Biography

Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela School of Public GovernanceFaculty of Commerce, University of Cape Town. Visiting Professor at Sciences Po, Paris, and Associate Fellow at Chatham House, London. 2017 Fellow at Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.

Has been associated with a number of high level boards, including the Global Commission for Economy and Climate, Global Commission for the Future of WorkGlobal Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy TransformationKofi Annan Foundation. Is a current member of the boards of Jakaya Kikwete Foundation, Hailemariam and Roman Foundation, the Graça Machel Trust, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, the Global Advisory Board of the African Leadership Institute, Waterloo University International Advisory Board, Blockchain Charity Foundation, African Center for Cities Advisory Board, as well as Honorary Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences and Lifetime Member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences.

Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Cândido Mendes University, Brazil,  Hawassa University, Ethiopia and the Polytechnic University of Mozambique.

Past chair of the Lisbon University Institute (2009 to 2017). Past head of several institutions at the United Nations, including the United Nations Institute for Training and ResearchUN System Staff College and UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa, (2012-2016).

Has occupied prominent positions such as UN Assistant Secretary-General and Political Director for Secretary-General Kofi Annan and he is currently the  African Union High Representative for Partnerships with Europe and a member of the African Union Reform Team led by President Paul Kagame.

 

My Story

My place of birth, the same as my parents, is the first marker to define who I am. Canchungo is a village of about 10,000 people in the northwestern part of Guinea-Bissau that we proudly call a city. The surrounding landscape is astounding:  Waterways in every direction and a green canvas that can easily be mistaken for the Congo or the Amazon, where there is also plenty of water.

My father was jailed not far from Canchungo because of his support for the liberation struggle. I was then a young boy trying to understand what was going on. At age 13, Independence Day came. Soon after I was involved in the whirlwind of politics, mobilized to the core by the ideals of Pan-Africanism. My mentor was Mário de Andrade, an Angolan intellectual living in Bissau at the time. Andrade was one the founders, and the first president, of the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola). He had participated in all the Pan-African political and intellectual movements of that era and had also been editor of the prestigious Présence Africaine in the Paris of the 1950s.

I finished my secondary education in Bissau’s Kwame Nkrumah Lyceum in 1977, but there wasn’t a University in my country for me to progress too. I had to rely on Andrade’s powerful network to get a fellowship that took me to Geneva and later Paris, where I got my PhD. I was lucky to be able to focus my research and academic work on African and development issues.

As problems developed in my country coup after coup, I became disillusioned with the country’s leadership and realised my public service contribution had to be done at a different level. I joined the United Nations while trying hard to maintain my bridges with the thinking networks of the continent. I try my best to focus my professional life on important principles: Never take it easy, every reality deserves to be understood in its complexity. Not simplifying what Africa and African challenges are is one example of that; Never underestimate the importance of building the future with today’s actions. In that spirit, every step counts, particularly learning from what does not work. A lot has been done incorrectly by Africans, but much more has been inflicted on them, I like to recall.

The African Moment requires we build on the good news that is starting to reverse ‘African inferiority’ perceptions built since the XV century. It is a good challenge. However, it will not happen without a strong reversal of fortunes. Africans cannot just run, they have to run faster than anybody else now and before. If the world is still admiring the Asian tigers story, they better get ready for the fastest animal on earth: the slim, astute, speed-record breaking cheetah that hails from Africa!

Member of the Global Advisory Board of the African Leadership Institute, Honorary Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, Lifetime Member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences, Honorary Doctorate from Candido Mendos University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Hawassa University.