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Aspen panel probes solutions for Africa

Walter Isaacson, left, president and CEO of The Aspen Institute, is joined on stage Friday at the Paepcke Auditorium by Bonglee Njobe, Leslie Maasdorp, Maurice Radebe and Futhi Mtoba in the discussion Africa: The Challenge of Leadership. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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A panel of international executives convened for a public panel at The Aspen Institute last night to tackle the question of how to help the countries and residents of Africa.The panel, co-sponsored by the financial firm Goldman Sachs, concentrated on how strong, value-driven leadership might help the continent as it works for economic improvement. South Africa received the most attention, with the panel contemplating how the comparatively prosperous and stable nation can help provide leadership in troubled sub-Saharan countries. The panel was moderated by Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson.

South African businesswoman Bonglee Njobe advocated her country’s military intervention in surrounded states. Njobe said her experiences in the region had led her to believe that local intervention during times of sub-Saharan crises can be more effective than international peacekeeping, although, as Isaacson pointed out, the latter has not “set a very high bar.”The panel also discussed the United Kingdom’s recently released Blair Report, which the country’s chancellor of the treasury has hailed “the Marshal Plan for Africa.” The panelists agreed debt write-off for struggling countries would go far toward leveling the playing field. The amount of aid distributed, the panelists said, is less important than to whom the aid is given.Panelists pointed out that when the United States gives aid, the money often goes to American contractors and “experts” who spend a certain amount of time in Africa and then leave.”This money has Africa’s name on it but it rarely leaves the hands of the country giving it,” Njobe said.The panel fielded a question about the leadership of current South African President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki has come under fire in the West for alleged comments refuting HIV as the cause of AIDS. Njobe said Mbeki’s comments were taken out of context and that the president was arguing that the real cause of the spread of AIDS is not HIV but poverty and poor health care.

Multinational oil executive Maurice Radebe said Mbeki’s legacy must be viewed in the light of substantial economic progress in South Africa.”Mandela was a leader of reconciliation. The current president will be remembered as the president of economic growth of South Africa,” Radebe said.The panel ended with the performance of two poems by South African writer Sandile Dikeni. Dikeni questioned in verse how globalization might backfire by simply bringing once-isolated people’s troubles closer. He also questioned whether the West can ever learn to overcome the condescension it feels to a continent it once labeled “the heart of darkness.”The remaining panelists were Leslie Maasdorp and Furthi Mtoba.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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