Rebirth of the African Continent, 25 May 2004

Deputy Minister of DACST

Members of the diplomatic corps

Distinguished guests

Once more we gather to commemorate Africa Day.

As we gather tonight we are conscious of the fact that the technological revolution and information super-highway has ensured that you, in your living rooms and bedrooms are constantly subjected to instant and sensational images of African conflicts, horrifying brutality, and harrowing pictures of dying children with begging bowls. This has, not surprisingly, given rise to a resurgence of "Afro-pessimism."

The false pre-colonial and colonial characterisations of Africans as either "child-like noble savages", or worse, as "sub-human, barbaric, dirty, stinking savages", can once again be seen as a reality. The article on Africa in a most recent edition of the "Economist" magazine is a shocking reminder of such prejudices.

"Africa was weak before the Europeans touched its coasts. This may be the birthplace of mankind, but it is hardly surprising that humans sought other continents to live in.

The few humans who survived in Africa live in small, hardy, Iron-Age communities in a huge variety of social organisations speaking thousands of languages. Most were small kingdoms, deeply conservative; they were geared to survival in Africa’s fickle climate, not to development. When nature allowed, they tended to celebrate rather than plan for a tomorrow that might never happen. Today, still, Africans’ strongest qualities are fortitude to the point of fatalism, close family and communal ties, tolerance and an ability to enjoy life. But their societies are also distrustful and bad at organisation. Most African businesses are one-man-bands that rarely survive the death of their founder.

We can not indulge in the luxury of scepticism and despondency, but we must constructively and critically examine the challenges facing Africa.


Historically and especially in the post colonial period African leaders spoke of Africa's contributions to the very evolution of human life and also of ancient times when Africa was the leading centre of learning, technology and culture. They were referring to the increasing discovery of evidence which points to Africa's primacy in the historical evolution of humankind; to the magnificent royal courts of Mali and Timbukto in the 15th and 16th centuries; to the works of art in South Africa that are thousands of years old; to the artistic works of the Nubians and the Egyptians; to the sculptured stones of Aksum in Ethiopia; the pyramids of Egypt; the City of Carthage in Tunisia and the ancient universities of Egypt, Morocco and Mali. Those leaders called for an African reawakening to restore this legacy. The vision was there, the time was not right.

Today, as we prepare to enter the new millennium, there is a renewed spirit of confidence and self-assertiveness on our continent. Once again our leaders have taken up the mantle of revolutionaries for the African rebirth. They are outstanding examples of what President, Thabo Mbeki, was referring to when he said that "there exists within our continent a generation which has been victim to all things which created the negative past; this generation remains African and carries with it a historic pride which compels it to seek a place for Africans equal to all other peoples of our common universe ... I believe that the new African generations have learned and are learning from the experiences of the past. I further believe that they are unwilling to continue to repeat the wrongs that have occurred".

Today, Africans are again asking questions, inter alia why, despite our enormous riches and potential, are the greatest number of the least developed countries found in Africa (33 out of 48), why has sub-Saharan Africa's slice of the world trade fallen to three percent in the mid 1950's and to one percent in 1995; why have African exports fallen by 50% from 1985 to 1995.

Why do the majority of Africans live in countries where economic

progress performed badly or declined ?

According to latest UN statistics, of the 5 sub-regions in Africa, only 2 accounting for only 25% of the continent's population enjoyed a positive growth performance. Growth decelerated in the remaining 3 sub-regions negatively impacting on 75% of Africa's population.

Why has the world not effectively dealt with Africa’s debt problem?

In 1980 the total debt stock of the highly indebted countries, the overwhelming majority of whom are African stood at about $59 billion by 1997 it had increased to $201 billion. Outstanding external debts in many African countries exceed entire GNP and debt service requirements exceed 25 per cent of their total export earnings. In the same period, the debt service paid had increased from $5.9 billion to about $8.7 billion.

Why has official development assistance declined by almost a 1/5th in real terms since 1992?

A report issued last month found that the USA Administration’s $10.7 bn foreign aid request for the financial year 2001- which Congress is expected to cut – is a post-second World War low in the percentage of federal funds going to foreign aid.

This compelled the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to recently state:

"It is particularly shameful that the US, the most prosperous and most successful country in the world, should be one of the least generous in terms of the share of its Gross Domestic Product it devotes to helping the world’s poor."

Why, has Africa failed to attract substantive foreign direct investment?

Many African countries have taken measures to create a climate conducive to Foreign Direct Investment, which includes trade liberalisation, the strengthening of the rule of law, improvements in legal and other instruments as well as greater investment in infrastructure development, privatisation, greater accountability and transparency, greater degree of financial and budgetary discipline and the creation and consolidation of multi-party democracies.

Since 1990 the profit levels of foreign companies in Africa has averaged 29%, higher than any other region in the world. Sadly this has not led to sufficient Foreign Direct Investment. Africa, which has the highest number of least developed countries, continues to grapple with the fact that its share of FDI flowing to developing countries, declined from more than 11% in the period 1976-1980 to 4% in 1996-1997.

The dire consequences of our failure to answer these questions is that the largest percentage of people in the world living on less than one dollar a day are to be found in sub-Saharan Africa; growth per capita income which averaged 1,3 per cent in the sixties, was reduced to 0,8 per cent in the seventies and further reduced to minus 1.2 per cent in the eighties; today per capita income is as low as $500 per annum; electrical power consumption per person is the lowest in the world; Africa has 14 telephone lines per 1,00 and less than half of 1 percent of all Africans have used the internet.


We seek to answer these questions in a New World order that has changed dramatically in the last few years. Not only do we have to deal with the legacies of the past but now we are confronted with the phenomenon of globalisation, liberalisation, deregulation and the information highway.

We believe, that the biggest challenge that humanity faces today, is to ensure that Globalisation benefits all - big and small, the rich and the poor. In our global village, there cannot be islands of development-security and prosperity in a sea of abject poverty and increasing conflicts.

Statistics from the United Nations Development Programme, show that in 1999 more than 80 countries had lower per capita incomes than a decade ago.

In addition, the richest 20% of the world’s people accounted for 86% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product while the bottom 20% shared just 1%.

The top three billionaires had assets totalling more than the combined GDP of all the least developed countries and their 600 million people.

The Managing Director of the IMF, Michael Camdessus, called for "A new kind of civilisation to be created ... by making global solidarity more than just and adjunct of national policies". He went on to say that " the global solidarity required, does not simply mean offering something superfluous. It means dealing with vested interests, certain lifestyles and models of consumption, and entrenched power structures in countries".

This demands that the developed countries must have the political will to inter alia address key issues such as:

The cancellation of the Debt-burden of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries;

The taking of extraordinary measures to ensure substantial increase in foreign direct investments in Africa, eg the Marshall Aid Plan in Europe after the Second World War.

Rather than continuing the reduction of ODA, steps need to be taken to increase the ODA and meet the UN target

What creative steps can be taken to give greater market access for African exports, including agricultural products

What steps can be taken to ensure greater and affordable technology to Africa.

The 5 members of the Security Council must show greater commitment, seriousness and urgency when dealing with the issues of conflict prevention and peace-keeping in Africa.

Increasingly our experience forces us to ask the question: Are double standards applied to conflict situations in Africa as opposed to elsewhere.


As we seek partnerships to meet our challenges we are acutely aware of our own responsibilities. We cannot ignore the reality that from Sierra Leone to Angola, from the streets of the DRC to Sudan, from the killing fields of Ethiopia and Eritrea to the killing fields of Rwanda and Somalia, violent conflict has become the scourge of the African continent. Over the past three decades more than 8 million Africans have perished in the fires of ethnic and racial hatred, religious intolerance, political ambition and material greed. Over 15 million refugees and displaced persons live in terrible conditions, landmines are indiscriminately planted, the infrastructure is systematically destroyed and our agricultural land laid to waste.

Any call for the re-awakening of the continent will flounder in the presence of such persistent conflict.

We must all honestly and constructively accept the reality that we will fail the African people by not addressing the root causes of conflict and by not taking sufficient action to prevent conflicts. The African rebirth demands that we identify the root causes of African problems and take measures to tackle them.

The causes of African problems are very diverse and complex. However there are a number of common themes and experiences. Let me elaborate on some.

1. The slave trade

2. This was followed by colonialism. Can we ignore the consequences of the fact that at the Congress of Berlin in 1885, African kingdoms, states and communities were ruthlessly and artificially divided and unrelated areas and peoples were just as arbitrarily forced together.

3. To add to our misery, during the Cold War period the activities of the super-powers in the name of democracy, rabid "anti-communism" and "socialist revolutions" fuelled many of Africa's conflicts and under development. Africa was sacrificed on the altar of the cold war. At the end of the cold war "democratic anti-communist" or "socialist" states were simply deserted. Without the external political, military and economical support some African states could not sustain the undemocratic, neo-colonial system, and their political hold on economic and political power.

Chairperson, while we cannot ignore the past, we must go beyond it to also critically look at present internal causes of underdevelopment and conflicts. Today some leaders see political power as a means of exclusively obtaining wealth, resources, patronage and other benefits for oneself.

Secondly, in conditions of lack of democracy, and respect for human rights, lack of transparency, lack of proper checks and balances, lack of good governance the stakes become increasingly high. And

when, as is the case of some countries, political parties are usually regionally or ethnically based and are the major source of employment, the problems are exacerbated. That is "ethnicity is politicised" and groups begin to believe that they have to capture state power, democratically or undemocratically, to survive not as a nation but as a group. Another element fuelling conflicts is the international competition for and the exploitation of Africa's resources.

Our problems are also compounded by the fact that "war is profitable". People who are making money out of war, have a financial interest to ensure that conflict continues. Such phenomena are not unique to Africa.

Conflict prevention and resolution and people centred development therefore demands a striving for good governance, inter alia, respect for human rights and rule of law, promotion of transparency and accountability in government and enhancing of administrative and institutional capacity.

Today, freed from the shackles of Cold War analysis, it is not dangerous to proclaim that economic, social and cultural rights, i.e. the right to sustainable development that benefits the people, the right to life, the right to work, education and health is as important as political and civil rights.

The Vienna Conference on Human Rights also affirmed that the existence of widespread extreme poverty prevents the full and effective enjoyment of human rights.

Despots and dictators flourish in an environment of abject poverty, a sad reality for the vast majority of Africans. We have to therefore tackle the issue of poverty if we want to ensure that democracy, good governance and the rule of law is not only achieved but sustained.

Chairperson, Kofi Annan recently noted: "The time is long past when anyone could claim ignorance about what was happening in Africa, or what was needed to achieve progress. The time is also past when the responsibilities for producing change could be shifted on to our shoulders. It is a responsibility we must all face".

It is clear from all that I have said, that our vision of the African Renaissance deriving from our experiences, covering the entire period from slavery to date, includes:

the establishment of democratic political systems to ensure the accomplishment of the goal that "the people shall govern";

ensuring that these systems take into account African specifics so that, while being truly democratic and protecting human rights, they are nevertheless designed in ways which really ensure that political and therefore, peaceful means can be used to address the competing interests of different social groups in each country;

establishing the institutions and procedures which would enable the continent collectively to deal with questions of democracy, peace and stability;

achieving sustainable economic development that results in the continuous improvement of the standards of living and the quality of life of the masses of the people;

qualitatively changing Africa's place in the world economy so that it is free of the yoke of the international debt burden and no longer supplier of raw materials and an importer of manufactured goods;

ensuring the emancipation of women of Africa;

successfully confronting the scourge of HIV/AIDS;

the rediscovery of Africa's creative past to recapture the peoples' cultures, encourage artistic creativity and restore popular involvement in both accessing and advancing science and technology;

strengthening the genuine independence of African countries and continent in their relations with major powers and enhancing their role in the determination of the global system of governance in all fields, including politics, the economy, security, information and intellectual property, the environment and science and technology. (President Thabo Mbeki)

We know that these objectives will not be achieved overnight. It is a process that will take decades. We have no illusions about the difficult path we have to traverse. We know that, while we make progress, we will also have many setbacks. However, we are moved by a commitment and determination to make this the African Century.

How has Africa responded to this challenge? Since its inception, the OAU guided by its Charter has been seized with the objectives of peace and sustainable development. In 1990 the OAU adopted the African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and the landmark Declaration on the Political and Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes taking place in the World. In 1993 an OAU Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution was established and in 1999 the OAU adopted a Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which re-enforced the OAU Convention on the Elimination of Mercenaries in 1985.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (1981) and the 1998 Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights provided important instruments to ensure that the observance of human rights is an integral part of our objectives of durable peace and sustainable development.

The signing of the Treaty in 1991 of the African Economic Union which came into force in 1994; the Cairo Agenda for Re-launching the Economic and Social Development of Africa were fundamental decisions to ensure that we achieve socio-economic cooperation and development on the continent.

With a new sense of confidence and belief that Africans must become determinants of our own destinies and that Africa's problems must be solved by Africans, albeit with the support of the International Community, the OAU Heads of State and Government meeting in Algiers, July 1999 proclaimed the year 2000 as the year of peace, security and solidarity in Africa. It called on all countries to intensify their efforts to end all conflicts by the end of that year.

It further "expressed its grave concern about the resurgence of coup d'etat in Africa," and decided that member states whose governments came to power through unconstitutional means after the Harare Summit 1997 (which took a decision that the organisation should no longer tolerate accede to power by unconstitutional

means) should restore constitutional legality before the next summit, or face sanctions and non-recognition, and requested the Secretary General to assist in programmes intended to return such countries to constitutional and democratic governments.

The first African Ministerial Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation was held in Abuja, Nigeria from 8 – 9 May 2000. The historical Conference concluded that peace could be promoted through effective institutions of conflict prevention, management and resolution. Also that respect for democratic values, human rights and fundamental liberties are vital prerequisites for the achievement of security, stability, development and cooperation.

At the first ever historic Africa-Europe summit recently held in Cairo, President Mbeki said:

"Cairo will have meaning only to the extent that all of us, without exception, wage the struggle to end human suffering in Africa with the passionate intensity of the humanists who have given dignity to despised human beings, when others were happy to enclose themselves within their little worlds of selective and false fulfilment."

I am confident that this audience will be in the trenches of the humanists. We must mobilise millions of people in government and civil society to join us in this trench. The strong foundations we together laid during the struggles of the Vietnamese peoples, the struggles for a just peace in the middle East and the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles in Southern Africa, provides us with an excellent foundation on which to build.

Africa's time has come, let us through action make our rebirth and renewal a reality. This is in the interest of all humanity and not just Africans.

Thank you.

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