Sunday, October 17, 2010

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Renaissance Man, Is Back

Renaissance man is back

Thabo Mbeki is back in the limelight to make sure that Africa rises from the ashes, writes Nkululeko Ncana

Oct 17, 2010 12:00 AM | By Nkululeko Ncana

Two years after being forced out of office, former president Thabo Mbeki emerged from the cold this week to revive his African renaissance initiative.

'The challenge is the acceleration of that forward movement on a sustained basis' Former heads of state and intellectuals from across the continent gathered at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg for the launch of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and the Thabo Mbeki Africa Leadership Institute.

It is through these bodies that Mbeki hopes to drive his passion of seeing Africa "rise from the ashes", as he put it at the opening ceremony last Sunday.

In an interview with the Sunday Times at his house in Killarney, Johannesburg, this week, Mbeki said his initiative was aimed at giving impetus to a movement for Africa's renewal that began with the African Union's establishment in 2002.

"It is not as though the continent has been standing still. There has been movement forward. The challenge is the acceleration of that forward movement on a sustained basis," he said. "I would never argue that nothing has happened, but it is quite clear that we still have a long way to go."

Mbeki said the idea of setting up both the foundation and the leadership institute, now known as TMALI, arose in discussions with other African leaders while he was president. "It was not exclusively my decision.

"It is part of a view that has evolved on the continent that there is a need to address the strategic deficit which is the production of the human resources - the people who would be empowered, inspired...

"We said we should attend to this matter, hence the decision to set up the institute, which must contribute to the building up of that cadre of people from around Africa who would take on that responsibility," he said.

Mbeki believes one of Africa's fundamental problems is lack of people with skills to implement many of the "good" policies emanating from the AU, regional bodies and individual countries. "We are finding it very difficult to implement these policies. Therefore, the appeal that was made to me by other Africans was that 'when you leave government, you must focus on the matter to address the issue of what it is that we need to do to increase our capacity to implement the policies on which we have agreed'. "

For Mbeki, Africa has been on the path to good governance, economic growth and stability for the past two decades.

He said the democratisation of most African countries, shown by regular elections, had contributed immensely towards rebuilding the continent.

What was needed now was "the building of a big enough core of people" to ensure the continent stayed on this path. The key was to put emphasis on training the youth, he said.

"I have had many interactions with young people. And what has come across to me is that you have many of them, professionals, who have qualifications, and what they have been saying is that they are educated and are working, have decent salaries and families.

"But there is something that is troubling them. They don't want to be people who just look after themselves and their families. They are saying they have the skills and capacity, and they are asking how they can use that capacity to make a bigger impact on society," Mbeki said.

He hoped TMALI would provide them with the opportunity to do so. Although the institute would focus mainly on academic training of the continent's "new cadre" in trade, technology, science and agriculture, Mbeki was keen on seeing participants sharing their skills and knowledge with poor communities.

He suggested this week encouraging participants in his programme to follow the example of Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s, whose members used their skills at weekends to help communities.

But one question that has been asked is whether African leaders of the future have anything to learn from Mbeki.

When he was president, South Africa was criticised for its "quiet diplomacy" on Zimbabwe's political crisis. This approach, it was argued, strengthened President Robert Mugabe and helped his Zanu-PF prolong its hold on power.

Since leaving the presidency in 2008, Mbeki has had little interaction with those involved in negotiations between Mugabe and his rival, MDC leader and Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

But he still appears confident that his approach was the right one, and that if the Zimbabwean parties stick to the global political agreement he brokered between them weeks before his ousting, Zimbabwe will soon find lasting peace and stability.

"I would hope people are faithfully implementing what was contained in the global political agreement. And, really, what was contained in it was that they would put in place various measures, which would help overcome the causes of conflict that had taken place in Zimbabwe and create a basis for national reconciliation," Mbeki said.

Despite local and international criticism of his handling of the Zimbabwean crisis, the AU is clearly confident of his abilities as a broker of peace. It appointed him to chair a panel looking into resolving the 22-year conflict between Sudan's northern and southern regions as well as stopping violence in Darfur.

Mbeki spends most of his time shuttling between South Africa and Sudan on this mission, and says he has the full backing of the South African government.

South Sudan is scheduled to hold an important referendum in January next year to decide whether it should form a breakaway state.

There has been much speculation that the referendum could be postponed for various reasons, leading to the US government threatening sanctions against Khartoum if the referendum is not held as scheduled.

But Mbeki is confident that it will take place in time.

He said that neither Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir nor the South Sudan regional government had the power to postpone the process as the referendum was the responsibility of an independent commission.

"The commission is there, it is working and they have given a date for when the registration of voters would take place and are trying to work towards the date of January 9 (for the referendum)," he said.

Mbeki is, however, concerned about what would happen after the outcome was announced.

"If people of South Sudan vote for secession, then it is going to be necessary to construct a relationship between these two states of friendship and co-operation - no war - it would be in the interests of the new state of Sudan . That independence does not mean you have created two states that are hostile to each other," he said.

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