As we mark 51 years since Africa formed a unity organisation, we face some soul-searching questions, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary-general of the OAU, says in a speech delivered at the Annual Thabo Mbeki Foundation Africa Day Lecture at Unisa, Tshwane on Friday.
Your Excellency President Thabo Mbeki, Patron of The Thabo Mbeki Foundation;
Members of the Board of Trustees of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
All protocols observed.
As we are all very much aware that on Africa Day, we formally commemorate the creation of the Organisation of the African Unity in 1963, 51 years from this Sunday, as well as the inception of its successor, the African Union, just 12 years ago. Obviously, these landmark occasions signify the achievements of our liberated continent, the collective assertion of freedom, equality, and a distinctly pan-African identity as we reflect on our colonial past and as we define the future direction for our individual countries and our continent as a whole.
We also take this day to honour the countless lives that were dedicated to our struggle, those whose contributions shall for ever continue to inspire us and remain indispensible in our collective efforts to realise a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and united Africa, much sooner than later.
Let me, therefore, hasten to pay my special tribute to you, President Thabo Mbeki, for your own personal contribution in that regard. Your tireless efforts in bringing peace and developing new thought leadership on accelerated socio-economic development on the continent, is well appreciated and greatly valued. I therefore take this opportunity to say, thank you very much President Mbeki for dedicating your entire life to the liberation and meaningful socio-economic transformation of our continent.
The African continent left behind by the likes of Kwame Nkrumah; Gamal Abdel Nasser; Julius Nyerere; Ahmed Ben Ben Bella; Modibo Keita; Aboubakar Tafawa Balewa; Emperor Haille Sellasie; Kenneth Kaunda; Jomo Kenyatta; Patrice Lumumba; Amilcar Cabral; Eduardo Mondlane; Agostinho Neto; Sylvanus Olympio; Sir Milton Margai; Felix Houphouet Boigny; Leopold Sedar Senghor and your very own Oliver Tambo; Robert Sobukwe; and our recently departed hero, Tata Nelson Mandela, just to mention a few who constituted the “Freedom Generation” of African leadership finds in you, President Mbeki, a committed foot soldier, as the continent seeks to confidently match into the future and make the 21st Century, rightfully its own!
Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen,
I purposely began my submission by recognising the role that had been played by the “Freedom Generation” of the African leadership, simply to underscore three obvious issues that relate to the central role that effective leadership plays in changing the fortunes of our individual countries and our continent, in the past and as we strive for a prosperous future.
In the first instance and through the individual and collective legacy of the “Freedom Generation” leadership that still continues to inspire the masses of our people, it has become an undisputable fact that Africa is capable and has indeed, produced strong, effective, reliable and world-class leaders. Leaders who could and have effectively met the challenges of their time and their generation, however difficult the circumstances may have been!
Secondly, it is the fact that such leadership should in essence be “people centred” as it is constituted to serve the interests of the majority of our people. The many successes and victories that were recorded by this generation, were strongly driven and underpinned by the massive support that this leadership enjoyed from the masses of our people in response to the profound commitment to the fundamental aspiration of the people on whose interest they mounted and led the struggle!
Thirdly and in that regard, through the eyes of the “Freedom Generation” of African leadership, we should also see how the power of an inspiring Vision; deep sense of Mission; profound Commitment, Selflessness and readiness to make extreme sacrifices, can overcome even the most unbearable challenges that may embrace the continent, at any moment in its history. Africa’s resounding successes in the struggle against the very powerful and well organised colonial and apartheid forces bear testimony to this conclusion.
It is indeed important to understand how we were able to attain this achievement, especially in the case of those countries where colonialism and racism was not only totally intransigent but also enjoyed the support of some powerful external powers.
For example I recall that during my tenure of Office as the Permanent Representative of my country at the United Nations in the 1970s some of our friends in the West were talking about the “invincibility of the white redoubt in Southern Africa.” In other words they perpetuated the myth that the colonial and racist situation in Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe, South West Africa now Namibia, Angola, Mozambique as well as South Africa will basically remain unaltered. How then given the formidable obstacles that confronted the liberation movements, we are today able to be here and celebrate the independence of the entire continent?
Simply put three factors made this possible. First and foremost, the resilience, determination and sacrifices of our people and their liberation movements. Second, the unity and cohesion of the independent African states in supporting this struggle.
True, the extent of that support varied from one country to another but the support was always there. Third, the valuable support and solidarity of the international community in various forms and manifestation.
It is therefore, important that I make an early conclusion in my submission that, as we focus on our continent’s future in a manner that effectively meets the massive challenges and exploit the vast opportunities that exist for Africa’s development and prosperous future, at the very least, these leadership attributes need to be internalised and creatively applied in shaping Africa’s current and future cadre of leadership.
It is tragedy that, precisely because of its profound commitment to the continent’s meaningful emancipation, the Freedom Generation of African Leadership was effectively undermined during the first decade of Africa’s independence. This was the height of the cold war tensions, as competing powers sought to extend their respective spheres of influence on the continent.
Africa’s promise and hope for a meaningful UHURU disappeared fast, as post-independence Africa became characterised by wars, instabilities and undemocratic regimes, thereby losing the transformative and development Vision that had characterised and energised the nationalist and pan-africanist struggles of our forebearers.
Yet, all was not lost, particularly in the Southern African Region, where the strong leadership of the Front Line States and the liberation movements, sustained the vanguard of the African Revolution, within the region and the continent as well as through the non-alignment movement and the international community at large.
It is in this context that, one of the early Pan-Africanist acts by President Mandela’s administration, after coming to power in 1994, was to resuscitate the cause for Africa’s Re-birth or Renaissance in which You, President Mbeki, have been and continue to be actively involved.
Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen
To chart Africa’s pathway forward, we must be frank in our assessments of Africa since the era of our collective independence. Now we are free. It is indeed pertinent to ask ourselves whether the Aims and Objectives articulated by the pioneers of our independence movements have been achieved or for that matter anywhere near fulfillment. I am afraid, at a certain juncture of the past few decades; we seem to have lost that compass, with all its attendant implications.
It is indeed a fact that though our countries are free, the aims and objectives of the freedom struggle, has yet to be attained in many of our countries. When we fought for freedom we did not just fight for the purpose of replacing the white colonialism. The objective was to improve the lot of our people. It was intended to ensure larger freedoms including the right to decide how we are governed, by whom and for what period. It was to remove injustice and ensure that the country’s resources are utilized for the betterment of our people. It was to fight disease, ignorance and abject poverty. To change the lives of our people and to transform the continent from what it used to be called the dark continent to the continent which is living up to its responsibilities.
As we therefore mark 51 years since laying the foundations of African Unity and reflect and plan for the future, there are some soul searching questions which we as Africans need to ask ourselves.
Why is it a continent, which is one of the richest if not the richest in terms of resources both human and material, continues to have the poorest people?
How can we rationally explain the continued and in some cases escalating internal conflicts in some parts of our continent with attendant loss of millions of lives, human misery and destruction as well as forcing millions of our people to vote with their feet.
How do we erase the image of a continent where corruption is considered endemic?
How do we sustain and better utilize the current decade old achievements of economic growth into a shared prosperity for all?
Indeed, some of our leaders in Africa including you President Thabo Mbeki have characterized the 21st Century as Africa’s century. I believe that this is possible, achievable and most of all necessary. This should be the clarion of the new generation of young people who unlike in our times, has more privileges of global interconnectivity including advance communication technology, to use for fulfilling its generational mission. But we must move with seriousness and deliberate speed in addressing all those problems which are within our means to resolve. These include:
To improve governance. Indeed this is the number one issue. All those who lead, at whatever level BUT especially as National Leaders, must be held accountable and act in a manner, which makes them truly servants of the people who have elected them to power. It is significant to observe in this context that practical experience has already demonstrated that where there is a responsible, accountable and incorruptible leadership abiding by the principles of good governance, their countries have made enormous progress in socio-economic development. Good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency should be nurtured and sustained and above all be made an essential component of our societies. Africa, which has suffered a lot of indignity and inhumanity due to massive violations of our people’s rights, should be in the forefront for the protection and respect of human and people’s rights. To achieve this it is imperative to build democratic institutions, improve our educational system and strengthen the civil societies.
It is also in this context that one has to take note of the Declaration issued by the OAU Heads of State and Government in February 1990, following the end of the Cold War, on the Political and Socio-Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes taking place in the World. In essence, the declaration underscored, Africa’s commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, Rule of Law and Good Governance, as fundamental prerequisites for sustainable socio-economic development on the continent.
The establishment of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) by the OAU Heads of State and Government in July 2001, in Lusaka, Zambia, was meant to provide an overarching Vision and Policy framework for accelerating economic cooperation and integration among African countries. This measure was to be further strengthened by the establishment of the African Peer Review Mechanism in 2003 by the African Union which focuses on the importance of Good Governance in pursuing the New African Dream for its renaissance.
We must strive to uplift the lot of our people. Economic and social transformation is a prerequisite condition. In this context a number of factors need to be taken into account:
In recent years, Africa has had strong economic growth records largely attributed to the comparative advantage that we have on natural resources and the demands fuelled by the strong growth in the largest emerging economies in Latin America and Asia. However, this growth has not translated into further reduction of poverty nor income and wealth inequality as we expected. We must guard against the growing inequities in our societies, which cause resentment and despair among our people and especially the millions of unemployed young people. If we fail to redress this imbalance we run the risk of implosion and conflict. We must gradually but firmly eliminate the contradiction of a very rich continent inhabited by the poorest people.
Africa has a strong comparative advantage in natural resources that for many years has turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. With major discovery of Oil and Gas reserves in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo joining the traditional oil countries notably Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Congo and Equatorial Guinea, Africa should heed the lessons of last oil boom that saw being squandered by both local and multinational greed. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of yesterday. Africa’s immense natural resources must be mobilized and properly used for its development.
After years of structural economic transformations that focused on economic growth, it is crucial to note the necessity of adopting inclusive socio-economic development now for our continent to survive the challenges of development and ensure the opportunities of sustainable development. The necessity of ensuring that the wealth and resources of Africa are used to benefit all people, and not just channelled towards the gains of a few, cannot be overstated. Inclusive socio-economic development, ensuring that all individuals can meet the basic needs of their families, that all of the continent’s diverse social, political, and economic groups feel equally part of their societies, and that all individuals who strive for a better tomorrow can be given equitable opportunities to improve their livelihoods, constituted the vision of our Founding Fathers, and must constitute the guiding light for our current and future generations of leaders. Without such inclusive development, our societies will remain plagued by political marginalization and socio-economic inequalities – and it is these conditions that enflame violence and ultimately threatens our collective peace, security, and development.
This move towards inclusive economy must go hand in hand with the efforts of uplifting the status and appreciate the role of our women in economic and political leadership. The women of Africa have been the most resilient and dynamic force. They constitute more than 50% of the entire population. They have played a crucial role in the struggle for independence and liberation wars. In conflict situations they bear a disproportionate burden of suffering. They have played and continue to play a pivotal role in all facets of economic and social development. BUT IN MOST OF OUR COUNTRIES THEIR FULL POTENTIAL HAS YET TO BE UTILISED. And their role in decision-making continues to be, by and large, sadly marginal. Currently African countries are taking significant steps aimed at empowering women.
This vital process needs to be encouraged and intensified. This powerful force, when properly empowered and allowed to make full use of their potential will unleash an irreversible movement towards the political, social and economic emancipation of the continent.
Of equally important, is the need to recognize the current demographic trend of the continent where 60% of Africans are below the age of 40. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. Between 2000 and 2008, Africa’s working age population (15-64 years) grew from 443 million to 550 million; an increase of 25%. In annual terms this is a growth of 13 million, or 2.7% per year (World Bank 2011a). If this trend continues, the continent’s labour force will be 1 billion strong by 2040, making it the largest in the world, surpassing both China and India (McKinsey Global Institute, 2010). In this context, it is imperative to ensure that policies and actions, which constitute the agenda of the future, make effective use of this dynamic. Quite often this is considered as the time bomb but it is a time bomb if we do not make use of it positively. Hence we must invest whatever is necessary to ensure we effectively nurture and utilize this comparative advantage we hold not only to our greater success in the struggles for equitable prosperity but also for our survival from potential conflicts.
Similarly, fundamental advances in technology are radically changing how we organize our societies and engage one another. Advances in medical, industrial, and digital technologies are constantly pushing the boundaries on how we imagine the future. The achievements made in 3D printing and nanotechnology over the past three years alone confidently assure me that our world will be radically different in 20 more years. The Internet and mobile phone have become great equalizers, creating an open space through which instantaneous communication and knowledge sharing can occur across massive territorial, social, and cultural divides. It is now an established fact that, social media is crucially transforming how each individual perceives and engages what’s around them. Nigerian-American author Teju Cole recently described the crux of the social media phenomena in a lecture at Duke University’s Kennan Institute for Ethics, as follows:
“Each person is the command centre of a new way of thinking about the world … we must collectively contend with new and more diverse declarations of human equality and visibility.”
This then brings me to the imperative necessity of Regional Integration - an objective which has clearly been adumbrated by the then Organisation of African Unity and now the Africa Union. But the pace of integration continues to be agonizingly slow even though there are important efforts and achievements of the various African sub regional organizations. No single African country however important or well endowed can have any serious impact on a world scale. But the African collective cannot be ignored. In this context, we should learn from the experience of our European friends and partners. Many of these countries are strong politically, economically, scientifically and militarily. They bear no comparison to individual African countries. Yet they have recognized their individual disadvantages and the merits of cooperation and integration in order inter alia to cope with the present and future challenges and opportunities facing them. In my view, for Africa, regional cooperation and integration is not a matter of choice but survival.
African leaders have taken a number of key decisions towards the realization of regional integration. Regrettably however, there is a great hiatus between those decisions and actual implementation. One of the main challenges to this is how we take seriously the question of national and region wide infrastructural development and maintenance. There is an urgent need to improve infrastructure and among other things give practical meaning to the commitment to facilitate free movement of goods and peoples.
Apart from intra regional infrastructural development and strengthening of our regional economic schemes, we have a duty to bring the issue of United Africa to the people. While I am optimistic that United Africa Dream will be realized in the coming years, it is discouraging to see how ineffectively we have performed in strengthening the Pan African Identity among our people across borders. We are still lingering in an era of prejudices and stereotypes among us keeping our people further apart instead of moving us closer as people with shared history, challenges, opportunities, threats and identity. We need to use both continental inter governmental and non governmental institutions to protect, promote and nurture the vision of a United Africa for the new generation to effect within the coming years.
In the coming years Africa must continue its efforts in dealing with the scourge of conflict, which has done so much damage to our people and societies. As a follow up to Declaration issued by the OAU Heads of State and Governments in February 1990, following the end of the Cold War, on the Political and Socio-Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes taking place in the World, it was also felt that the existence peace and stability on the continent was critical in pursuing the goals and objective that Africa set for herself in 1990. The OAU Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution was, therefore, adopted at the Cairo OAU Summit in July, 1993. It was strongly felt that, with the Cold War out of the way, Africa was indeed, capable of resolving its own conflicts if it was freed from any external interferences.
The African Union, through its Peace and Security Council is making an important contribution. Its efforts need to be augmented by inter alia through the provision of resources. This is one area where the goodwill of the international community in support of Africa’s efforts has been clearly demonstrated. But Africa needs to do more indeed much more itself. Those African countries which are better endowed should really seriously assist in providing significant financial support.
In my opinion, it is unacceptable to rely mainly on external assistance carrying out the various peace support operations. Furthermore such excessive external dependence can be quite costly. I know this from personal experience when I served as the Secretary General of the then Organisation of African Unity and also when I was the African Union Special Envoy and Chief Mediator of the Abuja Inter Sudanese Peace Talks on Darfur. Thus ultimately it is up to our own leaders – present and future – who can and should prevent conflicts through entrenching and practicing democratic governance, fair distribution of resources and proper and just treatment of all citizens.
In view of the ongoing transformative shifts, we must acknowledge that the inherent social contract within our societies, the relationship between the people, governments, and business as it exists today, is out of sync with the directions in which our societies are headed. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of small elite is no longer sustainable. As we witness developments occurring both within and beyond the continent, I see a new future where the individual is more empowered than ever before to shape his or her own destiny. This will be more so as the spread of genuine democracy on the continent works to push back the frontiers of human freedom and capacity and significantly unleash the creative potential of our people as they face the challenges and exploit the opportunities that come with Globalisation.
When I reflect on a new paradigm of leadership, I am especially cognizant of the words of the late Pan-Africanist, and very good friend of mine, Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, who in 2005 wrote:
“Instead of constantly enumerating what this leader or that leader is doing wrong why don’t you ask yourself what, no matter how small, you are doing as an individual, a member of an organization, part of a community, your profession and in whatever station you are, to advance the cause of Africa and the dignity of the African. We all can do something or do nothing.”
It is here where vast opportunities present themselves before the next generations of Africans. Our generation was responsible for ushering our continent from the era of colonialism to an era of independence; it will be your generation’s responsibility for ushering us into a brand new world. A world where the new “African Rising” phenomenon is truly achieved and secured. It is in this light that I would like to enumerate three principles for a new paradigm of leadership in our transforming Africa:
It is these brief thoughts that I would like to leave you with today on how I see the evolution of our leadership on the continent. I am truly optimistic about our shared futures and the direction in which our beloved Africa is headed. And to our future generations of leaders, many of whom may be sitting in this very room today, I urge you to build on the legacies of all those who came before you and to forge a path for those after you to continue towards realizing a peaceful, prosperous, and United Africa.
Mungu Ibariki Afrika
Asante - sana.