February 23, 2020

So you think you’re busy?

Mr. Wane has quite a job, as the Acting Head of the African Union Conflict Management Centre.  Immaculately dressed in a slate-grey suit, he was finishing a meeting with a staffer as I was coming in. I have met a lot of busy people in my time, but he may just take the cake.  Over the course of the subsequent two hours, I got a sense of the pace he operates at.

First there was the phone call requesting a meeting before the end of the day  – the only time left in his schedule was over dinner. Then there was the group of six people coming in for a meeting that began, only to be interrupted by another phone call two minutes later, requiring him to leave for an urgent Ambassadorial meeting with apologies. Upon his return he picked up the meeting right where he left off, asking the kinds of strategic questions that can cut a 30 minute meeting in half. It was clearly a well-rehearsed (and much-needed) skill of his. No sooner had the group of six headed out the door, another staffer came in to get his directives. Switching into rapid-fire French they got through most of the issue before the phone rang demanding that he once again be in two places at once. I was exhausted just watching.

I commented on the number of issues he was juggling simultaneously. He brushed off the observation –  “Ah! It’s just a show I’m putting on for you!” Talking to those who work with him, that’s clearly not the case.

Among many of my interviewees (in both western organizations and African NGOs) there has been bucket-loads of cynicism about the capabilities of the staff at the AU.  I’m in no position to claim I know how much of their cynicism is warranted, and the fact that Mr. Wane, capable as he is, is in the position of charting responses to crises ranging from pirates in Somalia to possible post-election violence in Mauritania, in snatched 5-minute blocks of time, suggests there are some larger management issues to resolve. But what I can say is that so many of the AU staff I have been speaking with during my time in Addis are working way above and beyond the call of duty. Next time I think I’m busy, I’ll be reminding myself of Mr. Wane.

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