Address by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, on the
Occasion of the 26th Singapore Lecture, "Africa's Season of Hope: The Dawn
of a new Africa-Asia Partnership", at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, 21 April
Chairperson and Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Professor S Jayakumar,
of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies,
I would like to thank you most sincerely for the invitation
extended to me to deliver this address to such an august gathering under the auspices
of the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies. I am very happy because I see this
as part of our important engagements that should strengthen ties between Africa
and Asia. This has special significance because of the golden jubilee of the Bandung
Asia-Africa Conference, which will take place in Indonesia this weekend.
is indeed important that we have the opportunity to address a Singaporean audience
on the eve of the Asia Africa Summit, as it reminds us of your country's support
when we were given the opportunity to address the members of ASEAN on the African
development programme, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an
event that gave rise to the development of a New Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership.
it is important that as we focus on the topic of today: 'Africa's Season of Hope;
The Dawn of a New Asia-Africa Partnership', we reflect briefly on the history
of the colonial mentality, which drove colonialists to act in highly repressive
and inhuman fashions towards the colonised. Accordingly, this made it inevitable
for those living under colonial rule to mobilise for their liberation, always
collaborating with others beyond national borders as well as across the oceans,
as was the case with the Bandung Conference, which strengthened bonds of solidarity
between Asia and Africa.
As we know, both the peoples of Asia and Africa
suffered many years of colonial domination, denial of freedoms and independence
and subjugation as well as denigration of their indigenous histories, customs
Historian Basil Davidson, writing in his book, African Civilisation
Revisited says that:
"When our grandchildren reflect on the middle
and later years of the twentieth century, above all on the years lying between
about 1950 and 1980, and think about us writers of African history, of the history
of the black peoples, I think that they will see us as emerging from a time of
ignorance and misunderstanding. For these were the liberating years when accounts
began at last to be squared with the malice and mystification of racism. And by
racism I do not mean, of course, that phalanx of old superstitions, fears and
fantasies associated with ancient white ideas about blackness, or not less ancient
black ideas about whiteness, the ideas of an old world in which distance always
induced distortion. By racism I mean the conscious and systematic weapon of domination,
of exploitation, which first saw its demonic rise with the onset of the trans-Atlantic
trade in African captives sold into slavery, and which, later, led on to the imperialist
colonialism of yesterdays."
Davidson continues that:
racism was not a 'mistake', a 'misunderstanding' or a 'grievous deviation from
proper norms of behaviour'. It was not an accident of human error. It was not
an unthinking reversion to barbarism. On the contrary, this racism was conceived
as the moral justification - the necessary justification, as it was seen by those
in the white man's world who were neither thieves nor moral monsters - for doing
to black people what church and state no longer thought it permissible to do to
white people: the justification for enslaving black people, that is, when it was
no longer permissible to enslave white people."
given the racist mentality as described by Davidson, the Bandung Asia-Africa Conference
of 1955 fifty years ago, was a necessary and inevitable occasion in the important
processes of uniting those living under colonialism to accelerate their struggle
for their independence and freedom. Clearly, to reflect fully on a season of hope,
it is important that we also look at how far we have gone, collectively, in our
global struggle against racism, xenophobia, marginalisation and underdevelopment,
because it will be difficult to fully enjoy a season of hope while we still have
some among us who are experiencing "the conscious and systematic weapon of
domination (and) of exploitation"
At the time of Bandung Conference
most of the Asian countries had only emerged from colonial rule, and many African
countries were still engaged in bitter struggles for freedom. Today, all these
countries are independent and able to take their place as sovereign nations in
the community of nations.
In 1955, the principles of racial equality and
the right of self-determination of all nations were anything but universally accepted
and many, including writers such as Davidson, were only beginning to emerge from
'a time of ignorance and misunderstanding' about Africa. Among others, it was
Bandung that helped to focus the collective attention of the world to these important
principles and to assist with 'the liberating years when accounts began at last
to be squared with the malice and mystification of racism'.
through the fearless and unshakeable co-operation and solidarity between Africa
and Asia in international forums such as the UN, the nations of Africa and Asia
achieved political and moral victory over colonialism and apartheid.
so, today we have come here to this Asian crossroads to share and exchange ideas
on the current challenges facing our common world, especially the continent of
In his memoirs "From Third World to First - The Singapore Story
1965-2000" Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew remarks on "the long, hard slog
against seemingly insuperable odds to make it from poverty to prosperity..
." He recalls the "traumatic experience of race riots" that made
him and his colleagues "even more determined to build a multiracial society
that would give equally to all citizens, regardless of race, language or religion."
These experiences could easily have been recorded by many Africans
who faced colonialism and apartheid; who faced race and ethnic clashes as they
tried to contribute to a better life for their people. Undoubtedly, these reflections
serve to remind us of the similarities in our history and the need to learn from
Although we share a lot in terms of the history of resistance
to colonialism, in the past forty years some of the Asian countries have managed,
in the main, to overcome the challenge of poverty and underdevelopment while many
African countries either stagnated or regressed further into the morass of this
poverty and underdevelopment.
The reasons may vary from country to country
and region to region. But the main underlying causes have been the deep-rooted
legacy of colonialism, neo-colonialism as well as various instances of misrule,
autocracy and military dictatorships. These were exacerbated by the international
financial mechanisms whose workings put a stranglehold on many economies on our
continent, such that in time, Africa became an exporter of capital through among
others, the debt repayment to the developed countries.
As a consequence
of these debilitating circumstances, a self-perpetuating phenomenon evolved of
conflicts and wars, as various groups and powerful individuals with no interest
for the ordinary masses, fought for the control of the available resources.
for many decades the images of Africa have been those of military coups and counter
coups, civil wars, refugees and all the indecencies that accompany wars and conflicts.
As if that was not enough, as the ordinary masses put a collective prayer for
rain to bless their crops, unprecedented droughts and devastating floods seemed
to conspire as they alternated to ravage the African landscape with some recurrent
cruelty. As a result, hunger, famine and disease defined the existence of many
Indeed, while some countries in Asia, such as Singapore, were
enjoying a season of hope, many of their counterparts on the African continent
were experiencing a cruel coincidence of human-made tragedies and natural disasters.
However, as the topic of the lecture says, today is Africa's Season of
Hope; and we will work together to ensure that the Dawn of a New Asia-Africa Partnership
is not merely a slogan but a living reality.
We are saying that this is
Africa's season of hope because many among us who have been following events on
the African continent in the past fifteen years, will agree that, unlike in the
decades earlier, our continent is experiencing an important era away from the
problems of the past, into the possibility of a better and prosperous future.
The IMF's World Economic Outlook 2005 has a topic, 'Africa: Turning The
Corner?' and has this to say about Africa:
"In sub-Saharan Africa,
real GDP growth accelerated to 5.1 percent in 2004, the highest in almost a decade.
Growth has been underpinned by the strength of the global economy, including high
oil and commodity prices, improved domestic macroeconomic policies and progress
with structural reforms, and the ending of several protracted armed conflicts.
Inflation continued to decline, reaching single digits in 2004, the lowest
rate for nearly three decades
Continuing to explain
this season of hope on the African continent, the same IMF report also says:
encouraging growth performance in recent years has renewed optimism that sub-Saharan
Africa may be entering a period of strong and sustained expansion.
income growth in sub-Saharan Africa has accelerated and become positive over the
past five years - a significant improvement compared with the previous two decades
when sub-Saharan Africa recorded the worst growth performance among developing
This positive outlook described
by the IMF has been possible because of the collective efforts of the African
people from all stations in life - political leaders, businesspeople, the intelligentsia,
workers, women, youth, rural and urban people.
In the past decade and a
half, these African people resolved that they themselves have to change things
for the better; that they have to bring to an end this image of chaos and instability
that define themselves and their continent.
Because of this new resolve
to act together for the regeneration of the African continent, there was, among
other things, a resurgent of an important Africa-wide democratic movement, given
impetus by the almost complete liberation of the continent with South Africa's
This democratic movement which could not be defined merely through
specific organisations, represented the feelings and aspirations of the majority
of our people. It was given concrete expression by the evolution of strong multi-party
systems of democracy, the revival of a vibrant civil society with women, youth,
intelligentsia and workers occupying their pride of place in the on-going discourse
on the renaissance of their continent. It was further manifested through a new
political culture of openness, of debate and the willingness to confront even
the most difficult questions.
Within this milieu, Africa also saw the emergence
of a new generation of democratically elected leaders who were and still are committed
to deepen democratic ideals, entrench peoples and human rights and ensure that
good governance and the rule of law become permanent features of Africa's political
life. Undoubtedly, a new season of hope had arrived.
Further, to change
this Africa for the better, this new generation also had to combine two essential
First, they had to do what many previous African leaders had done
very well, namely to continue to take pride in their African roots and put into
proper perspective the history of their continent, which had suffered enormous
distortions in the past. Second, they had to combine this African pride with the
reality of mastering and putting into practical use the political, economic and
social systems of the modern world for the benefit of their countries and peoples.
This leadership knew and still knows that taking pride in one's history,
cultures and traditions is not a negation of modernity. Indeed, the Asians are
a good example of people who moved into modern times without abandoning their
history and traditions.
Writing in the mid-1990's about the challenges
of culture and modernity, Mahmood Mamdani, in his book Citizen and Subject, said
"Discussions on Africa's present predicament revolve around two
clear tendencies: modernist and communitarian. Modernists take inspiration from
the East European uprisings of the late eighties; communitarians decry liberal
or left Eurocentrism and call for a return to the source. For modernists, the
problem is that civil society is an embryonic and marginal construct in Africa;
for communitarians, it is that real flesh-and-blood communities that comprise
Africa are marginalised from public life as so many 'tribes'. The liberal solution
is to locate politics in civil society, and the Africanist solution is to put
Africa's age-old communities at the centre of African politics. One side calls
for a regime that will champion rights, and the other stands in defence of culture.
The impasse in Africa is not only at the level of practical politics. It is also
a paralysis of perspective."
This type of debate still takes
place in many forums on the African continent. Luckily, many people have come
to terms with the fact that the different positions, in this theoretical 'impasse',
as Mamdani calls it - between modernists and communitarians or between Eurocentrists
and Africanists - are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, both parts reflect an important
African challenge as we strengthen democracy in our countries.
the season of hope will not be sustainable if we gloss over the specificity of
our African reality; a reality that should strengthen the political, economic
and social systems which we practice. Fortunately, many African scholars, traditionalists
and politicians are engaged in an on-going critique of, as well as affirming both
these positions so that the democratic and governance systems of our countries
become responsive both to local conditions as well as modern challenges.
this new leadership from business, workers, women, youth and politics, is everyday
hard at work to address the critical challenge to help bring a better life to
millions of poor Africans, always impatient with the lack of progress or with
occasional setbacks of conflicts, or misrule and corruption.
It is a leadership
whose sense of purpose is driven by the lost decades of the past, when, for various
reasons, Africa could not take advantage of global progress towards development
and prosperity. It is as if this leadership is inspired by the African writer,
Ben Okri, when he says in his book, 'Mental Flight',
"A moment unremarked
by the universe,
By nature, the seasons, or stars.
Moment we have marked
Making a ritual, a drama, a tear
Domesticating the infinite.
Contemplating the quantum questions,
death, new beginnings,
Regeneration, cycles, the unknown.
So it is
with this moment.
A gigantic death
And an enormous birth.
We are talking about a season of hope
because Africans dare to ensure that there was a 'gigantic death' of the numerous
bad practises of the past that prolonged the nightmare of poverty and underdevelopment
of ordinary people.
We are able to talk about a season of hope because
there are many Africans who contemplated the quantum questions on democracy, culture,
peoples and human rights and the rule of law.
As they did this, they resolved
that the time had come to bring to an end those practices that worked against
the development and possible prosperity of the African people. A 'new beginning'
and 'an enormous birth' had to come.
This break with the past was critical
because at the dawn of the 21st century, the poverty and underdevelopment in Africa
continued to be a blight on the rest of humanity, especially in the face of the
prosperity and development of the rich countries of the North.
As we rounded-off
the last century and embraced the new one, Africa was still politically and economically
marginalised with the majority of Africans still living in grinding poverty and
Half of the 800 million people on the African continent
lived on less than US$1 per day while the mortality rate of children under five
years of age was 140 per 1000. Only 58 percent of the population had access to
safe water. The rate of illiteracy for people over 15 was 41 percent and there
were only 18 mainline telephones per 1000 people compared with 146 for the world
and 567 for developed countries.
(Source: NEPAD document)
in the past a number of interventions were made to try to address the underdevelopment
of Africa. Most of these interventions were done with noble intentions to pull
the continent from the quagmire of poverty. Yet, these were designed by outsiders
for Africans, with little input from the Africans themselves.
from history and faced with the stark reality of ever deepening poverty levels,
as Africans, we decided that we will formulate our own agenda for development,
taking into account programmes that have been tried in the past, retaining those
that have worked well and discarding the failed ones.
In this regard, we
transformed the Organisation of the African Unity (OAU) into the African Union
(AU) and thus moved from an era in African politics whose dominant feature was
the concentration of energies and resources for the unity of the continent and
the total liberation of all our countries, towards a new period of using our collective
strength to work for peace and stability, to strengthen democracy, to ensure respect
for peoples rights and to embark on a far-reaching programme of the regeneration
and development of all our countries.
Clearly, this needed a new type of
organisation, such as the African Union, with a fresh mandate, appropriate institutions
and the necessary capacity to face the contemporary continental and international
To respond to the critical challenge of widespread poverty
and underdevelopment facing many African countries, an AU development programme,
the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) was formulated. This programme
was initiated by the African political leadership who made the commitment that:
"The New Partnership for Africa's Development is a pledge by African
leaders, based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction, that they
have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and place their countries, both individually
and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and development and, at the
same time, to participate actively in the world economy and body politic. The
programme is anchored on the determination of Africans to extricate themselves
and the continent from the malaise of underdevelopment and exclusion in a globalising
Over a period of time different sections of our societies on
the continent, conducted rigorous discussions on this programme making their own
critiques and suggestions as to how it could be strengthened, especially at the
Through NEPAD there is an on-going work to address
the various critical developmental challenges such as telecommunication, water,
energy, transport infrastructure, human resources development, including work
on expanding access to education, especially for rural communities, access to
ICT's, improving the health infrastructure and paying special attention to communicable
diseases such as TB, AIDS and Malaria and working together to ensure that our
countries are able to access affordable drugs.
As many of us would know,
one of the critical challenges on the African continent is the issue of food security.
Among others, this means the improvement of infrastructure and putting more resources
on the agricultural sector to ensure better capacity and efficiency.
to this is the important matter of market access to the markets of the developed
nations. In this regard, it is important to address and resolve the issue of agricultural
subsidies given to farmers in developed countries.
I am confident that we
will agree to strengthen our alliance and collaboration with countries such as
Singapore and other Asian countries for our mutual benefit, especially in the
next round of WTO negotiations.
The writer, John Reader,
refers to the earlier times when there was trade between Africans and outsiders
who found gold and other minerals on the African continent. He writes that:
mariners and merchants not only had visited Africa but also had published accounts
of their voyages that described personal encounters with the peoples of the coastal
areas. They had met African kings, had made friends with ordinary people, had
dined on oysters, and had brought back pepper, gold dust, and ivory."
Africa - A biography of the Continent)
He continues that:
John Lock captained a voyage to West Africa and returned with 'four hundred pound
weight and odd of gold, of twenty-two carats and one grain in fineness
we know there are many instances of Asians, Arabs and Europeans venturing into
the African continent in search of the precious metals.
of us are very familiar with the mineral riches of the African continent. I am
certain that we are also aware that in the past century or so, the beneficiation
of these minerals has, for many years been done exclusively in countries outside
Africa, especially in Europe.
Today, as part of this programme of the development
of the African industrial base, we have begun a process of building strong capacity
in polishing, cutting as well as engaging in other aspects of value-addition in
the mining industry.
This is important if we are to move our continent
from being only a supplier of raw materials into being an important player in
the value chain of producing finished products.
To return to Ben Okri:
it is with this moment
A gigantic death
And an enormous birth.
As I have indicated, we come from decades in
which some of our countries were characterised by autocracy, military coups and
general disregard for the democratic ideals. As part of this moment of 'A gigantic
death', we had to bring to an end the unacceptable situation of people assuming
power by force or through undemocratic means.
Our continental body the
OAU and the AU when it was formed have already taken firm action against those
who have taken power through un-constitutional means. The African leadership had
to intervene in the Comoros, the Central African Republic and Togo when these
countries experienced un-constitutional change of governments. We also intervened
in Liberia when lawlessness and banditry seemed to take root. This is clearly
part of Africa's 'enormous birth, the mighty moment in timelessness'.
addition to this position, we have also, through NEPAD, initiated what we call
The African Peer Review Mechanism. The primary purpose of the Peer Review Mechanism
is to ensure the adoption of policies, standards and practices that lead to political
and social stability, high economic growth through the sharing of experiences
and the reinforcement of successful and best practices.
The Peer Review
includes the identification of deficiencies and weaknesses in our political, economic
and social systems and then offering proposals for improvement. It is in reality
a self-assessment mechanism available to those who are willing to seek assistance
for the benefit of their countries and peoples.
Africa's season of hope
is also predicated on the critical matters of peace, stability and democracy.
In this regard, we have created some of the important organs of the AU, including
the Peace and Security Council and the Pan African Parliament (PAP).
the Peace and Security Council is playing an important role in some of the conflict
areas on the continent. The AU is working to bring permanent peace to the Cote
d'Ivoire and in collaboration with the UN to do the same in the Darfur region
Again, as part of entrenching and consolidating democracy on
the continent we have worked tirelessly with the people of the DRC and Burundi.
We are happy that during the course of this year both countries will be holding
democratic elections, ensuring that there is 'A gigantic death' to decades of
conflicts and autocracy, and bringing a new beginning of 'An enormous birth, a
mighty moment in timelessness'. All these indicate the reality that Africans are
prepared to deal with African problems in this season of hope.
the Pan African Parliament is critical because African law-makers are for the
first time able to sit down together and deal with issues facing the continent
always complementing other institutions as we ensure that the season of hope is
not but a mirage.
For our efforts to succeed in all
that we are doing, we have placed special emphasis on the need for partnerships
between and within the African countries, between Africa and other developing
countries, between Africa and Asia, and between Africa and the developed world.
Naturally, these partnerships would take various forms such as business
to business, government to government, people to people, regional partnerships
and other important forms.
Accordingly, for us to make real the topic of
today, "Africa's season of Hope; The Dawn of a New Asia-Africa Partnership"
we should strengthen our partnerships at all levels, between governments, between
various institutions of research and innovation, of universities, of civil society
organs and of businesses.
We will agree that we need to do all these because
we have a pressing duty to collaborate so as to banish hunger, disease, poverty
and underdevelopment from the face of the earth.
Of importance, we need
to work together to ensure that:
- There are resource transfers to poor
regions of the world in the same manner that massive capital transfers helped
Europe after the Second World War as well as the 'Asian Tigers' in the 1960's
- There is implementation of international agreements, especially
the Millennium Development Goals;
- The Monterrey agreements on development
financing are implemented as a matter of urgency;
- There is debt cancellation,
especially for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries.
me reiterate that even with all these challenges, this is Africa's season of hope;
and I repeat why!
- The process of democratisation is irreversible;
in the past, Africans are now building a peaceful and stable continent by dealing
swiftly with incidents of conflict and instability as well as creating strong
institutions for this purpose;
- Economic growth is on the rise in most
countries with correct national macro-economic fundamentals and investor-friendly
conditions in place;
- The development programme of the continent through
NEPAD, has gathered momentum with concrete support from partners as demonstrated
by such programmes as the G8 Africa Plan of Action;
- We have begun a programme
to utilise our ecological and natural resources in a sustainable way as well as
using our limited capital resources to fund infrastructure projects.
us to demonstrate that the New Asia-Africa Partnership is for all seasons, let
us begin to work closely together as we review the Millennium Declaration and
the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals later this year.
us also collaborate during the discussions of the report of the Secretary-General
of the United Nations dealing with the consolidated Report called, In Larger Freedom:
Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All. In this context I think
we will all agree that we should work together for the reform not only of the
UN, but also of all multilateral institutions.
As we engage in all these
processes, the question billions of people will keep on asking is whether we will
say, like Ben Okri, there is 'a gigantic death' to inertia when it comes to dealing
with global poverty; there is 'a gigantic death' to inequalities in global governance.
These billions of people throughout the globe will also ask whether the
leaders of the world have summoned enough courage to embark on a new beginning
of 'an enormous birth, of a mighty moment in timelessness'!
With your participation
and encouragement and taking advantage of this season of hope, I am confident
that we can and will chart a new beginning to achieve sustainable development
of our continent and the improvement of all our people!
by The Presidency on 21 April 2005.