Friday, June 23, 2017

Light and shadow (2) - Dr. Gilles Klein

Light and shadow (2)

Dr. Gilles Klein, 23 June 2017 

New York. 11th September 2001. 08.46 am. New York time. Everyone remembers precisely where he/she was when the first plane struck the first tower of the World Trade Centre. Moon. 20th July 1969. 21.56 pm. Houston time. The oldest remember exactly where they were when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. This astronaut had been commissioned to command the first lunar mission, named Apollo 11. He landed on the moon and went down in the history stating: “It is a small step for Man, but a giant step for mankind”. This modest man was immediately propelled into the media spotlight and had instantaneously become an icon of the space odyssey. He returned into the shadow of a discreet life, fleeing microphones and cameras, living on an Ohio farm.


When the Apollo mission lands, I was a young sports science student, making my first steps, much more modestly, in Africa, for my first stay in Tunisia. With some friends, we camped under the tamarisks, on the edge of the Hammamet beach, near the encampment of the camel drivers and their dromedaries. On that evening of 20th July, looking for a television set, we were in an adjacent hotel where the Governor of Nabeul invited the collected persons to celebrate the global event. For the Governor we were only anonymous figures, fortuitously came to be amazed in his company, faced with this achievement of the American mission.


Daily, behind Neil Armstrong, but also behind John Glenn who led the Mercury mission[1], fused an army of anonymous collaborators, who in the shadow brought their scientific, technological and strategical knowledge to the success of these missions. Among these anonymous persons, because we were in the 1960s[2], the female employees were in a manner of speaking condemned to a double penalty. Because they were women and black, several decades would be required for America to recognize their contributions to the space conquest. The filmmaker Theodore Melfi recently paid tribute to them.


25th December 2016, United States of America. The movie Hidden Figures co-written, co-produced and directed by Theodore Melfi is projected for the first time on the screens. It is adapted from the novel Hidden Figures of Margot Lee Shetterly which tells the history of the American physician, mathematician, and spatial engineer Katherine Johnson. She contributed to the aeronautical and spatial programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This scientist, specialized in astronomical navigation calculated the trajectories of the Mercury program and the Apollo 11 mission towards the moon in 1969.


From the Apollo 11 mission, history retained only Neil Armstrong’s achievement. From the Mercury mission, history retained only John Glenn’s achievement. For the United States of America, these two achievements had an invaluable diplomatic value which maintained then the scientific, technological and strategic competition with the Russians in the midst of the Cold War. Melfi’s movie put on center stage, Katherine Johnson and her professional sisters, actors in the shadows of Glenn and Armstrong and the Mercury and Apollo programs.


The mathematician in her nineties has always been lucid on the role that this group of black women played in the reaching for the stars. But for her there was nothing extraordinary! “I just did my job. NASA had a problem and I had the solution” she said at the film's release[3]. Like Neil Armstrong following his achievement, she remained in the shadows. At most Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. “But, those who worked behind the scenes of this achievement, these women of color employed as “human computers” at the Langley research center, in Hampton, history zapped them. Without Katherine Johnson, the prodigy of numbers, John Glenn would have gone into orbit, but would not have been able to tell us about it. She alone knew about calculating his flight trajectory for entering into the atmosphere and bringing him back alive”[4].


Without the directors of institutes, the sports sciences professors, the representatives of ministries of youth and sport, our organization would remain at the level of a formal declaration to the United Nations. The time has come to greet and thank all our hidden figures[5]. Admittedly, they did not take us to the moon. Moreover, it was not for them that we asked to pick up the moon. But they allowed us to give reality to the project attempting to support youth sport in the developing countries. They have calculated our trajectories and organized our landings to ensure that our welcome might be the best that it could be in the member states of our organization.


From 2007 to 2017, our hidden figures, the Focal Persons and the national representatives of the Secretary-General, have been true liaison officers and played the full range of the diplomatic roles identified by the major international organizations. Their representation activity, the nature of the roles played has evolved during the period, depending on our policy, our diplomacy and cultural, political, technological and financial factors inherent to the member states. This development led to a diversity of roles.


These women and men became informed and assimilated the missions and possible actions of our intergovernmental organization (IGO) in their country. In turn, they informed the national interlocutors. The CONFEJES seminar in Saly in Senegal, has been the founding moment of this first role. They ensured the transition of IGO on the education and training issue through sport to the SDGs and played the role of Secretary-General’s representative in their country.


Then, they have taken an advocacy role finding the good arguments in favor of our organization to convince their interlocutors. It was sports advocacy to the teachers and students of the national institutes of youth and sports, of sports sciences faculties in their country. It was an advocacy to the ministries of sports administration and especially to the minister of sports. They have also represented the Secretary-General to a diversity of interlocutors of the childhood, youth and sports world: UNICEF, National Olympic Committee, federations, clubs, etc.


The « Letter of framing » delivered by the Secretary-General allowed them to also ensure a diplomatic advocacy. They have represented the Secretary-General to other ministers, in charge of higher education, health, and foreign affairs. Some of them have met Prime Ministers and Presidents of the Republic to advocate the IGO’s cause. Others have presented the IGO to national media.


Thanks to their knowledge of the national and local networks, some collaborators even have introduced the public-private partnerships (PPP) to the dedicated ministries. They became then an essential link in the negotiation of commercial and industrial partnerships. Some of them have been missioned to the Ministers holder of the WSA-IGO file to lead some inter-ministerial commissions gathering all the relevant departments (agriculture, energy, water, sports, foreign affairs, Prime Ministers, Presidencies, etc.). These inter-ministerial tasks went evidently beyond the competences of sports staff, instructed to represent the Secretary-General in their country. However, the Focal Persons who have taken this role revealed some competencies, unsuspected by themselves.


When we were on a mission in their country, they always ensured administrative and logistic support to the organization. To do that, our hidden figures surrounded themselves with liaison teams. These teams were the first incarnation of an IGO’s liaison office with a task distribution within it. They provided the official organization’s representatives with the necessary logistics to ensure the achievement of the mission objectives and ensure its success. This liaison team included up to a dozen persons to perform the following tasks: agenda elaboration with the relevant ministries, Prime Minister and Presidency, formal and informal delegation’s agenda implementation, administrative logistics, management of the public and private delegation members’ travels, etc.


Following the missions, most of the liaison teams remained available to assist the General Secretariat for the objectives' achievement. They facilitated the permanent communication between the General Secretariat and the ministries of youth and sport, of foreign affairs or relevant ministries by PPPs. Our hidden figures have undertaken information collection on youth, sport and SDGs development in the country. They provided reports suitable to be published in the collection “Sports, Societies and Development” of the World Centre of Excellence Physical Education, Sports, Leisure and SDGs (WCEPESL-SDGs) that works under the aegis of the IGO-WSA’s General Secretariat.


The weakness of the financial, material and human situation of the General Secretariat has led to the adoption of some realistic communication strategies with the national correspondents. Classically, a liaison office assumes its information function by means of a documentation center on the organization and its programs. This documentation function has been minimally managed, providing a basic set of documents to the local representatives in order to allow them to respond to the institutional or individual requests and to the national media and disseminate the IGO’s publications.

Information technologies

The spread of the Internet, including in Africa, permitted the maintaining of constant relations. Nevertheless, the frequent lack of fixed telephone lines in Africa, the important development of mobiles phones and the lack of computers on this continent induced the General Secretariat to prioritize the communication through mobile lines. Thus, the mobile phone has been the major tool of the message transmissions between the General Secretariat, the Focal Persons and their teams, who used cybercafés – a kind of ephemeral liaison office – to receive information digitally. The General Secretariat made available to the Focal Persons a virtual library, however crude. It orientated them towards the knowledge sharing sites on education to SDGs through sport, notably the IOG’s website.


Let us borrow from Katherine Johnson her response to the journalist of the Washington Post, to specify the work undertaken by our hidden figures: “They just did their work. The IGO had a problem and they had the solution”. Unlike that, all performed all these tasks, mostly on a volunteer basis, hoping that one day our rocket Saturn V would successfully take off launching our mission. Unfortunately, we did not manage to operate the reactors. However, we know that a big number of them remain ready and available. If they accept the proposal, they will become heads of the liaison offices that the organization should inevitably create in its 33 member states.


At the time of concluding this first blog series, I am genuinely grateful for some of the activists of the cause of youth sports promotion in the developing countries. It would be too long and tedious to assess all that we owe to them, all that we will owe to them. The debt is huge. Over these ten years, they have been professional relationships. They have become some watchtowers, watching every event that could help us to formalize our initiative in their country. Some have become friends, brothers and sisters in arms. Those that one wants to promote, or help when they are in need. I would like in a few key words or expressions to summarize my path taken with these faithful ones and expressing to all of them my friendship and my recognition.


Pierre, the professor, the physiologist, health through sport, studies in Grenoble, a meeting at UNESCO, the Rabat seminar, the go-between towards the directors of African institutes, the go-between towards Youssouf Fall and CONFEJES, the first African master in sports sciences, the courses in Porto Novo, the hopes for the village, for the Adjarra’s young people, the work in region, the prefects of Mono Couffo and Ouémé Plateau, the management of an inter-ministerial commission, the weakness of our model, the mandatory move towards the chamber of commerce and industry, welcome in the family, etc.


Togba, king’s great-grandson, the faithfulness, the devotion, until ending up in difficulty, the military, the junta, seven ministers of sports, Doctor Diallo, bags of bio-fertilizers, Alpha Yaya Diallo camp, a first Lady, waiting in the ministries antechambers, lack of air conditioning, Independence Grand Hotel, the national institute of sports, a library with two books, one old dictionary and his PhD thesis defended in Cuba, a basket backboard of which remains the iron circle, boxing, the Olympic committee, the loss of employment, the galley, etc.


Nicodème, the Independence, flies the flag of a young nation, Conference of the ministers of sport, works on the handicap, convinces the minister, memorable, a routine attention, prays for the success, how many ministries, from sports to agriculture including energy, transport, the President of the Republic in Ngozi, insatiable holder of messages, the crocodile of the Tanganyka lake, so much humility, an incredible energy, discrete elegance, consistency and firmness, expectation for the family, his son Elvis, Canada, etc.


Imirane, first mission, first drafts, debriefing at the Niger hotel, wrestling, horse race, strength and warmth, servant of the state, the collaboration with the architects, Ali Bouramah who will become CONFEJES Secretary General, activist of the social causes, waiting for democracy, the mosquitoes of Niger, skewers of the Niger hotel, cross the country in 4x4 drive, it would crazy now, welcome in the family, the organization of major events, etc.


Domingo, the Hispanic world, meeting in Colombia, INDE, publishing house, the documentation of the world centre of excellence, the wonderful Catalonia’s Institute of Sports, the Catalonia’s membership, the economic power open-up on Latin America, from Costa Rica to Chile and through Argentina, a global vision and intervention, etc.


Taïb, meeting in Casablanca, student, brilliant and lively, a smile always, the Rabat seminar, football and health, the organization’s founding movie, a kingpin, Royal College, a story of sardine, the suitable network, a famous gymnast, the young people at the gymnasium, a group of sports activists, no means, a lot of heart, the friend Moussa, the heart on the hand, the little Xhali, the diplomacy, the university, the management at the heart, Royal Academy, a great future, the sports sciences in the Arab world with Fredj in Tunisia, etc.


Constant, the training, the students, the Belgian filiation, the Tata Raphael stadium, meeting in Paris, on the road for New York, Athanase and the Frantz Fanon’s revolver, modesty and loyalty, discretion and efficiency, the Congo basin, the confidence of a great minister, take all the steps, the council of ministers, the inter-ministerial commissions, the state complexity, Kinshasa the beautiful, the sanitization of a city world, hope of conclusion, rebuild a faculty, 200 sports centres for young people, the affair in the hands of negotiators, business first, the relations becoming strained, etc.


And then, there is all those with whom the adventure left an almost unfinished taste: Assane in memory of Mamadou N’Dao, Clément and the Oubangui river, Nicolas in the land of cocoa beans and elephants, Raul, the grapes and the Aconcagua, José and the open-up on Brazil, Kallie from Mandela’s country, Richard passed away too soon, Valiollah and the Haiti suffering, Lucien, the red island and its baobabs, Maria Eugenia and Central America, Benoît so closed from Burundi, Alassane and the hope of Mali, Fahti for the sport in emergency situation in the Gulf of Aden. A feeling of an unfinished situation because our intervention remained unsolved for multifactorial reasons. For ten years, the world has been shaken, destabilized, the IOG experienced difficulties of finding the path to investors.


Returning to the step of a giant. The promotion of Youth sports assumes making a giant step. Alone against all you cannot do anything. You must work in a group. From Zoulikha to Youssouf, from Pierre to Fredj, from decision makers to hidden figures, during ten years, they were our supports and our relays in the promotion of youth sport in the developing states. We are all committed in a relay race in which the oldest transmit the baton to the youngest. The metaphor of the baton is far from new. From my time in the sociology of sciences, I am still touched by this quote of the sociologist Robert K. Merton during his speech to the American Sociological Society in 1957 dedicated to “Priorities in the scientific discovery”. A quote that he goes into in his book both humoristic and serious: On the shoulders of Giants[6]. In his conference and his book, he analyzes the title quote referring to Isaac Newton who explains his discoveries thus: “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.


In this adventure in favor of youth sport, we settled on the shoulders of some giants, so that in their turn the young people settle on our own shoulders, to see farther so that the access to youth sport moves from a formal right to an immediate reality. But after all, it may be that for each of us, the essential thing lies more in the process than in the result. But not for young people waiting for concrete results, commitments and achievements. At the General Secretariat, we still have and always will have the conviction binding together body and soul, that we will without respite stand on the shoulders of other giants and hold on our own shoulders our relays in a beautiful pyramid to finally concretize the SDGs promotion through sport, in favour of youth in the developing countries.

Have a great summer everyone!

[1] The mission Mercury-Atlas 6 is a manned spatial mission taking part of the Mercury program, following the Americans’ initiative. Launched on 20th February 1962, it is operated by the astronaut John Glenn, who realized three orbits around the earth. He became the first American to make an orbital flight.
[2] In the United States, the 1960s are well described by Jacques Portes in Retour sur les sixties (2007), BDIC: “In 1960, the television screens are in black and white, the country squeezed in the cold war and the social standards remain conventional (…) The racial segregation, questioned since 1954, is still legal in most of the South states and the Blacks (…) are in subordinate positions in the social life and the professional world. The traditional family is the heart of the society and the birth rate is higher than the one of the other developed countries; the American model lies in the lifestyle of the white staff living in comfortable suburban homes, with children who play in the street bordered by lawns”.
[3] Washington Post, ‘Hidden’ no more: Katherine Johnson, a black NASA pioneer, finds acclaim at 98,
[4] Elle, Published on 2d March 2017,
[5] The Focal persons and Secretary General’s representatives in the member states are presented here in the chronological order of the WSA membership:  Taïb Bennani (Morocco), Imirane Maïga (Niger), Sitali Mayamba (Zambia), Donald Rukaré (Uganda), Togba Pivi (Guinea), Pierre Dansou (Benin), Guillermo Goff (Panama), Assane Fall (Senegal), Mahama Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso), Eric Madjié Amenounve (Togo), Clément Gbavro (Central African Republic), Nicolas Guiehoa (Ivory Coast), Raul Santana (Chile), José Brandao Neto (Brazil), Kallie Van Deventer (South Africa), Richard Oniangué then Jean Itoua Okemba (Congo), Valliolah Gilmus (Haiti), Lucien Bezaka Brutho (Madagascar), Etmonia David Tarpeh (Liberia), Maria Eugenia Jenkins (Costa Rica), Constant Nkiama Ekisawa (Democratic Republic of Congo), Heleona Soulgan (Chad), Nicodème Kamurari (Burundi), Domingo Blazquez (Catalonia), Benoît Nkurunziza (Rwanda), Alassane Mariko (Mali), Fredj Bouslama (Tunisia), Cleveroy Thomas (Antigua & Barbuda), Michael Rowe (Sierra Leone), Fahti Al-Sakaf (Yemen), José Dacunha (Guinea Bissau).
[6] Merton R. K. (1965), On the Shoulders of Giants: The Post-Italianate Edition, university of Chicago Press.


No comments:

Post a Comment