Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki at the European Parliament, Strasbourg: 17 November 2004

President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrel Fontelles,
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen:

On the 31st of January last year, the "International Herald Tribune" published an article by a David Harland described by the newspaper as "a senior policy adviser on humanitarian affairs with the United Nations in Geneva."

Headed "Talk of Emergencies Misses the Point", the article discussed the situation in Africa. In part it said:

"Overshadowed by the Iraq crisis, quite a lot has been happening in Africa recently. Ivory Coast, having first taken a step away from war, may be edging back toward the precipice. Sudan is walking a fine line between war and peace, with an agreement possible to end what is now Africa's longest-running conflict.

"Civil wars in Burundi and even Congo may be a little closer to resolution than they were a year ago. Sierra Leone seems to have put its horrible civil war behind it. As has Angola, until recently the scene of Africa's Thirty Years' War. The peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea is holding. Is Africa rejoicing offstage while the world worries about Iraq?

Not at all. "Despite the small flashes of good news, Africa remains in a horrible mess… "Pliny the Elder said that "out of Africa there is always something new." Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. These days it seems that the opposite is true: Out of Africa there is always something depressingly familiar… "Africa's weak states need long-term assistance…"

Six months after this article appeared, on July 13, "The Washington Times" published yet another opinion about Africa. This one, entitled "An invitation to disaster", was written by one Arnold Beichman, described as "a Hoover Institution research fellow". Returning to Pliny's famous expression, Mr Beichman wrote:

"Pliny the Elder, Roman naturalist and philosopher, wrote in his multivolume "Natural History": "Ex Africa semper aliquid novi," or for those who have forgotten their high-school Latin: "There is always something new out of Africa."

"What could be more new than Africa south of the Sahara, supported by the United Nations, pleading with Europe and America for a return of Western soldiers to bring peace to Liberia? Pleading, if you please, for American troops to oust Liberia's President Charles Taylor, since it was American slaves who had been freed and sent to form their own country in 1847.

"How strange that Europe's one-time African colonies have made such a request even if it could mean many years of occupation of Liberia by once-hated Western armies. From African emancipation to African re-occupation?…

"So what am I yakking about? No American troops in Liberia or any other part of Africa. Not one. We've done our share, more than our share in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we're still not finished in those two countries and we won't be for years to come. Let Europe -- Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, all one-time colonial powers -- send in their troops. Enough already."

Arnold Beichman's response to David Harland's observation that 'Africa's weak states need long-term assistance' was to suggest that rather than the United States, the countries of Europe represented in this esteemed Parliament, should re-occupy Africa, and be prepared to stay on for some time, as the United States is, according to Beichman, prepared to stay on in Afghanistan and Iraq!

If indeed this were the eventuality with which all of us must contend, that to solve the problems of the developing South, the developed North has to resurrect old colonial empires, then the well-used expression "ex Africa semper aliquid novi" would necessarily have to be re-written to extend beyond the African shores.

I am certain that you will understand that as Africans we have absolutely no desire to entertain Arnold Beichman's wishes, and have no wish to have it said that the newest thing out of Africa is its re-colonisation. I am equally certain that neither do you, and the peoples of Europe that you represent, want to impose on yourselves what the British writer, Rudyard Kipling arrogantly described as "the white man's burden".

But before I go any further, let me return to Pliny the Elder. The motto of the South African Museum, the premier museum in our country, says, in Latin: "Semper aliquid novi Africa affert." This translates into "Africa always brings forth/contributes something new."

You will ask the question - why this corruption of a famous Latin saying, that is seemingly so beloved to observers of African actuality! If I may, Mr President, digress briefly into the world of the study of ancient languages and literature, let me explain how the South African Museum arrived at this particular rendition of the famous saying by Pliny the Elder.

It transpires that Pliny translated into Latin what had originally been written by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Referring to what he described as 'a common saying of Greece", Pliny wrote "unde etian vulgare Graciae dictum semper aliquid novi Africam Adferre".

The expression "ex Africa semper aliquid novi" is a later adaptation of what Pliny actually wrote. It is for this reason that, for its motto, the South African Museum reverted to the original Pliny.

As a repository of extraordinary exhibits that contribute something new to our understanding of the evolution of our common universe, the earliest being the first fossils of prehistoric animals to be found in our country, the Museum chose a motto that says - Africa always contributes something new to human knowledge.

And I want to argue, Mr President and Honourable Members of the European Parliament, that as you are doing in Europe, Africa is today involved in an extraordinary and creative endeavour that might contribute something new to the understanding of the capacity and ability of human beings to overcome adversity and build a new world of hope.

I come from an African country whose future was highly uncertain a mere decade ago. As we approached the end of three-and-a-half cruel centuries of white minority rule, many in the world held their breath, foreseeing a cataclysmic clash of races that would transform the streets of our towns and cities into rivers of blood.

But because of what the black and white Africans of South Africa did, understanding that the taking of even one human life would neither remove the great harm that had been visited on millions for centuries, nor create the possibility to repair the damage that had been done, Africa's South Africa is today at peace with itself.

Black and white South Africans, and others from elsewhere in the world who have chosen to join in this effort, are hard at work, striving together, everyday, to build a new African country that will, in all respects, truly belong to all who live in it.

Many across the globe who feared for the worst describe what has been achieved as a miracle. And if it is, it is, remarkably, a human miracle brought about by the triumphant resurgence of everything that is good and noble in the human soul. As Africans, we are proud that this, in addition, is an African miracle.

Ten years ago, a mere 21 days before South Africa held the first democratic elections that gave us our freedom, the most terrible genocide began in the African country of Rwanda. In a hundred days, a million Africans had been butchered by other Africans in a barbaric and savage manner that would have been difficult to imagine, and is still difficult to understand.

The Government and people of Rwanda have left some of the places where the slaughter occurred as they were when the murderous insanity was brought to an end.

And so, today, a decade later, you can see the skeletons with cracked or punctured skulls, of those who were butchered mercilessly and for no reason except as an expression of the same criminal hatred for other human beings that resulted in the annihilation of millions of Jews in the Holocaust that took place in Europe, as Nazism gave meaning to its vile project.

But even as a South African, well educated in the unbridled savagery of human beings towards other human beings, I have wondered at what could have driven the genocidaires to commit the high crimes that were visited on the people of Rwanda.

But much more than this, I have marvelled at the unfathomable depths of forgiveness that have allowed the people of Rwanda to sit together in village assemblies to discuss what happened, the killers, together with those who carry the indelible scars of the savagery or lost relatives and friends as a result of the blood letting orgy.

I have marvelled that simple African folk could convene under the African sky, without even the sophistication of a simple village hall, the hunters and the hunted together, and decide to forgive, choosing the path of national reconciliation rather than angry vengeance.
And in the end, I have felt proud that other Africans, the Rwandans, could give our Continent and all humanity the priceless gift and the miracle of understanding what it means to say let bygones be bygones.

But because the thunder of the guns broke the uneasy silence in Ethiopia and Eritrea, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, in Algeria and the Cote d'Ivoire, in Sudan and Uganda, it has seemed to some that Africa is defined by the chatter of the weapons of war, rather than the striving for peace, exemplified by what the African peoples of South Africa and Rwanda have, within the last ten years, sought to do, to address some of the grossest injustices that have occurred on African soil, or, indeed, the peace that has prevailed in the overwhelming majority of African countries.
Nevertheless, as an African, I will make bold to state what I believe are some incontrovertible truths about my continent.

Under the leadership of African Algeria, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea came to end. Whatever Africa needs to do to ensure that these two sister African countries do not go to war again to resolve border disputes, Africa will do. As Africans we rejoice that peace in this part of our world is holding and will hold.

Under African leadership, the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Burundi have come to and end. As Africans we rejoice that peace in this part of our world is holding and will hold, and that these two sister countries continue to advance, despite the odds, towards the formation of new governments that will be elected by the African masses in democratic elections, which will be held during 2005.

Under the leadership of the African Republic of Kenya, Sudan is about to end the long drawn out war between the Northern and Southern parts of this sister African country, and proceed to the formation of a new Government of National Unity.

Similarly, under the leadership of the African Union, and whatever the current difficulties, the conflict in Darfur and other parts of Sudan will be resolved, leading, among other things, to the redesign of the Sudanese system of governance to entrench the principles of tolerance and unity in diversity.

The terrorist wars in Algeria and Uganda are also coming to their conclusion. Difficult as this may be for some to understand, as Africans we have no doubt that the people of the Cote d'Ivoire will find one another and will together establish a stable peace, reunify their country and join together in electing a government representative of the people of the Cote d'Ivoire as a whole.

You, Mr President, and the esteemed Members of the European Parliament will have recognised the fact that what I have tried to communicate exemplifies the new Africa that is striving to be born. This is the new Africa defined by the African Union and its socio-economic programme, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD.
Accordingly, I am talking about an Africa that is using enforceable legal instruments to commit itself to the fundamental objectives of peace, democracy, respect for human rights, good governance, development and a better life for all.

This is a new Africa in the process of birth, which has established or is in the process of establishing such institutions as an African Commission similar to the European Commission, a Pan African Parliament, a Peace and Security Council, Pan African Criminal and Human Rights Courts, an Economic, Social and Cultural Council representative of African civil society, an African Peer Review Mechanism specifically dedicated to the objective of promoting good political, economic and corporate good governance, and, of course, the NEPAD programme.

This is a new Africa that has taken firm steps to give concrete meaning to the goal of the political and economic integration of Africa, in pursuit of the objective of African unity that is based on the understanding that as Africans, we share a common destiny. It is a new Africa that has finally made the statement to itself that it must take responsibility for its destiny, that it must take ownership of its own future.

In that sense, Mr President and Honourable Representative of the peoples of the European Union, I speak of an Africa that is saying it must be its own liberator from the ills of war and conflict, dictatorship, corruption and the regression that have characterised much of Africa over the last few decades.

In this context, I contest the assertion made by David Harland that "out of Africa there is always something depressingly familiar." I contest, too, the argument advanced by Arnold Beichman, that Europe must dispatch expeditionary forces to our Continent to rescue the hapless African masses from weak states.

A long history of interaction and interdependence binds Europe and Africa together. That history, as well as current realities, dictates that our two continents should build a mutually beneficial partnership for change.
The Africa you know so well is poor. Yet it is committed to engage in struggle to eradicate that poverty. It is underdeveloped. But it is determined to extricate itself from this terrible condition. It continues to suffer from such conflicts as you experienced not so long ago in the Balkans. Nevertheless, it is resolved to act firmly and consistently to guarantee itself the gift of peace.

It exports some of its best-prepared human resources to your countries to your benefit. It is obliged to receive back into its borders those driven by hunger to undertake hazardous journeys out of Africa, to enter Europe illegally, and whom you catch and expel.

Current global realities that threaten us all, concerning failed states, seemingly unbridgeable ideological differences and international terrorism, are other factors that communicate the message that during this period of globalisation, no country or continent can be an island. In the end, the European Union will not succeed in its noble objectives if neighbouring Africa fails to achieve the same objectives.

As you have worked to build the new Europe after the costly Second World War and the end of the Cold War, you have taken firmly on board two related and critically important objectives of cohesion and solidarity within the EU. On this basis, you have made the determination that you are one to the other your brother's and sister's keeper.

Through what you have done and are doing through your Regional Policy, you have succeeded to combine what is practically necessary with what is morally correct. As a consequence of this, millions throughout the Union have had their human dignity restored, guaranteeing the possibility for all to thrive in conditions of peace, friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation, and prosperity.

We would like to believe that your experience stretching over many centuries will have communicated the message to you that were these ever to be built, the walls of a Fortress Europe would always be easy to breach.
We would also like to believe that as you act to help the millions of Africans who are working to help themselves, you would understand that as you come to our aid as Africans to secure our own human dignity, you would guarantee for yourselves as well as ourselves, the possibility to thrive in conditions of peace, friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation, and prosperity.

Simply put, it is difficult to see how Africa can extricate itself from its terrible condition of poverty and underdevelopment without resort to the development model epitomised by the EU Regional Policy, which has recorded the successes it has with regard to the poor and underdeveloped regions within the EU.

In this regard, I believe that we should engage in a serious dialogue between ourselves, to answer the question whether the existing framework of cooperation between Africa and the EU, to address a challenge of poverty and underdevelopment greater than that experienced within the EU, is informed by considerations akin to those that inform your internal Regional Policy. Perhaps the European and Pan African Parliaments could take the initiative to begin this dialogue.

It would seem obvious that we should avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of which, because of what was not done, we would say that David Harland was correct when he said that "out of Africa there is always something depressingly familiar."

I would like to thank you most sincerely for the opportunity you have given us to speak to you, fully aware of the heartfelt importance of this gesture of solidarity. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you the best as you grapple with the challenge, among others, of making a success of the Enlarged Union.

I am certain that you understand this better than I do, that the more you succeed to establish a strong, effective and successful European Union, the more your responsibilities will increase to contribute to the realisation of the goal of a better world for all.

Success breeds its own responsibilities. And one of the greatest responsibilities of our time is to end the obscene reality of endemic poverty for millions, when the means and know-how exist within human society to achieve the goal of a better life for all.

As I end, I would like to assure you that regardless of what the sceptics might say, "Semper aliquid novi Africa affert."

I thank you.





 

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 18 November, 2004 8:25 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