Malawian activist appointed to head African education body: Interview

A Malawian, Limbani Eliya Nsapato has been appointed to head the African Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA) based in Dakar, Senegal as its Regional Coordinator for the next six months. His appointment comes following the retirement of Gorgui Sow who had been at the helm of the regional body since its inception in 2000. And prior to his appointment, Nsapato was ANCEFA’s Policy and Advocacy Manager based at its sub-regional office in Lusaka, Zambia. Nyasa Times’ LUCKY MKANDAWIRE (LM) engaged Nsapato (LEN) on his appointment. Excerpts:

LM: How have you welcomed the appointment?

LEN: I welcome this appointment with humility and as a challenge. With humility because being the youngest among the senior staff of ANCEFA, the responsibility could have been handed to anyone else. As a challenge because the responsibility is a big one because I have to meet the aspirations of the Board, staff, partners and member national education coalitions from 35 countries. It’s also a challenge because, the person from whom I am taking over has steered the network since its inception which means that I have to fit in very big shoes within this short period.

Finally, because this is a critical moment in the education campaign, as currently stakeholders are reflecting on progress and devising strategies for acceleration towards 2015 as well as shaping a post 2015 development agenda. This requires a vigilant civil society that should be in the fore front advocating for policies and practices that will ensure that every child has access to quality basic education. But I am hopeful that God will guide and ANCEFA will prevail with the support of its members, partners and well wishers.

Limbani Nsapato
Limbani Nsapato

 LM: What does this mean to Malawi as a nation?

LEN: This appointment is good news for Malawi as it means another one of its own will be at the helm of an influential civil society network on education in Africa. This is coming within five months after another Malawian, Mr MacBain Mkandawire, Board Chair of Civil Society Education Coalitions (CSEC) and Executive Director of YONECO was elected into the Board of ANCEFA at the General Assembly held in Dakar in. However beyond that this is a regional position, meaning that while Malawi will be a focus of attention, the delivery has to meet the expectations of all the members of the network who are spread in 35 countries.  ANCEFA has to be seen to be equally working for everyone regardless of where its leaders are coming from.

LM: Will you move to Dakar for the six months or you will remain at the sub regional office in Lusaka?

LEN: I will be based in Lusaka but from time to time I will be travelling to Dakar for administrative duties. Fortunately, we have access to technology such as email, skype and telephone facilities, which will make it easier to communicate with all interested partners from any corner of the continent.

LM: What change or improvements do you intend to bring at ANCEFA during your six-month period of office?

LEN: This is a transitional appointment, meaning that one cannot aspire to facilitate a lot of changes. However within this period I will have four priorities. The first priority will be to support the Board, which has just been ushered in, in fast tracking issues raised by ANCEFA membership and previous Board. Secondly, I would like to rejuvenate ANCEFA to be a stronger voice advocating for the right to education on the continent and influencing the education agenda of the African Union and supporting the advocacy efforts by member national coalitions in all the 35 member countries.

This is after noting that millions of people are illiterate in Africa given that as we speak 30.5 million children are out of school, 155 million adults are illiterate, and more than 70% of young people do not have adequate skills for them to prosper in a world challenged by high unemployment and poverty. This requires a big push to address the challenges, and accelerate achievement of education and development goals by 2015 and beyond.  My third priority is to win the confidence of ANCEFA cooperating partners and donors that have been supporting ANCEFA in education campaigns on the continent.

Finally, I would like, with the support of the Board and staff, to initiate reforms within the organisation based on recommendations from the organisational assessment which ANCEFA has just had, so that whoever takes the position of Region Coordinator after the six months, will continue to ensure a more effective and self sustaining education campaign network.

 LM: What will you specifically do for Malawi during your reign?

LEN: Personally this position will give me more exposure to be able to analyse the issues affecting education in Malawi and continue to speak out on prevailing issues using various strategies including dialogue with education authorities in Malawi and also through the traditional and social media.

Professionally, like we have done before in Malawi and other countries, ANCEFA will continue to monitor good governance and the relationship between civil society and the government so that we advocate for a conducive and healthy environment for civil society operations. In addition, I will work with the education network in Malawi (CSEC) and other education stakeholders in mobilising resources and strengthening civil society policy capacity through such initiatives as the Civil Society Education Fund being supported by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

There are a lot of challenges in Malawi’s education sector including the scandal of having more than 40% of children failing public examinations like MSCE, having more than 5 million illiterate adults and around half a million out of school children, a situation which affects government’s anti-poverty efforts and requires strong advocacy by civil society. Civil society in Malawi therefore needs to be supported by ANCEFA and other partners to address these and other issues.

This however is not only for benefit of Malawi but also all other countries where ANCEFA has partnership with civil society networks and there are serious education challenges. The bottom line is that my job will not just target Malawi, because ANCEFA work has to meet the expectations of all the members of the network who are spread in 35 countries in Africa.  ANCEFA has to be seen to be neutral and equally working for everyone regardless of where its leaders are coming from.

LM: Do you see any chances for the ANCEFA board to engage you as regional coordinator at the expiry of your six-month acting period? 

LEN: I think this question is better answered after my six months contract. For now I need to concentrate on what I can best do within this period. It will be up to the Board to decide who should be contracted on long term basis after expiry of my appointment.

About Limbani Nsapato

Born Limbani Bartholomew Elia Nsapato on 12 June 1977 in Thyolo District, he graduated from the University of Malawi, Chancellor College in 2001 with an Education Degree and just finished his Master of Science in Project Management degree with Cavendish University of Zambia.

He has attended a variety of post graduate academic and professional workshops and courses in a number of countries including Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal, Italy, UK, France, Germany, USA and Croatia to become one of the critics and advocates for education in Africa.

Nsapato has ten years experience working with civil society organisations, four of which (2003-2007) were spent in Malawi as National Coordinator for Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic education (CSCQBE), a coalition of education advocacy nongovernmental organisations in Malawi before moving ANCEFA in Zambia in 2008.

His areas of professional experience and interest include coalition building, networking, budget tracking, policy research and analysis as well as evidence based advocacy around education for all goals and millennium development goals. He also has special interest in writing and literary criticism.

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