Unscrambling Africa: One of the Thorniest Problems in Africa Today, the Issue of Land Reform and All Its Economic and Political Implications, Was the Theme of the Last African Presidential Roundtable Held in Berlin, Germany. African Business Editor Anver Versi Was Invited to Attend This Usually Closed Event. Here Are His Reflections
Versi, Anver, African Business
The African Presidential Round-table in Berlin, (see African Business, March 2009) organised by Boston University's APARC, was a rare opportunity to sit with some of Africa's great leaders of the past and discuss current issues facing the continent.
Africa's former leaders may have retired from the political limelight but they have been busy, quietly but very effectively, defusing conflict situations and using their vast, combined experience to suggest strategies and policies to their successors.
I also discovered that our former leaders, through such organisations as the Africa Forum, have been consistently fighting Africa's cause on the international stage and making important friends and influencing people in positions of high power.
The value of their contributions often passes unnoticed as they now keep out of the glare of the cameras and prefer to work behind the scenes. From time to time, we hear about 'a council of wise African leaders' intervening in conflict situations and often achieving the 'impossible' by bringing committed foes to the table and even brokering, for example, the power-sharing agreements in Kenya and Zimbabwe and the resolution of a 40-year-old North-South war in Sudan.
The two-day conference provided a wonderful opportunity to discuss critical issues facing the content with people like John Kufuor, Jerry Rawlings and his wife Nana, from Ghana; Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae of Botswana; Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Frederick Sumaye of Tanzania, Cassam Uteem and Karl Auguste Offmann from Mauritius; Nicephore Soglo of Benin and Aristides Pereira from Cape Verde.
For any student of African history, this collection of African leaders in one place at one time was like rolling back the years to some very momentous episodes in the evolution of modern Africa.
Jerry "I am just an angry young Ghanaian" Rawlings of the Second Coming when he seized power the second time around in late 1981, has not changed much, although the pencil-slim air-force pilot figure of those days is now much more solid physically. The passion, the explosive bursts of humour, the clean and clear solutions to problems and that hypnotic speaking voice are all still there.
So it was with all the former leaders--Ali Hassan Mwinyi has lost none of his charm and elegance and his dissection of a question I put to him during a press conference was so clinical and persuasive he got a round of spontaneous applause.
Two of Africa's greatest leaders, Sir Kitu-mile Masire and Festus Mogae (fresh from winning the current Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Award) were remarkably modest in their manner but their analysis of various issues, including the current global economic slowdown, was startlingly original.
In these former leaders, we have the combined experience and distilled wisdom of a large chunk of people who have shaped Africa's history. Each has a valuable story to tell; each can contribute to the collective wisdom of Africa and each can speak from actual experience. Yet, as matters stand, we do not have a mechanism to collect and preserve the experience of such leaders. This is a serious failing.
At present this function is being carried out by the African Presidential Archives and Research Centre (APARC) at Boston University under the leadership of Ambassador Charles Stith. This is an invaluable service being rendered to Africa. The research also finds its way into US foreign policy, which, with President Barack Obama taking a particularly keen interest in Africa, should produce a much closer US-Africa relationship.
Nevertheless, it is essential that we in Africa, including the private sector, should join in with organisations like APARC to tap into the experiences of our former leaders, including business leaders, and produce books, film and radio documentaries to preserve our historic heritage.
The theme of the conference held at the oldest university in Berlin, the Humboldt University, was land reform. …