Yves in India Blog: Day 5 & 6

2008-10-16 00:00

The big question was how would Kgalema Motlanthe perform on his first appearance overseas as head of government. The IBSA territory is prime Mbeki real estate, as he, together with President Lula of Brazil were founder members of the alliance.

Motlanthe and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have similarities in that both have had supreme authority thrust upon them. Soon after he was appointed, Singh was asked how he was finding the job, and his answer was something to the effect that it wasn't something that comes naturally but that he was learning. A straightforward and humble answer that sums up both Singh and where Motlanthe seems to be now. One of his delegation said he still appeared slightly overwhelmed and had to be "pointed towards the red carpet". As for his actual performance, he wasn't exactly fireworks, but then, anyone sharing the stage with Lula is going to look pale by comparison. The Indians were impressed by what they described as his comfortable manner, unlike Mbeki, they said, who was always wound up "as if he was full of issues". Yes indeed. But it would be nice, as one of the South Africans said, if he "would breathe some life into himself".

Mbeki's shadow hung over events, however. Both Singh and Motlanthe himself, twice paid tribute to his contribution not only to IBSA but also for making it his mission to shift the balance of power away from the West and the developing world's dependence on its markets. In other words the very things the summit was trying to consolidate a position on. Motlanthe's tribute was a noble gesture in the light of how he came to be sitting in the hotseat in the first place. His insistence on the value of civil society in shaping government agendas was a welcome assertion and perhaps signals a departure from the government's attitude over the past 10 years, which has been to treat NGOs as western Imperial lackeys working an agenda for the CIA. Motlanthe also said he valued the role of the media, using an analogy: "Only once lions have historians will hunters come to be heroes". Does that mean he wants praise singers? No departure from established practice there then.

Motlanthe's style is naturally quite, almost diffident, and he will wins friends quietly. His greatest handicap is, and will continue to be, that he's keeping Zuma's seat warm, and no one will, for practical and strategic reasons, take an interim president seriously.

Bangalore. Bummer. We fly out from Delhi on Kingfisher, a fancy domestic airline that's gone global and that has more stewardess per passenger than any other airline I've been on. Security at the airport is tight but not intrusive. In the spirit of IBSA we joke that we should all have free passage and that Americans should have a special security line where they can be fingerprinted and frisked. I finally manage to get online from my phone after days of frustration to file some brief observations. We dream about universal access but it's not so easy as I find out if you want to do more than phone and sms. 3G access is elusive, and so when signal strength suddenly shot up I tapped away as furiously as possible on my Lilliputian keyboard. It's a two-and-a-half hour flight and at the other end first impressions are that Bangalore's a bummer.

We arrive at 11.15pm local time and walk straight into a dispute over hotels. The hotel we're booked into is overbooked so the grovelling representative suggests we go to another hotel and then change the next day. We're all dead on our feet and the thought of lugging baggage around is horrifying. Some of us still have work to do and the official programme starts at 10 in the morning. So we say we're staying put wherever we fetch up. The problem with having been treated like royalty at the Oberoi in New Delhi is that now we expect it, so when we arrive after 1am (it's a 40km ride from the airport) to a grotty side street and a dozen drunken men at the entrance we feel the bump of reality very hard. The room has a ceiling to accommodate a snake, there's only a shower (I'm a bath person), the passages outside echo and the noise of traffic roars straight into my head. We're going to be zombies.


Read the Yves's blog: Day 6

Read Yves's blog from Day 1.


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