The South- South geo-political zone is set to become a trailblazer in the quest by state groupings to build regional capacities that would engender rapid socio-economic development.
This is coming against the backdrop of the identification of the fact that attaining regional economic integration and putting the private sector on the driver’s seat remained key objectives for economic sustainability, thus necessitating a properly coordinated private sector participation from inception.
However what is apparent since the first summit, and now a second, is that there is yet no organized system for evaluating each summit by stakeholders on sectoral basis, with a view to determining how the key summit issues played out. Such is what enables a better repositioning of the critical factors, as well as building the required synergy for progress.
2. What was expected from the elaborate accreditation formalities for the Summits was that the Summit secretariat would retain the capacity for sustained contact with participants based on their sectoral groupings in order to obtain feedbacks, such as would even put stakeholders in syndicated network and a generally sustained focus on relevant outcomes or issues for follow up. It was also expected that each State contingent comprising both public and private sector stakeholders would have prior concerted interface on issues for the summit, with possibly a common or dialectical position paper; and would therefore sooner regroup after each summit under that aegis to review and further harness the gains, as well as strategizing on the next.
3. As one of the Private Sector participants from the tourism industry, it was observed that our participation was not coordinated by the respective State Government, even though we were self sponsored. Considering the aforesaid fundamental objectives or guiding principles of the summit, all the participating State governments should have been required to coordinate the participation of their relevant private sector counterparts on a sectoral basis, so as to be able to build the required synergies. Furthermore, key members of the private sector as in the Nigerian Tourism Federation (FTAN) should have been given some relevance in generating inputs for an appropriate sectoral agenda for the summit, since the aim of the summit is to build the right synergies that would put the Private Sector on the driver’s seat. Adequate sensitization and coordination of the relevant private sector professional groupings through their state governments should have preceded each summit, even while creating room for independent stakeholders. Such would provide the setting for attaining a paradigm needed for shaping common policy issues, while still giving room for divergent views.
4. The suggested regrouping of participants after each summit on State, sectoral or professional basis should therefore be a necessary follow-up, so as to be able to harness and build on its gains, in line with the spirit of Public Private Sector Partnership (PPP). State and regional summits on sectoral basis should therefore become the norm, but attempts at convening a South-South Regional Tourism stakeholders’ summit after the first Summit in 2009 did not receive the required institutional support. Such should now be orchestrated by the BRACED Commission.
5. With the setting up of the BRACED Commission, a proactive mechanism should be put in place for obtaining inputs from participants and relevant stakeholders, beginning with the review of the previous one. Of particular interest is developing the summit agenda and sub-themes, so as to be able to focus on the pertinent and germane issues for each sector or sub-sector, rather than a tunnel view of some issues that may not be critical or lead to a paradigm shift, as required in the wide and complex tourism sector. My long canvassed position in the tourism sector identifies both heritage conservation and community tourism as two most critical areas for both preliminary and sustained focus.
In line with actualizing the NEPAD Tourism Action Plan, there are many sub-themes dovetailing from these key issues, such as developing technical capacities to bridge knowledge gaps, activating Local Government Tourism Committees – which form the foundation of the national tourism structure (the products reside at that level), and developing a regional tourism master plan that compensates for the apparent short-changing of this region in the national tourism master plan.
6. The dual issues of agenda setting and follow-ups are critical if we are to move the summit from the deceptive ritual of fanfare, in which there is all motion but no movement, such as in making lofty policy statements without follow-up mechanisms, if indeed we seek to defy the endemic syndrome of underdevelopment in this clime. Disappointingly, our tourism agenda at nearly every fora has remained almost fixated with hospitality services as in hotel development and the premature obsession with marketing our poorly developed – or yet to be developed, tourism products. There is no gainsaying that our cultural and ecological heritage that form the building blocks of tourism products are seriously threatened with extinction or loss of integrity, making them a primary tourism issue for the summit, since the tourism products may have lost their originality and clearly not prepared for the market place. Sadly too, what our so-called tourism experts regularly bring to the few opportunities for tourism discourse are usually statistics as to how tourism has grown economies, with long abstracts on the history of tourism and extolling foreign models that are impossible of transplant. If tourism fora, especially workshops, are preceded by call for papers that are reviewed in advance, stakeholders would be saved from boring and time wasting papers from expired text books that have been unable to inspire professionals and practitioners alike.
7. At the first Summit in 2009, one such paper took so much of the time for the only breakout session, with the presenter being made to summarize and round off after patience had been exhausted and much of the little available time had been lost. This time around, there was no room for a breakout session for tourism, which defeats some of the main reasons why some of us take the pains to attend the summit. From all that was heard during the keynote address on tourism and panel discussions in the Asaba summit, there is a new fixation with entertainment (Nollywood) and the visual arts. Of course the Minister ramble about foreign models, statistics, including the idea that convening his foreign counterparts in Abuja would make a big statement. Also, as usual, his main viewpoint was how to grow more hotel rooms.
8. For the umpteenth time, these areas of focus above would seem as issues for mere rhetoric or lines of least resistance. As mentioned earlier, we have been long fixated with hotel development and catering schools since our nation’s independence, when in fact the hospitality sector is really meant to be a supporting infrastructure and not the main tourism products. Even with the frequent foreign trips by our tourism administrators and expensive resort to foreign experts, there has been no paradigm shift to reach the realization that our main challenges in tourism development are not with hospitality services or even the poorly maintained heritage attractions, but the socio-cultural settings requiring re-engineering, regeneration and transformation. Even where experts with little local knowledge or cultural relevance have been engaged in developing tourism master plans, these are now permanently consigned to the drawing board or office cabinets for lack of appropriate clues on surmounting these socio-cultural challenges. Some States have even veered off by developing expensive physical infrastructure and facilities amounting to relative overcapitalization, with little effect for rebranding and tourist arrivals.
9. However, what is being canvassed here is actually the need for a template for community tourism development that would serve as a spring board for social transformation and civic renewal. The template should be such that virtually all professions would find relevance and come to life. The architects will give designs for new culturally relevant village/cityscapes, historians will compose the origins, evolution, experiences and myths of communities; nutritionists would need to repackage our ingredients for better presentation and health benefits, many occupations would need revamping, and so on. Also, roles for developing child rearing and learning skills, mentoring for increasing incomes of rural communities, traditional recreation, language development for improved interaction with foreign ones, habitat upgrading models, etc, while retaining our cultural integrity.
There is also great need for developing leadership and volunteering skills at local levels, including community programs on health, safety, ecological and disaster management issues. These should all be designed as pilot schemes in tourism and social extension that should be commissioned through relevant consultants and NGOs, all to be able to create a tourism friendly environment for the region. These are not the usual human capacity development programs to be held in conference rooms alone but taken to the grassroots where they are self propagating. The BRACED Commission must wake up to begin the hosting of sectoral summits such as in tourism, agriculture, security, industry, etc, and to fashion an action plan with a timeline, using relevant experts, and stakeholders as applies to these key sectors under focus.
10. One administrative issue carried over from the first summit is that copies of several papers that were presented but not be circulate to participants by the summit secretariat were be posted to our email boxes. Even with the confidence reposed on that summit organizing chairman Prof Pat Utomi who made that promise, it was not kept and we had no further communication on it. It must not go without mention that the standard of the maiden summit should become the benchmark for any other one, otherwise we cannot claim any resolve to be engendering progress if standards are easily compromised. In Calabar, the facilities and welfare arrangements were excellent, as well as the quality and number of experts. In this last one it would seem there was excessive patronage of government functionaries. Though it is important that these be made to talk to the biting issues, the views from the foreign resource persons usually provided superior, arresting and fresher perspectives, rather than the all too familiar lines of excuses for non-performance that we get from our functionaries.
11. A worthy consideration is that should there be cause for limited participation in the future summits, in view of possible facility or logistical constraints, the sustained contact with participants should provide parameters with which to filter those to be given priority attendance, particularly strategic interest groups, in order to build the right capacities. A Summit can attract quite a large audience but this last one in Asaba was said to have reached numbers between 4, 500 and 6,000 participants, making it look more like a convention, thus unwieldy and putting undue pressure on facilities. Also on this score, there is a saying by Carl Jung that the effectiveness of a group is inversely proportional to its size.
12. In conclusion, that there is need for every State in the South-South region to give leadership in areas of comparative advantage cannot be discountenanced. This is the guiding spirit of the Niger Delta Master Plan, which should also be applied to the summit and BRACED States. Each State in the region should therefore have a well articulated perspective for relevant issues for the summit based on areas of relative advantage, along with Action Plans covering both short and long term visions.
Such is what stakeholders, especially practitioners, would need as a road map or guide for orchestrating the required level of awareness needed to mobilize investments and building the right synergy. It is my sincere hope that these and many other critical issues would be thrashed out at the appropriate fora; and that optimum collaboration would be engendered in this quest to achieve common objectives for the progress of the South- South region.
Courtesy Andy O. Ehanire (Tourism Consultant/ Tourism Activist in Benin).