Address of the President
of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the National War College,
Abuja, Nigeria, 8 December 2003
Rear Admiral Amos Adedeji,
Distinguished course participants,
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for inviting me to address you at this prestigious
college that has trained many of our senior African
military officers. Institutions such as yours play an
important part in preparing our officers to assume their
proper role as peacemakers and peacekeepers, as envisaged
in the founding instrument of the African Union (AU),
the Constitutive Act.
We know that in the past our armies have at times not
played the role of peacemakers and peacekeepers.
This National War College was, I am told, established
on 16 June 1992, a day and month that will always bring
to mind poignant thoughts about the yearning of youth
for freedom. Sixteen years earlier, on the same day,
the youth and students in South Africa stood up and
faced a system that the United Nations (UN) defined
as a crime against humanity. The youngsters fought tyranny,
and its bullets, with stones and bare hands. Thousands
died. Today, that evil system stands thoroughly defeated.
Free South Africa is especially indebted to Nigerians
who worked hard to shore up world support for the struggle
against apartheid. We can never thank you enough.
I have been invited to address you on the important
subject relating to the security challenges facing our
modern world, as well as our responses to some of those
Peace, security and stability remains as one of the
more serious challenges facing our continent.
In spite of good progress towards peace and development
that we see in most of our regions, the scourge of conflict
is still a part of our reality. This constitutes a major
impediment to efforts to eradicate poverty and ensure
sustainable development on the continent.
The Constitutive Act that established the AU states
that one of the objectives of the Union is the promotion
of peace, security and stability on the continent.
To that end, the Act calls for the establishment of
a Peace and Security Council.
The mandate that is given to the Peace and Security
Council is informed in large measure by our experiences
as Africans, especially as regards the response of the
world to our security needs.
While we are aware that the UN, primarily through the
Security Council, has the primary responsibility to
guarantee international peace and security, our experience
of the discharge of their responsibilities in regard
to conflicts on the continent has not always been positive.
The Force Commander of the UN Assistance Mission for
Rwanda (UNAMIR), L Gen Roméo Dallaire, has written
a book that he says reflects "nothing more than
an account of a few humans who were entrusted with the
role of helping others taste the fruits of peace ...
(but) watched as the devil fed on the blood of the people
we were supposed to protect".
He notes in the book that, when asked whether he still
believed in God after his experience in the Rwanda genocide,
he replied: "I know there is a God, because in
Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him,
I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the
(Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity
in Rwanda: Random House, Canada)
We know that in the face of widespread murder and gruesome
atrocities in Sierra Leone, some of those who were willing
to participate in the Kosovo operation announced their
refusal to be involved, even though they had proclaimed
a new ethical foreign policy with their intervention
I am happy that nine years later, the devils in Rwanda
are being exorcised. That sister country of ours has
held successful local, parliamentary and presidential
elections, under a new political order that commits
Rwanda to peace, development and protection of human
rights. Rwanda stands on the brink of an inspiring new
statehood that is likely to confound the critics and
encourage those who see in Africa not the gloomy visage
of chaos but growing peace and development.
In Burundi, we have again experienced the hesitation
of members of the Security Council to act as peacemakers
and peacekeepers. So too in Liberia, where the Economic
Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forces assumed
that responsibility with courage and determination.
The prevention of conflict, peacekeeping and post conflict
reconstruction remain as some of the urgent tasks of
the AU structures.
The agreement on the establishment of the Peace and
Security Council of the AU is an important step towards
the attainment of the goal of peace and development
on our continent.
The Council will be a standing decision-making organ
of the AU for the prevention, management and resolution
of conflicts. The Council will also have, as part of
its structures, a Panel of the Wise, an Early Warning
System, an African Standby Force and a Military Staff
The AU has, through the Council, defined a new role
for the military forces on the continent. Not only are
our forces going to take the lead in the maintenance
and promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa,
but would also participate in the process of creating
the conditions conducive to sustainable development.
The Council will also be involved in peace-building
and post-conflict reconstruction activities, in the
promotion of democratic practices, good governance and
the rule of law, as well as the protection of human
rights and fundamental freedoms. This emphasises the
necessity for an eminent college such as this one to
educate our military leaders about the importance of
the principle and practice of civilian control of our
From a history of being instruments for military coups
and dictatorships, our military formations now join
hands with the political leadership of the continent
to support efforts to create a better life for all Africans.
From being instrumental in denying Africa's children
their childhood by recruiting them as child soldiers,
our military forces are now called upon to be the protectors
of the right to childhood of these children.
Our countries, so too our military, have started scoring
some victories in these processes of peacemaking and
We should recall the significance of events in 1997
in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when the military
forces of Laurent Kabila removed the long time dictator,
Mobutu Sese Seko from power and started a process that,
six years later, has led to a transitional government
of national unity being inaugurated in that sister country.
And it goes on, gaining a snowball effect. During the
early hours of Wednesday, 8 October this year, the transitional
government of Burundi and the rebel group CNDD-FDD signed
agreements that usher in the full participation of the
CNDD-FDD in the transitional processes in that sister
On 11 August this year, Charles Taylor of Liberia handed
over the Presidency of the Republic of Liberia to his
Vice-President and travelled out of the country of his
birth, going into exile in your country. Today the people
of Liberia are well on the way to implementing the agreements
they reached in Ghana to ensure that their country prospers
under conditions of peace, security and stability.
We have reversed what happened when in the early hours
of Wednesday, 16 July 2003, the military in the Central
African island of Sao Tome and Principe carried out
a coup d'etat.
We are also encouraged by last Thursday's new ceasefire
agreement between the government of President Gbagbo
and the rebels in the North in Cote d'Ivoire. We must
all give our support to the disarmament process, which
is scheduled to start soon, as well as similar process
that has started in Liberia.
Good progress is being made in the Sudan, the Central
African Republic and other countries.
The examples I have mentioned show that African countries
are on an irreversible path to democracy and development,
and that the 21st is indeed going to be the African
We have to rid the continent of the ugly legacy of
the many conflicts that have ravaged our countries.
Countries that were involved in conflict would of necessity
have assembled large armies. Once the conflict has been
resolved, and because of the levels of underdevelopment
in our countries, it is usually not possible to absorb
all the former combatants into formal employment.
In other countries members of former armed rebel groups
end up not coming into the agreed processes of demobilisation.
Mercenaries are becoming a plague in Africa, especially
in West Africa, as pointed out by many Ecowas leaders.
We must act together to ensure that the use of these
forces, whose only loyalty is to money, comes to an
end and that we continue to implement the legal instruments
pertaining to efforts to combat mercenarism. It is essential
that we should act nationally and co-operatively not
only to prevent the use of mercenaries but also to bar
our own nationals from contributing to mercenary activities.
South Africa has adopted national legislation to seek
to achieve this goal in the form of the Regulation of
Foreign Military Assistance Act.
Our continent has also taken firm positions against
terrorism. We already have our own Convention on Terrorism,
which commits us singly and collectively to act against
this threat to the safety and security of both our peoples
and the peoples of the world.
One of the challenges to our common goal of the African
Renaissance is the threat that the proliferation of
conventional weapons, especially small arms and light
weapons, poses to the stability and security of Africa.
These weapons and their use sustains conflicts, exacerbates
violence and fuels crime, terrorism, poaching and human
trafficking. The illicit use of these weapons and their
excessive and destabilising accumulation, inhibit development
and undermines good governance. The human suffering
that they cause can no loner be tolerated.
We as Africans are acutely aware that our continent
is the most affected by the deadly menace of anti-personnel
Our peoples have been victims of the horrific effects
and tragedies wrought by the use of anti-personnel mines.
Long after the conflicts in which these weapons were
used have ended, large tracts of African land remain
inaccessible due to the presence of these mines and
other explosive remnants of war.
Our men and women are prevented from tilling the land
and our children are prevented from enjoying their youth.
While we all know the enormity of the problem that
confronts us and the challenges it poses, we as Africans,
together with our partners in the broader international
community, have responded positively to eradicate these
weapons and to prevent their future use.
In 1997, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) adopted
as a common goal the establishment of Africa as an anti-personnel
mines-free zone, and at a Continental Conference of
African Experts on Landmines held in South Africa, adopted
a Plan of Action to achieve this objective. Through
the unity and purpose of our African representatives
at the Oslo negotiations on a total-ban of anti-personnel
mines, Africa played a pivotal role in ensuring that
such a ban was adopted, without reservations or exceptions.
In truth Africa was the foundation for the accomplishment
of the international 1997 Convention on the Prohibition
of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of
the anti-personnel mines and on their destruction, which
is also known as the Mine-Ban Treaty.
Four years after its entry into force, 46 of the 53
of the African states have become parties to the Mine-Ban
Treaty. However we should not be satisfied with these
accomplishments, and in this context I welcome the decision
of the recent AU Summit in Maputo to convene a follow
up continental conference on the problem of anti-personnel
mines in Africa.
Our leadership on the continent continues to be part
of the global security discourse.
Henry Kissinger writes that, "At the dawn of the
new millennium, the United States is enjoying a pre-eminence
unrivalled by even the greatest empires of the past.
The United States considered itself both the source
and the guarantor of democratic institutions around
the globe applying economic sanctions and other pressures
if its criteria were not met."
(Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Towards a Diplomacy
for the 21st Century: Simon & Schuster)
And so it was that when a heinous act of terror was
carried out against the American people on 11 September
2001, the United States (US) argued that nations have
the right to act to protect their citizens from attack
even before such attacks take place.
We need to devote some time to debate this matter.
We stated in the General Assembly debate in September
this year that it would be unreasonable and irrational
to expect states not to act to deter terrorist actions
In the same debate, the Secretary-General of the UN
expressed concern that should States feel that they
have the right to use force without seeking the UN's
legitimisation of such action, it could result in a
"proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use
of force, with or without justification".
He went on to observe that it is not "enough to
denounce unilateralism, unless we also face up squarely
to the concerns that make some States feel uniquely
vulnerable, since it is those concerns that drive them
to take unilateral action. We must show that those concerns
can, and will be addressed effectively through collective
On their part, African nations, through the agreement
to establish the Peace and Security Council, agreed
that such a Council should have as some of its objectives
the capacity to anticipate and prevent conflict, as
well as to coordinate and harmonise continental efforts
in the prevention and combating of international terrorism
in all its aspects.
The AU also provides for the Union to intervene in
a Member State in respect of grave circumstances.
The debate about the circumstances under which pre-emptive
strikes may be justified continues. What surely must
be our response is that such a matter should be determined
within the multilateral fora we have collectively set
up for our common security.
The horrors that are inherent in the existence and
threat of the use of chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons are threats that confront us all.
Africa has, and must continue to, make effective contributions
to eliminate these weapons from the face of the earth.
All of our African nations are States parties to the
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and
most of us are also parties to the Biological Weapons
Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. On 11
April 1996, African States also effectively contributed
to international peace and security when we gathered
in Cairo to sign the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone
Treaty, which is also known as the Treaty of Pelindaba.
We should all encourage the African States that have
not yet done so to sign and ratify the Pelindaba Treaty
as soon as possible so that it may enter into force
without delay. The Maputo African Union Summit also
adopted a decision on the Implementation and Universality
of the Chemicals Weapons Convention.
We are opposed to all weapons of mass destruction (nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons). The African continent
should continue in its efforts to prevent the spread
of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote
cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and
to further the goal of achieving complete nuclear disarmament.
Though we in Africa face serious challenges, old and
new, we have cause to reflect with some satisfaction
on the more hopeful events that are unfolding before
We are determined to overcome the legacy of half-a-millennium
of slavery and underdevelopment and take our rightful
place among the community of nations as an equal partner.
In fact much of what is now happening on the Continent
has confounded the pessimists. So sustained were the
negative images of Africa that The Economist even described
ours as a "hopeless continent".
Those that only see hopelessness on our continent do
so because of the sort of things that we referred to
earlier: a succession of military coups, wars and violent
confrontations, the massacres of people and genocide
such as the one that took place in Rwanda, the denial
of human rights and the abuse of political power for
In pursuance of the ideal of peace and development
on the continent, The AU has adopted the New Partnership
for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as its primary socio-economic
The adoption of NEPAD has set the continent on a path
to sustainable development. NEPAD is work-in-progress
which gives content to the key principles of the Constitutive
Act of the AU.
Central to the NEPAD programme is the implementation
of the vision of self-reliance and regional integration
espoused in the Monrovia Declaration of 1979 and the
later Abuja Treaty.
Through NEPAD the leaders of the continent are proclaiming
a new beginning in the relationship between Africa and
the developed world. As Africans we are saying however
weak we are and however meagre our resources may be,
we will do everything we need to ensure that we achieve
the African Renaissance. Through NEPAD we are evolving
a practical programme of action with regard to:
* information and communications technology
* political, economic and corporate governance
* human development, specifically health and education
* infrastructure development
* diversification of production and exports
* international trade and market access
* capital flows and the debt question
* the environment.
The NEPAD leadership and secretariat are hard at work
on the projects and collaborative linkups which promise
to propel Africa into self-sufficient and sustainable
development, and end, once and for all, the picture
of Africa as a perceived place of permanent need and
the proffered begging-bowl.
Africa's leaders and its people demand nothing less
than full control of their own destiny, social, economic
and political. They assume this in company with a growing
partnership of developed and other countries that see
the vast investment prospects inherent in the NEPAD
arrangements. It is a partnership of global significance,
and it belongs to Africans.
Through the establishment of the AU and the adoption
of its programme, NEPAD, we have reclaimed the 21st
century as an African century. Africa has reaffirmed
that she will continue to rise from the ashes of slavery,
colonialism and apartheid.
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, and we must appreciate
that there will be setbacks, nothing should stop us
now. Africa has solemnly vowed to be at peace with itself,
its neighbours and the world at large. The commitments
of the AU are our word and our bond.
As the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, acknowledged
in one of his reports to the UN Security Council: "Africa
today is striving to make positive change, and in many
places these efforts are beginning to bear fruits (That)
sometimes ... carnage and tragedy ... afflict some parts
of Africa, we must not forget the bright spots or overlook
Africa is becoming a beacon of hope. Its ability to
display resilience in the face of adversity cannot go
unnoticed, even by the Afro-pessimists.
It is necessary to stress that here, among other things,
we are talking about the establishment of genuine and
stable democracies in Africa.
We are talking about systems of governance flourishing
because they derive their authority and legitimacy from
the will of the people. We are talking about accountable
governance, respect of the rule of law, respect for
the rights of women - all of which must lie at the root
of our continent's revival.
The new political order owes its existence to the harsh
African experience of many decades of instability and
suffering. It teaches us, as Africans, that what we
so often tried did not work, that the one party states
and the military governments did not and will not work.
It teaches us that we must be in charge of our own destiny.
In essence, it requires acknowledgement that the people
To some, the above description might appear as a feel
good public relations exercise, but we are justifiably
encouraged to take note that between 1990 and 1997 some
25 sub Saharan African countries held democratic elections.
Among these were Namibia and South Africa. This great
African country returned to democratic rule in 1999.
This indicates that there is an indigenous and sustained
movement on the continent towards the elimination of
the non-democratic systems and violent conflicts which
have in the past given Africa a negative image.
Next year, in Southern Africa alone, almost eight member
states of the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) will have another round of Presidential and Parliamentary
It can be said that, despite the difficult political
circumstances that existed in the past in Nigeria, the
establishment of this National War College was an event
that could only foster the very objectives that the
AU strives for. The fact that joint training and instruction
was provided, more than a decade ago, to selected senior
service and civilian officers is an indication of the
foresight that existed in the cadreship that leads this
There should be no doubt about it that, when we speak
of security, we must also speak of, and speak out about
poverty. President Obasanjo, has noted the contribution
of the college to peace in some other countries that
have suffered the misfortune of armed conflicts. He
has made the point that "all threats to human security
are made more menacing by poverty".
Writing on human security and development co-operation
in New York in September 2000, he notes that "
natural disasters are far more devastating to poor countries
and poor populations. Poor people have the greatest
difficulty protecting themselves from dangers of war
or civil conflict. The poor are most liable to suffer
the effects of violent crime. And the poor are the most
vulnerable to malnutrition, the most exposed to infection,
and have the least ability to protect themselves against
it. Any human security agenda must, therefore, have
at the top of the list a direct and determined assault
on poverty and the causes of poverty."
Poverty remains a central challenge to all of us as
Our continent is moving away from a painful past. In
the present context, the military is called upon to
defend democracy. In this regard, the military must
act as one of the premier defenders of the constitutions
adopted subsequent to democratic processes in our countries.
Members of the armed forces have also correctly assumed
a leading role in the protection of the life and limb
of the African masses, as has been evidenced not only
in situations of military conflict, but also during
the devastating floods and fires that have ravaged some
parts of our continent.
We must support all efforts to continue to train members
of our armed forces to carry out these necessary civilian
As Africans we need to share a common recognition that
all of us stand to lose if we fail to transform our
continent into a more caring, humane and renewed entity.
This we owe to the child soldier deprived of the most
basic necessities, the mother without her child, the
limbless uncle who lives in the inner squalor of our
cities - and the countless sons and daughters of Africa
who fell in the struggles against colonialism and apartheid.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency
8 December 2003