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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
On the road with Brown in Africa
By James Landale
BBC political correspondent, with Gordon Brown in Maputo

Nelson Mandela and Gordon Brown
The chancellor met up with the former South African president
To watch Gordon Brown on tour is to watch a man unleashed.

At home he carries the haunted, cautious look of a man who must watch what he says, for his words can move markets and change politics. But abroad all is different.

A new carefree Gordon Brown emerges. He has a simple, uncontroversial subject: education. He has some money to spend on it and - above all - many, many miles between him and his enemies.

Some habits, however, die hard. He still cannot stop himself spilling over with facts and figures.

"Did you know", he asks me on the plane down to Mozambique, "that it costs 5,000 to educate a child in the UK but only 57 in Africa?"

Did I know too that if the world is to achieve its aim of access to education for all children by 2015, it is going to need 15 million new teachers? "The biggest teacher training programme in history."

The big idea?

To the sceptics, he says, this is all perfectly achievable - "not something for dreamers or idealists".

He also does something politicians rarely do in public - and that is to play with ideas. What happens, we ask, if an African country goes pear shaped and collapses into civil war? What then can be done to educate children?

Nor is it unhelpful to drop one or two hints that under him foreign policy perhaps would be as much about education as it would about invasion

The chancellor replies thus: "Agencies like Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Red Cross operate in these countries in such circumstances. Why not set up similar agencies for education?"

What he christens 'Education Sans Frontieres' could send its teachers to keep up a children's schooling while the world around them fell apart.

"It's a big idea for the future and it's something we have to consider," he says.

Lunatic, impractical, intriguing, fascinating - or none of the above. It is all grist to the mill for a man determined to show that there is more to him than a dry economics-obsessed prime minister in waiting.

On the ground in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, we visit a school: 4,000 pupils, 22 classrooms and four separate teaching shifts a day.

There are no desks, few books and holes in most of the roofs. And this, we are told, is one of the success stories.

Enter passion?

But the children give the chancellor a good welcome as he is swept from room to room.

Gordon Brown is not one of life's touchy feely politicians - his perpetual grin is sometimes a little stiff. And yet he is clearly genuinely excited to be here - the sort of raw people politics that is a long way from his habitual climb in the dusty corridors of Whitehall.

Later on we meet Nelson Mandela, the former South African President. He gently chides Mr Brown - urging him to make sure he and other finance ministers live up to their G8 promises.

But the chancellor doesn't mind. Mr Mandela, he reminds me, rang him up on the day of his son John's birth and so he will forgive him much.

Gordon Brown with schoolchildren
Mr Brown 'swept from room to room'
One subtext of this trip is the chancellor's agenda of restoring trust in politics.

Many people think politicians do not carry out their promises, so the theory goes. So Gordon Brown is determined to be - and be seen to be - the man doing his utmost to fulfil promises made by politicians during last year's heady summer at G8.

As Mr Mandela said, he cannot break a promise to a child. Mr Brown replied that he shall keep these promises school by school, child by child.

The other subtext is more obvious.

For a man who wants to be prime minister it does no harm to practice playing the international statesman. Nor is it unhelpful to drop one or two hints that under him foreign policy perhaps would be as much about education as it would about invasion.

Exit prudence, enter passion.

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