Minister Dlamini Zuma's Speech at the Unversity of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 18 March 2004

Prof. Andreas Eshete, President of the Addis Ababa University

Prof. Kinfe Abraham, President of the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development

Your Excellencies, Ministers of the Ethiopian Government,

Your Excellencies Ambassadors,

Distinguished Academics

Ladies and Gentlemen

This has been a historic week for the African continent as we meet here in Addis to witness the birth of two key institutions, which bear eloquent testimony to our collective resolve to take our continent through a new trajectory of development underpinned by democratic governance and peaceful resolution of conflicts. These are the Peace and Security Council and the Pan African Parliament.

The Peace and Security Council is expected to play a key role in strengthening the capacity of the African Union for conflict prevention, management and resolution. This also entails a comprehensive strategy that includes post-conflict peace building on the African continent.

We are succeeding in putting the foundations in place for building African security architecture to enhance the existing institutions. In this way, we are confident that the general state of security and stability in Africa will be enhanced to the immense benefit of the lives of the African people.

In this week, we also bear witness to the inaugural session of the first Pan-African Parliament. The establishment of this key political organ of the African Union is a crucial and necessary step towards Africa taking control of its own political future. The prioritization of the formation of this Parliament is because we recognize that sustainable development - an improvement in the quality of our people’s economic well-being - is inextricably linked to political stability, democratic governance, conflict prevention and resolution.

The establishment of the Peace and Security Council together with the first Pan-African Parliament will go a long way to building African unity and improving the security of Africa’s people coupled with creating and sustainable conditions of political stability. As the other organs of the African Union are established, we shall be able to say with confidence that we are making concrete progress in addressing all aspects of our people’s lives.

In April this year, in South Africa we shall also celebrate reaching the important milestone of ten years of democracy, acknowledging the success of collective efforts during a decade of work devoted to redressing the legacy of the apartheid past and of building a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic country.

Inasmuch as we are excited to have arrived at this crucial point in our history, our task is not simply to celebrate but rather to recollect some of the milestones in this journey towards the freedom of the African people that have brought us to where we are today and that have enabled us to work towards a common destiny.

For these are moments that are part of our collective memory as Africans and they should be etched in our consciousness as contributing to a great continental identity that we have armed ourselves with to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

We need to step back into a past that is well-known to us, to further understand the future path that needs to be taken and why we must walk this road together as fellow Africans.

We begin by acknowledging that the early history of Africa is one in which civilization flourished in Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Benin and Sudan among others. The pyramids among others, today still stand as testimony of past golden ages, whose writings are evidence of the flowerings of the intellect and culture. Their achievements were such that later the Greeks would send their scholars to these places to learn medicine, philosophy, and geometry.

In Chancellor Williams’s The Destruction of Black Civilizations (1987:39), he describes this early period from the conquest of Lower Egypt by the Ethiopian leader, Menes, in 3100 B.C. to the end of the sixth dynasty 2181 as "the Golden Age in the history of the Blacks, the age in which they reached the pinnacle of a glory so dazzling that Western and Arab writers felt compelled to erase it by the sheer power of their position, beginning black history over 3,000 years later, and limiting it – such as they allowed, to "Africa South of the Sahara."

Yet subsequent conquests and re-alignments erased from the face of history the gains that had been made in Africa for world civilization.

The history of our continent over the last 500 years has largely been one of traumatic epochs, that have resulted in the impoverishment of the African people.

Firstly, the enslavement of Africans led to loss of lives and productivity as millions of people were removed from their families through warfare, social violence and kidnapping, taken as captives, sold and re-sold in order to live and work as property of Europeans.

Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1989: 105-108) describes the destructive results of the slave / chattel trade:

"The massive loss to the African labour force was made more critical because it was composed of able-bodied young men and young women…. African economic activity was affected both directly and indirectly by population loss…. In effect, enslavement was causing these people to lose their battle to tame and harness nature – a battle which is at the basis of development. Violence also meant insecurity. The opportunity presented by European slave dealers became the major stimulus for a great deal of social violence between different African communities and within any given community…. Labour was drawn off from agriculture and conditions became unsettled."

The physical loss of productive inhabitants was accompanied by the notion that Africans were not human and did not lead productive, ‘civilized’ lives. Thus racism simultaneously was developed as ideological justification for enslavement and later colonization.

Secondly, imperialism and colonialism resulted in raw materials stolen out of Africa, the destruction of agriculture and food security and the enforced ‘integration’ of Africa into the world economy as unequal and subservient. Berlin of 1884 lead to the continent being carved up to become pieces of Europe. In this part of Africa, the French and the Italians were the would-be conquerors. Chemical warfare was used on Africans on a wide scale prior to its use in Europe.

In the southern part, while initially the Dutch had made inroads, after the Berlin Conference, the Germans, the English and the Portuguese were the conquerors.

The colonial period resulted in genocide in some parts, physical oppression and psychological enslavement.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Decolonzing the Mind (1986:3) points out that: "The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland."

Thirdly, neo-colonialism served to perpetuate the economic exploitation of the African continent with new elites participating in the looting of wealth, unstable political systems leading to military rule and conflict, strife and civil wars and the further impoverishment of Africans through spiraling international debts coupled with unfavourable trade relations with the developed world.

While each of these plunged the African continent into poverty, underdevelopment and relations of dependency, there have also been victories along the way that are steadily restoring Africa to a path of growth and independence.

But there have been milestones that we ought to acknowledge because they were catalytic moments to inspire Africans in the time to come.

These were defining moments which led to the establishment of democratic political systems, the establishment of institutions and procedures to enable Africans to collectively examine questions of peace, stability and democracy and collective attempts on the part of Africans to attain sustainable economic development and qualitatively change Africa’s place in the world economy. Popular and protracted struggles over the last hundred years have assisted in leading to the realization of these goals.

President Thabo Mbeki speaking at the launch of the African Renaissance Institute in 1999 comments on this phenomenon when he makes the following perceptive point:

"Stretching through the mists, for a millennium, our common African history is replete with great feats of courage, demonstrated by the heroes and heroines and the heroic peoples, without whose loyal attachment to hope and vision of a bright future for Africa, her people would long have perished. The moment is upon us when we should draw on this deep well of human nobility to make this statement an action – that Africa’s time has come!"

It is in this same spirit that I wish to recall, among many other struggles, and for our purposes three great moments in African struggle, one in the beginning of the 19th century, the other at the end of the same century and finally the one towards the end of the 20th century, since I believe that these were some of the great inspirational moments that influenced the struggles that were to follow and laid the foundations for greater victories. Spanning over the time period of a hundred years and stretching over the length of the African continent, lessons that can be learnt from them that we need to recall to re-invigorate our continental struggle.

The victory of the Haitian slaves must be acknowledged as one such moment. By 1804 inspired by the French Revolution the San Domingo Revolution in the West Indies was victorious with the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and his army leading to the establishment of the state of Haiti. The slaves had defeated the local slave owners, the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition and French expedition prior to this.

We remember and celebrate this revolt since it is the only successful slave revolt in history. It was significant in that it saw the transformation of slaves into a people who organized themselves under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, (whose father hailed from Benin) and succeeded in defeating the most powerful European nations of the time. It is thus as C.L.R. James describes in his book The Black Jacobins (1963) "one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement."

"At bottom the popular movement had acquired an immense self-confidence. The former slaves had defeated white colonialists, Spaniards and British, and now they were free… There was Toussaint, the former slave, incredibly grand and powerful and incomparably the greatest man in San Domingo. There was no need to be ashamed of being black. The revolution had awakened them, had given them the possibility of achievement, confidence and pride. That psychological weakness, that feeling of inferiority with which the imperialists poison colonial peoples everywhere, these were gone."

(1963:244)Frantz Fanon in Black Skins, White Masks (1967:231) speaks of this victory when he writes:

"I am a man, and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world. I am not responsibly solely for the revolt in San Domingo. Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act…. No attempt must be made to encase man, for it is his destiny to be free. The body of history does not determine a single one of my actions. I am my own foundation. And it is by going beyond the historical, instrumental hypothesis that I will initiate the cycle of my freedom…. It is through the effort to recapture the self and to scrutinize the self, it is through the lasting tension of their freedom that men will be able to create the ideal conditions of existence for a human world."

Though victorious, the Haitian people have never known sustained peace or enduring stability. The powers that be worried about the influence that such a victory would have on other similar situations elsewhere, determined that theirs shall not be recognized. No sooner than they had denied the people of Haiti their hard earned recognition, did the slave masters demand monetary compensation for this independence, which had to be paid for until the 1940’s. As if this was not enough punishment as determined by the powers that be, Haiti was further denied the inalienable right to peace and security. Today, there still remain pockets of resistance among some of us who still do not recognize the victory of Haitian people over slavery. Thus it is not difficult to understand why Haiti remains one of the poorest nations in the Southern Hemisphere. This is borne out by what we see happening today in Haiti.

Despite all these challenges, we together with the Haitian people dare we say indeed "We shall overcome"

The Battle of Adwa is another milestone in the struggle of Africans to be free. The significance of this event was that it was meant to be a culmination of the Scramble for Africa arising out of the Berlin Conference of 1885 and the conquest of the remaining mainland of Ethiopia was crucial to this. Dare we remind ourselves that a hundred years later, in 1996, South Africa, for the first time in its history adopted its new democratic constitution in which our then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki declared defiantly and with determination "I am an African" and thus associating the South African victory with the struggles of all African people.

The victory of Emperor Menelik and the Ethiopians over the Italians in 1896 was a victory of Africa over Europe. As one historian comments: "Not only did Adwa send shock waves to imperialist Europe, it also became a victory of freedom for Africans and other freedom-loving people in the rest of the world." (Adwa Victory Centenary Conference 1998: 132)

In exploring the "African Dimension of the Battle", the South African scholar, Hosea Jaffe writes that the "echo of Adwa was African in dimension -it was heard over most of the continent." He argues that historic nature of the Adwa victory was due to the following achievements, among others:

"The victory staved off imperialist possession and occupation for nearly 40 years… This was the first significant historical characteristic of Adwa."

"There is evidence that Adwa was greeted with acclaim in colonial Africa and Liberia, and that its memory helped germinate the first modern anti-colonialist movements when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. It stimulated the formation of early African nationalism in Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Cape and elsewhere and in America and the Caribbean’s promoted Garveyism and the Pan-African movement inspired by Du Bois."

"Adwa had not only political and cultural moments, but had a prolonged economic effect: it became a signal barrier to imperialist colonization and the massive exploitation of cheap labour in Ethiopia by European monopoly capitalists which characterized the rest of Africa."

Some likened the victory at Adwa to the 1879 epic Zulu victory over the British at Isandhlawana and acclaimed the world over. The British army at the time was the most modern, better-organized and highly trained army that had hitherto not tasted the bitter fruits of defeat more so at the hands of what they termed "barbarians". Yet the determination, military skills, tactics and prowess of the Zulu army overcame the British forces against all odds. Thus the history of military strategy was re-written on the battlefields of the African continent.

The last 50 years have seen the spread of the struggle for liberation of our continent from colonialism, which culminated in the triumph of the South African people and the overthrow of the system, which encapsulated the worst forms of inhumanity. The defining feature of this struggle was the collective involvement of all Africans both on the continent and the diaspora, under their tried and tested organization, the OAU, to push back the frontiers of that crime against humanity. Accordingly, the outcome thereof is itself a collective victory of all Africans, the diaspora and progressive people of the world and true to the slogan that "we are our own liberators".

A hundred years later, as South Africans, we celebrated the victory of the South African people over apartheid. It was the struggle for the liberation of the South African people that led to probably the largest Pan-African movement of solidarity our continent has seen in modern times, bringing together governments and civil society and a global anti-apartheid movement unprecedented in world history.

The culmination of the South African struggle for national liberation was an inspirational moment for Africa and the world that colonial rule could finally be defeated and that a new Africa free of racial discrimination and oppression could arise.

Over a ten year period, we have consolidated and strengthened our democracy in South Africa and put the foundations in the form of legislation and progressive policies and programmes in place for a non-racial, non-sexist country.

We have thus spared neither strength nor effort to make our humble contribution to the deepening of the second African liberation characterized by the consolidation of democracy and an increased assertiveness of Africans in determining our own destiny. The challenges that lie ahead demands of each and every one of us, as Africans and the diaspora and together with our partners and the rest of the world, that we continue the fight to better the quality of life for all Africans.

For us, the message that Africans are their own liberators – a message that was key in the success of both the Haitian Revolution and the Battle in Adwa – is a message we ought to still inculcate in all Africa’s people.

Haiti gave black people the courage to overcome their enslavement, Adwa taught us that a victory was possibly even in modern times and through modern warfare while the South African victory pointed us to a continent and a world that could be free of racial oppression and domination.

It is under these new circumstances that Africa is creating the possibility for ending poverty and underdevelopment and for the establishment of stable democracies, a human rights culture, political accountability, good governance, economic and social development and cultural renewal.

Here in Addis as the inaugural meeting place of the Pan-African Parliament, new approaches to the liberation of the African people will have to be discussed and enhanced.

Peace and security remain the cornerstones for sustainable development as much as economic revival of the continent is crucial to the success of the African Renaissance.

I am of the firm belief that here in Ethiopia where civilization flourished thousands of years ago, in this part of our continent which was once an intellectual capital to which others came to study, Addis should be born again and become a centre of intellectual discourse on all things African.

This university and this centre, together with other African centres of intellectual excellence should be the space in which our full identities as Africans are reclaimed through studies in cultural heritage, cultural integration and development.

The reclamation of an Afrocentric identity must go hand in hand with the inculcation of a new consciousness of what needs to be done to leapfrog Africa into the future.

The resultant renewal in social and economic studies should assist the organs of the African Union in attaining their goals, in pointing out weaknesses and gaps in what we do and in identifying the directions we ought to be taking and how we ought to get there. The perils and possibilities of globalisation ought to be interrogated by all African thinkers to guide the implementation processes of our re-insertion into the world economy as equals.

I began by saying that we are gathered in Addis to witness the birth of something new.

I would like to end by saying that both the establishment of the Peace and Security Council and the Pan African Parliament also needs to be tended by care-givers, mothers and fathers of a new phase in our African revolution.

These institutions of our revived Union need to be nurtured and jealously guarded because we know and can feel that they mark a historic turn in the rebirth of our continent.

We look to the intellectuals here in Addis and at other institutions throughout our continent to see that we have the right tools to complete our journey to the full liberation of the African people.

You must be the mothers and fathers of the new Africa to come and shape the new generations of African scholars who will tread this road easier, since we have walked it before.

It is our collective determination to be the subjects of our own history, the navigators of our own destiny that must inspire us to reach milestones even greater than the ones we have arrived at thus far.

Together we can and must hold the future in our own hands. For the people of Haiti, the people of Ethiopia, the people of South Africa and throughout the continent and Diaspora, and for all of humanity, we must indeed write a new page of history.

Let this process begin in Addis and from here spread to the rest of the continent, the diaspora and the world.

Africa’s freedom is dependent on you. I thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs

P/Bag X152



18 March 2004.

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 19 March, 2004 8:37 AM
This site is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution with Internet Explorer 5.0, Netscape Communicator 4.5 or higher.
2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa