African business, politics and lifestyle
Gordon Brown resurfaces. In Africa
It’s odd to see a once powerful man walk slowly. And odder still to see him sit in the corner of a restaurant nursing a glass of water for more than an hour. But that’s exactly what delegates to an African Union summit in Ugandan capital Kampala saw former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown do on Saturday.
Brown has been treated as something of a fugitive by the British media since his May election defeat with a slew of “Have you seen this man? type articles published in the country’s newspapers. Speculation on what he was up to ranged from bashing out a book on economics to Alastair Darling’s “he’s reflecting”.
But nobody guessed that when he reappeared it would be in Uganda with a speech about Africa being the potential engine for global economic growth.
The decision will fuel rumours that Brown has his eye on a top job at the International Monetary Fund or the United Nations or a role as a special envoy, but it’s also true that Africa’s development and its economic progress are subjects that fascinate him.
And his track record is rightly respected by African leaders.
He perhaps alluded to the inevitable “Why are you here?” questions with a joke.
“I think you all know that President Obama spent some time as a community organiser before becoming a politician,” Brown said. “I’m somebody who spent some time as a politician before becoming a community organiser.”
The specifics of the speech were well received by an audience that included several African heads of state. The continent’s economies could grow for another three decades, Brown said. African growth is crucial for global growth, Africans should have Internet access, the continent needs $93 billion worth of infrastructure investment, this will be the “African century”.
Interesting if not earth-shattering.
Still, it was difficult not to get the impression from watching him talk to British officials in the summit restaurant that he was having trouble adjusting to his new, lower profile. He looked chatty at times but miserable and a million miles away at others. Finally he stood up, shook some hands and left with his now smaller staff and a packed lunch.
His wife Sarah tweeted that “GB”, as she calls him on Twitter, had sent her a message from Uganda to say he had visited a school with the maxim “to fly on your own”. He told his wife that it was his “new favourite school motto”.
Brown is not exactly flying on his own. But his life looks very different now.