Kodje Bedoumra, the affable Chadian minister in charge of finance and budget recalls his childhood days growing up just outside N'Djamena, the capital with bemusement.
He was born 63 years ago across the mighty River Chari that snakes its way on the southern flanks of the sprawling capital, said to be among the hottest cities on the planet.
Reminisces Bedoumra whose input in government since 2012 when he returned to Chad after 29 years at the African Development Bank (AfDB) has had lofty developmental imprints for a country with a history punctuated by civil wars, coups and insurgent attacks: "The N'Djamena of my childhood and youth, then known as Fort Lamy was a humdrum city of largely mud structures and no properly paved roads. Infrastructure as we know it today was at its nadir.
"I returned at a time when the economy, vamped by oil revenues for close to a decade had picked up in spite of insurgent upheavals in 2006 and 2008 when rebels from the north came close to taking over N'Djamena, necessitating the strengthening of the army. A changing face of Chad had started showing, albeit amid hiccups engendered by mismanagement of oil revenues to the chagrin of the Bretton Woods Institutions.
Bedoumra's first port of call on his arrival in 2012 was the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development where he says he oversaw the development of the 2012-2015 national development plan. Pride permeates his face as he talks about it: "I worked on the implementation strategy of the president's vision for an emerging Chad by 2025. I marshaled my technical expertise and methodogical approach gleaned at AfDB to the government. Result? Improved accountability, thanks to a monitoring regime that ensured efficient production. Technical ministries were made to own projects initiated under them for answerability. Things started straightening up.
His efforts quickly endeared him to the president who brought him closer as the Secretary General of the presidency, a position he fondly describes as 'extremely strategic' and important for understanding the development priorities of the nation. It was fleeting though, because only months later, he was appointed minister of finance and budget in October, 2013, a gesture that put the country's coffers in his hands to this day.
Says a confident looking Bedoumra: "I moved fast to consolidate and modernise public finances, bringing the country in line with budgetary discipline so important for growth. The outcome of that move can now be seen in the face of modern N'Djamena that is a reflection of the country's transformation as an emerging important player on the continent. Education ranks high in that transformation where it is free all the way to university.
True. N'Djamena today is a prototype of well paved, well lit roads, classic hotels, myriad monuments to depict the country's heroic struggles, culture and prevailing peace and construction works at every turn of the bustling city of two million plus inhabitants. Not left behind in this pulsating troposphere is the United States of America that is putting up a large embassy, complete with a military base.
"I look back to the days when I walked around barefoot and roads were synonymous with dust, the days when modest education was a mirage for Chadian children and feel proud that we have made big strides as a nation. Plans are afoot for Africa's Communication Centre in N'Djamena that according to plan will be more imposing than the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. We are focused on a great future. That is why we dispatch our army, well equipped since 2008 to stabilise volatile neighbouring countries to safeguard our peace. We have contributed immensely to the weakening of Boko Haram, stopping the Nigeria terror group from mutating into a regional menace.
Bedoumra adds with a grin that lights his face: "If destiny puts me at the helm of the AfDB as president which at the moment is my inspiration, I will leave having realised my objective to see Chad reach the completion point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), borne out by the fact that both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) have jointly decided to support US $1.1 billion debt relief for Chad.
"Reaching the HIPC completion point represents an important achievement and a milestone for Chad. It reflects a significant improvement in economic management in recent years," he says.
He describes his quest to steer the AfDB as a passion, not merely an ambition. And his dreams for the bank are palpable. "I want the institution that brings together 54 African counties and 26 non-African ones to be more efficient, more innovative and more credible under my stewardship," he blurts, dripping with confidence.
"For instance, AfDB ought to help preempt destructive menaces such as Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and unnecessary risks that have pulled African counties down from well attained heights as happened in the Ivory Coast in 2010. Was it not possible to see these things coming and forestall them? Are we myopic to the extent that we cannot see even our noses?
"My take is that we need to look at risks today that could impact negatively on tomorrow's development," he says.
Bedoumra envisages an Africa driven by regional integration to enable healthy engagements with other regions where economic blocks are the vogue today. He singles out human capital as an area where Africa must not lag behind and cites education and health as fundamental ingredients on that front. He says employment for the youth would take care of wanton conflicts currently hurting the region.
Bedoumra left conspicuous spoors on many African countries, Kenya included as secretary general and Corporate Services Vice President of AfDB. "I had water and infrastructure under my watch during my days as Secretary General. Among the projects we funded in Kenya for were the Rift Valley water supply and the road corridor to Ethiopia," he says, leaving me mesmerised.
The fourth born of eleven children, nine of them boys, Bedoumra had humble beginnings, the son of struggling parents who crossed the River Chari to seek greener pastures in neighbouring Cameroun. "It was fate at its best," he says in his clean, unaccented English. "My early education was in that part of Cameroun where English is spoken. I walked three kilometres to school with other poor children in the neighbourhood. That walk was a pep to prepare me for the future.
"Though my struggling parents were not paupers, it never occurred to me that I would acquire higher education to help me make a difference in my country. I proceeded to high school where sterling results earned me a place at the prestigious Ecole nationale Superioure des Telecommunications in Paris, France to study telecommunications engineering. He joined the AfDB in 1983 as a telecommunications analyst, working in various roles before becoming a senior manager of the infrastructure and energy department in 1996. From 2006, he managed the Water and Sanitation Department and became the Secretary General of the Bank in 2008, a post he held until 2012 when President Idriss Deby Itno requested him to return and help turn around his motherland.
Bedoumra is married with three children.