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ECA staff bid adieu to Abdalla Hamdok – “a brilliant, true Pan-Africanist”

Against the backdrop of Afework Tekle’s stained glass mural and Sudanese oud-infused lyrics, sounds and poetry, ECA’s Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist, Abdalla Hamdok received a warm and emotional sendoff at a standing room only gathering held in his honor in Africa Hall.

Mr. Hamdok retires from the UN and is joining the private sector after dedicated service, intellectual leadership and numerous initiatives in the areas of governance, institutions and development challenges; Illicit Financial Flows from Africa; trade and regional integration; macroeconomic policy; Africa’s transformation challenges, including industrialization; migration; the green economy; and statistics and economic development planning.

The farewell was coordinated by Souad Aden-Osman who recalled an enriching experience, working with Mr. Hamdok from whom she said she learnt a lot, particularly on the work with civil society organizations in his role as co-chair of the panel on Illicit Financial Flows.

Standing on and surrounded by scarfs with African inspired motifs, Mr. Hamdok was described by staff as a true Pan-Africanist, a diplomat, a humble man and a brilliant and disciplined mind.

Mulubet Tsega described him as a selfless, compassionate diplomat, a humble man and a listener. She thanked him for the many instances he worked with the Staff Union on complex issues, including the review of the host country agreement; the smooth process through which eligible UN staff received continuous appointments; the reclassification of the duty station, the regularization of more general staff and the push for shifting the remuneration framework for the General Service Staff in Addis Ababa.

Joe Atta-Mensah fondly recalled Hamdok’s role in the push for African governments to embrace the Continental Free Trade Area, as well as the work on the conceptualization of the seminal 4th edition of Assessing Regional Integration in Africa – ARIA 4) which provided the backdrop that led to the AU Summit decision in 2012 on the CFTA that was signed earlier this year.

Andre Nonguierma expressed his appreciation on behalf of staff, for Mr. Hamdok’s leadership and work ethic during the interim period (2015-2016) that provided the stability needed to continue statistics support for member states.

Keiso Matashane-Marite expressed her appreciation to Hamdok’s tirelessness and interventions on contractual matters of concern to staff. “The institutional memory at the top is shrinking, but you are leaving a legacy of a service well delivered, the wisdom of Solomon, dedication, humility and diligence. You set the bar high for the next generation of international civil servants,” she said.

Kojo Busia elaborated on Hamdok’s intellectual leadership through initiatives and strategic thinking on the African governance landscape. “He prepared the grounds for the systematic assessment of African governance systems – political, economic, corporate and social governance and instituted the methodologies for Africans to assess themselves,” he said. Subsequently, NEPAD undertook the African Peer Review Mechanism and his work became the foundations for the APRM declarations in 2002.  “His is the type of thinking that created a movement that lives long after one is gone,” said Busia.

Adam Elhiraika, also from Sudan, praised Hamdok for the inspiration he gave to the institution, particularly his intellectual contributions to Africa’s industrialization, the thinking on the developmental state for Africa’s transformation and the response this work received from Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who, as recalled Elhiraika, referred to the ECA concept note eleven times in a speech.

Josue Dione, a retired staff member fondly referred to Hamdok as his ‘little brother’ and recalled their professional interactions at the African Development Bank in Abidjan and “as friends and neighbours. “We both ended up at the ECA in 2001, he said and joked that they peer-reviewed each other’s resignation letters.

Edmond Oladipo, the longest consultant to have served with Mr. Hamdok said he was fortunate to have worked and learnt from his wisdom. “I pray your children and those after them will be as fortunate as I have been,” he said.

For her part, the Executive Secretary recalled meeting Mr. Hamdok at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation on a board they both served on, as well as during the discussions on the Mo Ibrahim Index. “We have brought governance back into the work of ECA and where Mr. Hamdok started it,” she said. She also thanked him for his solid guidance on the reforms and for reaching out to her when she was appointed as Executive Secretary. “We can hope that ECA continues to be sincere and honest and that it carries itself as family and hopefully, as a place that changes Africa for the better,” she added.

A poem, read in his honor by Mercy Wambui adapted symbolisms from Sudanese author, Aboulela Leila’s novel, Lyrics Alley. The poem drew from Hamdok’s Sudanese roots and the country’s tragic colonial history and situated him in the world and the thinking he now inhabits in a multilateral institution.

Aida Opoku-Mensah described him as a man of great nobility and of great humility. She recalled his role in the Development thinkers group of high ranking intellectuals of the late PM Meles and as the father of modern governance thinking in Africa in the service of development in Africa. “He was poached from the AfDB, then poached by IDEA and then poached back to ECA, she said.

Ms. Opoku-Mensah elaborated on his role as the father of the work on the IFFs. In 2003, Mr. Hamdok introduced the need to look at IFFs in Lilongwe, Malawi during a side event of the Conference of Ministers leading to a resolution that led to the creation of the Mbeki Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa. “That legacy is quite fortuitous – it was an inflection point. It led to an active and prolific Civil Society, the stop-the-bleeding campaign, the IFF consortium and the IFF subcommittee that have the Mbeki panel recommendations as part of their work programme. “This work goes on, irrespective of the ECA. As the father of IFFs, we are proud of your legacy,” she said.

In his farewell remarks, Mr. Hamdok thanked staff, expressing his deep appreciation for the work and initiatives. “If there is any achievement that could carry my name, it was never alone. We worked together to achieve those milestones. I believe firmly in collective thinking. It is superior to any individual thinking and it’s this spirit that makes this institution great, I hope this will carry on in the future,” he urged.

“If we continue to be relevant to the African development agenda and responsive to Africa’s development issues and challenges, this institution will prevail,” he said, stressing that the relevance of the development challenge in the world is demonstrated in Africa and in the way the ECA partners with other institutions, such as the African Union and the African Development Bank.

On Ethiopia, a country that Mr. Hamdok fondly calls “home”, he expressed appreciation to Ethiopians for the ongoing changes and for giving the world a female president. Ethiopia is the place I spent the longest time of my career, he said.

Abdalla Hamdok and the ECA.

Mr. Hamdok first joined the ECA as a Director of Regional Integration and Trade (RITD). He then left for IDEA before returning as Director of Governance and Public Administration (GPAD) and then serving as Deputy Executive Secretary/Chief Economist (DES/CE). He is the author of numerous publications and has led and participated in major initiatives of the ECA in supporting and addressing Africa’s development challenges. These include: Governance, Institutions and Development Challenges; Illicit Financial Flows from Africa; Trade and Regional Integration; Macroeconomic Policy; Africa’s Transformation Challenges including Industrialization; Migration; Green Economy; and Statistics and Economic Development Planning.

“It’s never farewell for a patriot like you” – Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa.

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