YOU ARE SERVANTS NOT OVERLORDS - Onyeama advises African Leaders

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African leaders often fail to understand that they are servants of the people who put them in the positions of leadership. They tend to see themselves as overlords.

Speaking to Africa Link during an interview in his office, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Deputy Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said this confusion of roles affects governance on the continent, and creates a big divide between the leaders and the people.

Mr. Onyeama spoke also on the Development Agenda of Intellectual Property, and its impact on Africa, and what Africa needs to do to benefit from it. Read on: 
Your portfolio within the organization spans several crucial policy and operational sectors. It must be quite a handful even for an old WIPO hand like you. Can you tell us about these responsibilities and how you stay on top of them across the globe?
I have been very fortunate to have always worked within very good and supportive teams right from the time I started till now. It is essentially the teamwork throughout my 28 year career in the organization that is responsible for any achievement I have been able to chalk up.
You are responsible for the Development Agenda, a concept that has often been an emotive one among member states and WIPO watchers. Where do we stand today with this Agenda and how does it impact on Africa?
The main aim of the Development Agenda was to mainstream development in every aspect of the work of the organization. In essence it entails the addition of a development dimension to the work of all the sectors. Where we are today with the Agenda is that within the Organization there has been a deliberate and successful attempt to mainstream development across the whole Organization so that development issues are no longer confined to the development sector. Development has become horizontal across the Organization and not restricted to a particular sector. The spending on development is also horizontal across the whole Organization.

When the 45 recommendations of the Development Agenda were adopted, we were looking at how to make it really effective so that it would not be a theoretical matter but rather something concrete and beneficial to developing countries. What we then did was to propose a project approach for its implementation. A committee (the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP)) had been set up to monitor the implementation and mainstreaming of the Development Agenda.

We have been executing, up till now, 26 different projects that have been proposed by member states to address the recommendations that were contained in the Development Agenda, to give them practical effect.

For instance you asked me about the concrete impact in Africa; one of the projects that came out of the Development Agenda was the creation of Technology Information Support Centers (TISCs). These we are establishing in various African countries to good effect.

There is also a project on branding that involves branding local agricultural products. For instance in Uganda, cotton and sesame are some of the products we are assisting the local communities that produce them to develop a branding strategy for. What branding does is to give market recognition and reputation. It could also be a sort of geographical indication that indicates the origin of the products and if well marketed can give products added value in the market place.

Another example is a project establishing startup academies for capacity building in the teaching of intellectual property in institutions that are not universities.
So capacity building, infrastructure development, and intellectual property strategy and policy formulation are concrete areas in which the development agenda has been focusing. We help countries in designing their intellectual property strategies because it is very important for a country to have a strategy that relates to its development goals. In the framework of the Development Agenda, we have developed a methodology for designing an IP strategy.


Do you carry out the projects on Information centers and branding all over Africa or just in certain regions?

The methodology that is adopted in the implementation of projects is that the member states in the Committee on Intellectual Property and Development (CDIP), which monitors the implementation of the development agenda, approve a project proposed by a member state. After this, the project is implemented in selected countries as pilot projects, typically in two or three countries in a region, so that we can really fine-tune the methodology. And once the project has been evaluated, and the member states have accepted the project, we will then mainstream it into the regular work of the organization for replication in other countries.

For a specialized organization whose activities touch on the lives of people across the globe, WIPO does not have country-level presence on the ground like say WHO. How does the organization ensure the effectiveness of its global work from Geneva and a couple of regional offices?
We don’t have regional offices as such. We have an office in New York, which is a liaison office with the UN. We have a country office in Brazil, and in Singapore to cover the ASEAN countries, and one in Japan. Your point is a valid one. The way we carry out our activities is in cooperation with the IP offices in each country. All our member states have industrial property offices and copyright offices either separately or as one office. We cooperate extensively with them as we believe in training trainers. You train trainers so that they can be the resources to carry out the training in the region. We also believe in using consultants from the region who know the region and thereby build capacity within the region which is used within the region.
From what you just said, you have offices in North and South America regions (New York and Brazil), and ASEAN region (in Singapore) and Japan, but none in Africa. Why is that so?
The Director General has started the process of consultations to create offices in some of the areas where they don’t exist at the moment. He has had meetings with the African group on the way forward to create an office in Africa. A similar meeting has been held with other regional groups.
How do organizations like the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI) interface with WIPO and how effectively would you say they are playing their roles on the continent.
They are independent organizations with a historical basis to their establishment. When the former French colonies became independent, they did not have intellectual property laws and no intellectual property offices. The OAPI based in Yaoundé is made up predominantly of former French colonies that created it as a regional organization to cater to their needs, while the ARIPO, based in Harare is made up predominantly of former British colonies.
We work closely with these organizations in all our four areas of development focus namely: developing IP strategies for countries, helping countries with their legislative and regulatory framework, infrastructure development and capacity building.
In all these areas we are engaging fully with ARIPO and OAPI because at the end of the day the real goal of this exercise is to promote and encourage innovation and creativity in Africa because this is what really underpins development and a better life for all . African inventors should have protection for their inventions and creations, but at the same time the fruits of that creativity should also benefit the whole society. So through cooperation with ARIPO and OAPI, WIPO is working to create an enabling environment for creativity and innovation to flourish in Africa.
There have been protests and even a petition against the decision of AU to create the Pan-African Intellectual Property Organization (PAIPO). Objections have included the assertion that it is an unnecessary bottleneck, undercuts African interests in WIPO and WTO and that the process of setting it up has not been transparent enough to allow meaningful stakeholder engagement. Can you help us understand what is happening?
WIPO has not been involved in the process to create PAIPO. But my understanding of the reason for creating the organization is that the two organizations you mentioned earlier, ARIPO and OAPI, do not really cover all the countries in Africa. So the idea is to create a body that would be truly continental that could deal much more with policy issues at a higher level than those two existing organizations. That is my understanding of the matter, but as I said WIPO has not been a party to the creation of PAIPO.

Does it mean there will eventually be three IP organizations in Africa? Why can’t the AU see to the harmonization of the existing two and all join resources to create a strong and full-fledged organization?

That is a question that is better addressed to AU. As I said we have not been privy to the discussions that have taken place on this issue.


What would you have suggested to the AU on the matter?

We have a policy in this organization. We like to see ourselves as a member states-driven organization. We don’t impose recipes on countries. If AU in its wisdom felt this was the way to go, we would not say it should not. If it engages us to provide advice, it would normally be in technical areas, as opposed to policy issues such as whether to have two or three organizations in Africa.


But Europe has two organizations

Yes. There are two organizations in Europe. They have the European Patent Office and The Office for the Harmonization of Internal Markets which deals with trademarks, and industrial designs.


You have been in this field for upwards of 28 years. In your work with African authorities over the years have you seen any improved respect for R&D which is key to the development of intellectual property?

Yes, the level of awareness is rising all the time, the knowledge of intellectual property, and the skills of the human resources. The investment in R&D institutions is on the rise in Africa. You can definitely see that there is much greater respect for IP, much greater use of IP, much greater effort to put in place coherent strategies for research, development and innovation.


What do you say to the lack of experts in IP organization in the continent which is one of the points raised against the creation of PAIPO?

Yes, there is a human resource challenge and that was certainly one of the reasons that led to the creation of the regional organizations, to make optimum use of available manpower. However, with the training program of WIPO and cooperation activities with the countries, the human resource challenge is being addressed and is improving all the time.


It would appear that Africa still ranks very low on the IP productivity index. What are we doing wrong and how can it be righted whether in the promotion, protection and preservation of African cultural heritage and traditional knowledge or in contribution to the global knowledge menu?
What we have to do in African countries is to have a coherent strategy. First and foremost education is important. We need to have educated human resources before we think of the other resources. Africa will need to develop strategies on the use of IP that respond to the development goals of the countries. And we need to put in place an enabling environment for that.
There is need for a good system for protection of intellectual property, because if our inventors know what they invent can be protected and they can make a living from it, that will encourage them. But if, for instance, a musician knows his work will be pirated and be sold on the streets for next to nothing, and will not get any benefit from it, as we say ‘Monkey dey work baboon dey chop’, then he will not invest his time and money to develop the idea.
It is important to have appropriate legislative frame work, laws that will promote creativity and protect it. But at the same time the benefit of IP is for the society in the sense that the purpose of medicine protected by IP is still to take care of human beings; thus there is a need for legislation to facilitate access for the benefit of society.
There is also a need for infrastructure. R&D institutions need to have access to technological information to be able to carry out research, access to databases, computer equipment and training.
Policy makers and negotiators have to have the skills and knowledge to negotiate treaties that will benefit their people. An invention even if it is based on traditional knowledge has to be protected and commercialized; the innovation process. You have an invention but you have to get it into the market place, a process that needs not only technical knowledge but also commercial and legal skills. These are all areas that need to be mastered by Africans.

As an African and a Nigerian operating at this global level and watching what is happening in your motherland especially with respect to the threats to peace and development, what would be your advice to the leaders and people of Nigeria?
My advice to Nigerian leaders, same goes to African leaders in general, is to remember that they are actually servants, and not overlords. This is one thing that we have not always fully imbibed in Africa. Leaders are servants and are there to serve.
If our leaders develop a culture of being servants rather than overlords, I think that will make a big, big difference to the general approach to governance in our countries.
I would say that because of the confusion of roles, there is often a disconnect between the leadership and the people both in Nigeria and Africa in general.
The people really should be driving the process of development and the government facilitating, which unfortunately is not always the case. To my mind this creates the disconnect and sense of alienation where the two sides, the leadership and the people, do not always feel they have a shared and equal stake in the same entity, namely the country. And when one feels this way, one usually does not have a strong allegiance to the country.
You can see in daily life that people generally make an effort to invest in what they feel they have a stake in, and when you feel that way, you are committed to invest money and time in that thing and you have a certain attachment to it.
When Nigerian leaders and the people embrace their true roles, it will be easier to address the challenges to peace and to enhance the development of the country.

 

 

 

 

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