunday mass on numerous occasions in recent years, partly out of sheer laziness and partly because I have long been extremely unhappy about the fact that God allows too many bad people to thrive and too many decent people to suffer terribly. 

But as I watched Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s simple, solemn funeral on TV yesterday, I was profoundly moved and wished that I had joined the thousands of faithful Catholics who flocked to Rome from all over the world to say goodbye to our dear former pontiff. 

It was a spiritual reawakening of sorts. I still struggle with the fact that good and bad people don’t always get their just desserts on earth. But I’ve decided to stop questioning God and focus on my own spiritual growth; and I look forward to pleasantly surprising Father Louis, my parish priest in Abuja, by being less absent in future.  

Another resolution I’ve put on my “to do” list for 2023 is to “lose weight” for both health-related and aesthetic reasons. I used to be super skinny until recently, and I’ve been talking for the past half-decade about getting rid of the late-onset obesity that is ruining my life. I even belong to various groups that focus on helping fatties shed kilos; but I keep allowing gluttony to derail my worthy intentions.  

Since I look like a sack of garri and feel awful and hate myself for being so undisciplined and unfit (I can barely walk and am always breathless), surely it is time to finally get serious about getting slim. Enough is enough!  OK, dear Vanguard readers, what are your resolutions? Write to me and tell me what they are, and keep me posted on your progress!

The American visa fiasco

 NEW Year’s resolutions should not be restricted to individuals who want to improve themselves by ditching bad habits and embracing positive new behaviour patterns. Organisations and countries should also take long, hard looks at themselves at the end of each year, humbly acknowledge their limitations or the mistakes they’ve made, and then decide to do better.  

I recently came across an excellent article written by Aubrey Hruby, a White American woman who is a non-resident senior fellow with the Africa Centre, co-founder of Insider and the Africa Expert Network, AXN, and an active investor in African start-ups. 

It was written last month. Here are some excerpts: 

This week, President Joe Biden is hosting the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first gathering of African leaders and a U.S. president in Washington since 2014. The White House and the State Department will convene high-level discussions on everything from the power of the diaspora and creative industries to trade and investment to climate change and food security—all important priorities.

Missing from the official agenda, however, is any discussion of visas, an issue at the top of mind for African governments, businesses, civil society organizations, and citizens across the continent. Enabling Africans to travel to the United States for educational, business, and cultural reasons not only benefits them but also enhances U.S. global competitiveness. The summit should address the visa issue head-on. It’s time for the United States to demonstrate to African leaders that it truly cares about visa bottlenecks and is committed to improving the processing issues that plague the current system.

Nigerian entrepreneurs seeking entry to the United States for investor meetings can face an absurd two-year wait for a visa and, thus, the opportunity to do business with Americans. Some have even turned to third countries, such as Romania, to secure visas in time for their business meetings. Traveling to the United States has been particularly difficult since the September 11 attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem, sending average wait times surging to inexcusable lengths. 

Take the process of getting visa appointments in Cairo, Kinshasa, and Lagos—the most populous cities on the African continent and important business hubs.The State Department currently estimates waits of 98 days in Kinshasa, 119 days in Cairo, and 666 days in Lagos. Progress is being made by hiring new Foreign Service personnel to speed up consular processing, but the problem still demands more attention. The negative impacts of such delays on American competitiveness are real. Visa uncertainty is hugely disruptive to key U.S. industries like tourism and tertiary education; a family in Lagos will choose to go to Dubai over Disney World…

Such delays discourage African students from studying at U.S. universities and give up valuable ground to competitors in the education space…The 2022 African Youth Survey revealed that 76 per cent of young Africans see China as having the greatest positive influence in the region. And it is not just a matter of perception. Open Doors, a research and advocacy group focused on international students, has found that three U.S. jobs are created for every seven international students in the United States. 

While they stay in the country, African students ride in taxis, shop for computers, and eat at restaurants—all the while contributing to economic activity. Visa headaches are at odds with the Biden administration’s desire to “foster new economic engagement” at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit… Moreover, according to the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, North America-based investors make up about 40 percent of all African venture capital deals. As global venture cools, it will be even more critical for the Biden Administration to make it as easy as possible for American investors to consider African opportunities, including by allowing the best and brightest of African entrepreneurs to easily travel to the country.

The summit offers the Biden administration a unique opportunity to advance cooperation with African partners on shared global priorities. Of course, there will be speeches promising deeper commercial ties and investment targets. But enhanced trade requires the free movement of goods, capital, and people. 

Transforming bold visions into reality requires getting the details right. Visas are a basic prerequisite to enhanced engagement. The Biden administration is right to acknowledge that “Africa will shape the future” and that the global competition for investment, talent, and influence across the continent is fierce.

If Washington wants to remain a partner of choice in business, education, and cultural collaboration, serious efforts must be made to welcome Africans to the United States.”

Hear, hear, Audrey! Thanks for speaking for us. My view is that if the American government doesn’t make it easier for Nigerians to visit America this year, the Nigerian government should make Americans wait two years to gain entry to Nigeria!