Campus, News

Former Botswana pres. comes to BU

As the Boston University African Presidential Archives and Research Center’s sixth African president-in-residence, former Republic of Botswana President Festus Gontebanye Mogae hopes to improve the negative global perception of Africa, he said.

‘My own country has been applauded for practice of accountable governance and respect for human rights, including women’s rights,’ he said. ‘Only scholars can come and talk about these things.’

‘Here, I’ll have an opportunity to explain, to answer students’ questions and to promote objective knowledge about Africa,’ he said. ‘The good and the bad together.”

Mogae will be staying in Boston until the end of May. He said it is important that institutions like APARC spread objective knowledge about the situation in Africa since newspapers generally report only on negative happenings. Although he said the information is true, it does not paint a complete picture.

‘One time I asked a journalist, ‘Why do you seem to concentrate only on the bad?” Mogae said. ‘He told me, ‘Mr. President, if you drive from your residence to your office successfully, it’s not news. If you hit a child on the way, it would be headlines.”

The media does not deny progress in Africa, but the daily successes of newly functional governments do not necessarily make news, he said.

Botswana boasts 44 years of independence. during which it has been a multi-party democracy for the entire time, he said.

Mogae said he also seeks to clarify the common American misconception that Africa is one whole entity.

‘It’s 53 separate countries, different cultures, with over 1,000 languages and ethnic groups,’ he said.

As part of the residency program, Mogae will attend a Roundtable Conference in Berlin in April to discuss issues pertinent to African development, including ownership, management and land allocation.

‘The questions of land have relevance to conflict resolution, development and income distribution,’ he said.

During his residency, Mogae said he also will discuss resource management in the rapidly reorganizing African economies, paying particular attention to the extracting and mining industries.’ He said he also plans to emphasize women’s increasing role in Botswana’s society.

‘Right now, the governor of our central bank is a woman,’ he said. ‘Our public university has graduated more women than men for the last three years in succession.’

APARC, which was initiated in September 2002, seeks to understand Africa’s current political dynamics through direct engagement of former democratically elected heads of state, APARC Director Charles Stith said.

‘This period in the history of modern Africa is probably one of the most significant,’ he said. ‘There is a new generation of leadership driving these changes, and it is important to engage those folks who have been architects of the changes.’

For the former politicians, the connection provides ‘a bridge between the United States and the countries we work with,’ APARC Project Coordinator Alex Taylor said.

Mogae will engage directly with APARC to archive his experiences as president.

‘It’s a unique opportunity to record presidents’ experiences and clearly has some pedagogical value for folks interested in learning more about Africa,’ Stith said.

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