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Mbeki has publicly disagreed with the World Economic Forum on Africa that there is a crisis of leadership on the continent. He and other African leaders came under fire in the three-day forum in Cape Town by WEF participants, including Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who rebuked them for their silence on Zimbabwe and turning a blind eye to dictators.
Odinga was clearly the WEF's flavour of the week, with the "lame duck" Mbeki very much Friday's man and the subject of repeated criticism for his handling of the Zimbabwean crisis.
South African Wendy Luhabe, who also co-chaired the WEF, was among Odinga's new disciples.
Like many other participants she bemoaned the quality of political leadership, but said that if Odinga represented the new face of Africa, then there was hope for the future.
"Our leaders are simply not stepping up to the challenge. There is a crisis of leadership in the world, and South Africa is no exception," she told a discussion on the cost of crime earlier in the week.
Seated next to Mbeki, she told the closing plenary session of the WEF that there was a "conspiracy of silence among African leaders" to address critical issues. This made it difficult for the continent "to translate its challenges into what we would consider to be unprecedented opportunities".
Luhabe said business and civic leaders, as well as stakeholders should also respond to these challenges. This echoed her earlier comments, when she acknowledged that business leaders had also failed Zimbabwe by remaining silent.
"There is much better clarity in the political leadership on the continent," he maintained. "There is greater clarity on how to respond to economic challenges. And there is an appreciation of the need to deal with conflict."
In terms of governance, the continent was "evolving in the correct direction".
While avoiding any mention of Zimbabwe, he used Nigeria as an example of the way the quality of leadership had changed. Mbeki told delegates that military strongman Sani Abacha had lied to him about the fate of activist Ken Saro Wiwa, promising he would not be harmed, only to hang him once he (Mbeki) left Nigeria. All these years later, Nigeria was developing in a good and positive way, with President Umaru Yar'Adua reviewing the electoral system.
Several of the participants present at the forum, which drew more than 800 international and local business, civic and political leaders to Cape Town, spoke of a new generation of leaders.
Among them was Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Tendai Biti, who spoke of a "generational and ideological transformation" in Africa.
Meanwhile, the ANC, which has also tried to paint itself as a generation of new leaders, yesterday issued a statement expressing concern about MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai's detention - the second in a week - and reports that his campaign rallies have been banned indefinitely.
"If these reports are correct they signal a grave threat to the prospect of an environment conducive to a free and fair run-off election. The ANC calls for all state institutions and all parties in Zimbabwe to make every possible effort to ensure that the SADC guidelines on free and fair elections are upheld," ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said.