TWO separate meetings last week in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, illustrated the two faces of African politics. There was nothing unusual in the first gathering, a summit of liberation movements from across southern Africa, or in its strident populist rhetoric. What complicated things was a second meeting, on the other side of the city, where African leaders, in some cases the same ones, attended the Swiss-based World Economic Forum, often seen as a club for global capitalists.
The liberators denounced “resurgent neo-colonialists”, who are said to be using bellyaching journalists, depressive do-gooders and other tricks to promote their evil agenda in Africa and to undermine the continuing “struggle”. For its part, those at the forum hailed the African economies’ coming “exponential growth” thanks to dollops of Western and Chinese cash for new infrastructure.
The two meetings put Tanzania’s youthful president, Jakaya Kikwete, a mere 59-year-old, on the spot. He had to welcome Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, and his customary entourage of party officials, to the liberation shindig, while also embracing Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister of Zimbabwe’s awkward unity government, on his way to the world economic forum. Mr Kikwete’s government gets a third of its budget in aid from Western donors. He was a favourite of President George Bush. So he had to be polite to the forum people while listening appreciatively to elders in his ruling Party of the Revolution who called for “ideological clarity” in Africa to be preserved.
South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, was as happy as ever to perform on both stages. At the liberation show he represented his ruling African National Congress. Then off he went to the forum to promote the cause of South African industrialists and bankers. He fended off awkward questions by talking up the football World Cup soon to kick off back home.
Angola, Mozambique and Namibia sent representatives to the liberation reunion. Some in the South West African People’s Organisation, better known as SWAPO, which has ruled Namibia since independence in 1990, grumbled about neo-colonialism, but that did not stop Namibia’s government from hosting a plush dinner for Western companies keen to mine the country’s abundant gemstones. A few in Mozambique’s old freedom party paid their respects to Mr Mugabe but its government takes care not to annoy the British, whom it successfully lobbied to let the country into the Commonwealth, even though it was under Portuguese control before it became independent.
Among the forum’s leading lights was Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who himself came to power at the head of a rebel movement. Indeed, in many ways he embodies what southern African liberation parties would like their leader to be. He was fêted by a former president of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa, now a professional elder statesman of Africa. He patted Mr Meles paternally on the knee and congratulated him on the job he was doing, ignoring a growing number of African critics who say Ethiopia has failed to open its markets and is stifling dissent. But Mr Meles had his own grouses within the liberation camp. He cannot forgive Mr Mugabe for sheltering Mengistu Haile Mariam, the bloody dictator who has been sentenced to death in absentia in Ethiopia but lives in comfort in Zimbabwe.
By contrast, Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, starred at the forum, despite his left-wing provenance and education in East Germany. He has castigated Mr Mugabe in the past, and resents many of the old liberation leaders for backing Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, over his own socialist father, Oginga Odinga.
And then there was Mr Mugabe himself. After attending the liberation party, he unexpectedly appeared at the forum alongside Mr Tsvangirai. He got a fawning welcome in a closed session, crowded with investors keen to get back into Zimbabwe. Could Mr Mugabe work with Mr Tsvangirai? Of course, said the old man.