Singing praises of Songhai

Singing praises of Songhai

Porto Novo, Benin, 16 May 2008 - In the world of development assistance, Benin has something special. It is called Songhai. Started by Dr. Godfrey Nzamujo in 1985, Songhai is living proof of a holistic, integrated, sustainable programme linking agriculture to industry and commerce.

The Songhai Centre is recognized globally as a world leader in innovative, ecologically sustainable agro-enterprises. “We call it the “zero emission research initiative” says Dr Nzamujo. “The waste from one sector becomes an input in another sector and in that way nothing is wasted”. It has evolved an integrated value chain system organized in commercially viable clusters of agro-enterprises and a very effective training programme for youth in rural and peri-urban areas. Support services and linkages to credit and markets are provided by a network of graduates.

For Dr. Nzamujo “the success of Songhai is something of the heart – it is people who want to change and we can’t rush it. We have to respect the rhythm of change. Songhai is a big learning place where we learn to be more, so that we can have more; so that we are capable of having more things; so that we can solve our problems.” And his vision goes beyond Benin. He wants Songhai “to strike an answering chord to our people all over the world”.

The President of Benin, Dr. Yayi Boni, five UN agencies (FAO, IFAD, ILO, UNDP and UNIDO) and ten neighboring countries share Dr. Nzamujo’s vision. They are teaming up with him to scale-up the “Songhai model” in Benin and take it to Burkina Faso; Cote d’Ivoire; Gabon; Ghana; Guinea; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Sierra Leone; and Togo. The President, several members of his Cabinet, Ministers from Liberia, Congo and Guinea and the Governor of Nigeria’s Rivers State were among those who gathered in Porto Novo on 16 May 2008 to launch the programme.

Mr. Gilbert Houngbo, Assistant UN Secretary General, and Director of UNDP’s Africa Bureau, who was also at the launching, is another big Songhai supporter, as is UNIDO Director-General Kandeh K. Yumkella. Mr. Yumkella could not attend the launching because UNIDO’s Industrial Development Board was meeting at the same time. The Director-General was represented by his Spokesperson, Mr. George Assaf.

About a year ago Messrs. Houngbo and Yumkella began discussions on the joint programme. Shortly after, a UNDP - UNIDO technical team began the project formulation. By July 2007, FAO, IFAD, ILO, UNDP and UNIDO had met in Vienna and had prepared a draft programme. The programme was then validated by the participating African countries. It is scheduled to run for five years with a budget of US$4 million. Three million dollars of this will be provided by UNDP.

The programme will establish the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo as the Regional Centre of Excellence for Agri-business Development in Africa and produce a cadre of graduates able to build “Songhai model” centres in each of the participating countries (at least on in each).

If they work as well as they do in Benin, where there are five “satellite Songhais”, the new Centres will create incentives for private sector engagement, improve business and employment opportunities and the livelihoods of rural youth and poor – all with “zero emissions”. And, as their founding father Dr Nzamujo would say, strike a further ‘answering chord to our people all over the world”.

For more information contact Dejene Tezera