Obama Presidency Lifts Us-Africa Roundtable to New Plane: With Barack Obama as President of the US, the Annual African Presidential Roundtable Organised by the US-Based APARC Now Takes on Critical Significance. the Event, Bringing Former and Current Heads of State Together to Discuss Vital African Issues, Will Be Held in Germany in April. Anver Versi Has the Details

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One of the more significant annual events that appears to have somehow passed under the radar in terms of media coverage is the African Presidential Roundtable, organised by Boston University's African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) and sponsored by the US United States Agency for International Development (USAid).

This is an annual gathering of former African heads of state who led democratic nations, sitting heads of state, academics and students from some of the best known universities in the US and Africa, and the private sector also from the US and Africa.

The Roundtable provides the perfect setting for open and often candid discussions about the state of Africa from the people who have been shaping its destiny, with future leaders in close attendance. The round-table format means that all views and opinions carry equal weight and the event is as much about listening as talking. The discussions are then published by APARC, which also publishes the excellent State of Africa Report written by African heads of state.

There is hardly any need to underline the importance of this forum now that Barack Obama is President of the US. Anyone who has read his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, will know that Obama, whose father was Kenyan, has a deep, human and realistic view of Africa--as far away as it is possible to get from the shallow media image on which so many Western leaders appear to base their Africa policy.

This not only makes a big difference--it makes a seismic difference. US foreign policy under Obama will be as different from the previous US policies as chalk from cheese. Earlier policies saw Africa as little more than an extension of US defence stategies (War on Terror) and as a source of vital minerals including oil.


With Obama in the White House, Africa will not be treated as a continent to be pitied and 'rescued' but as a fully functioning member of the community of nations and potentially a very strong partner to the US, both in terms of setting new paradigms for the global economy and in the security arena.

Already, a subtle but clear shift in attitude towards Africa can be perceived, especially among US information-gathering and disseminating agencies and the scramble is on to fill in huge gaps in good information on the continent. In the past, these gaps were papered over by sensationalist or totally misinformed coverage.

Massive forum

The APARC Roundtable therefore becomes a massively significant forum, during which dialogue between an unofficial African think-tank and some of the most informed US minds can proceed.

"The deliberations will be forwarded to the Obama Administration; the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice; the World Bank; the IMF; EU foreign ministers and the national governments of states that are considered long-term stakeholders in Africa--Britain, France and Portugal," says Ambassador Charles Stith, the director of APARC.

I met Stith in London a few months ago and have had a tough time keeping in contact with him as he zigzags across Africa, the US and Europe--a man driven by a mission.

He was the US ambassador to Tanzania when his country's embassy was bombed by terrorists in 1998. By all reports, he handled the traumatic situation quite brilliantly, calming fears, rallying the staff, working with the media and also coming to the firm resolution that all ties, including trade and investment between Africa and the US, had to strengthen and expand.

After his assignment as ambassador to Tanzania, Stith was appointed to the Faculty of the Boston University Department of International Relations. He set up APARC with five programmes. These are:

* the African Presidents in Residence Programme which provides a former African head of state with residency of up to two years at Boston University. …