Tribute to Ambassador Sten Rylander


It is a privilege and honour to pay tribute to a diplomat of a special type, Ambassador Sten Rylander. Sten and his wife Berit are outstanding examples of millions of people throughout the world, but more specifically in Sweden, who since the 60s understood that their humanity and dignity could not be maintained if colonialism and apartheid continued in southern Africa and if the rest of Africa was enmeshed in neo-colonialism, poverty, under-development and conflicts.
At a very early stage they became active participants in the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1979 Sten came to southern Africa as head of Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) for Botswana and Lesotho. These were two countries in the frontline which were consistently facing the apartheid regime’s economic and military aggression.
Not surprisingly, Sten and Berit’s activities went beyond the normal mandate of Sida’s work. They were actively involved with the African National Congress (ANC) and South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo), and they became very friendly with leaders such as Chris Hani.
Their work also put them in contact with the mass democratic movement in South Africa and Sten became an important contact channel for the exiled and internal leadership.
They were aware that the regime’s death squads were very active in the region but this did not deter them.
Sten was then transferred to Angola as the Swedish Ambassador. Angola was a hotbed of counter-revolution.
It was also a country that was hosting the armed wings of the ANC and Swapo.
Sten and Berit were deeply involved with the ANC and Swapo in Angola.
Sten and Berit became close friends with Thabo Mbeki and other ANC leaders and cadres.
He later became the Swedish Ambassador to Namibia after independence there (1990-1995), to Tanzania (1998-2003) and for the last four years he has been the Swedish Ambassador to Zimbabwe.
For 31 years Sten has been sent to hot spots in Africa and he has been an outstanding diplomat for freedom and democracy.
Before Sten took up his post in Zimbabwe, a mutual close friend and another excellent Swedish activist, Tor Sellstrom, arranged for us to meet. This was the beginning of a relationship that I have valued very highly. I have regularly met with Sten and discussed Zimbabwe, mainly concerning two important issues related to the role of solidarity.
First, one cannot impose solutions; second, one has to listen to what representatives of the people we are in solidarity with are saying. We also agreed that one has to be constructively critical and always look for solutions. I have always argued that Zimbabwe’s challenges had to be tackled but we should avoid “quick fix” solutions and avoid being seen as “taking sides”. We have to make an intelligent assessment of the facts available, not ignore realities, consider various scenarios and always act honestly.
It is characteristic of Sten that, hours before he boarded a flight to Sweden, he participated in a very lively discussion on Zimbabwe. The discussion brought into sharp focus the issue of sanctions. The three main political parties in Zimbabwe have agreed that sanctions have to be lifted, notwithstanding challenges they continue to face. The international community should listen to representatives of the Zimbabwean people and support their united call for the lifting of sanctions, and not get diverted by fruitless debates on this issue.
The challenge is to intensify our collective efforts to consolidate the positive developments and assist the Zimbabwean people to resolve outstanding to challenges.
Sten leaves Africa in the year the theme for Africa Day celebrations is, 2010 is the Year of Peace and Security in Africa.
We are not celebrating Africa Day because we are acutely conscious that many African countries will not meet our millennium development goals.
The recent international financial crisis and European economic crisis will impact negatively on Africa’s fight against poverty and under-development. This undoubtedly will create more fertile ground for conflicts.
However, I am confident that if the world acts in genuine strategic partnership with Africa, on programmes determined by Africans, the 21st Century can be an African Century.
In a few days we will be hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup, for the first time in Africa. In this year of “Peace and Security in Africa” let us use the World Cup to advance our fight for people-centred, poverty eradication, development, peace and stability.
Sten, your long walk has not ended. You have just relocated to a new field. You and Berit must continue to be champions of the African Renaissance.
Go well my friend.

l Aziz Pahad is a political commentator and the former Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs of South Africa