Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, said that Africans love President Barack Obama. They expect a lot from him, especially in encouraging African development of democratic governments, as well as helping to improve Africa’s economies and to respond to climate change.
In the talk in the Biotech Auditorium yesterday, Mogae said that he expects the Obama administration to create a “pro-democracy initiative — one that provides incentives to democratization in Africa.”
“If America believes democracy is good for Africa, it should put its money where its mouth is,” he said. “We want to be helped, not attacked militarily.”
To help develop the economies of African nations, Mogae said he wants Obama to consider the problems Africa faces in international trade. Problems include tariffs imposed on African exports that slow the growth of African economies. Mogae said the United States should eliminate the taxes it imposes on finished agricultural products from Africa so that African nations can start manufacturing more goods instead of just exporting raw materials.
“We want to export coffee and tea, not just unprocessed leaves,” he said.
The Obama administration should also consider “Africa’s special position in relation to climate change,” Mogae said. Africa must adapt to global warming by giving up some resources that create greenhouse gases, such as coal.
Compensation for this adjustment is needed, Mogae said. Instead of setting up a fund to help nations throughout the world respond to climate change, he wants a fund exclusively for African nations.
The exclusive fund is necessary because “whenever special measures are taken, Africa ends up the loser,” Mogae said.
While Africans are aware that Obama’s “first obligation is to attend to the needs of the American people,” they expect Obama to visit Africa, a trip that is “becoming a tradition” among American presidents, Mogae said. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each visited the continent during their presidencies.
Mogae, who was called “Africa’s good leader” by Time magazine, attracted a large audience to his talk yesterday. He was president of Botswana from 1998 until 2008, stepping down after his second term. He recently accepted an appointment as an African president-in-residence at Boston University’s African Presidential Archives and Research Center.
“This is a pretty immediate and amazing perspective to be able to get,” said Gwen Spencer grad, an audience member. “I think a lot of people have wondered what the appropriate role of non-African countries in developing democracy is.”
Graham Swanepoel ’09, who is from Zimbabwe, said he attended Mogae’s talk because he was interested to see an African’s perspective on Obama.
Following his talk, Mogae took questions from the audience. One question regarded what the African community should do about Omar al-Bashir, the current president of Sudan who was recently indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“As of now, Bashir is in charge,” Mogae said. “What is important is [saving] lives.”
The international community should do all it can to end the violence in Darfur, he said. Once the fighting has ended, then proceedings should begin against those involved.
“There are right and wrong ways of doing the right thing,” he added, referring to the arrest and prosecution of those involved in the violence in Darfur.
In response to another question, Mogae explained that Africa suffered from slavery and colonialism, but “we suffered the worst from the Cold War.” The conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union led to the rise of dictators in many African nations. Each side supported leaders who advanced their side’s interests rather than leaders chosen by the people in the African nation.
Despite the historical suffering, he said, African nations cannot forever explain their failures on things that happened to them in the past.