Three things jumped out at me from reading the latest edition of the magazine ‘Foreign Affairs’. The first article in the Sept-Oct issue is an interview with Senegal’s president Macky Sall, who in the first question is asked to explain his country’s five decades of stability and multiparty competition. His response is “It stems from a long historical process”, including a “flexible and robust” constitution and “stable institutions”. As keen as I am to be optimistic about Ivory Coast, I don’t think any of us can avoid being a little bit reserved about the future – African countries emerging from conflict are so vulnerable to slipping back into violence. And what of institutions, in a country when 2010 exposed the sham of any apolitical strength in either the state or civil society? Yao N’Dre casts a long shadow.
Two other articles, one after the other, formed an interesting juxtaposition later in the magazine. An article on the rise of ‘the rest’ of India starts with a brief of profile of Nitish Kumar, chief minister of the Indian state of Bihar, one of the country’s poorest. Taking over a crime-ridden and corrupt state in 2005, he cracked down, improved the courts, enhanced agricultural yields and boosted the construction sector. “Within a few years, a state once described by the writer V.S. Naipaul as ‘the place where civilization ends’ had built one of the fastest-growing state economies in India.” The next article is on the African resource course and starts by describing the seizure of the Malibu mansion belonging to the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, a country with 400,000 bpd of oil and only 700,000 citizens. The mansion was worth $30 million, with 8 Ferraris and $3.2 million of Michael Jackson memorabilia among other items.
Maybe I’m just odd by not putting too much value in luxury goods, but I still struggle to get into the rationale of some leaders who have such extreme visions of their roles. Surely transforming the lives of the people under your authority in your village/state/town/country is a noble and exciting challenge, rather than investing an eighty Italian sports car and a T-shirt once worn by a pop star? Do the latter have no concept of creating a legacy, a positive mark on the world and a reputation that can echo through the ages?