Address of the President of South Africa and the current
Chairperson of the G77 and China, Thabo Mbeki at the 61st Session of United Nations
General Assembly 19 September 2006, New York
Your Excellency, the
President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa,
the Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
Once again, we have convened at this seat of the Organisation
of the Peoples of the World, representing the entire humanity and coming from
all corners of the world. Our pilgrimage this year is tinged with sadness because
we also pay homage to one of the most outstanding servants of the United Nations,
a native son of Africa, Kofi Annan, whose term of office will soon come to an
The G77 and China as well as my own country, South Africa, sincerely
thank the Secretary-General for the selfless and dedicated work he carried out
during one of the most challenging periods of this Organisation.
midst of increasing poverty and underdevelopment during an era of unprecedented
wealth accumulation and technological advances and, as the river that divides
the rich and the poor zones of the metaphorical global village ever widens, the
Secretary-General of the United Nations never lost focus on the imperatives of
We thank him for never losing sight of the fact that poverty
and underdevelopment remain the biggest threats to the progress that has been
achieved, and that equality among the nations, big and small, is central to the
survival, relevance and credibility of this global organisation.
we are only six years into the 21st Century. Those who populate the poorest part
of the regions of the world - Africa - have boldly declared that it will be an
African Century. It is a century in which billions of the citizens of the developing
world and other poor and marginalised people, would want to transform into a Century
for all Humanity.
If the wishes of the majority of the world could turn
into reality, this would be a century free of wars, free of internecine conflicts,
free of hunger, free of preventable disease, free of want, free of environmental
degradation and free of greed and corruption. Indeed, we began the century with
great hopes for a better, peaceful and humane world.
Together, we crafted
comprehensive plans and bold declarations to defeat the scourge of poverty and
Together, we committed ourselves, with what seemed like
renewed vigour, to transform the UN to reflect the modern reality that is defined
by free, sovereign and equal nations.
However, six years into the 21st century
dispassionate observers would dare us to achieve our noble and lofty objectives,
pointing to the terrorists' acts that welcomed us into the new century. They would
emphasise the unilateralism that threatens to negate the democratic advances of
the last decades of the 20th century, and draw attention to renewed conflicts
and wars that seem to compete with the destructive fury of the conflicts of the
They would remind us that for a decade and more, some of the
developed nations have consistently refused to implement the outcomes and agreements
of this world body that would help to alleviate the wretchedness of the poor.
Madam President, when you correctly urge us to implement a global partnership
for development, we, the members of G77 and China, who represent the poor people
of the world, understand you to be communicating a message that we should make
real the common commitments we solemnly made at this supreme organisation of the
nations of the world.
Yet, this common commitment for a global partnership
for development cannot be transformed into reality when the rich and powerful
insist on an unequal relationship with the poor.
A global partnership for
development is impossible in the absence of a pact of mutual responsibility between
the giver and the recipient. It is impossible when the rich demand the right,
unilaterally, to set the agenda and conditions for the implementation of commonly
We who represent the poor, know as a matter of fact
that these billions of poor people are increasingly becoming impatient because
every year they hear us adopt declaration after declaration, and yet nothing practical
is done to assuage the hunger pains that keeps them awake at night. Only few and
selected agreements are implemented, with outcomes that are clearly insufficient
to alleviate the excruciating pain of their children who cannot cry anymore because
to do so is to invite more pain.
Those of us who were at the 14th Summit
of the NAM in Havana heard this message very clearly, emanating from all the countries
and organisations that spoke.
Those who are capable of listening should
take note of what that great son of India and South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi, said
on this matter: "The test of friendship is assistance in adversity, and that
too, unconditional assistance. Co-operation which needs consideration is a commercial
contract and not friendship. Conditional co-operation is like adulterated cement
which does not bind."
Precisely because of the absence of a global
partnership for development, the Doha Development Round has almost collapsed.
Indeed, because the rich invoked, without shouting it, the slogan of an over-confident
European political party of the 1960's, and directed this uncaring declaration
to the poor of today - "I'm alright Jack!" - we have not implemented
the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development, thus making it difficult
for the majority of the developing countries, especially those in Africa, to achieve
the Millennium Development Goals, and have reduced the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation
to an insignificant and perhaps forgotten piece of paper.
Part of the problem
with this unequal relationship is the imposition of conditions on developing countries
and the constant shifting of the poles whenever the poor adhere to each and every
one of those conditions.
Among other things, we have recently seen an outbreak
of great social instability across Europe and other reactions of the poor to their
miserable conditions in different parts of the world, always putting into question
the image of seemingly harmonious well-woven tapestries of diverse groups because,
in good measure, we continue to fail to implement our own decisions of the United
Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and
Your Excellencies, those who coined the slogan: "I'm
alright Jack!" were communicating, whether consciously or not, a message
and an attitude that said - 'I don't care about my neighbour as long as I and
my family eat well and sleep peacefully' and that 'it is not my responsibility
to ensure that my poor neighbour also eats well and sleeps peacefully'.
the attitude among some of the rich also communicates the same message to the
rest of the world that: 'I'm alright Jack!', even when they are acutely aware
that many in their neighbourhood die of hunger, of preventable diseases and abject
poverty. This happens also in a situation of the cruel irony where resources flow
from those who have little to those who have plenty.
Although the rich and
the powerful know the miserable life circumstances of the poor and have solemnly
committed themselves to the collective effort to reverse these conditions, their
attitude and response resembles that of the Biblical Cain who, after killing his
brother, Abel, and the Lord asked him "where is Abel your brother?",
he replied that: "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?"
all of us, especially the rich, should heed the words of one of the great sons
of the United States of America who perished because of his belief in equality
and justice for all human beings, and whose civil rights movement is currently
marking its golden jubilee.
Martin Luther King warned that: "As long
as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion
dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world
cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally
healthy even if I just got a good check-up at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what
I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is
made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We
The majority of the human race is entitled to
ask the question whether the rich are responding the way they do because the further
impoverishment of the poor is to the advantage of the rich, giving meaning to
the old observation that the rich get richer as the poor get poorer.
the divide between the rich and the poor widens and becomes a serious global crisis
we see an increase in the concentration of economic, military, technological and
Your Excellencies, something is seriously wrong when people
risk life and limb travelling in suffocating containers to Western Europe in search
of a better life.
Something is wrong when many Africans traverse, on foot,
the harsh, hot and hostile Sahara Desert to reach the European shores.
is wrong when walls are built to prevent poor neighbours from entering those countries
where they seek better opportunities.
Something is indeed wrong when all
these people, whose fault is merely the fact that their lives are defined by poverty,
try desperately to reach countries where they believe the conditions of their
existence would improve, only to meet hostile, and at times, most barbaric and
In part, the United Nations
is unable to fulfil some of the objectives set by the founders in San Francisco
because, in truth, it does not reflect the expansion of the global family of free
nations. Because this organisation of the peoples of the world has grown to encompass
the entire world, many had thought that it would be logical that this custodian
of global democracy would itself serve as a beacon in our continuing quest for
democracy in all our countries. Clearly, for the UN to continue occupying its
moral high ground, it has to reform itself urgently, and lead by practical example
as to what is meant to be democratic.
Even as we face the cold reality
of the indifference of the many among the rich and powerful, this Organisation
of the peoples of the world has continued to offer hope and the possibility of
the fulfilment of the aspirations of the majority of the peoples of the world.
All of us, including those who are hesitant to implement the commonly agreed
positions, agree that this Organisation has entrenched the correct understanding
that development is both a right and is central to the advancement of all humanity.
In this regard, all of us, individually and collectively and as members
of the UN, must do whatever is necessary to develop and implement policies and
strategies aimed at the achievement of sustainable development.
It is important
that international organisations such as the Bretton Woods institutions, the World
Trade Organisation (WTO) and others should, without any equivocation, seriously
embark on the implementation of all the commitments that we have made as the international
This Organisation of the peoples of the world cannot merely
note the unacceptable situation that Africa would not achieve the Millennium Development
Goals by 2015.
We need further, focused and concrete programmes to accelerate
development in Africa and avoid the possibility of that continent sinking further
into the morass of poverty and underdevelopment.
Because we are our brothers'
and sisters' keepers, we have the responsibility to end the rhetoric and implement
programmes that would ensure that all human beings live decent, humane and prosperous
On behalf of G77 and China as well as my own country, South Africa,
I take this opportunity to thank His Excellency, Jan Eliasson, for the great work
he did in steering this organisation during the past year, as President of the
We are honoured to welcome Her Excellency, Sheikha Haya
Rashed Al Khalifa as the President of the 61st Session of the General Assembly
and wish her well in her important work. Madame President, we pledge to do whatever
is necessary to make your work easier, so that through your efforts, the poor
can regain full confidence in the ability of the UN to improve their conditions
Everyday the masses cry out in pain, frustration and anger. Everyday
they ask: is there anybody there who stops to hear their voices! Is there anybody
there who listens to and is ready to respond to their heartfelt plea for the restoration
of their dignity?