After almost 2 full days of travel – I am finally in Togo!
No doubt it was one of my longest trips around the globe – flying from Melbourne to Bangkok, to Nairobi, to Accra and another 5 hours of car ride to arrive at my final destination Togo – totalling 38 hours.
I have arrived in the capital of Togo, Lomé just in time for the excitement of the annual AIO Life Insurance – Demystifying Life Insurance. The African Insurance Organisation (AIO) is a non-governmental organisation recognised by many African governments in promoting inter-African co-operation and development of a healthy insurance and re-insurance industry. The conference which had taken place in the modern prestigious Pan African Centre of EcoBank (ETI) was unquestionably a high-quality convention.
Without a doubt, this conference gave me a small glimpse of the big business world of Africa with insights into the latest African industry news, product innovation, market trends, micro-insurance, risk-management and regulations. It gave me the invaluable opportunities to network and gain insight from leading industry experts from all over Africa. Many often have the misconception that Africa is a country. But it does not take long for one to realise during this conference that Africa is in fact an entire continent marked with an amazing, unparalleled diversity of languages, peoples and nations. One may not realise how big the continent Africa actually is – it covers the same surface as 13 countries – including the United States, China and India – and the whole of Eastern Europe! There are at least 3,000 distinct ethnic groups in Africa – here is no continent more blessed with striking beauty and diversity than the African Motherland.
I was also given the remarkable opportunity in the conference in sharing some of my actuarial insight as an Actuaries Without Borders member. Interestingly, the host of the conference made several explicit comments about the rarity of female speakers – he was almost shocked to see female presenters. Unquestionably, African women continue to face some grim facts in gender equality. According to the World Bank, at 61 percent, women in Sub-Saharan Africa have one of the highest labour force participation rates in the world. Yet across Africa women face an array of barriers to achieving their full potential, from restrictive cultural practices to discriminatory laws and highly segmented labour markets. High respect should be given to the various African initiatives which continue to work towards eliminating gender inequality and empowering women in boosting the continent’s development potential.
It was also fascinating to note on the second day of the seminar that although the scheduled seminar started at 8:30 am, the majority of the participants only leisurely arrived at 9:30 am to make a start to the packed schedule of the conference – “African time”. According to one Ghanian writer: “The problem of punctuality has become so endemic that lateness to any function is accepted and explained off as ‘African time’.” “African time” is the perceived cultural tendency in parts of Africa toward a more relaxed attitude to time. Indeed, such cultural tendency is reflected in the more leisurely, relaxed, and less rigorously-scheduled lifestyle found in African countries, in contrast to the clock-bound pace of daily life in Western countries. Even when a seminar session has run over schedule for over half an hour, participants can still leisurely raise a question statement of over 15 minutes!
Yet the comfort of the venue and the excellent catering of such fine conference has almost disguised the fact of that I am now in one of the poorest regions of the world – West Africa. Is this really “TIA”*?
* TIA – “This is Africa” is a common phrase among expatriates here. It is used to shrug off or laugh off unexplainable or inconceivable cultural differences encountered.