He was attending a conference in Nairobi on the Illicit Trade in Rare Plants, when he found himself one evening at the Serena Hotel, drinking with three Kenyans; a Banker, a Management consultant, and an executive.
As he sat at counter in the hotel bar, alone drinking, the three Kenyans walked in all dressed up in their pin stripped suits. They asked if the barstools next to him were free. He nodded and as they sat, proceeded to introduce themselves.
“Peter, Monari, Ole” they said one at a time while extending a handshake. He answered each with Mikkel.
Mikkel was not surprise about the name Ole. He already knew “Ole” means the son of in the Masai language.
“And you are from where” asked one of them.
“And what brings you to Nairobi,” Monari asked.
“I am a plant scientist, looking for new plant species. Actually, more like classifying what is out there.”
“And how does that benefit us” asked Peter with a hint of sarcasm.
“Well, we can increase the knowledge about plants in your country and you never know, maybe the next cure for cancer is in your forest,” he said smiling.
“Really. But the big pharmacies would just buy the whole thing and pay off our corrupt politicians” said Ole rather dismissively.
“Look at all the natural resources we have in Africa and we have not benefitted at all since independence, and now we could have the cure for cancer”, continued Ole, getting a bit excited.
Monari told him not to get excited, as the Norwegian man said “maybe.”
They started to order beers-Tusker Beer.
Mikkel thought he should tell Ole that he was a Sami and like him, Nomadic people. Ole was impressed. He has never thought remotely that he had something in common with the Sami.
Like the Sami, people who own and herd reindeers, The Masai people of Kenya own and herd cattle. Mikkel told him about a Sami woman who wrote that Masai children herding cattle reminded her of own childhood in Kautokeino.
While ordering, Peter, the Management Consultant suddenly asked, “Do you know why we have not benefited from our natural resources.”
No one answered, but he continued nonetheless.
“It’s all about leadership my friend, and lack of vision. As a management consultant, I see our problems from my profession. “Let me explain.”
He first took a drink.
“African countries emerging from colonial rule in the 1960s were like big companies, with a new Management team. Many, nearly all of these countries were handed over in one piece. What I am saying is that, they were well managed.”
“A few years after they were handed over, they collapse one by one. How can you explain this?”
Sounding like a teacher he asked, “Are you guys listening?”
Mikkel nodded. He felt this was something new he was hearing.
“Come on, Peter, that is a bit unfair. No vision!” said Ole.
“No, it’s not unfair,” said Peter taking another drink from his bottle of Tusker.
“Let me define vision. A vision is a compelling set of beliefs that drives you to achieving greatness and creating something real.”
“Jesus man, have you been practicing this?” asked Monari laughing.
Still laughing, Monari continued, “Compelling set of beliefs,” what the f…are you talking about Peter?”
“Give this man some peanuts and water” Ole said laughing too. “He needs to clear his head.”
“Peter, you are spending too much time in that office of yours. It is messing your head. Compelling set of beliefs”…he said laughing again.
Mikkel laughed too. Nevertheless, he thought Peter had a point.
Peter, unaffected, continued, “OK, but name me one visionary leader at that time in Africa?”
There was silence. They were thinking. Before, they could say a word; Peter said, “You see – none. They were all hopeless. They lack vision!”
“If you need a reason why we are playing catch up, look no further brothers.”
Unsure of himself, Monari said, “But there was Nkrumah and that Egyptian fellow…eh…Nasser.”
“Brother Monari, their vision was for Pan –Africanism. My point is about economic development, brother Monari,” Peter said.
Mikkel looked confused. He did not know about Pan-Africanism. He wanted to ask, but decided to wait until Peter was done making his argument.
“What is your point Peter,” asked Ole. “You are talking too much. This Norwegian man did not fly from Norway to Nairobi to hear your speech.”
Again they all laughed.