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African ex-president talks on the economics of reality

Karl Auguste Offmann, former president of the Republic of Mauritius from February 2002 to October 2003, is a prime example of a leader who recognizes the importance of reaching back and cultivating the community where he was raised. In a private dinner with Morehouse students on September 22 in Sale Hall Chapel, Offmann talked about being raised in the then-struggling country and the role he later played in his country’s resurgence.

“I went to school with no shoes and lived in a high concentrated area of disadvantage housing. I share this with you all for you to know that I was not a person of high status, but a man with determination,” he said.

Offmann was part of the political group that led a dynamic wave of economic revitalization of Mauritius, a small, south African island off the east coast of Madagascar. Called the “Mauritian Miracle,” he helped turn his country into a global phenomenon where an economy centered on sugar and agricultural production gave way to tourism and business investment, which now comprises 74 percent of the gross domestic product. Currently, 44 percent of the overall gross domestic product—$13.85 billion according to 2003 reports—returns to its citizens in the form of free social services.

But it wasn’t always that way. Offmann told of his life as a boy—a life largely spent in the poverty typical of developing nations. He never considered going into politics. What Offmann did know, however, was that he didn’t like trying to live on an empty stomach.

He and his family were poor with little access to the amenities most Americans have: running water, clean clothes and access to healthcare. Growing up with little money fueled his determination to get an education and make a difference in his country.
Helping to change the future of Mauritius was, at times, a hard road for Offmann to trod.

“Where there is a will there is a way, never settle for less,” he said. “You have the ability to grow from all circumstances.”

Offmann was on campus as part of a two-day session of the Leadership Center and the African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) at Boston University.

Offmann also led a seminar titled “Ethical Behaviors for Managers,” along with a brown bag discussion, which centered on the initiatives Offmann implemented in his rise to political leadership. In order to build relationships with African countries, the APARC invites an African president to travel the U.S. as a “President-in-Residence” every year.

Offmann is the second African president to come to Morehouse through the program.

Senior Mykwain Gainey, an English major from New York, found his first meeting with an African president inspiring in a time when many of the news reports about African countries have more to do with war and famine than an economic uptick.

Said Gainey, “I appreciate President Offmann for explaining the message of its not important where you come from but it’s a matter of where you’re going and how many people you take with you.”

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