Emotions were kept on a tight leash at last week’s African Union (AU) summit. Too much was at stake in the almost ritualised encounters between African presidents and mainly western donors, about the cost of conflict and the price of peace, for either side to risk dropping their guard.
There was a striking exception and, appropriately, the reason was the late Nelson Mandela. His memory invoked the loudest applause when the plenary hall at the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa was named after him at Thursday’s opening ceremony.
The next day, shortly before the summit closed, Mali’s new president briefly lost his composure while he was paying tribute to the great man.
“I am sorry, Madiba,” Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said, dabbing his eyes. “But it is human, I am human,” he went on, apologising for his tears.
Mali has teetered on the edge very recently, pushed there by a combination of dismal leadership, a coup, corruption and the violent opportunism of Islamic extremists. The home of one of Africa’s great civilisations was rescued from the brink, thanks to French and African military intervention and generous international funding for a return to democracy. […]