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Eric Chinje: The Long Goodbye 

Ace Cameroonian newsman and media advocate Eric Chinje is leaving the World Bank after twenty years to work on Africa’s multifarious governance challenges at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in London. In the following note, Eric recalls some of the highlights of his life so far. In his own words, here’s Eric Chinje

Rev Sister Maria Gonzalez, a Salvadorian clairvoyant, held my hands in prayer a few months ago and, after a quiet moment of meditation, simply said: "my son, you are a man of many roads.  Walk them courageously!" I am about to set out on one of them.  The countdown has begun and, in exactly 29 days, I will say my final goodbye to friends and colleagues in the Bank. I will go back east (and south) and fade quietly away from banks of the Potomac, and from the place I called home for nearly two decades.

I go away with the tingling sense of a mission still-to-be-accomplished, but with the full satisfaction of knowing that I gave it as much as I got and quite enjoyed the ride! I spent nearly two decades of my life in two development institutions – the World Bank and the African Development Bank – and sought one thing over all others: that these institutions engage global media as a sector and a true partner in development.  They have not!  I doubt, even as I write, if more than a handful of my soon to be erstwhile colleagues – communications professionals included – even begin to understand the full import of that claim. I may get back to it in this long goodbye missive!

I am happy to move on but I leave some good friends behind, and I will occasionally miss each one of them.  I will remember our long and collective search, and the many weeks of debate that preceded the great discovery of the very raison d’etre of the institution when it turned fifty: "to put a smile on a child’s face", and that should give me something to smile (or cry) about.  I will think about the intellectual sparring with the loud voices that dared to tell the world that "fifty years of the World bank is enough".  Led by an African woman, I, an African man, was occasionally sent out to take her and her cheerleaders on!

The Bank was more than a place where I met some truly great people and had many an evening of delightful conversation; here also, I earned a fairly good living, even though my bank account is hardly any more inflated today than it was two decades ago when I took those baby steps into the J building in 1992!  I had just come from Cameroon then, and a good number of the old friends in my "developing country" have the resources to do today what I can only dream of. That is one of the ironies of living in Washington and working for the poor: you – make that "I" – actually wind up none the richer.

The Bank was, above all, a place of learning par excellence. The schools I went to – Sacred Heart College (yes, I was born into a catholic family), Yaounde, Syracuse and Harvard universities – and the teachers I admired most – Bernard Fonlon, George Comstock, T. William Hall, and Joseph Nye –  collectively pale as purveyors of knowledge in comparison to this place and the colleagues I have had these past two decades.  But truth be told, it was my experience with these teachers, these schools, and the most pragmatic of them all, the World Bank, that together gave me truly profound understandings of life and development. 

With each new insight, I had a better appreciation of the things that matter most in life, cherished everything Africa meant to me, and developed a deeper appreciation of the very simple and oft-mentioned fact that the answer to the challenge of Africa’s development lies no where else but in Africa. 

I will be eternally grateful for that as I go now to help make that case from a platform I believe to be one of the most effective and credible: the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Finally, the meaning of my life and mission has become even clearer to me, as is the ultimate justification for my World Bank years and of the road I have so far traveled.

Watch this space for the second part of Eric’s reflections in our next update

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