Even Italy's Premier Silvio Berlusconi--surely politics' foremost self-made man--could not have foreseen the impact of his G8 team's bold initiative a year ago.
The maligned TV magnate moved then to plan a conference as part of the G8's African Action Plan. And staged it not in Rome or Milan but at a conference centre on the palm-lined shore of the "Swiss Riviera" in Lugano.
As G8 diplomats and top-ranking African leaders met for the October 2002 African Opportunity Day, journalists provided a footnote: the host city's mayor, Giorgio Giudici, had offered the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) free office space for a European headquarters at the villa Negroni.
At the time the chairman of NEPAD's steering committee, Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu, told Swiss News that the offer had caught his new group off-guard. He had stated, "We hadn't planned on this. It's a bit early to decide about a European office. But when somebody makes an offer like this, you don't turn it down out of hand." It needed time to study the idea.
Senegal's Key Role
Now NEPAD has accepted the idea and will announce plans to occupy the banking industry's study centre in the suburb of Vezia at its upcoming Lugano meeting. The African leaders are already organising the new office, but the project manager, Senegal's minister for agriculture, Habib Sy, did not respond to requests for an interview on NEPAD plans.
Meanwhile, local groups such as Nigerian Nosa Irenen's Pan-African Institute (PAI) of Lugano look forward to assuming an influential role in guiding NEPAD's European outreach to investors. Irenen admired in late summer that local Africans had not been involved in plans until then, though his PAI had sought talks on its role with Mayor Giudici and his aides.
Irenen says African attitudes among PAI's members remain divided. Some not only recall Europe's colonial history but a paternal view of Africa among European investors that may still exist today.
"There are some [African expatriates] who criticise the whole process," he tells an interviewer. "They say nothing has changed."
Though Switzerland played a minimal role in last year's Lugano meeting, it too comes in for criticism--not as a colonial power but as a behind-the-scenes financier of colonial exploitation in Africa. These critics note Swiss support of the South African Apartheid regime, a record now under scrutiny by Swiss scholars.
Irenen says Africans here watch such reviews with special interest despite...