For 30 years, WFP has collaborated with a vast network of Standby Partners consisting of public and private organizations that complement WFP’s operational capacity by providing staffing, equipment, and services.
Standby Partnerships are activated in various job positions and provide crucial support to WFP operations in emergencies or when WFP needs specific technical expertise. In 2021, 97 experts from our standby partners network worked in 37 Country Offices, 6 Regional Bureaux, and Headquarters.
We spoke with Guy Motchebe Njatcheu, a Cameroonian Port Captain deployed by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), to support the Lake Tanganyika corridor revitalization project. Guy told us about his responsibilities on this critical initiative spearheaded by WFP Burundi.
1. You recently completed a 12-month assignment with WFP in Burundi. Why did you decide to contribute your time and experience as a Standby Partner?
I have over 15 years of port experience across Africa and have worked with several maritime companies over the years. It's an exciting sector, never a dull moment!
However, following the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a significant slowdown in private sector activities. Therefore, I was thrilled when DRC offered me the opportunity to temporarily join WFP as a Port Captain based in Burundi. I had long wanted to contribute to a humanitarian project, let alone one with such a large scope and regional dimension. I immediately requested non-paid leave from my employer to take up the challenge.
2. What were your main tasks during this deployment?
Lake Tanganyika, the world's longest freshwater lake, is bordered by 4 African countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Zambia. Historically, Lake Tanganyika was a trade hub linking Eastern and Southern Africa. However, in recent years deteriorating infrastructures and slow economies around the Lake have led to the corridor's decline. Recognizing the Lake's huge potential to become a strategic transport network again, WFP Burundi has developed a plan to promote the corridor's revitalization. As WFP sources more commodities regionally, the transport connections in this hub are expected to become more important.
Suppose the revitalization promoted by WFP and other stakeholders is properly implemented. In that case, Lake Tanganyika can turn into a strategic supply chain corridor for WFP operations in the Lake riparian countries and the whole region. In addition to the added value for WFP programmes, the corridor revitalization would be the backbone for economic growth and employment opportunities, serving as a sustainable facilitator of transport and a connector of crisis demand and supply.
As part of the coordination effort in this initiative, I was deployed by WFP Burundi to conduct a technical assessment in the nine main ports bordering Lake Tanganyika to identify the project's obstacles and opportunities. As Port Captain, these travels took me to Burundi (Bujumbura), DRC (Kalemie, Kalundu, Baraka), Tanzania (Kigoma, Kabwe, Karema, Kasanga), Zambia (Mpulungu). Capacity building and advocacy were also key components of my role.
3. How did you work with WFP's team, partners and beneficiaries?
Unsurprisingly this ambitious project involves multiple stakeholders. Within WFP, I worked closely with the Project Manager, a very dynamic lady. As a Gender Champion, it was nice to see a woman lead in this rather masculine environment. It is great seeing more women in this field of work. I also closely collaborated with WFP Supply Chain teams in the four countries bordering the Lake. Everyone was convinced of the project's importance and eager to speed its operationalization.
Outside of WFP teams, there were also various stakeholders, including the Lake Tanganyika Working Group, Government representatives (i.e. Ministry of Transport & Trade, Ministry of Agriculture, Maritime Authority, Immigration services, Burundian Revenue Authority…), port personnel, regional bodies and donors. To support the Lake Tanganyika Working Group fundraising efforts, I participated in several advocacy meetings with Ministers and investors.
Furthermore, in an attempt to improve the corridor's competitiveness, WFP initiated a capacity strengthening programme to improve operations safety and efficiency around the Lake. It consisted of a mix of classroom teaching and practical inspection on the field. This aspect is very important as ports are some of the highest risk sectors to work in due to the safety hazards workers face daily. When accidents occur, the overall performance of ports and terminals is severely affected. I have seen terrible accidents over the years.
Looking back at his assignment, Guy concludes: "My assignment is over, but I am happy WFP Supply Chain teams are currently building on our recommendations and successfully piloting shipments in this corridor."
4. What challenges did you face during your assignment, and how did you resolve them? What surprised you the most?
Due to the context's complexity, there were many challenges to overcome during my mission: a great variety of stakeholders to coordinate with (solved via the Lake Tanganyika Working Group), language barriers from a country to the other, access issues, among others. We relied on helicopters to avoid flooded routes or mitigate security risks (mainly in DRC) in several instances.
Furthermore, my assignment coincided with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to layers of mandatory preventive measures, the pandemic did not spare me. During our assessment mission in Zambia, some team members and I tested positive and were hospitalized.
5. What are your key achievements, and where do you feel your work has made an impact?
Despite all the challenges, the assessment mission was successful. It enabled WFP and involved partners to identify key bottlenecks and required solutions to improve ports processes and performances. Key findings were presented during a high-level workshop chaired by Burundi's Minister of Transport & Trade. The workshop's objective was to ensure key Government partners, decision-makers, and investors buy in. We wanted them to fully understand our vision and see the corridor as a regional entity, not only as a series of national ports. Only regional ownership will ensure the recommendations speedy implementation.
I also enjoyed training cohorts of port workers. I was happy to see them learn and get ready to take over. Last but not least, I am glad we were able to mobilize financial resources through the dedicated Working Group. My assignment is over, but I am happy WFP Supply Chain teams are currently building on our recommendations and successfully piloting shipments in this corridor.
6. Has there been a remarkable personal moment during your assignment? What is your best story?
Some situations were quite unexpected. During our trips, we came across three ports that were barely operational. When we arrived in Baraka, the port was almost submerged. Ships or canoes were barely making the junction. A provisional quay was set up on a nearby fishing market to receive cargo. Offices had been abandoned since the lockdown, and we had to interview managers at their homes. In other cases, we had to fly by helicopter, use makeship boats or rely on villagers help. Naturally, these situations were strongly flagged in our report.
7. What are the main lessons learned?
Unlike maritime environments, Lake corridors are closed entities. Therefore, in a Lake corridor ports should not compete against each other but seek complementarity. If one of the ports is not competitive enough, the whole Lake corridor is affected and ignored by commercial operators. I believe in WFP's vision and am proud of the instrumental role I played in the project's inception. However, its success and sustainability will require thorough follow-through. Currently, the visited ports require urgent investment and rehabilitation. Various financial partners have committed to investing in the corridor. But without these investments, the corridor will remain underutilized and stay behind other transport routes in the region, causing higher lead times and costs for crucial WFP operations.
Lydia Van Os, WFP Project Manager for the Lake Tanganyika's revitalization, confirms that "Guy's wide experience in maritime operations proved to be of great value for WFP Burundi. Not only is his technical expertise outstanding, but he has also developed key relations for future port initiatives". Moreover, "Guy has great skills as a trainer, providing key information and taking the group from theory to concrete change implementation".
For deployment of standby expertise, provision of services and equipment through corporate partners, please reach out to ALITE team in the Emergency Operations Division at email@example.com