Late in October, I was invited by my dear friend Ambassador Charles Stith to join him, former Presidents Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa and Kenya's veteran politician, Raila Odinga to participate in a forum on education in Johannesburg.
Charles Stith was posted as US Ambassador to Tanzania by President Bill Clinton in 1998, almost immediately after a massive bomb had almost destroyed the US embassy in Dar es Salaam. Those were very fraught and tense times and Stith was called upon to use all his diplomatic and interpersonal skills to smooth out and in fact, deepen relations.
When his term came to an end in 2001, he had fallen so deeply in love with Africa that he has devoted the rest of his time building connections between Africa and the US. He is also a wonderful people person, taking detailed interest in the people he meets and inevitably befriends.
As a result of his close connections with several African heads of state, he set up the African Presidential Centre, which hosts former African leaders. He believes that the enormous knowledge and experience these former national leaders possess should not go to waste.
He organises sabbaticals for them to spend time at US institutions of learning, and conferences, workshops and forums where they get together to discuss African and global issues affecting the continent. Over the years, he has been kind enough to invite me to join these gatherings. He also believes that senior editors who have followed developments in Africa intimately, have a great deal to contribute.
In the developed world, there is a whole industry dedicated to distilling the wisdom and experiences of former national leaders. Once freed from the responsibilities and constraints of office, they provide invaluable behind-the-scenes backgrounds to current affairs in their memoirs, talks and interviews.
When it comes to Africa, alas, we have no such system. Once a leader departs from office, they are often forgotten by the public and all the fascinating knowledge they have gained is locked away and in time withers and dies. The African Presidential Centre goes a long way to addressing this shortfall.
For me as a journalist and editor, these...