Ex-South American presidents’ advice to Africa

Former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa talks to Standard Journalist, Joe Ombuor at the recently concluded Global Peace Convention in Asuncion,, Paraguay
The sight of 14 former Latin American Presidents brought together by the desire to pool their experiences for better future leadership in a continent once synonymous with feudal systems was an unprecedented score for the 2014 sixth Global Peace Convention (GPC) in Asuncion, Paraguay.

For the African delegates present, the aptly named Latin American Presidential Mission was a marvel to behold as each of the 14 enunciated how they had individually contributed to improved democratic, economic and social well-being of their countries beyond inherent religious, political, social and other differences.

Mesmerised, my mind drifted back to Africa where former presidents with a few exceptions are either a forgotten lot, languishing in exile or playing reluctant guests of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

What staggered me most was the simplicity with which the former Latin American Heads of State carried themselves, going around the venue of the convention un-trailed by nervous and overzealous bodyguards who bask in getting noticed.

I ran into former President Carlos Mesa of Bolivia as he traipsed lazily from lunch to his hotel room on the same floor where my room was located. With a little stammer, I apprehensively introduced myself and asked him to grant me an interview at his convenience. “No problem,” he said as my heart pounded audibly against my ribs. “Look for me during the afternoon tea break”.

Insatiable appetite

It was that easy. As I bid my time for the impending appointment, my mind drifted to former President Moi and his successor, Mwai Kibaki who ostensibly have become more difficult to reach than incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta. Mesa told me he was President of Bolivia between 2003 and 2005.

“Kenya is among the better known African Countries, thanks to your world beating long distance runners and rugby players. It is unfortunate that the country has been a target of terror attacks lately. Westgate in particular shocked the world,” he says.

I nod ashamed, but entranced by his grasp of current affairs. He says the international community must confront Al-Shabaab, Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army that has now spilled into neighbouring countries and Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the same way it was tackling Taliban or Al Qaeda. “It is a shame that the Rwanda genocide happened as the international community watched helplessly,” he laments, his voice tinged with concern.

He cautions African presidents with insatiable appetite to remain in power that they are treading on a tight rope from where a crashing fall is inevitable.

“Let them learn from the late Nelson Mandela who bowed out in glory and won the respect of his compatriots and the world,” he says, of African presidents. Mesa advises African nations to strive towards building democracies inspired by ideas as opposed to tribalism, nepotism or religion. “Africa ought to be proud that the president of the world’s most powerful nation is a son of the continent. Kenya, where President Barack Obama’s father hails from, should use his name as an added advantage to prosper while he lasts in the White House. 

What will Bolivia remember President Mesa for, I pose diffidently. After a longish pause, he says: “I took over a country staring at economic collapse and made deliberate moves to turn things around. I did that by convoking the National Assembly to come up with a new constitution. The new constitution prioritised the sanctity of human life and the right to live that in turn impacted positively on the economy as the population went about their chores uninhibited by the fear of insecurity. Security of the population and their property underscore the existence of governments. A government that cannot guarantee the safety of its people is not worth being in power. Such was the case in Bolivia, a country comprising 40 per cent indigenous and 60 per cent white, black and other races before I came to the scene.”

“Current President Evo Morales, the first indigenous head of state in Latin America since the 19th Century, smoothly took over from me and garnished the new constitution with indigenous traditions in unique traditional and Western mix that has enhanced unity for the Bolivian people,” he adds.

President Mesa is a strong believer in conservation and says the South American states need to work together to save the Amazon rain forest from annihilation by wanton exploiters. “That is the message we are taking as a group to the serving heads of Latin American States that share the Amazon forest,” he says.

Mesa is married to Elbida and the couple has two sons aged 34 and 30. Politics aside, Mesa is a historian, journalist and writer whose published works include ‘De Cerca: una decada de conversaciones en democracia’, a transcription of a series of interviews with several Latin American politicians on the democratisation process of the region.

He is also chairman of the Fundacion Comunidad, an organisation committed to help democratic institutions.

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Global Peace Convention Paraguay