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Abdou Dieng, who recently left his job as Ethiopia’s Country Director of the World Food Program (WFP) was born in Senegal in 1995. He graduated from the University of Dakar in 1983 with a BA in Business Law and attained a Masters in Transport Economy from the Ecole Supérieure des Transports Internationaux in Marseilles, France, in 1984.
He brought a significant international experience to the position with the World Food Program (WFP), having served in logistics functions since 1994 in Angola, Italy, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cameroon. He then held positions as WFP Country Director in Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. Before he departed Ethiopia he sat down with Capital to discuss his experiences. Excerpts:
Capital: How did you feel when you were assigned to Guinea to help fight Ebola?
Abdou Dieng: I was a little bit confused because I didn’t apply for the job. I was actually assigned by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. After I heard about my new role I headed to my residence and told my wife that I was going to Guinea to fight Ebola and she said “are you crazy?” We will quarantine you !The hard truth is that Ebola is not something that kills many people like it did three months ago, its expansion is almost under control. I am proud to be assigned as a soldier to fight this global war that threatens everybody.
My assignment is to facilitate the coordinated effort to fight Ebola in Guinea. At first I will be helping the government stretch the best system of healthcare to eradicate Ebola within a short period of time, to give investors confidence to work, to recover the economies affected by Ebola, to allow people to freely move from one place to another again.
Capital: Why is Ebola out of control in West Africa?
Dieng: If Ebola were managed systematically our people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone would not be dead. The major reason for this is a weak health strategy that wasn’t able to cope with the outbreak.
Capital: What did you think about working in Ethiopia?
Dieng: I was assigned here in June 2011 at the very beginning of the drought in the Horn Africa and many specialists characterized that event as being the worst drought ever but the consequence was almost nil in Ethiopia. If we compare this draught between Ethiopia and Somalia, People were dying in Somalia but in Ethiopia nobody did. This is because of the food investment work that Ethiopia has been doing for the last ten years. PSP and food nutrition programs have brought about resilience in Ethiopia and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Capital: How do you see Ethiopia’s food security problem?
Dieng: Nobody is perfect and every country has challenges to overcome. Ethiopia has made significant progress in minimizing food security problems. Thirty years ago people were starving but now less than two million receive relief food assistance. Two million out of 90 million is very small. Ethiopia is headed in the right direction.
Capital: What is the major work of WFP in Ethiopia?
Dieng: WFP is working with the government and partners to strengthen the resilience of Ethiopians and to chart a more prosperous and sustainable future for the next generation. We provide assistance to the most vulnerable people with food and special nutrition programmes, including refugees , school children, farmers, people living with HIV AIDS. We do this through programs that use food as a means to build assets, spread knowledge, and nurture stronger more dynamic communities.
Capital: How do you help smallholder farmers?
Dieng: We have a Purchase for Progress Program (P4P) in which we buy food from smallholder farmers. In 2014 we bought 40,000 tons of maize and haricot beans from P4P.
Farmers, which is double our 2013 purchases. We used that food for cutting the cost of importing food while boosting the local economy and helping the farmers.
Capital: How do you see nutritional food in Ethiopia?
Dieng: The government has started teaching and assisting people to eat nutritional food. We need to educate people and help them increase their income. When people have enough money they can focus on eating nutritious foods.
Capital: What are the biggest challenges in your work?
Dieng: Refugees pose the greatest challenge because there are 650,000 refugees in Ethiopia, and it is increasing in an alarming rate. Due to the war in South Sudan, and the unstable situation in Eritrea and Somalia, people are forced to become refugees. Currently, half a million USD is needed to feed them.