Friday night the African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) at Boston University hosted an Ambassadorial panel to discuss the “State of Africa.” APARC director and American ambassador Charles Stith hosted the panel. Also on the panel was Ambassador Steve Matenje from Malawi, Ambassador Tebelelo Seretse from Botswana, and retired American Ambassador Walter Carington who was Ambassador to Nigeria and Senegal.
After giving a quick background on their countries the African Ambassadors commented on the need for US investment in their countries and emphasized how their countries were advancing. Ambassador Matenje described poor road infrastructure, climate change resulting in a lack of rains, and HIV/AIDS as the greatest challenges facing Malawi. Ambassador Seretse spoke of Botswana’s success being punished by the international community as aid and funding decreased as a result of their progress. She also said that China has come to Africa big time and although Africans love Chinese products and appreciate Chinese offers of aid, their projects come with restrictions such as the labor must come from Chinese companies. Ambassador Carrington (US- Retired) spoke about the recent protests in Nigeria over the removal of a fuel subsidy. Ambassador Carrington said the Nigerian unrest is more related to recent elections and not an “occupy” movement or the Arab Spring. He also didn’t think that the recent problems in Nigeria were related to religion as Muslims and Christians had mostly peacefully coexisted for the past 50 years since independence.
After their initial statements the panel took questions from the audience. I was chosen to ask the second question and asked their opinions of the recent (within two hours) Senegalese Constitutional Court’s decision to allow President Wade to run for third term. Ambassador Stith replied that power is a seductive mistress and once she has kissed you on the lips its hard to walk away. He added that Africa is making progress in this area as ten years ago there were only eleven retired African heads of state but now there are 33. Ambassador Matenje from Malawi compared the current struggle in Senegal with an unnamed Malawian former head of state who tried to amend the law to allow him to run for a third term, but was defeated in Parliament. Ambassador Seretse commented that Senegal is not facing a unique challenge as power corrupts and many other countries have dealt with this issue and Africa will continue to deal with this issue, as African countries are still young. Retired American Ambassador Carrington said that President Wade was about to destroy democracy in Senegal and lamented we will all be poorer for Senegal becoming an autocratic country. Ambassador Carrington reflected on when he was the US Ambassador to Senegal and attended President Senghor’s retirement commemoration at the Senegalese Constitutional Court and how it was sad that democracy could now be ending in Senegal.
The panel of Ambassadors also responded to questions on African brain drain and the recent (October 2011) visit of Sudanese President al-Bashir to Malawai. Ambassador Seretse commented that brain drain balances itself out as Africans who study abroad and choose to remain abroad to work gain valuable experience that they eventually bring home. In addition, while abroad Africans share stories about their home countries and encourage others to visit and immigrate to Africa where they add to the community. Malawian Ambassador Matenje responded to the question about Malawi’s refusal to arrest al-Bashir during his visit to Malawi that they decided not to arrest al-Bashir since Sudan is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and also believed that sitting heads of state are immune to prosecution. Ambassador Matenje continued that the United States did not have authority to comment on Malawi’s inaction since it is not a member of the ICC and especially should not push the ICC to take action on another non-ICC member.
More information on the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University can be found at http://www.bu.edu/aparc/