The latest edition of the Commonwealth-wide Smart Partnership has just ended at the lakeside resort and conference centre of Munyonyo, Kampala. In apparently another excellent attendance, the last record stemming from the 2001 event at the same venue, the King of Swaziland, some 4 presidents, several representatives of heads of government, Commonwealth officials, and participants from many Commonwealth nations across the world had three-and-a-half days of hands-on meetings, which closely involved even the heads of state and other top ranking VIPs, who were more inclined than ordinarily the case, to interact with participants and the media houses represented.
In fact, at one media briefing, the presidents turned the tables on some of the scribes and challenged them with questions, to which a number of the journalists were apparently ill prepared. President Museveni, in fact, accused sections of the media to thrive on reporting bad images of their own country while often neglecting to report on the good things and progress witnessed in society. President Kikwete of Tanzania also echoed these sentiments, while Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, as usual, indiscriminately laid heavily into the western media and accused them of being partisan and anti-African. He went on to accuse the African media to be serving imperialist and neo-colonialist interests, sentiments not shared by this column, considering the deplorable state of Zimbabwe now compared to 10 years ago.
King Mswati III, being more moderate in his statements, challenged journalists on the continent to think more positive in their day-to-day reporting. A few of the scribes eventually gathered the courage to argue their cases, pointing out that government needed to be more transparent and open when dealing with the public and the media and to equally seek a “smart partnership.”
Following this detour into journalism, President Museveni then declared a section of the resort a peace shrine and offered it as a venue for talks on Darfur and other African hot spots – not a bad idea at all considering that the tranquillity of Munyonyo may well spur fresh peace initiatives and produce positive outcomes for participants, induced by fine hospitality, excellent facilities, and the “smart approach,” the most recent dialogue evidently produced.
A separate “First Ladies” program, there were no “First Husbands” apparently, took them for a cruise on Lake Victoria to enjoy some bird watching and an on-board BBQ, before then visiting the trade pavilion for a spot of souvenir shopping.
Resort owner Sudhir Ruparelia also gave a sweeping presentation to the participants about the history of the resort in Munyonyo – which is the name of the immediate area along the lake shore – and described its humble beginnings, after he purchased the 7-acre plot. The resort, of course largely expanded since then, now sits on 150 acres of a prime lake-front property and is the best of its kind found around Lake Victoria. This, however, seems to have been the only major tourism-related presentation of substance during the dialogue and of interest, of course, to the participants who stayed at the resort during the event.
The annual “Smart Partnership Dialogue” is supported and promoted by the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management, in short CPMT, based in London, and takes place alternatively in a Commonwealth country and in Malaysia, where the first such meeting took place many years ago in 1995, initiated by then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, who was also present at the 2009 Dialogue.
Previous host nations besides Malaysia as principal and original event host, were Uganda in 2001, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Barbados.
The 2010 Smart Partnership will be held in Malaysia again, and the large Malaysian delegation already issued invitations and lobbied for attendance next year in an effort to promote the next edition.