In this thrilling podcast interview, we spoke to Jeanine Mabunda, Former speaker of the National Assembly of DRC. In the rich conversation we had, we cover multiple topics of great importance to her:
- Jeanine’s Journey
- Keeping the dream alive
- Handling Climate Change and Energy Access
- Africa at COP 27
- The Green Energy Space
- Women Empowerment
Listen to the Podcast Here.
TT: Good morning. Good afternoon, everybody. It’s a pleasure to see you here. I am Tony Tiyou, Founder and CEO of renewables in Africa. What is quite interesting is the different series of podcasts we’ve been having. We talk to important people in the continent who can help our continent advance. Today you are going to be very delighted because on board is a very inspirational woman. Her name is Jeanine Mabunda. I won’t tell you more, because I want her to tell you exactly who she is.How are you today?
JM: I’m very fine. Thank you, Tony. And thank you for receiving me.
TT: Excellent! Well, you’re a very important person from DRC, Congo. like I said, I’ve deliberately refrained from introducing you. So, who are you?
JM: To put it simply, I’m a proud African woman originally from Congo: Equateur province. It is the Congo forest basin. I’m someone who has worked hard to have a meaningful impact on issues that I’m passionate about and obviously, in that journey, I’ve faced many challenges. But I’ve tried to break down some barriers as a woman and to avoid this barrier to help me back. But in general, without getting into the details of a long and quite arrogant resume, I will say that I’m someone who wish to make things happen, who wish to make things move, and especially in the area of women and girls, and new generation, not only for me, but for my community for my country and for Africa.
TT: Yeah, I can definitely see that you are making things happen. You have such a multifaceted career from politics to business and advocacy and that’s not all. How many lives do you have?
JM: I don’t know if I have many lives. I am like all the African women you know. We say that we are like the goddess of Shiva from the Indian character. Well, you need in Africa to get like nine hands as a woman to face all the challenges. But what I will say is that, I like things when they are impactful, not for me, but for the community. Because Africa is about community. It’s about teamwork and that keeps me motivated. It’s like a journey and there is no shortcut. The main things on this journey is the hard work and discipline, whether you have a carrier as speaker at the National Assembly, being the first woman, whether you are special representative going on the field in eastern Congo to combat sexual violence and to try to call on Rebels to stop abuse on woman and girls: whether it is in the private sector, because at the beginning of my career, I worked in the banking sector, starting with a private bank and later to public bank sector which later led me to public office. What always remains constant is hard work, commitment to the vision and we measure our parameter, which is
“Does it change something for the people that I serve? Does it change something for some communities?”
because that’s where I like to be. And that’s where I like to make the difference. So, I think that working in different areas has made my journey impactful. But it’s also natural to see that it would not happen without meeting incredible people who believe in me, mentor me and help me.
TT: Excellent. I think you mentioned a couple of things that are very important that I would like to revisit if that’s okay with you. You mentioned the fact that your career is very rich and I guess you started out at a young age. Usually as a young person with a vision and an idea of what you want to do, through the journey, the idea could be killed or you get disappointed. In your case, since you started, have you experienced this?
JM: Yes, it’s true that I had a vision and that the vision was a little bit naïve. You know, when you are young, you want to change the world. And when you get older, you don’t want the world to change you: your values and ethics. So, obviously, my vision has evolved over time.
It’s true that in all these paths, and that lane that I follow, I have to overcome challenges or defeat some stereotype about a woman being able to do this or not. But more doors open. And the more I was daring and bold, more doors opened. If we want to help the next generation, you have to show that it’s possible. I’m not a special person, I come from a very modest family, I will say that my grandmother was a fisher woman. In a place where there are no roads, there are more lakes and you live on the lake. So, the home is on the lake and your best job is to be a fisher girl. My grandmother however decided that my mother had to go to school at a Catholic church.
They were doubtful that it was useful for young girls to leave the home on the lake, and to stop fishing to go sitting in a closed place where you have to learn a language that you do not master, which is French. When she saw the results on my mother, my mother also decided that it was fruitful. And she decided that all the triggers she had in Africa in the 60s, should follow that path. So yes, it’s possible, and you have to show that it’s not the factor of your social origin, but it’s the energy, the ambition, the connection, the dream also you have because if you don’t dream, you will never achieve that because probably you will not dream and you will say it’s just not possible for me. So, I never thought it was not possible for me.
Probably I did it because I did not know that it was impossible for an African woman. And I’ve met, for example, girls who didn’t believe it was possible. When I was a special representative, I went on to free some soldier girls. They were about 13 years old. And I said naturally and happily, now that you have been freed up from the rebels in the eastern Congo, you should be happy because you can have a beautiful life. And she said that she was not happy because she was, according to her, too old to go to school. And I asked her, What do you want to make of your life? And she said, I want to be a tailor. I said to her, you cannot be a sailor in 2014. At that time, because you can be more ambitious today as a girl and as a child. And she said to me that she didn’t understand what I was saying. I said you can dream more about being an MP or a president of a country. And she didn’t believe me because for hours, it was not possible to see a woman MP. She has never seen a female president of the National Assembly. And she has never seen, heard or been in the sphere where she can see Angela Merkel or Ellen Sirleaf as woman president. That really shows the effort and the gap that we have to work on. Because if they do not have access to a role model, they cannot dream about it. It’s not only for me, but also for the next generation or for the girl next door who will believe that you need to be rich in Africa to succeed. It’s not true.
TT: That’s a beautiful vision, many people will connect with that. And hopefully a lot of people will sort of take inspiration for what you keep on doing. Thank you for that. I have noticed that you are also interested in energy. You wrote an article recently, where you were talking about the dual challenges that the continent faces. One is climate change, but another one as well, is electricity access. And when we look at the two, we may feel that they don’t always fit one another. I wanted to hear from you because you’ve written such a beautiful article. How do you think we should reconcile the two? Or, should we do that at all?
JM: Yes, I think you named the paradox, because there is this idea of how do we get access to energy, which is following the basic social needs of African countries? And on the other hand, how do we join the global call for climate change, and in all what goes with it so on African energy success, I just say, as a proud African woman, that I have traveled over many African countries, and whether it’s in urban cities, whether it’s in rural cities, we all have the same issue. It’s about lack of access to energy, whether it’s Nigeria, Ethiopia, DRC, or South Africa, ivory, coast, Senegal, and more.
We are not insulting anybody, but the challenge of satisfying the full energy needs of a full population is still a challenge for all leaders. So, African energy poverty is not a global climate solution, because basically, they said, Well, you have to stop the pollution by using a certain type of energy. But Africa has the least responsibility for climate change. But it felt its most dangerous effect as you have seen over flooding in Mozambique, and so on, however, our energy needs, if we try to measure it, are great, and are big, and it won’t be immediately met by renewable energy alone solar and wind and biomass.
It’s not possible, given the level of energy power we need. Today, for example, there are 600 million Africans out of the 1.2 billion community that we do represent under Content, who lack access to electricity, and achieving universal energy access must be treated for me as a human right. They should not be too late, one for Africa and one for the rest of the world, because failure to do so will also have dangerous consequences. And you think about these people who are traveling and leaving Africa because they want to make a living in another country. They speak about immigration.
You see these young Africans who go to radicalize because they don’t see hope in their day to day, condition of life. So consequence may be dangerous if we go in this tool lane to standards, dialog about access to electricity in Sub Saharan Africa. 12 million new people enter every year on the under work on the labor market, their young people less than 30 years and they want to make a living in their continent. It’s not true that they want to dream about the United States of Europe. The proof is that Nollywood shows us every day that Africa wants to dream with their model. And Nollywood success is just an ambition of the African to live and to feel like under their own lens. So, If we are able to make better conditions in terms of access to electricity, which has a transformational impact, then I think the continent will have found the first answer. And all prosperity and peace depend on economics, I mean, on the poor, or economic and growth development depends on power. And I think also our security and peace depends on power.
And you can not do that in the dark, it will not be light for the rest of the world and that for for Africa, on the climate change, I have already said that I will keep on insisting and repeating it, that Africa is the swinging factor with the power of forestry, the second after the Amazonian forest, a good reserve, good land for the rest of the world. Climate change is a global problem. But the response must also incorporate the reality of the history condition context, the biggest power China, Europe, United States, they are the most responsible for greenhouse gas emission. That’s the reality. It’s a figure, it’s facts, there is no propaganda, it’s facts. So they are still using significant amounts of coal these days. And why is Africa expected to transition only exclusively entirely to renewable and imposing higher emission reduction requirements on the EU and the US and China? I think we’ll do fair justice on this issue of climate change. Because we still need a variety of power generation, we still need various methods to expand our energy access. So that’s how I see. I think there is a way out. I think a compromise can be found with just the question of willingness and political commitments on both sides.
TT: That’s excellent. So you believe because Africa, as you said, I love the expression, the string and factor D should be used as a leverage when we go into negotiation at COP 26. I know you’re a part of cop 26 We haven’t met there, unfortunately. But I know you were there. But uh, so basically, we should be using the fact that we have a strong factor to sort of weigh in on the negotiation to get a lot more for the continent.
JM: Yes. I think we should do a lot more for the continent, because you know, this pledge which is agreed upon during the conference, and then nothing happens or rather very little happens. I think it’s not good. We should learn lessons from the COVID-19.
Power race, I will say we have seen again, like a two tier world. A world where people can be vaccinated once or twice, and then a security dose a third time. While there is another space of the world where people have difficulties even to be vaccinated once. Shall we go from this model, to the conversation about energy access in Africa compared to the rest of the world or the superpower who are already industrialized? I think, yes, we should do a little bit more. You know, this conversation about Africa: Shall we limit ourselves to renewable energy only without other options such as gas? I think it’s not fair. It’s not realistic in nature.
And I would like to see more European banks, like we saw in the Africa European Union summit last week.
I think that they committed 150 billion for Africa. Yes, it’s good. And I think one of the priorities should be to leverage the energy model in Africa. Recently the advanced nations that have voting stakes in international organizations pledge to stop financing gas projects abroad. Is that fair? Yet the same developed nations are still using and building gas projects in their own countries. So, they consider that natural gas is a bridge to renewable to renewable energy transition for the world, but when it comes to Africa, they say no:
no more new gas projects or gas financing. It’s an unnecessary luxury for the African. And I think this debate has to be changed, they have to listen to us. They have to pay attention and give consequences to what we say: Because basically, without miners from Africa, there will be no energetic transition, no green energetic transition without the mind well of Africa. So that should be heard. And that should be probably respected. And yes, on the back of cop 26. And I’m sure discussion started at cop 26. They have decided to rename gas as a sustainable fuel. As you mentioned, it should be good news for Africa provided that we also allow those projects to happen in Africa, for Africa, not just for certain people.
TT: I actually agree with you. I also believe that as a continent, if we speak from one voice, then we will accomplish what we seek. But the question is, as Africans are we really coming together to present one solid front? and especially when we go into a powerful, influential Summit, like Cop 27? Or are we still divided? And if we are still a bit divided, how can we ensure unity?
JM: I think that going back to where we started, there was some progress. At least now we have Mr. Climate, I will say Mr. Climate, an ombudsman for the African continent, and
I know he fought hard. But you know, also countries do not have friends that just have interest. And sometimes, that positioning is difficult to reconcile with regional continental positioning: Because the reality on economic and security or geopolitical level. We should reinforce the progress between this time and cop 27.
We need more discussions and forward thinking from the African bloc because that’s the only way to progress together. I don’t think there can be a single victory. Usually Africa has been strong enough when as a team on transversal issues as you have seen for the COVID-19.
Africa has been together as a team. And finally we need to produce our own COVID-19 drugs to avoid being dependent on the rest of the world. This came from a strong team diplomatic initiative from main African countries, with South Africa being one of the front leaders, EU and African Union being on the forefront of debate. So if we have been able to reach that point, with the COVID-19 approach, I think we can also take the lessons from the African Unity on the COVID-19 vaccine approach and to transfer it to the climate change conversation. I’m convinced we can do it.
As good as they’re absolutely. In fact, the COVID-19 spirit should be really used in many other areas in order to realize fast progress.
TT: I am absolutely with you there. I just have a couple of more questions, because I know that we’re also mindful of the time here. So as we’re talking about the initiatives that one can take, I was wondering whether there is a particular initiative in the green space or beyond that you really want to bring to light in this conversation because I do not want people to miss that.
JM: Yes. Like I told you, I like to have impact. And I’m passionate about the things that can change the lives of people. So at my home level, I joined a startup company, who distributes solar home systems. And it’s making a difference, we are proving the viability for the time being of both the technological side of it, and the business model. And it’s in the city of Kinshasa, where we’ve got more than 10 million people, of which 60% lack access to electricity. So I joined the startup, I was impressed because it’s a young company with younger, young business entrepreneurs. And with the content of social entrepreneurship in it, the company is called Lux, Africa.
It’s run in this very independent manner by them, but I joined them as a good mother and gave them some time, access and connection to decision makers. Because when you start an initiative like that, you need financing, you need technical assistance, you need a lot of tools to make the initiative become rubbish. So they are busy with that, and I’m quite impressed. And we have interesting and moving stories about the first client they had was a woman. Oh, and he talks a lot. The first line they had was a woman, she was a young woman less than 30. And she said she bought the solar home system kit because she wants our own daughter, seven year old, to start her first or second graduate primary school to be able to do her homework after five when it’s dark. So she really was the first client and she was with her daughter. So it was impressive. And you really directly of the mom of the city of Kinshasa. So yes, I am also interested in concrete action, not just blah!, blah!, blah!. That’s my way of working.
I also work and I’m associated with several universities and think tanks. One of which is particularly the Brooking Institute, and I placed them because they have a good and strong African department, which was added by Mr. Alows Us. And he brings together a lot of talents, influencers from Africa, to help us think out of the box about weaknesses, which are plaguing Africa from rising. So yes, I’m trying to be a small and humble advocate for African continents.
TT: That’s excellent. Entrepreneurship is changing the world and entrepreneurship will change Africa. I second that. I think you started this conversation with a clear theme: a strong woman, a powerful woman, a woman that can achieve. I want to go back to that because as I was listening to you, I figured that my wife will love this interview. She’s also actually the one who got me into entrepreneurship before I actually moved closer towards a comfortable career as an engineer. Listening to you I actually remembered that. Women have a very strong balance.
To conclude, for the many young girls and women who are looking up to you, and will be listening to you, are there any tips and hints that you can give them so that they can grab it? Like a secret recipe and make sure that they can rise to the top just like you or even beyond? Because I know that’s your desire?
JM: Exactly. Basically my goal. I hope that girls can be part of that change and my hope for the next generation is that girls will aspire to achieve whatever goals they set for themselves. I also hope that we make sure to empower them to reach their full potential and that they are free from any inferiority complex, challenges and constraints from my generation.
TT: Excellent. I would like to close with two quotes. President Obama once said that you need to be the change that you seek. In your case Miss Jeanine Mabunda it couldn’t be more true because your experience and life demonstrates that you are the change that you are seeking.You are breaking boundaries and inspiring so many. Nelson Mandela also said that it always seems impossible until it is done. It has been a delight for me to talk to you and I hope that I am going to keep on hearing more of your successes.
JM: Thank you. I wish you all the best because you have already a tremendous achievement. Thank you fro receiving me.
TT: Great! Thank you.