My Journey from Monrovia to Oslo

Sam Tokpah’s lesson on how he can best support countries towards more transparency.

Samson Tokpah is Regional Director at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Secretariat in Oslo. He leads implementation in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Ethiopia and Tanzania. He joined the EITI in June 2014 having previously served as National Coordinator in Liberia.

A difficult decision

The Chairperson had accepted my request to bring in my staff for an important announcement. Up to this point, no one at the 26 March 2014 Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) Multi-stakeholder Steering Group (MSG) meeting knew what I had to say, except the leadership.

Half way through my 362-worded resignation announcement, I raised my head for eye contact – the room was silent and all eyes locked on mine. My voice quivered and rivers of tears covered my cheeks. As a member of the MSG handed me a napkin to wipe off the tears, I paused for I was no longer audible. Until now, except for the passing of loved ones, only love and care for my kids ever brought this much emotion out of me.

For the past 29 months, I had worked daily to ensure that the EITI Principles and Liberia’s own goals on transparency and accountability in its oil, mining, forestry and agriculture sectors were achieved. There were successes and failures. My staff and the MSG had now become another family. Saying goodbye was very hard.

Thirty-four days later on 30 April, I walked away from the LEITI Secretariat - another chapter closed. It had been a challenging but yet rewarding journey.

Finding my role

The decision to work with the EITI Secretariat in Oslo did not come easy. After nearly 18 years of schooling, living and working abroad, my desire to return home and help with Liberia’s reconstruction was strong – now I felt like I was letting my country down. I would also leave behind the stature and visibility of heading an agency of government and now stepping out into the unknown: how will I be greeted by the people in Norway, culture, co-workers, and the weather?

But the excitement of moving closer to my children overwhelmed me. Then I pondered on what I could contribute to the EITI Secretariat.

My participation in last month’s knowledge exchange for National Coordinators in Ethiopia was more than just another meeting to support implementation - it was also an opportunity to contribute to what lies ahead for the way we assist countries implementing the EITI.

In that sense, the meeting in Ethiopia was an real eye-opener. The National Coordinators from nine countries (Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Seychelles Madagascar and Sao Tome) took the lead in shaping the meeting. They exchanged ideas on practical challenges and on strategies and opportunities affecting implementation in their respective countries. The staff from the EITI International Secretariat, which I was now part of, took the back seat, providing clarification on the Standard and facilitating discussion.

A wealth of knowledge lies in the countries 

This exchange showed how much implementing countries can learn from one another – rather than the International Secretariat instructing from Oslo. Ghana has developed considerable knowledge on sub-national reporting and is willing to support others.

Read more: Improving the impact of mining royalties at the local level in Ghana

Nigeria is unravelling the complexity in reporting by the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) and Sierra Leone has grasped the opportunity of making wide information available to the public in a simple and efficient way through its on-line cadastre.

I could quickly see the niche each country has on implementation. Some have become experts in issues around legislating the EITI, some are acquainted with the challenges of data quality. Others again know of the challenges of civil society organizations’ participation in the process and working with the MSG. A group of countries has gained experience on how to draw up strategies to address corrective measures which are recommended in EITI reports. This meeting gave coordinators a chance to compare best practices and tailor them for their own country.

As the number of implementing countries increases, so will the knowledge pool for best practices expand. The opportunity to harness understanding of royalties, fiscal terms, license allocation, beneficial ownership reporting, contract transparency, CSO participation and much more, is most easily found in the exchange of ideas between implementing countries. The Addis meeting showed how countries themselves hold the key to effective implementation, and reaffirmed my commitment to providing guidance on how the Standard is implemented in-country. It fired me up for future peer learning and knowledge sharing initiatives.

My contribution: facilitate learning among countries

As I stared at my computer for extended hours here in Oslo, intermittently enjoying the architectural beauty of the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Building through my window, while the thoughts of Ebola ravaging my homeland crossed my thoughts, I am reminded that my contribution to making things right in Liberia and other resource rich countries may also be achieved from afar.