Campus home for former African leaders?

Boston University plans to launch a residency program for former heads of state from Africa, a move some diplomacy experts say offers an exit strategy for leaders in need of a way to leave their jobs gracefully.

"There is life after the presidency," says the Rev. Charles Stith, the former United States ambassador to Tanzania who is spearheading the Balfour African Presidents in Residence program.

Mr. Stith plans to bring a different African head of state to live at BU every year, targeting the small pool of chief executives who were elected democratically and agreed to step down from power. The school would provide a 12-month residency, an undisclosed stipend, a light course load, and speaking tours, perhaps beginning as early as September.

"Until you provide an exit strategy that gives ... a respectable way to make a living, a way to say 'I will be able to meet people I knew in the past without holding my head down,' then there are no incentives to give up power," Georgetown professor Gwendolyn Mikell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Boston Globe.

But there are questions about the possibility of bringing figures with troubled pasts to BU.

"It might be perceived as a soft slap on the wrist after years of misrule," says Peter Takirambudde, the executive director for Africa at Human Rights Watch.

The school's criteria – that the former leaders operated in a "democratic context" – would narrow the pool of eligible candidates to about a dozen.

"I would say there are not more than a handful of living African heads of state who have voluntarily stepped down from power," says Edmond Keller, director of the Globalization Research Center–Africa at the UCLA. High-profile, democratically elected former leaders, such as Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Ketumile Masire of Botswana, are too busy to spend a year at BU.

Others include Federick Chiluba of Zambia, who has become widely despised after introducing an autocratic regime after his election, harassing opponents, and trying to change the Constitution so he could hang on to power. He has also been accused of corruption.

Another possible candidate, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, was hailed for instituting democratic change, but is also being investigated for political crimes he allegedly committed two decades ago when he took power in a military coup.

The program would be unlikely to move a sitting president out of power, says Susan Rice, former assistant secretary of State for African affairs.

A case in point is Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president of 22 years, who was sworn in for a sixth term on Sunday after an election widely considered to be tainted by intimidation and fraud.

"The odds of getting Mugabe are next to nil," she says. "But if Charles Stith could convince him to give up the ghost and live in Boston, then it would be brave and noble. BU might get some stink for it, but Zimbabwe and Africa would be better off."

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