Professor Januarius J. Asongu is a Cyber Security executive with JPMorgan Chase & Co, the largest bank in the United States. In this interview, Professor Asongu spoke with The Podium on a wide range of issues, including education, politics, religion, and the recipe for rapid development of IT in Africa.
Please tell us something about your background.
I am currently a Vice President of Supplier Assurance Services, Global Supplier Services at JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPMC). As VP, Supplier Assurance, I am a Supplier Assurance Services (SAS) Supplier Control Assessment (SCA) Lead.
I am responsible for performing technical risk and control assessments of supplier environments, including infrastructure/application stacks and other technologies to ensure compliance with JPMC Corporate Policies & Standards and to validate that technical risks are managed and security controls are implemented.
The SCA team partners with Cyber security & Technology Controls and Lines of Business (LOBs) to focus on performing assessment of supplier’s control environments. The team is also responsible for assessing action plans and risk acceptances across business lines where technology standards’ compliance cannot be achieved.
As a SCA Lead within this group, my responsibilities are to develop and execute firm-wide risk assessment processes, products or programs, with focus on consistency.
You are known as a cyber security leader who has trained many IT professionals now working in both the private and public sectors in the United States. How does what you do relate to Cyber Security?
My job is actually a cyber security role. Cyber security, also known as computer security, information technology security, or simply information security, deals with the protection of computer systems from the theft of or damage to their hardware, software, or electronic data, as well as from the disruption or misdirection of the services they provide.
That said, my current role is entirely a cyber security function, where I protect JPMC from cyber threats that can originate from our relationship with our suppliers or third parties.
You have been a university Professor and even owner of your own university. Why did you leave such an exalted position to become employee? I understand you have always been an advocate for entrepreneurship. You don’t seem to be practicing what you teach…
You are right that as a business professor I was wont for my advocacy for entrepreneurship. When I designed my programs at Saint Monica University (SMU), we made entrepreneurship a compulsory course for all students – be they undergraduate or graduate students.
Our goal was that each of our graduates would be able to start their own business upon graduation if they so desire or if they were not able to get a job. As the founder of SMU, I was teaching by example – showing how I could run a profitable business in the difficult economic environment that is Africa.
What made me to leave my role as President of SMU is the war in the former British Southern Cameroons, now called Ambazonia. When the crisis started in 2016, there was a call for suspension of classes and public demonstrations against the government of Cameroun.
In response, the Cameroun government started killing people indiscriminately and targeting those they perceived as their enemies. Although I was not involved in Cameroun politics, I was reliably informed by friendly contacts within the security services that I was one of those being targeted.
Knowing how brutal the regime of Paul Biya is, I decided to leave the country immediately. Upon my return to the US, I dusted up my IT skills, earned a number of top cyber security certifications and was hired by Ernst & Young LLP, one of the Big Four global auditing firms.
I was hired as an IT Auditor, but I was assigned as a contractor with the US Army, where I served as Information System Security Officer (ISSO). That experience prepared me quite well to land my current job in the private sector.
Your experience is quite broad and I don’t know whether a single interview like this can do justice to your immense background…
I have been described by some as a Jack of all trades… However, I am first to refute such a title because there are many things that I don’t know. But, it is also true that I am skilled in multiple domains ranging from Information Technology to Education, Business, Philosophy, Theology, Journalism, and Politics.
Yes, talking about politics… Have you ever considered running for elected office in the US?
The thought has crossed my mind, but I have never seriously considered it. When I first moved to the US and sought asylum in the US, the officer who interviewed me said I was very politically savvy and added that she won’t be surprised if I ran for an elected office in the US.
Although I truly consider myself as a citizen of America, I have focused my political activism towards the liberation of my homeland – Ambazonia.
This is the second time you are talking about Ambazonia. Can you tell us more why there is war between your people and Cameroun? Why do you want to breakaway from Cameroun?
Ambazonia, which refers to the former UN Trust Territory of the British Southern Cameroons, is a former British colony. In 1961, Britain refused to grant us real independence, forcing us to join one of our two neighbors – Nigeria or Cameroun.
Unfortunately, our people voted to join Cameroun under conditions that we were to form a federation of two equal states. Instead of establishing a federal union, Cameroun moved to recolonize us and has been a ruthless colonial master over Ambazonia for almost 60 years. In 2017, we re-asserted our independence and Cameroun declared war on us.
A volunteer army has since been defending the Ambazonian masses against the genocidal war being perpetrated by the Yaounde regime. Our hope is that the international community will come to our aide because colonialism is wrong, no matter whether it is perpetrated by a Western or African power. Alluta Continua, Victoria Assura (The Struggle Continues; Victory Assured)!
It is sad what is happening to your people… We can only pray that the international community has the courage to stop the carnage. You did mention that your political focus has been on the liberation of Ambazonia. What has been your contribution to the struggle?
I have been involved in this liberation struggle for almost my entire life. I was among the earlier members of the Southern Cameroons Restoration Movement (SCARM), formerly Cameroon Anglophone Movement (CAM).
I later became a leader of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), a founding member of the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organization (SCAPO), a leader of the Ambazonia Liberation Movement (AML), and has been a plaintiff on two major law suits against the Cameroun government at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights at the Gambia. I have also financed many projects on behalf of our people.
I see why you had to leave Cameroun… Are you disappointed that your investments in the Cameroons may all go vain given the war? Are you happy to have transitioned from an employer to becoming an employee?
As earlier stated, I had to leave Cameroun because I was being targeted by the government. It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make because I was building a very successful university.
SMU was one of the fastest growing universities at the time the war broke out, but thanks to our online programs, we’ve been able to continue classes even during war time.
My vision had been to build a veritable American-style university in Africa; providing programs that are at the intersection of the arts, science and technology; and training people to be either job creators or good employees who contribute to the development of Africa.
I have lost a lot materially, but when I think about what it happening in Ambazonia, I can’t cry for property or lost income. I am crying for my beloved nation. I have friends, students, and relatives who have been killed, while others are in terrible conditions in Cameroun jails. I mourn for them, not for my property!
And about my transition from employer to employee… It hasn’t been that difficult. I am generally a humble guy and I can function well both as a leader or as a team member. Actually, as a VP, I have leadership responsibilities. I’m also proud to be working for one of the leading corporations on earth and I am well paid, so this has helped ease the transition.
I understand that people at your level are among the top three percent in salary in the United States and the top one percent globally. People of wealth have tended to be Republicans in America because they want to pay less taxes. Has your income influenced your politics?
I can’t confirm or refute your statistics, but I think we are well paid. Wealth has never influenced my politics. Actually, I was born into an upper middleclass family in Africa, but that drew me closer to the less privileged because I just couldn’t imagine myself in their shoes.
I have always advocated for social justice. That explains why I am a liberation theologian and during my years in the seminary, when I was training for the Catholic priesthood, I gave up a lot of the material wealth I had and tried to live as a simple guy, even though I came from one of the wealthiest families.
Although I never became a priest, I remain committed to the gospel of social justice – a preferential option for the poor. I’m opposed to prosperity theology, which deceives poor church goers to give their money to the preacher, thus enriching the preacher, while rendering his congregants poorer.
In the US, I am a registered Democrat and I support progressive taxation and the provision of social services to the masses. I am not opposed to paying more taxes to enable the government provide social services to the less fortunate.
You seem to be a very principled individual and shall we say your principles haven’t change in ages?
Some haven’t changed, but others have. As an intellectual, you can’t remain immutable! Actually, as a philosopher, I’m most closely aligned with Karl R. Popper, who is generally regarded as one of 20th century’s greatest philosophers of science.
Popper is known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method in favor of empirical falsification. Like him, I am humble enough to state that a theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments.
I am a critical rationalist! I stand for liberal democracy and the open society, but my political philosophy is eclectic, embracing ideas from all major democratic political ideologies like social democracy, classical liberalism and conservatism. Witchcraft does not exist, although the belief in witchcraft has had a catastrophic effect on Africa… I am also a feminist…
I see in you a true intellectual, someone contemplating on various life questions…
Yes, I would like to belief that I am a genuine intellectual… While my head may seem to be in the skies, my legs are firmly rooted on the ground. I am quite pragmatic!
Some people now believe that it is no longer fashionable to accumulate college/university degrees, if you can enroll in an IT certificate short course and earn a six-figure salary afterwards. What’s your take on this?
I will always support education for its own sake. Going to school is important, whether or not you get a job. An uneducated mind is a danger to society! However, it is also true that if your goal is to become wealthy, then going to school and accumulating multiple degrees is no guarantee for wealth.
However, if I were to advice somebody, I’ll call for a combination of degree programs as well as short certification courses. Yes, I was able to get good positions after doing short IT certification programs, but that only added to my strong academic qualifications, which included degrees in Philosophy, Journalism, Business, IT etc. Do I endorse short IT or other certification courses? Yes!
What approach would you recommend as the most viable for speedy development of IT in Africa?
African governments must create the enabling environment for IT to thrive in Africa. We have many Africans who are occupying leadership roles in Information Technology and if the business climate in Africa is improved, they will be able to use their skills to transform the continent.
In my opinion, one of the technologies that can revolutionize Africa and curb the corruption in the continent is the implementation of Blockchain technology.
Brain drain is fast becoming a challenging phenomenon in Africa, what should African leaders and governments do to control the situation?
A problem can only be permanently solved by identify its root causes and addressing them. There are many reasons for brain drain, but in my opinion, two of the biggest causes are lack of employment for the educated class and political persecution.
If the business climate is improved and corruption significantly reduced, this will reduce unemployment. As for political persecution, this can only be curbed by practicing democracy. I told you about my story. I had actually created hundreds of jobs, but was forced out of Cameroun by political persecution and corruption.
Only democracy can save Africa and as long as African leaders continue to be undemocratic, there is no hope for the future!
As a foreigner working to earn a decent living in the United States, what advice do you have for Africans engaged in nefarious activities in quest for quick wealth?
First, I am not a foreigner, I am an American. However, I am a foreign born American. Without an independent homeland, I feel even American than other African-Americans who have a home to return to… That’s why the independence of Ambazonia is my greatest desire at this moment.
That said, I am opposed to crime. I go by the simple principle that “good must be done and evil avoided.” It doesn’t matter whether you can be enriched by criminal activity. I should note that although there have been high profile stories of crimes committed by Africans in America, these crimes are carried out by an insignificant minority.
Most Africans are hardworking and earning a decent income here. The success of Africans in the diaspora is reflected in the investments they have made in their countries of origin and in the amount of remittances sent to mother Africa.
I’m not the lone success story, there are many successful African professionals and executives here in the United States.
Thanks Professor Asongu. I’ll like us to have other opportunities in future to address other aspects of your wonderful life. I am also intrigued by the fact that you have two PhDs and have founded a university.
Yes, I will like us to focus on that in a future interview. It was a pleasure sharing some of my experience with you and your readership.
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