What led you to become a part of Wasafiri?

Four reasons led me to joining Wasafiri: firstly, I had a passion and I found people with a kindred spirit who shared that same passion. The passion was about generating action to help people living in poverty get dignified lifestyles. This meant working with a wide range of organisations both from the north and the south.

Secondly, I needed a ‘home’. I had been a full time consultant for about a year when we set up Wasafiri. At the time my work was highly demanding and involved frequent travel. I felt so lonely and missed the office environment from my previous employment where I would interact with colleagues. Wasafiri provided that sense of home and belonging for me, although virtually.

Thirdly, I had a strong desire to set up a framework where talented people could access opportunities that they would otherwise not easily have access to. I had in mind staff appointed in country who worked for international organisations but were limited by the nature of their contract. During an assignment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with Ian Randall in 2009, I shared my dream with him. When we created Wasafiri, we agreed that one of its aspirations would be to try and provide a forum where such talented people who shared our passion would be nurtured thus enabling them to perform to the best of their abilities to make a greater impact in the world.

Finally, I joined Wasafiri to experiment with choosing what I wanted to do. Previously, I had not had much choice in life – from the country where I lived, to the courses I studied. Even at work, I would be assigned roles that I was not keen on but which were necessary for the organisations I worked for. Wasafiri provided a backing that enhanced my confidence to choose where and on what I wanted to invest my effort and energies while making a living. What a privilege to be able to decide what one wants to do – this is pretty rare in Africa!

Wasafiri is deeply committed to generating concerted action to overcome poverty and crises – can you share with us examples from your work that are in line with this?

The first example that pops to mind is when I was involved in international climate change negations. I worked with some of the best climate change scientists and policy analysts at Climate Analytics. Our work involved supporting the Least Developed Countries (LDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to have a voice in climate change negotiations. Climate change is arguably one of the most frightening world crises and the most damaging in terms of impact that the poorest countries have to come to terms with. Its saddest feature is that the poorest countries, which have contributed virtually nothing to the problem, are most vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change with inadequate means to cope.

My role with Climate Analytics involved trying to help negotiating teams from poorer countries get access to relevant scientific information and the policy analyses they needed in order to negotiate a fair climate change deal. During the negotiation sessions, you have on the one hand countries like USA, who would have a delegation of about 50 people including seasoned scientists and veteran negotiators who would be adequately resourced for the negotiations. On the other hand, you will have a couple of negotiators at most LDC countries who have a different day job back home and seldom manage to prepare for the negotiations back in their respective capitals. They struggle to even cover the multiple meetings happening almost simultaneously let alone engage meaningfully. They really don’t have a voice in what is happening. Our role was to do the groundwork, reviewing and analysing relevant scientific literature, real time number crunching and scanning policy developments that may have an impact on climate change. We would prepare talking points, briefings, make presentations of critical themes of their choice prior to, during and after the negotiation sessions. Over the 2 years or so working with Climate Analytics, I would say that we contributed to empowering them and consequently their voice has significantly increased – although significant challenges remain.

Tell us about the proudest moment in your career

This is a hard question as I tend to be satisfied with the work I do as I give it my best shot. I will probably share the most recent experience.  Back in March 2011, there was a steering committee meeting convened by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) where I am now working. We had prepared a 3-year work plan but the meeting needed to approve NISR’s annual work plan as well as the report for the previous quarter. The plan got approved unanimously without any challenge. This was the first time in NISR’s six years of existence that donors have not challenged its plan.

Many of the subsequent disbursements were conditional to getting that plan approved. That meant getting lots of information from other donors and getting it into a three-year plan. The plan was realistic, achievable and what brought joy to me was that many of the development partners seemed to be committed to getting more funding to fill the funding gap we had highlighted. You could see that they were generally keen to explore ways of getting additional monies – they trusted us and wanted to be part of the success story.

And when I joined NISR back in August 2010, the then Director General told me this – “Liberal, the one single thing I want you to achieve is make sure the plan is approved and adequately funded”. It gave me a deep sense of satisfaction to rise to the challenge and to succeed in meeting it in less than 6 months.

We have done many fantastic things at the NISR, which I will be blogging about in the future.

In the context of Wasafiri’s current expansion what are your highest hopes for Wasafiri?

As I said at the beginning, my hope is that Wasafiri becomes a home for talented people both in the global north and south who are passionate and committed to generating action to making lasting change against poverty in the world. We recently had a partners’ meeting and decided to focus on coaching, mentoring and supporting the new consultants we recently brought on board to make them fully ‘operational’ as Wasafiri consultants. So I am considering reducing my consultancy workload to devote more time to this.

There is something the 4 Wasafiri partners have which is quite unique – we have something that I don’t know how to describe. We are great adventurers, big risk takers, committed to international development with a free mind and spirit. I really hope the new consultants we have taken on board will catch the fire and the vision and excel at what they do.

My highest hopes are in the new Wasafiri consultants – getting them settled, networked and being discovered. Some of them are professionally experienced; others have got life experience (like my refugee life in the 1990s and how that has shaped my character). My hope is for them to find opportunities to do the best they can and be the best that they can possibly be.


What are your passions and interests outside of work?

I am going to be unconventional here. I am a deeply committed Christian and, strictly speaking, there is nothing like ‘work’ and ‘outside work’ for me because I work for a higher purpose. Whether it is at work or outside the work context, I am still guided by that higher purpose. So when I am not working (in the formal sense), I still pursue opportunities that either enrich my own life or other people’s. These may include a holiday, a spiritual retreat, counselling friends, socialising with people, editing someone’s CV, coaching someone for an interview, supporting a poor person if they cannot make ends meet, spending time with my wife and kids etc. This also includes challenging the status quo where I feel it is inhibiting life within my capacity of course. One aspect that inhibits life is social injustice; I am very sensitive to it. This could be in the streets, in my small community, at work, it doesn’t matter where it is, if I feel something about it, I’ll do something about it.

For example, I was riding past the Office of the President in Kigali after work. I saw a matatu (mini bus) knocking into a private car, just pushing it, the matutu then pushed past it, scratching the small car. I drove after the matatu to intercept it and hold its driver accountable. Luckily, the matatu driver had pulled into the bus stop. I pulled my car in front of the matatu. I said to the driver “You have to tell me why you just did that” The driver asked who I was, I said “You don’t need to know”. I just told them that I was a witness. The driver of the private car had come over, I said to the matatu driver that the minimum he had to do was to say ‘sorry’ to the other driver. I managed to bring them to come to a consensus, and the car driver was happy that a stranger helped. Life flowed again… it sounds weird but I felt good as I was driving home again.

I had no mandate to intervene. I am not a policeman yet it is those kinds of moments, like this small example, or the pain people (mostly the disadvantaged) may endure in being turned away from a service that they are entitled to; these are the kinds of moments that create action within me and a strong desire to do something arises.

My life’s passion is getting life flowing unhindered. This is the continuous theme out of my fixed schedule. Engaging at heart level – that is what I do, wherever I am in the world.

Ian and Liberal at the UNECA Conference Centre, Addis Ababa

Interviewer: Katie Chalcraft