A New Era for Africa in a Globalizing
World, Unesco, Paris, 19 November 2003
Director of Ceremonies,
Your Excellency, the Acting Director-General of UNESCO,
Mr Marcio Barbosa,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Commenting on remarks made by Picasso to distance himself
from African art, Henry Louis Gates Jr, has written
"It is impossible to separate (Picasso's) anxiety
about (African) influence (on his art) from Europe's
larger anxiety about the mask of blackness itself, about
an aesthetic relation to virtually an entire continent
that is represented as a prime site of all that Europe
was not and did not wish to be, at least from the late
Renaissance and the Enlightenment."
(Henry Louis Gates Jr, in "Africa: The Art of a
Continent': ed Tom Phillips, Royal Academy of Arts,
For centuries, the Western world has treated Africa,
especially sub-Saharan Africa, as a source of cheap
labour and raw materials.
Necessarily, this has meant the export of wealth from
Africa rather than its expansion within the Continent.
Where there has been an infusion of wealth - in the
form of investment - this was to generate larger volumes
of wealth for export.
The period of slavery constituted a massive export
of cheap labour itself, for use as a virtually cost-free
factor of production. For Africa, this represented a
very big loss of human capital and therefore the severe
undermining of the capacity of the African communities
to generate wealth.
In a very real sense, the enrichment of the West was
predicated on the impoverishment of Africa.
Colonialism sought to achieve the same objective by:
obtaining mineral and agricultural raw materials at
as low a cost as possible:
using cheap local labour to produce these commodities;
preserving the African markets as exclusively as possible
for products from the colonising country.
Again, this did not strengthen the capacity of the African
countries to expand their economies, with a lot of economic
activity in these countries being enclaves that are
mere extensions of the economies of the metropolitan
The destruction of productive capacity in the African
colonies is clearly illustrated by the decline in domestic
agricultural production except for cash crops. Accordingly,
many African countries suffer from food deficits and
have become net food importers.
The post-colonial period has not changed this situation
Indeed, diversion of resources away from wealth creation,
to some extent, accelerates in the post-colonial period,
as more resources are needed to finance the new state
machinery and to meet the pressing social needs of the
Employment in the public sector serves as an incentive
for people to move away especially from agricultural
activities, seeking public sector, urban service jobs.
The net effect of all this has been the entrenchment
of a downward vicious circle, confirming Africa's peripheral
and diminishing role in the world economy.
The more the African countries acted as a source of
raw materials and cheap labour, the less capable they
became of breaking out of this mould.
This has also confirmed a frame of mind about Africa
the Continent has no place in the world economy except
as a supplier of raw materials;
there is no requirement that the Continent should have
access to modern technology and contemporary human skills;
such socio-economic problems as the Continent faces
should be contained within Africa and addressed as welfare
no contribution to human civilisation can be expected
from Africa except in the fields of the performing and
plastic arts; and the natural habitat; and,
the Continent has no major role to play in the global
system of governance.
The reality that has accumulated over many centuries
is that Africa is defined as, of necessity, the marginalized
Continent. This determination leads to actions that
result in the further marginalisation of the Continent.
The more this succeeds, the more difficult it becomes
to reverse that process of marginalisation. This difficulty
includes the generation of significant resources from
the Continent itself to reverse this process.
Necessarily, in this situation, the hopes of Africa's
peoples for a better future begin to rest on the magnanimity
of others. This transforms the objective disempowerment
of the African people into a subjective acceptance by
these people of the view that they are incapable of
Thus they become less and less capable of acting as
conscious and purposeful actors for their own emancipation
from dependence, poverty and underdevelopment
To bring this human tragedy to its end, it is necessary
that the peoples of Africa gain the conviction that
they are not, and must not be wards of benevolent guardians,
but instruments of their own destiny and sustained upliftment.
Critical to this is the knowledge by these peoples
(Africans) that they have made and still have a unique
and valuable contribution to make to the advancement
of human civilisation.
Despite this negative past, it is both possible and
necessary to ensure that Africa enjoys a positive and
The starting point is the same material base that resulted
in Africa becoming a marginalised Continent.
Africa's strategic place in the global community is,
in part, defined by the fact that the Continent is an
indispensable resource base that serves all humanity,
as it has done for many centuries.
That resource base can be broken down into three components.
The first is the rich complex of minerals and plants
that can be found throughout the continent, facts with
which the world is most familiar.
The second is the ecological lung provided by the Continent's
rain forests and the virtual absence of emissions and
effluents that harm the global environment.
The significance of these has come to the fore only
recently, as humanity came to understand the critical
importance of the issue of the environment.
And, the third is the paleantological and archaeological
sites containing evidence of the evolution of the earth,
life and the human species; the natural habitats containing
a wide variety of flora and fauna; and, the open uninhabited
spaces that are a feature of the Continent. The value
of Africa's natural wealth is only now coming into its
own, emerging from its being of relevance merely to
a narrow field of science and a matter of interest to
museums and their curators.
Another challenge of the African people is what was
presented as the subjective transformation of Africans
into a sub-human species of humanity, which constitutes
a complex process that covered many centuries.
All of us face the critical challenge to accept that,
historically, this ideological transformation of the
Africans did happen, without seeking to attach value-laden
blame or judgment against and to anybody.
The dogma, consigning the Africans to a lower plateau
in the human hierarchy, understood as self-evident truth,
created the possibility for those who considered themselves
to be superior to the Africans, to treat the Africans
as natural inferiors.
When superior technology, better organisation and anti-human
convictions enabled the Europeans to defeat the Africans
and seize them as slaves, the objective success of that
process confirmed the correctness of their subjective
conviction of the inferiority of the Africans.
Further, the apparent submission of the Africans to
the domination of the victors proved the point to the
Europeans, for instance, that they had the natural right
to exercise authority over the Africans.
All African rebellions in these circumstances, historically
destined to fail, served as an affirmation of the self-evident
truth that the black could never vanquish the white.
Each failed uprising confirmed that even with the resort
to force by the black, the predestined and fixed relationship
between superior and inferior, between dominant and
dominated, between master and servant, could not be
Thus, for some time, history inherited a powerful motive
force of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only thing
that could deny or disprove the prophecy was practical
proof of the falsity of the prophecy - a human demonstration,
specifically for the master, that the servant becomes
as human as the master when he or she ceases to be a
To achieve this result, the Africans had to rise against
European colonisation, and succeed.
The sustained success of the rebellion, and not the
fact of the rebellion, however heroic, was the critical
factor that would destroy the superstition that there
was a natural order of things that dictated that white
should be superior and black inferior.
The possibility of the Africans to govern themselves
and the independent countries that became their political
homes as a result of the rebellion, created the capacity
to use the resources of the Continent not as an incentive
to others to colonise the Continent.
It made possible the use of these resources as the
means to benefit the native population.
With political power having passed from the colonial
countries to the formerly colonised, a heavy burden
fell on the shoulders of the formerly colonised. They
had to prove that they could discharge their functions
in a manner that would address the interests of the
formerly oppressed African masses.
This had to be done in a situation in which the foreign
powers saw the defence of their continuing interests
in the now independent states as an essential part of
their 'national interest'. This national interest was
also defined by the reality of the cold war generated
by East-West competition and conflict. It was therefore
in the interest of the former colonizers and other dominant
players in the global community that the newly independent
states should not be so strong that they become truly
Rather, it was desired that they should not have the
ability to act in a manner that would threaten the residual
'national interest' of the metropolitan powers, as well
as fall into a 'wrong ideological bloc', in the context
of the East-West conflict.
This created the situation in which the dominant powers
were prepared to live with malpractice in the former
colonies, provided that this guaranteed the protection
of their interests, widely defined.
It also obliged these powers consciously to strive
to entrench the continuing dependence on themselves
of the independent African states, to ensure that the
strategic objective of securing this guarantee was achieved.
Given their relative weakness, many of these independent
states had very limited possibilities to be anything
but dependent. The more dependent they became, the more
secure the interests of the dominant powers and the
more entrenched the historical view that the Africans
belonged to a lower order of humanity.
Accordingly, the pursuit of their interests by the
dominant powers led to a situation in which the fact
of the independence of the former African colonies meant
that these now independent countries would not have
the possibility to harness African resources for Africa's
This enhanced the necessity for the metropolitan countries
to provide aid for the former dependencies, further
entrenching the dependence of the African people on
the erstwhile colonial powers.
For the peoples of Africa the absence of sustained
indigenous development meant continuing suffering, including
the persistence of state measures focused on ensuring
that these suffering masses do not rise up against their
Ironically, for the developed countries, this meant
that the seemingly endemic instability of the African
countries threatened the achievement of their strategic
objectives of securing their economic interests in Africa
and guaranteeing the political allegiance of the African
This leads us to the identification of a strategic
objective that is of crucial importance both for Africa
and the rest of the world. This is, that Africa needs
a political order and system of governance that would:
be legitimate and enjoy the support and loyalty of
the African masses;
be strong enough to defend and advance the sovereign
interests of these masses;
help to address the fundamental development interests
of these masses; and,
have the capacity to ensure the achievement of these
objectives, including interacting with the various global
processes that charactrise the world economy.
The benefit of this to Africa is self-evident. But,
it is also important to the rest of the global community
because it would ensure that stable and predictable
conditions exist in Africa, rationally to order the
sustained interaction of the rest of the world with
the globally strategic African resource base.
This is, furthermore, critical for the rest of the
world because it would constitute a major blow against
both the global grey economy and global organised crime,
bearing in mind the fact of the globalisation of both
In this regard, and to address the challenges of poverty,
underdevelopment and marginalisation, Africa and the
rest of the international community need to ensure that
Africa takes the next step in her political evolution
beyond slavery, colonial subjugation and neo-colonial
dependence to genuine independence and democracy.
It is only under the conditions of the latter that
Africa and the world will succeed in the efforts to
defeat African underdevelopment.
Having come to this determination on the historic and
current causes of Africa's position in the world, African
leaders committed themselves to the project of the renewal
of the African Continent at the dawn of the new century
and the new millennium.
Charged with the honour of leading our continent by
popular mandate, African leaders have declared this
to be the African century. We have resolved that whatever
the costs, it is both possible and necessary to ensure
that Africa has a positive and optimistic future.
The ultimate objective of this African initiative is
to change the nature and architecture of the international
governance system and perceptions about Africa, which
are based on a self-fulfilling prophecy we referred
We draw strength from African achievements in the arts,
culture, natural sciences, philosophico-religious, and
architectural grandeur produced by the African mind
over the centuries.
We recall in this regard, the advanced civilizations
of Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa.
We recall too the thriving Universities across Northern
Africa which for centuries were at the forefront of
knowledge production and teaching. We recall too, the
Timbuktu Manuscripts, ancient documents that hold the
key to some of the secrets of the continent's history
and cultural heritage; manuscripts which provide a written
testimony to the skill of African scholars and scientists,
in subjects such as astronomy, mathematics, chemistry,
medicine and climatology in the Middle Ages, and give
lie to the conventional historical view of Africa as
a continent possessing only an oral tradition.
To African leaders it seems clear, that the continent
needed to re-position itself in response to the international
economic system that has for a long time, frozen the
African continent out of the global economic life except
as a supplier of cheap labour and raw materials.
When the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed
in 1963, its primary objective was to rid the continent
of colonial tyranny. The liberation of South Africa
from Apartheid in 1994 represented the completion of
this historic mandate. But this momentous closure also
threw up its shortcomings in relation to the new challenges
facing the continent.
What was required was a new continental post-colonial,
post-liberation response in a globalised world, to the
national, continental and international challenges that
faced Africa as a whole, but also the specificities
of individual countries and regions.
And so in 2002, the African Union was formed as a new
continental vehicle, driven by new African leaders,
whose mandate was distinct from that of its predecessor.
The African Union has, through the Constitutive Act,
been set up in terms of statutory law in African countries.
The Pan African Parliament empowers the AU to set standards
which can be enforced.
The African Court of Justice enforces provisions of
the Constitutive Act. National sovereignty can no longer
be used as a cover for gross abuses such as genocide.
There will now be a sound basis to stop those violations
Our efforts as Africans to thoughtfully wrestle Africa
out of its present conditions of stagnation has found
its ultimate expression in Africa's socio-economic blueprint,
the New partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD.
This comprehensive development plan deals with both
tangible and intangible requirements aimed at putting
Africa firmly on a developmental trajectory.
African leadership have conceptualised NEPAD in part,
as a subjective response to the ideological internalization
of conditions of inferiority among ourselves, thus signaling
a metaphorical break with Africa's own complicity in
its oppression, thus ending the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Prescriptions, donations, aid and assistance, previously
accepted unquestioningly and without much thought, from
international friends and agencies with gratefulness
and required deference, have given way to Africa's investment
of its own meager resources, in its own development
in areas purposely identified for its potential impact
on human development with the aim of surmounting the
challenges facing its people. Africa has taken responsibility
for defining its ills, finding solutions, and addressing
them through its own strategies.
The increasing success of the NEPAD project, and the
development momentum gathering steam on the continent
should, among other things, result in a situation whereby
Africa becomes a contributor in the process of building
a modern world.
Such affirmations would evoke Lord Alfred Tennyson's
"the old order changeth, yielding place to new,
and God fulfills himself in many ways, lest one good
custom should corrupt the world". (The Passing
of Arthur, Alfred Lord Tennyson).