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Suddenly, I felt empty without my mobile phone by Ehi Braimah

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Family, friends and associates gathered last Thursday at Hillcrest Event Centre in Okota, Lagos, for the service of songs in honour of Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase — popularly known as SO to his media colleagues — who passed away in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States on February 26.

Before the service began, I met top sports journalists, Larry Izamoje and Isaac Ibhafidon. There were other former colleagues who bantered with each other and we used the opportunity to play catch up. I was a former employee of Complete Communications Limited, courtesy of SO’s large heart and kindness before I moved on to other responsibilities.

The service of songs was right on schedule at 4.00pm. Later, my wife joined me from her cousin’s event which was held at Ire-Akari Estate – a shouting distance away. By the time the service ended two hours later, it was time to share more banters with familiar faces that included Segun Odegbami, Mike Awoyinfa, Dada Ajai-Ikhile, Franklin Ilaboya, and members of the Ojeagbase family.

I took one of my phones containing my MTN and 9mobile numbers with me into the hall but the last thing on my mind was that the phone would be stolen by a pickpocket. Taking the phone with me turned out to be a costly mistake. I’m usually never in the habit of taking my phones with me to such places – not even when I attend church services; I keep the phone far away from me. My attitude is that all calls and messages can wait — for a few hours. After all, we survived when we didn’t have mobile phones.

Personally, I do not believe it is a good idea to take the mobile phone or tablet into the church, a place of worship where we should reverence God in all his holiness. But again, you cannot really fault those who do so because we are in the tech age where the digital version of the bible – one of the apps downloaded from Google Play or the app store – is stored on those devices.

I have never lost a phone since 2001 when the mobile telecommunications revolution began. You can lose a phone or it can be stolen – they don’t mean the same thing. Once I have used a phone for about three to four years, I get another one and pass on the old handset to the next lucky beneficiary.

But this time, I lost my Samsung mobile phone to a thief immediately after the service of songs ended. These thieves are at every event – birthdays, weddings, services of songs, worship centres, and so on. Most of the time, they appear like “important” guests, uninvited but well dressed for the occasion; they are criminals going after the personal effects of invited guests.

Unfortunately, CCTV cameras are not installed in most of these venues by the owners. Masters of ceremony at such functions and social events should constantly remind their audiences to secure their mobile phones and other personal effects from the prying eyes of misbegotten gatecrashers and thieves at these parties.

Why did I take my mobile phone with me into the hall? Well, let us just say that I broke one of my “fundamental rules” and paid dearly for it. But you cannot blame me because I was expecting my wife to call me as soon as she arrived at the venue from her cousin’s place. And she did and joined me after I told her where I was sitting in the hall. It was the last call I received before the phone was stolen.

I was careless to have left the phone inside the left pocket of my Ankara attire, the one Yorubas call Buba and Sokoto. It was inside the left pocket of my Buba. Throughout the service, I knew the phone was with me. But when the service ended, I only took a few steps to exchange pleasantries when, instinctively, I reached out for my phone but it was gone and switched off by the thief.

“Is my phone with you,” I asked my wife, half-heartedly, to be sure even when I could recollect I never gave her the phone. At this time, Tajudeen, our driver, had the takeaway hospitality packs with him. “Please check the packs,” my wife, who was still in shock, instructed Tajudeen just to erase every doubt.

The phone was nowhere to be found. I was confused. Before we left the venue, I told Mumini Alao, Julius Ojeagbase and Thomas Ayodele, my former colleagues at Complete Communications, that my phone had been stolen. The mood changed and feelings of sympathy were expressed. Mumini, Thomas, and I still relate very well as brothers and we stay in touch regularly.

I was initially angry with myself for my carelessness and I became distraught because I knew the inconveniences that would follow retrieving the lines. Although she was feeling bad, my wife pleaded that I should not be too hard on myself. “Don’t worry, you will get another phone tomorrow,” she assured me, trying to calm my nerves. It turned out that the thieves also stole mobile phones belonging to other guests; I was not the only victim.

Throughout the journey from Okota to Ikeja, I was unhappy for being a victim. It could have been avoided. In my reckoning, the effort was like a stroll in the park for the pickpocket. My second mobile phone – containing Glo and Airtel lines – was in the car. But my MTN line that is as old as the network is my mobile office; if you get my drift. All the relevant apps are stored on the phone.

When MTN marked its 10th anniversary, I was honoured as a valued customer with gifts and a carefully worded “Thank You” letter, an exercise that I ranked as excellent public relations. MTN has continued on that path to this day.

My first mobile phone handset ever was the famous and sturdy Nokia 3310. Do you still remember the popular and iconic ring tone booming from the handset each time it rang? It was a phrase from ‘Grand Vals’ (12 – 14 secs), a Spanish classical song composed by guitarist and musician Francisco Tarrega. Well, that was back in the day –- 21 years ago.

Suddenly, I did not have access to WhatsApp which meant that I could not chat, send or receive messages. WhatsApp, as we all know, is a versatile and robust medium of communication for everyone, no matter the person’s status. WhatsApp is a fast, sure and real-time platform for engagement and conversations by individuals and groups — as long as they have access to the internet.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, now Meta. Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of the company in his expansionist drive, acquired WhatsApp. Computer engineers Brian Acton and Jan Koum were young college students in their 30s but cofounded messaging application, WhatsApp, in 2009. They met previously at Ernst & Young, and much later at Yahoo! where they worked together. Acton and Koum launched the app five years after Zuckerberg created Facebook on February 4, 2004.

Then on February 19, 2014, Facebook announced it was acquiring WhatsApp when it was five years old for US$22 billion in cash and stock – its largest purchase to date. Facebook is also the owner of Instagram which the company bought for US$1 billion 18 months after IG was launched.

It is not always a good experience when mobile phones are stolen because of our emotional attachment to the phones. For several reasons, your mobile phone is your companion and personal assistant because the phone is always with you wherever you go. When it is stolen or whether you declare it missing, you instantly feel that a part of you is missing – that sense of loss surrounds you and literally eats you up as if oxygen is draining out of your body.

The phone can be a major source of distraction but can we do without it? According to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), there are over 198 million mobile (GSM) active lines in Nigeria which translate into a huge pot of gold for the telecoms operators. Internet penetration is understandably massive in Nigeria and the numbers keep growing each year. MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9mobiles are the main players in the sector and I’m a customer of the four networks.

Semiu Okanlawon, a journalist and media consultant, said we have a “spiritual connection” to our mobile phones. “It is like owning a dog which is showered with a lot of affection as if it were a human being,” Semiu told me the day after my phone was stolen.

He had a similar experience in Iwo, Osun state, at the wedding reception of his niece but the story of Michael Effiong James, editor of Ovation International magazine, was different. “Instinctively, I felt emptiness around me,” Semiu remembered after a pickpocket stole his phone. He had also placed the phone inside the left pocket of his Buba but he was lucky to have apprehended the thief who was given the beating of his life by angry bystanders.

Michael was unlucky in his encounter with men of the underworld but he is lucky to be alive. After taking him around Lagos for more than four hours in the dead of the night as if it was a James Bond movie, the Ovation editor lost his car, cash, laptop and mobile phone to the armed robbers.

The interesting thing was that he found his phone when the police stepped into the matter. His car was also recovered. Mike told me he was mightily impressed with the police for their professional and thorough investigation. With the help of technology, most of our teething problems can be solved. Mike’s phone was tracked by the police using the IMEI code and the thief or receiver of the phone was caught. It will work for you if you are able to store the code in a safe place. In my case, I did not but it is a useful lesson.

In truth, it is difficult to shake off the mobile phone and pretend as if it is not important. When you are without your mobile phone or if the battery is flat because you are unable to charge it, you actually feel like a fish out of water.

In my own case, I’m completely cut off from the rest of the world but I have had to fall back on my Glo and Airtel lines since last Thursday. When I visited the Friendship and Customer Care Centres of MTN and 9mobile the next day and Saturday, I could not retrieve my lines because the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) portal was down.

If it is a new sim card, registration can be done offline but you would have to wait for at least 72 hours for the line to be fully activated through the NIMC portal. However, if it is an old sim card like mine, the number must be re-validated on the NIMC portal before a sim swap can be enabled.

For security measures, please ensure that your mobile phone is passworded with a mix of numbers and alphabets, finger print or facial recognition. You should also password your WhatsApp and bank apps where it is applicable. Once your phone is stolen, the first thing to do is block the numbers and go through the process of restoring them, but pray that the NIMC portal does not slow you down.

Even when you lose your phone, the good thing is that you can retrieve all your data and information if you stored them digitally in the cloud. Google, for example, provides secure and durable storage for free – but only up to a threshold after which you are required to pay for the service.

I must confess that the customer relations executives were very helpful. Rosemary, Tolu and Michael at MTN and the duo of Stanley and Adebola at 9mobile displayed excellent work attitude when I visited their Friendship Centres. I salute their cooperation, commitment and sense of industry.

My two lines should have been fully restored the next day – under “normal circumstances”. That was my expectation, but I was only able to activate the lines 72 hours after my phone was stolen. Until you are able to scale the NIMC portal hurdle for revalidation of your information, telecoms operators cannot proceed to the next stage in order to retrieve your telephone numbers.

Thankfully, the NIMC portal, with its “bi-polar behaviour” like the British weather, allowed for my sim swap and successful registration after several attempts by the dutiful MTN staff on Sunday.

Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)

Strictly Personal

How South Africa, US elections could shape Tshisekedi’s bread in Kinshasa, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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The conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the future of the giant country, and that of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa could be dramatically altered by two distant elections. The first is South Africa’s May election, and the second is the US presidential vote in November.

A region already in turmoil was plunged into a new crisis when the M23 rebels returned to war after a nine-year hiatus, blaming Kinshasa for reneging on the terms of the political settlement that ended the fighting over a decade ago and for the persecution of the Kinyarwanda-speaking people of the country. That persecution has, in recent months, become a full-on ethnic cleansing campaign.

The M23 has since had its tail high, with a string of military victories that have seen it capture swathes of territory. The long-running, largely ineffective UN peacekeeping force, Monusco, which failed to pacify the region, has begun a phased withdrawal, in the face of popular Congolese anger against it.

The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) was bedevilled by the murkiness of Congolese politics and retreated at the end of 2023 after barely a year.

In Kinshasa, the war rhetoric and accusations and attacks against Rwanda for backing M23 — a charge Kigali denies — has reached fever-high, with President Tshisekedi threatening to march into Rwanda.

That has further inflamed sentiments against Congolese Tutsi, with daily reports and social media videos of lynchings. It also seems to have driven the Kinshasa government into a deeper alliance with FDLR, the largest of the 120 rebel groups in eastern DRC, which comprises elements blamed for the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, and who fled and set up shop in eastern DRC after their defeat by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

 

In recent weeks, a force from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has stepped in to help the Kinshasa government. Anchored by South Africa, which plans to have nearly 3,000 troops, it is looking to defy an inescapable trend of the past 60 years: Every foreign force has, in the end, lost its shirt in Congo.

Two South African troops have already been lost in shelling of their camp by the M23, and the rebels are alleged to have shot at one of its helicopters.

The two main opposition parties in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), seen as a largely white party, and radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema, have both been very critical of South Africa’s return to the Congo war theatre. They argue that the South African Defence Forces is a shambles, and the money spent on the DRC intervention would be better invested back home in an economy with the highest unemployment in Africa.

Three months before the election, most polls and analyses project that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) could have its worst performance at the ballot since 1994, when it won power following the end of apartheid.

While it could still win the most votes, it will be less than 50 percent, which will force it to govern as a coalition with parties that oppose its DRC project. A South African withdrawal, or significant cutback, would all but collapse the mission unless Tanzania steps up to the plate.
That is unlikely — at least not until after the October 2025 election. Tanzania, after all, did not join the ill-fated EACRF mission.

A lot would then rest on the US position. The US has flip-flopped on the eastern DRC conflict, bouncing between criticising Rwanda for alleged support of the M23, scolding Kinshasa for aggravation, and playing mediator.

In recent weeks, though, it has cosied up to Tshisekedi, and even briefly whitewashed the FDLR, calling it simply a “negative force,” a move from its previous categorization of it as a terrorist organisation, which seemed to sweep its genocide credentials under the carpet.

Scrambling to stem the shock, the US representative at the United Nations in New York, quickly put the FDLR back into the “terrorist organisation” box.

Regional analysts in East Africa, and many people in Rwanda, think Washington’s posture in DRC is driven by the need to get a slice of its vast precious mineral resources.

They specifically point to the heavily US-backed Lobito Corridor, a 1,344-kilometre railway project linking the Angolan port of Lobito to DRC through Zambia, through several large mineral deposits.

It is also a foil to China’s Road and Belt and would checkmate rival Russia’s further advance towards Southern Africa through a Central African corridor.

Many opinion polls, most of them admittedly shabby, have former US President Donald Trump, who will be the Republican candidate, leading incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden. Trump is an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin and will dismantle many of Biden’s sanctions against Russia, imposed after it invaded Ukraine two years ago. He is unlikely to put a premium on the Lobito Corridor, as Biden has.

But, most of all, Trump, wearing his racist cap, didn’t—and won’t—give a hoot about Africa, and will not lose sleep over the DRC.

With the ANC humiliated at the polls and Biden defeated, the geopolitical dynamics that Tshisekedi has exploited against both M23 and Rwanda could disappear. He could be on the run. M23 would get a leg up and, if took most of eastern DRC, it could well finally seek autonomy.

Or Biden could win, as the more thoughtful American pollsters and commentators predict. And the ANC could lose.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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Strictly Personal

Strengthening the state in Somalia, By Chris Oberlack

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In Somalia, the decade-long partnership between the government, the World Bank, and the UN demonstrates how collaboration between humanitarian and development actors is critical to state-building and delivering tangible support to citizens.

Since the collapse of the state three decades ago, Somalia continues to face significant challenges, including high levels of conflict and violence, an unfinished political settlement, weak government institutions, recurrent crises, and significant levels of socioeconomic exclusion.

Today, over 70 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, and approximately a third require humanitarian assistance. In this context, an important factor in the success of this partnership has been the ability to maintain a shared strategic objective to build a more stable and visible state that delivers for Somalis, while strengthening resilience to overcome crises and helping the country address the drivers of fragility that undermine peace and development.

The partnership between the government, UN and World Bank provides support to those in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, while building the capacity of the state to administer and deliver predictable support across the country.

Joint priorities focus on strengthening human capital and enhancing resilience. The key challenge is how to strike the right balance between addressing the vast immediate needs today, and building sustainable country systems and institutions that can last for the long term.

Over the past decade, this partnership has evolved significantly. While many actors channelled short-term assistance outside of state institutions, since the adoption of a provisional constitution in 2012 this partnership deliberately focused on long-term support to Somali government institutions.

This helped pave the way for the debt relief process through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which led to increased development assistance in 2020 through financing from the International Development Association (IDA).

However, the debt relief process coincided with a confluence of shocks – Covid-19, a desert locust outbreak, and heavy floods – that deepened socioeconomic challenges. IDA re-engagement therefore brought crucial development financing to Somalia to complement humanitarian assistance.

In addition, IDA grants enabled the Government to scale-up ‘people-centred’ support and strengthen the capacity, visibility, and presence of the state. Given that the majority of Somalia’s population has grown up without functioning state institutions, this approach has been important to help mend a fractured social contract.

In practice, this means that for several projects, IDA resources have been channelled through the Government to UN agencies and NGOs to deliver World Bank-financed operations. Through this unique approach, the Bank provides predictable development financing and strengthens the Government’s ability to manage a growing development portfolio and respond to shocks.

It leverages the operational presence and capacity of UN agencies to deliver assistance to communities on the ground. This partnership model, representing approximately a quarter of the World Bank’s $2.3 billion portfolio in Somalia, extends across six operations.

For example, the $418 million World Bank-funded “Baxnaano” Project has provided predictable cash transfers to 200,000 families in Somalia with the support of UN agencies. Through the project, WFP delivers emergency cash transfers in response to shocks and Unicef helps build social protection systems that are essential for direct government management of safety net programs in the future.

The Somalia Urban Resilience Project, in collaboration with United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops) and Internal Organisation for Migration (IOM), strengthens local government systems to support service delivery and resilient infrastructure in urban areas, including those hosting internally displaced people. Several other projects, ranging from crisis recovery to health and social protection, also use this operational partnership.

Though there have been challenges in operationalising this approach, collaboration across these sectors is critical to enhance the Government’s capacity to administer services for its citizens moving forward.

Through a joint liaison function, supported by the UN Partnership Facility under the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund and the World Bank’s Somalia Multi-Partner Fund, this partnership has also helped advance the strategic dialogue on shared priorities and ensure close coordination on security and political developments.

The experience in Somalia underscores how operational partnerships can advance the strategic vision to build a more capable state that delivers services for its citizens in a complex FCV context. While there is still a long way to go, the last decade and recent achievements, including the completion of the debt relief process, have shown that significant progress can be made if the Government and international partners align strategic priorities and financing.

Looking ahead, an approach anchored in government leadership and impact-driven partnerships must continue to support Somalia’s state-building journey.

Building on the lessons learned from this partnership – including as part of the World Bank’s new country strategy for Somalia – will be crucial to continue building government institutions, strengthening intergovernmental relations, enhancing resilience to crises, and providing access to basic services to millions of Somalis.

Importantly, this can also provide a roadmap for how governments, the World Bank, and the UN can come together to deliver in other fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Chris Oberlack is UN-World Bank Liaison Officer and Miguel de Corral is Senior Operations Officer, FCV Group, World Bank

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