Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the Opening Ceremony of the 18th World Petroleum Congress: Northgate, Johannesburg, 25 September 2005

President of the World Petroleum Council, Dr Eivald Røren,
Chairperson of the South African National Council of the World Petroleum Congress, Ayanda Mjekula,
Our Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,
Our Minister of Minerals and Energy, Lindiwe Hendricks,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers from Africa and elsewhere in the world,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished CEOs from the Petroleum Industry,
Distinguished delegates,
Distinguished representatives of civil society and esteemed guests,
Members of the mass media,
Ladies and gentlemen

I feel especially honoured to welcome you to the first World Petroleum Congress to be held on the African continent. I extend a very warm welcome to you all on behalf of the government and people of South Africa, the co-sponsoring countries - Algeria, Angola, Libya and Nigeria - and our continent as a whole.

We are indeed very grateful to you and would like to thank you most sincerely for taking the decision that the 18th World Petroleum Congress should be held in Africa. By this means you have made an important contribution to our continent's sustained effort to break out of the terrible grip of a global marginalisation and the widespread Afro-pessimism that once caused a leading international magazine to describe Africa as "the hopeless continent".

The jazz fans among us will be familiar with the jazz classic, "Mood Indigo", which was first recorded by the great Duke Ellington in 1930. Here are the lyrics of this song:

"You ain't been blue; no, no, no.
You ain't been blue,
Till you've had that mood indigo.
That feelin' goes stealin' down to my shoes
While I sit and sigh, "Go 'long blues".

"Always get that mood indigo,
Since my baby said goodbye.
In the evenin' when lights are low,
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

"'Cause there's nobody who cares about me,
I'm just a soul who's bluer than blue can be.
When I get that mood indigo,
I could lay me down and die."

I am certain that all of us here would feel empathy with the lyricists who wrote these words. All of us would understand how the "mood indigo", the phenomenon of despair, can so envelop a fellow human being that he or she would say that:

"In the evenin' when lights are low,
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

"'Cause there's nobody who cares about me,
I'm just a soul who's bluer than blue can be.
When I get that mood indigo,
I could lay me down and die."

The distinguished delegates will undoubtedly be asking themselves why I choose this important occasion to discuss all this jazz! The intellectually agile among us might already have reached the conclusion that perhaps I am talking about a jazz classic, first brought to the living world of music by a jazz giant, to lodge a complaint that my presence here tonight has denied me the possibility to attend an exciting jazz concert somewhere in the city of Johannesburg.

Let me confound the situation by presenting to the Congress a poem that I consider one of the most evocative poems of the 20th century. This is the poem "The Second Coming", composed by the Irish poet, WB Yeats, in 1920, ten years before Duke Ellington recorded "Mood Indigo". Yeats wrote:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
"Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

The lyrics of "Mood Indigo" speak to the tragic world of individuals who go through painful life experiences of despair, when their particular circumscribed worlds fall apart. In this situation, these desolate individuals come to the conclusion that:

"'Cause there's nobody who cares about me,
I'm just a soul who's bluer than blue can be.
When I get that mood indigo,
I could lay me down and die."

"The Second Coming", written as Europe was striving to overcome the legacy of the First World War - in which effort it failed - foresaw a terrible future of despair for all humanity, during which things would fall apart; during which genocide would engulf society in a tide of human blood; in which the best would act without conviction, while the evil-minded would occupy the centre stage; and out of which a terrible beast without any human feeling would emerge, a new falconer who would impose a new system of governance on human society to end the universal chaos, by wiping out all the advances towards creating a humane society, that humankind had made during the preceding two millennia.

Modern developments in information and communication technology daily expose all of us to the news of the world. Driven by the adage that good news does not sell, the global media - radio, television, the Internet and the print media - bombard the world with bad news that continuously communicate the message of a world in crisis.

Perhaps correctly, for their part the media practitioners argue that they only serve as messengers, honestly reporting contemporary actuality, rather than inventing or exaggerating local and world events and developments.

Whatever the correct balance between these two approaches, it would be difficult if not impossible to gainsay the fact that for many in the world, what dominates world news today, and therefore the evident or apparent actuality communicated to all of us, is a message of despair.

In this situation, I believe that individuals cannot be blamed if they fall victim to a "Mood Indigo", nor can human society be said to be at fault, if it entertains the fear that, globally, things are falling apart, that the centre cannot hold, and that mere anarchy is being loosed upon the world.

Last week we attended the largest ever World Summit Meeting of Heads of State and Government convened by the United Nations at its headquarters in New York as the Millennium review Summit, to take decisions on an agenda set by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. The Summit Meeting convened to conclude a process of negotiations that had been taking place for a number of years.

Specifically, its agenda focussed on the three critical and interconnected matters of the alleviation and eradication of global poverty, world peace and security, and the reform of the United Nations to improve its effectiveness as a democratic forum of the nations of the world, bearing in mind the impact of the process of globalisation.

To speak frankly, we must say that the UN Millennium Review Summit did not succeed in its mission as well as it should have. This represents a bitter disappointment especially for those of us whose peoples' better future depends on a successful resolution of the issues that attend the three items placed on the global agenda by the UN General Assembly.

I trust that the World Petroleum Congress will understand our feeling when we say that the unsatisfactory goings-on at the United Nations General Assembly last week, the failure successfully to conclude the protracted negotiations in which all of us had been involved for many years, communicated the message that globally things are falling apart and that the centre has failed to hold.

We met in New York in the aftermath of the immensely destructive Hurricane Katrina. Correctly, the overwhelming majority of the Heads of State and Government who addressed the Millennium Review Summit and the General Assembly conveyed their sympathies to the President, the government and people of the United States.

However, we would be less than honest if we do not say that the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina to the most powerful country in the world reinforced the message of despair that things are falling apart.

It did not help that Hurricane Rita followed closely on Katrina, and that, given the vexed debate about global warming and climate change, these hurricanes occurred not so long after the tsunami disaster that engulfed South East Asia only a few months ago.

There is perhaps no need for me to draw your attention to other natural disasters that have hit other countries, apart from the United States, in the period since the deadly tsunami waves claimed hundreds of thousands of Asian lives.

Only yesterday, the controversy concerning Iran's intentions with regard to the use of nuclear technology took a turn for the worse. We do not know where the escalating confrontation on this matter will end. We are however absolutely convinced that conflict over this issue can only add to heightened global tension, which none of us need.

For this reason, we have, for our part, urged all those concerned, to seek a negotiated solution that would address the legitimate interests and concerns of all nations, bearing in mind the complex and inflammable situation in the Middle and Near East. However, what was decided yesterday by majority vote has added to the feeling of despair that, in global terms - things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

I am certain that all of us wish and pray for a peaceful, united and democratic Iraq, fully conscious of the pivotal role and place of this country in the Middle East and the world. However, the bulk of the daily news out of Iraq communicates a highly negative story. Again, this news only serves to communicate the message that the blood dimmed tide has been loosed, and that the ceremony of innocence is drowned.

We did not hesitate to salute the courage of the Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli government and people for the closure of the settlements in Gaza and the withdrawal of the Israeli Defence Force from this occupied Palestinian territory. We fervently hope that this historic step will open the way to the full, speedy and unqualified implement of the Road Map.

But again, given the history of the conflict between the Palestinians, the Arab countries and Israel, we must admit that the situation in this region continues to serve as a point of major concern that adds to the global atmosphere of despair and fear, dramatically represented by Yeats as "reel(ing) shadows of the indignant desert birds."

In December this year, the world trade Ministers will meet in Hong Kong hopefully qualitatively to advance the Doha development Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The reality, however, is that very few, if any, are convinced that this critically important meeting will be any different from its failed predecessors in Seattle, United States, and Cancun, Mexico.

Should it fail - and we hope it does not - that too would add to the global mood that neither our contemporary leaders nor our institutions are capable of taking actions that would give real hope to the billions of the poor that constitute the overwhelming majority of humankind.

Hong Kong stands the danger of communicating the message that the rich are unwilling to open the space for the poor of the world to develop themselves and thus work to extricate themselves from dire poverty. If this happens, the perspective will be confirmed that, abandoned, the poor of the world are correct to feel that because nobody cares about them, they would be justified to lay themselves down and die. The point however is that, rather than lay down and die, these billions would rebel in response to what they would consider to be a legitimate dream of the poor that had been unjustly deferred by the rich.

The annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have just taken place in Washington DC. One of the matters that was under discussion was the decision taken at the July G8 Gleneagles to forgive the debt of 18 least developed countries. Our concern in this regard was that obstacles might arise blocking the implementation of this decision, which would add to the feeling of pessimism especially about the future of Africa.

Happily progress seems to have been achieved towards implementing the debt write off. At a press conference yesterday, 24 September, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chairperson of the International Monetary and Financial Committee, Gordon Brown, said:

"The Managing Director (of the IMF) has informed the (International Monetary and Financial) Committee that he will now call the Executive Board together to complete its approval of the arrangements to deliver debt relief by the end of 2005. That means that the historic process of completing the debt write-off that started many years ago has ended today with this agreement that all the elements have been resolved and the Managing Director will call the Executive Board together to complete the approval of the arrangements to deliver debt relief by the end of 2005…"

I must say that for us this represents one of the most positive developments in a global situation that otherwise seems to be dominated by many negative developments.

This brings me to the matters on the agenda of this important World Congress. The humble message I would like to convey to the distinguished delegates is that we hope that the Congress will succeed to communicate yet other items of good news to the peoples of the world.

It used to be said that money makes the world go round. Perhaps we should vary this and say that energy makes the world go round. The fact does not need to be argued that the sector you represent is central to global economic and social development and therefore has enormous possibilities to contribute to an atmosphere of optimism affecting all countries, especially the developing countries. As the President of the World Petroleum Council, Dr Røren, has said, "Energy is the lifeblood of economic and social development."

In this regard I would like fully to endorse the statement made Dr Randall Gossen, Chairman of the Congress Programme Committee, that, "the big issue (of the petroleum industry is) our reputation and credibility with our many stakeholders, including consumers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), international institutions, host communities and governments. We are part of the solution to meeting future energy demands in a manner that is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable. These activities will strongly contribute towards achieving solutions to global issues such a poverty alleviation and equitable wealth distribution. However, in order fully to capitalise on this contribution, the industry requires the building of trustful relations with its stakeholders…"

As you know, there are many important matters that have to be addressed in this regard. Obviously one of the most urgent is the issue of the current high prices of crude oil.

In this regard, only yesterday, the President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz said: "High and volatile oil prices are a particular concern for many developing countries. For oil-importing Sub-Saharan African countries, the shock to the terms of trade since January 2004 is estimated to be as much as -2.7 percent of GDP, with serious impacts on poverty reduction prospects. The Bank's research shows that the poor suffer from high energy prices twice as much as the highest income group."

At the same press conference to which we have referred, Gordon Brown said:

"We met today at a time of greater risk for the global economy, facing the highest sustained oil prices for a quarter of a century…At today's meeting, all the members recognised that oil producers, oil consumers, oil companies all have their part to play in working together to stabilise the oil market, and today we agreed a number of actions to deliver that enhanced stability… We called…for further investment both now and in the long term, particularly in refining capacity, and for efforts to create a favourable investment climate for the future…We stressed the importance of policies to promote energy conservation, efficiency and sustainability, including through new technologies, alternative sources of energy, and addressing subsidies in oil products. I personally look forward to the World Bank initiative on this specifically for developing and emerging market economies, which will involve billions in loans available to these countries. The Committee also encourages a closer dialogue between oil producers and consumers, and emphasises the importance of improving oil market data and transparency so that markets work better…We also agreed that, because poor countries and poor people should not be left defenceless against oil price shocks, that the International Monetary Fund should stand ready to provide assistance to help members, especially in poor countries, deal with these price shocks."

Meeting as it is in Africa, which is growing both as a producer and a consumer of oil and gas, we are confident that the World Petroleum Congress will help us to address all the important matters mentioned by Gordon Brown, as well as the challenges indicated by Dr Gossen, to which we have referred. This will assist greatly to advance the forward looking and exciting agenda of the African Union and its development programme, New Partnership for Africa's Development.

I would like to think that when the theme of the Congress was adopted - "Shaping the Energy Future: Partners in Sustainable Solutions" - this was to convey the firm message to the peoples of the world that the 18th World Petroleum Congress would serve as a messenger of hope, conveying to all nations the message that there is no need for a "Mood Indigo", and no need to fear that " a rough beast, its hour come round at last, is slouching towards Bethlehem to be born."

I am privileged to wish the 18th World Petroleum Congress success in its deliberations.

Thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency

25 September 2005

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