Q: Xenophobia has reared its head again in South Africa following the recent attacks on African small business owners. Refugees know what it is like to be on the receiving end of this kind of hostility. Can you offer a solution to South Africa?
In my opinion, there is this much unrest and violence in South Africa about foreigners because the South Africans involved in the violence, its proliferation, and the general hostility, believe their jobs are being stolen from them (amongst other things). A workable solution that I think about is the South African government holding public info sessions within and around communities that feel wronged and explain the numbers and facts about how many foreign African nationals are presently working in South Africa, and what that means in terms work availability for nationals.
A core part of this problem seems to be the lack of adequate communication and dialogue between leaders and citizens.
Q: In a 2018 article posted on the World Economic Forum’s website, you highlighted Ghana’s treatment of refugees as the model to be followed by other nations. Do you think this is practical considering the different populations of various countries around the world?
Of course, my proposed solution is not a one-size-fits-all. The core structures that are necessary for my solution to work are that a host community must have the geographic and economic fortitude to host a certain number of refugees, and lastly and most importantly, they must have policies that allow refugees to live and work; in other words, they (the refugees) need to be able to make a living for themselves and contribute to their host nation’s economy and society. This explanation highlights the practicality of the solution.
Q: In the 2018 film 'Black Panther,' which features a fictional, wealthy African nation called 'Wakanda,' the following was said during dialogue between two characters:
“When you let in Refugees, they bring their problems with them.”
Does sentiment like this make your job difficult and how are you combating it?
It is true that refugees bring their problems with them. In fact, the very core of someone fleeing their home is because of dire risks or problems that they face. Sentiments like this one truly make my job difficult, especially because introducing and implementing concepts of integration is more difficult with host nations than with refugees themselves.
The effective method I’ve found to combat this sentiment and resentment is through ensuring that the integration solutions we use at RIO are co-designed by host community leaders and community members alike. In this fashion, we manage to instill community ownership, and so levels of resentment are lowered.
Q: What message did you get across to leaders in attendance at WEF Cape Town?
My message to African leaders at this year’s World Economic Forum conference on Africa, and to African leaders in general was, as we champion the historic African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which seeks to foster pan-Africanism for the continent, we should collectively try as much as we possibly can to ensure that refugees and migrants are not excluded in either the conversations or the policies that are to follow. The integrity of the AfCFTA, and indeed, its purpose may come to be rather short-lived if this major part of human movement in Africa is ignored.
Q: What is your company focused on as 2019 comes to a close and do you have 2020 mapped out already?
RIO’s flagship programme is micro finance for refugees. Since we begun this programme a few months ago, we have had a 100% repayment rate from our refugees in the Krisan Refugee Camp, and so our focus for the rest of this year is to expand our loan portfolio and provide loans to more refugees, and work on getting a licence that allows us to directly lend money to refugees. 2020 will see the expansion of our micro finance programme to at least 2 other refugee camps in Ghana, as well as the expansion of our digital literacy and refugee skills placement programmes. One key component of RIO's mission, that is yet to be implemented is promoting digital literacy among refugee communities. The shift to a world of data, machine learning and artificial intelligence means refugees we work with need the digital skillsets to partake in better economic opportunities globally.
We are also creating a longer term, in-depth tech-ed program for young refugees between the ages of 14 and 18. The goal is to gradually teach computer science to the next generation and prepare them for entrepreneurship and employment opportunities in the tech industry.
The future is technology and we want to make sure everything we do going forward has technology at the forefront.