Washington Chumuzu, Contributing Writer
A young lady called me just as I was entering the library (yes, on a Saturday afternoon). She asked me a research-related question: “Would you put a massage chair at a gas station?” Since I had worked in the petroleum industry before, you can guess my response – safety first! She’s from Ethiopia, her male colleague is from Kenya, and we’re all Graduate School of Management students.
At the mention of my Malawian nationality, the Kenyan said, “Dr. Kamuzu Banda,” and I responded, naturally, with “Jomo Kenyatta.” These are two of Africa’s greatest leaders – villains to others – who rode on the winds of change blowing across Africa in the 1960s and led their countries to independence from colonialists. The young lady asked me where Malawi is and the Kenyan said it’s next to Tanzania. She then asked, “Do you have oil?” Well, Tanzania recently redrew its border and claimed half of Lake Malawi, the same half which is believed to have deposits of thick black oil. So, that’s a hard question to answer as we wait for the United Nations to mediate the matter, hopefully in our favor.
Being the shy person that I am, I started asking questions about Ethiopia, where my late dad served as a diplomat in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The young lady was four years old when the then-rebel leader, late Meles Zenawi, took over from Mengistu the “gangster.” It was interesting to hear her side of events, frightening and yet thrilling. I was 10 at the time and living in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. During the city’s takeover in May 1991, I found safety in my mother’s bedroom together with my brothers after we missed our evacuation flight. 21 years later, the young lady is happy with Ethiopia’s economic progress, including the construction of a dam across the 4,132 mile-long Nile, built contrary to the wishes of the Egyptians.
The Kenyan told me about the effects of tribalism in Kenya and the complexities caused by Africa’s land distribution during the colonial times that saw half his family in Kenya and the other half in Uganda. One of his uncles served in the Idi Amin regime but fled overseas after knocking out Amin (yes, TKO’ing the president) during a fun boxing match. Coming back to the issue of oil, he went on to tell us that his country’s border with Sudan – now South Sudan – was redrawn 12 years ago to include an oil-rich part of the latter. It was a win-win situation: The Sudanese rebels got financial and military support from Kenya, and the Kenyans got oil.
We talked at great length about Africa’s leadership problems and its presidents, and came to the consensus that political leaders, anywhere in the world, cannot solve their continent’s problems alone. I shared a few insights from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. The young lady proposed leadership training for businesspeople and politicians as a viable long-term solution. She encouraged me to take Dr. Ruth May’s “Global Issues” class in spring 2013. I seconded both motions. Encounters like this, and others, for me serve to reinforce the sense of responsibility that the University of Dallas inculcates in its students. They also serve to show how we’re all connected somehow, in many different ways.