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INTERVIEW


By the Dart INTERVIEW


PIERRE LANDELL MILLS


RETIRED INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIST


P


ierre Landell Mills sits in the conservatory of his beautiful


Dartmouth home, overlooking the River Dart and gives the impression of being thoroughly contented – but his life as an economist working around the world has contained a fair bit of drama, far removed from this idyllic setting. Born in France to an English father and an emigré Russian mother, Pierre had a pretty dramatic start in life. “We left Cannes precipitatiously in


1940 just before the Germans arrived, on a sailboat and ended up in North Africa,” he told me, with an enigmatic smile. “We then boarded a troop ship to Britain. We landed in Plymouth and set up house in Thorverton, a pretty village five miles north of Exeter.” Pierre’s father was asked to


restart an old Cornish mine, which contributed to the war effort. It produced tungsten, the metal used to make armour-piercing shells. A talented student, who was a champion squash player, Pierre went to Cambridge to study economics. There his love of squash brought a


surprising bonus. “I was supposed to be playing


a friendly squash match for my college,Trinity, against a player from Newnham which was a women’s college,” he said. “We stopped after just a few minutes because my opponent was giggling so much, being little more than a beginner. We went for tea instead and got on rather well.” The Newnham squash player was


called Joslin and she was soon to become his wife. After graduating in Economics


Pierre married Joslin and the couple moved to Dar es Salaam. There, Pierre joined the Tanzania Treasury, working on a wide range of economic problems, helping to develop the country’s economy. Pierre says he loved what he was


doing, partly because of his belief in helping countries overcome poverty. “At Cambridge I was part of a group of young economists who were concerned about colonisation. We wanted to support the newly independent countries. There was a lot of idealism in all of this,” he said. After two successful years, Pierre


“He pointed to me and told the crowd I was a


representative of ‘colonial powers’ bent on ruining the country.”


received the offer of a lifetime. “I was invited to become the Director of Economic Affairs in the Botswana government,” he said. “It was a country about to achieve independence and I had the opportunity of renegotiating the Southern African customs arrangements, establish a new currency, set up a national development bank, prepare a national development plan and much more. It was a dream job.” It was 1966 and Pierre was only 27


– and yet he was essentially in charge of an emerging country’s economy. He relished the challenge. “It was incredibly interesting and


exciting,” he said. “I was pleased to play my part but the real key to Botswana’s success was the brilliant leadership of Seretse Khama. We got on very well. We were all determined to prove that a black-run country could succeed in Southern Africa.” The English-educated Khama, who had courted huge controversy by marrying a white woman, is still a revered figure in his country, more than thirty years after his death. His government took the country from being one of the poorest in the world to one of the richest in Africa in just 20 years. Part of that success was the


discovery of one of the largest diamond mines in the world in the country – Pierre helped negotiate a path-breaking tax and royalties agreement with De Beers.


“This brought in a huge increase in


tax revenues which the Government wisely invested in infrastructure: roads, schools and the health service,” he said. “There was also almost no corruption – this all contributed to the country being a big success.” After seven years and making


“many lifelong friends”, including the second president of Botswana, Quett Masire, who became godfather to their second son, Pierre left to take up another exciting challenge: working for the World Bank in Washington.


67


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