SCRIBES MEET IN BRUSSELS AHEAD OF AU/EU SUMMIT
Exhausted from over 13 hours of travel in cattle class, I exited the airport to a world brimming with contrasts from the one I had left behind.
Instead of the hot blazing sun, I was immediately hit by a blast of cold air from the street.
A sea of gloomy white faces in dark suits clutching umbrellas and slim women in long black coats going about their business in a terrible hurry surrounded me.
So this is it! This is Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, the country whose visa application process nearly knocked the wind out of me and cost a small fortune in airplane fares to Jo’burg and hotel payment, not to mention exorbitant Visa fees! This is the seat of the European Union!
No voluptuous beauties in sight and definitely no potbellied men. President Khama’s comment in his last state of the nation address about how overweight we are as a people immediately comes to mind at this moment and for a split second I worry, if only a little about my own weight and my health!
My host, the EU Commission was not at the airport to pick me up, (budget constraints, I’m told. Who would have thought!) so I approach two heavily armed soldiers to ask for direction to a place where I can catch a taxi to my hotel.
Both men have a go at me in French!
Reminded of officials back home who are in the habit of carrying on in Setswana with frustrated foreigners who don’t speak the language, I briskly walk away to look around for any vehicle resembling a cab.
They are not even eye candy, which is what soldiers should be, I console myself as I walk away wondering if I would survive the language barrier in the next two days!
At the EU commission Berlaymont building, I join about 16 other excited journalists from Africa and parts of Europe to attend a press seminar ahead of 5th AU/EU summit, which started yesterday (November 29th) in Abidjan coted’voire.
Due to hectic visa requirements I have already missed the meeting with EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica and other highlights, like the joint session with the 18 fellows of the Youth Plug-In initiative who were to make part of the AU/EU Youth summit.
Nevertheless I was told by the effervescent Elena Gonzalez Verdesoto, the press officer – Communication unit
that the young people who discussed topics such as creation of employment and migration among other topics were impressive.
The two- day session was also marked by background briefings on key development initiatives like the EU External Investment Plan, an ambitious project whose objective is to encourage investment in partner countries in Africa and the EU neighbourhood region to promote inclusive growth, job creation and sustainable development.
It also seeks to tackle some of the root causes of irregular migration, the EU’s Emergency Trust for Africa and the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls.
Although it was not on the agenda, the “Lybia migrants slave trade” currently making headline news around the globe threatened to derail discussions.
After work, neither dreary weather nor exhaustion were going to make me miss out on the Belgian culture experience, not after I had fought so hard for the Schengen Visa so I decided to forego the official sit down dinners to explore numerous cosy cafes on Luxemburg street and beyond.
Brussels after dark did not disappoint either, with hundreds of people outside several cafes on the street just down the road from my hotel drinking beer and dancing to music. What a vibe! No fights, no public nuisance and no rows!
I could export this kind of consumers in their numbers to Botswana and local businessmen who are forced to bootlick nasty government officials for tenders would kiss the ground I walk on.