Founder, president and chief executive of the African Diaspora Development Institute and former African Union top diplomat, Arikana Chihombori-Quao (AQ) says she was not bitter when she was fired as the AU permanent representative to the United States after her videos accusing some Western countries of massive looting in Africa went viral worldwide.
Chihombori-Quao told Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) chairman, Trevor Ncube (TN) on the programme In Conversation with Trevor that her position at the AU was useless and she had been told that they were not interested in results from her.
TN: Before we let people out there know that you are founder and owner of Medical Clinics.
TN: In the United States. Known as the the Bell Family Medical Centres. You are a diplomat, you’re a public speaker, you are an educator, you’re an entrepreneur. Of that entire bouquet what do you enjoy the most?
TN: Mommy. I missed out mommy there. And grandmother?
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AQ: No grandmother, no no no no no no. Grandmothers are old. I’m Gigi.
TN: What does that mean?
AQ: Ah that’s AKA grandma!
TN: Okay hahahaha. You know the beauty about this show is that I learn every time. So let me let’s start with what I think is a controversy. You being appointed to be the African Union permanent representative to the US. The three years that you spent there, and the way you left that position, talk to me in the first instance about what you consider to be your achievements and why the parting had to be so public, and you had people campaigning, writing campaign letters to have you reinstated? But let’s start with what was your mandate? What did you go there to do? What do you consider to be your achievements? And why this ugly parting?
AQ: Okay. I think it’s interesting that before we came on the air you said oh let’s start with the controversy and I’m like what controversy?
AQ: Also I felt like you know a lot of people felt sorry for me and I’m like no it was release you know because when I went to Washington I was an odd cup, an odd beak. I am a scientist through and through. I’m a little girl from Chivhu in Zimbabwe. Left there after high school, went to college. First degree in General Chemistry, second degree in Organic Chemistry. Then on to medical school. Residency in general surgery, residency in Family Medicine. Straight on to private practice for 25 years, scientist through and through. Then you get a call at three in the morning to say, oh we want you to be a diplomat in Washington. I was like are you kidding me? So I wake up, I think it’s a dream. I asked my husband did you hear this conversation? And saying what follows is a few months of back and forth and finally I thought you know what I have not been on sabbatical since I actually left Zimbabwe. I said you know what I’m just gonna go and spend about six months in Washington, hang around a little bit and drink coffee and be wined and dined and I’ll be back. I knew that for the fact that I would be back. So I went to Washington really feeling stupid and I’m supposed to be the AU Ambassador and I know nothing about diplomacy. Why are you guys doing this to me? So if you think you’re going to make a fool out of me, well the joke is on you because I’m not staying six months. I’m out of here you know. But five months into it I was staying in a hotel because I didn’t want to waste my time getting a place to stay but what I began to see, the Zimbabwean revolutionary in me, I didn’t know I was a revolutionary...
TN: But circumstances cause you to realise who we are?
AQ: Yeah. There were some things I’m like there’s something wrong with this picture. No no no no that shouldn’t happen. After many times of attending meetings in North America and back in Africa, and I see things happening that were just blatantly wrong and I just could not sit anymore and have these people think as we leave the meeting that they put wool over me and they got away with it. So one day I just decided I’m done, this just doesn’t sit well with me. So I called my husband and I said I need to hang around and kick it because you know what, it was just ridiculous. We just can’t be keep being kicked.
TN: I like the way you said it, with a West African accent.
AQ: I did yeah. I’m actually West African, because my husband is from Ghana.
AQ: I said I’m gonna hang around a little bit longer. This has to stop. I mean we just can’t keep being pissed on and we do nothing. For how long? Then after that I said okay I’m gonna get a place to stay and then I’d already started travelling and speaking to the Diaspora. Again the same issue, it doesn’t matter what issues I would have shared with them, detailed information about what is really going on in Africa. France is taking over US$500 billion dollars out of Africa, and I would use a simple comparison. The watchdogs. They say corruption out of Africa sees US$50 billion getting out of Africa every year.
TN: Illicit funds?
AQ: Yes we get that, we must go after it, but I just also told you in the same period France would have taken out US$500 billion! The first question invariably, ambassador but African leaders are corrupt? I said what about this other thief? Why aren’t you asking me about that thief? You got two thieves, one carrying a briefcase with US$50 billion, and the other one carrying a briefcase with US$500 billion, and you only want to talk about the one with US$50 billion. Let’s talk about both. So with that in mind, after just going so many times and the conversation is like I’m not going anywhere, the people are not hearing me. So that’s when I just decided one day when I was on my way to yet another event with the Diaspora, I called my team I said give me the camera, I’m gonna talk. My plan was I’m gonna do this video, then I’m gonna go to the event, then I’m gonna give them the video so they have something to go back and listen to after what I would have said, because I felt like I’m speaking but they’re not hearing me. So that very first video I just did it, I was sick and tired of the French, and even politicians in Washington that I was talking to did not know about it. How could the world not know about such a blatant abuse from one of the five members of the UN security Council? It was mind-boggling and so I just decided that’s what I was going to do. I did not realise that very first video would go viral, that people did not know, and that’s how it started. I was simply, I’m just a black woman who’s sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I continue to be sick and tired of being sick and tired because the abuse, the blatant abuse of us has...
TN: By the West.
AQ: By the West, it has to stop. It is going to take us as a people united. When I started doing those videos I was actually surprised because I just knew my days were coming to an end, and I did not care because really I am making, they signed me, they actually intentionally graded me as an officer. I was being paid as an officer. It is only the last two months of my tenure that another ambassador had said they’re taking advantage of you, they said here’s what I am making and here’s what you’re making. It was only the last two months of my tenure that they had taken me to the level of ambassador, but even then they still graded me lower than most ambassadors, but at least I was in the territory of an ambassador. When I first got there I was being paid as an officer, US$49,000 a year plus there’s a small post adjustment and three thousand dollars housing allowance. It was not about money.
TN: Why had they sent you there?
AQ: They said they needed somebody who understood the American. I guess I did. May be they were right. As it turns out I guess I was. Anyway, I knew my days were numbered, and I called my husband again and I said my days are numbered, I will be coming home soon, but that did not happen. The Director of Communications at the AU said her grandfather who is 92 years old loved me and she said I am going to put all your videos on the website at the AU. So all the videos were there and then one day a phone call came. I will not mention names but I made friends, and so sometimes friends they would tell me things. So a phone call came and being advised those videos must come down, so the videos came down.
TN: So you had stepped on a number of sensitive toes?
AQ: Oh yes. The videos had to come down which was fine, I was told that the videos were going to come down, I said that’s fine, but they were like, but the videos are all over the world you know. It is ridiculous that we do not have them at the African Union.
TN: Let us just step back. The videos are the French one?
TN: Then which other one?
AQ: That is the main one.
TN: That is the main one accusing the French of stealing US$500 billion?
AQ: Yes, just about everyone heard a mention of the French because to me they are the biggest risk to peace and security in Africa today.
TN: The French?
AQ: The French, yes.
AQ: Can you imagine if US$500 billion could stay on the continent? Just one year? The AU itself has said if we have 10 years of US$100 billion put into Africa a year we will complete Africa’s infrastructure. That is only two years of takings from France. So on top of that the business, the security issues, the wars, the coups, the support of all kinds of instabilities around the countries, others are in there too but I feel very strongly that the French are leading the pack.
TN: Have the French responded in any way?
TN: Or their response was to get you fired?
AQ: Exactly. Exactly yeah. But it still took 5 months, after that phone call it took 5 months before the chairman did what he did.
TN: Any bitterness on your side?
AQ: Absolutely no. I have no bitterness. I was ready to go home, because also the office was useless. I am sorry to say but this is just the truth. They told me themselves that we are not interested in results. I am not kidding you.
AQ: The HR Director himself told me ambassador, you are wasting your time, we are not interested in results. Secondly, that office had been relegated to being a protocol office, that is it. They were not expecting anything out of it.
TN: Wow. As we were chatting via WhatsApp, you said it to me, as I asked you what is it that you wanted to talk about, and you say to me I want to talk about people of African descent coming home to Africa. This is the most important issue for me. The damage of over 400 years must be reversed.