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As we prepare to host the Global Diaspora Summit on Friday, the world looks on with great anticipation to the potential benefits of this historical event to both the continent and the African diaspora.
This summit takes place at a poignant period of a month, on a day dedicated to celebrating the continent – Africa Day. The meeting is by all accounts one of the greatest milestones yet achieved in the history of the AU, and indeed the continent.
Despite bringing together people of African descent in one country, under the same roof, to discuss issues of common interest and mutual benefit, it coincides with two important historical events in the history of Africa, and in particular the struggle for liberation in SA. This year marks the centenary of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, the ANC, and we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the AU.
Today, 18 years after our first democratic elections, we remain fully committed to the vision of creating a safer, prosperous and stable Africa.
We are firm in our determination to find solutions to the challenges we face in Africa.
Our engagements are informed by our foreign policy programmes and activities.
These programmes and activities continue to rest on a number of key focal areas such as the prioritisation of the African agenda; strengthening regional integration through the Southern African Development Community; strengthening south-south co-operation; enhancing relations with formations of the north; and participating in global systems of governance.
These key foreign policy principles are a clear indication that our struggle for a better life in SA is intertwined with our pursuit of a better Africa in a better world.
Africa’s destiny is inextricably linked to that of the southern African region.
Regional and continental integration is the foundation for Africa’s socio-economic development and political unity, and essential for our own prosperity and security. Consequently, Africa is at the centre of SA’s foreign policy.
Our country therefore continues to support regional and continental processes to respond to and resolve crises, strengthen regional integration, significantly increase intra-African trade and champion sustainable development and opportunities in Africa.
The strengthening of the AU and its structures is a strategic priority in deepening the continental integration process.
SA continues with efforts aimed at revitalising the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) as a strategy for economic development on the continent.
Also as a priority of contribution to socio-economic development on the African continent, we have sought to utilise one of the key vehicles for the disbursement of development funding, the African Renaissance and International Co-operation Fund.
In December 2010, SA joined the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) formation.
Our membership of Brics underlines our country’s growing international role, including its future significance for potential investors in the expanding African market.
As the only African country in Brics, we are expected to push for Africa’s integration in trade and policies with the other four Brics members.
Clearly, this is not the first time we have committed ourselves to the renewal of this continent – our commitment to strengthening our links with the diaspora equals our vision of a renewed Africa.
Throughout the last century and even prior to this period, various Africans played their parts in organising nations and continents in support of African development.
This is perhaps the reason why Ernst & Young’s second annual Africa Attractiveness survey suggests that foreign direct investment in the continent has accelerated as investor perceptions begin to shift.
Essentially, the Ernst & Young report indicates that foreign direct investment projects in Africa have grown at a compounded rate of 20 percent since 2007, and by 153 percent in absolute terms since 2003. According to this report, 15 countries account for 82 percent of foreign direct investment, and SA boasts the largest share with 16 percent of the total.
The report further notes that African output has tripled over the past decade and notes that in eight out of the 10 years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia.
To increase our global economic footprint, Africa should bridge the infrastructure gap. This will be a key enabler of regional integration, growth and development, because poor infrastructure remains a major contributor to Africa’s underdevelopment.
Africa’s improvement through investment in the transport, power and communication networks that physically enable regional integration will help accelerate and sustain the continent’s growth and development.
With all these prospects for further development, this continent needs the buy-in and support of the diaspora for the realisation of a prosperous Africa.
Based on these developmental prospects and indicators, we ought to use this summit as a springboard to demystify the stigma attached to our state of development, or the lack thereof. Figures don’t lie.
It is this summit that should make a promise to the people of Africa, and the diaspora, that tomorrow will even be better.
We must and should continue to look at the diaspora as a vital part of our development in the pursuit of creating a prosperous Africa.
This is, therefore, an opportunity for us, as African leaders, to give our diaspora a message of hope, trust, and indeed a sense of belonging that we are in unison – united in our diversity.
A report prepared for the summit by the technical experts meeting for the African diaspora, which met in January last year here in SA, is of the view that: “The AU should provide enhanced opportunities for the closer involvement of diaspora formations, communities and organisations as well as entrepreneurs and investors in the affairs of the regional organisation through the appointment of diaspora experts, preferential dispositions and treatments of diaspora populations.”
The same report also urges the AU to “consolidate the ideal of the sixth region (of the AU) by urgent facilitation of direct involvement and participation of the diaspora in AU structures and processes”.
By so doing, we will be consciously making a concerted effort to renew, give assurance and strengthen the historical and cultural bonds between the continent and the diaspora with the aim of unifying Africans, and focus our energies on developing our own continent, without alienating ourselves from the rest of the world.
Our message should, therefore, be that which seeks to highlight, among other things, the importance of inclusivity in addressing the basic needs of our people – individually and collectively, including the great importance we attach to their efforts of promoting the interests of the continent abroad.
Not only should we promise to create jobs, build houses, introduce electricity, build schools and hospitals and supply running water, but most importantly, encourage compulsory quality education for the people of Africa.
It is our responsibility to encourage the future generations of African descent – at home and abroad – to focus their attention on education.
Without education, the realisation of our total emancipation will remain nothing but a wish.
We therefore rely on the formidable leadership of the diaspora to spread these messages of wisdom and hope.
This realisation of an African vision will direct us to the right path of achieving genuine African independence, economic emancipation, eradication of poverty and acceleration of technological advancement on the African continent.
But of all these latter aspects, I wish to highlight the importance we should attach to freedom from want and ignorance, reversal of African self-hate and Afro-pessimism.
By so doing, we will be committing ourselves to the total eradication of legacies of colonialism and apartheid and poise ourselves for the restoration of the principles of ubuntu.
These principles seek to promote self-love, Afro-optimism and respect for human worth and dignity towards the realisation of the African vision.
This African vision can be realised only if African people realise what they need to do urgently to safeguard their aspirations.
What we truly need to do is to focus on educating our people in Africa and the diaspora – young and old, boys and girls.
We need to empower Africa with all the necessary skills to realise the African vision.
Here I am not referring to an education system that was designed to produce people who would participate in the process of perpetuating colonial rule.
We don’t need an intelligentsia that participates in the process of their own oppression and in the oppression of their fellow colonised people. Moreover, colonised schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion, underdevelopment, powerlessness and dependency.
I am particularly humbled by the realisation of hopes and dreams that this summit will bring for all of us to cherish over the decades.
We must therefore remain optimistic at the prospect of discovering an African diaspora which represents the vision and aspirations of the people of Africa.
This must be a renewed beginning of a chapter in our history.
We must, therefore, take advantage of the necessary space created by this summit to strengthen our interface and renew our relations with our brothers and sister in the diaspora.
n Nkoana-Mashabane is Minister of International Relations and Co-operation