Keynote Address by the Minister of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the African Union–African Diaspora in Europe Regional Consultative Conference, Paris, France: 11-12 September 2007

 Honourable Co-Chairs
AU Representative to the European Union
South African Ambassador to France
Representative of the African Union
Representative of the Caribbean Countries
Representative of the African Diaspora in Europe
African Ambassadors in Europe
Representative of Different Diaspora Organisations
Distinguished University Professors and Academics
Distinguished Panelists and Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Allow me to express my gratitude to all of you who have devoted time to participate in this Regional Consultation.

Our thanks also go to the steering committee for their sterling and tireless effort in putting together this conference.

Why the African Diaspora Summit?  Is it only to connect Mother Continent and all the Africans outside its borders?  Is it to define what binds us together?  Is it to share our laments and jubilations?  Is it to chart our path towards a shared destiny?  Is it to define who we are, what values we share, amass our collective strength and wisdom?

These questions are important not only in themselves but because answering them will give us a chance to define who we are, what binds us, what our tribulations are, what our aspirations are and what we would want this generation to bequeath to future generations.

Being able to define ourselves is very important because for a long time we have allowed other people to define us, to "pigeon hole" us and determine our place in this global village.

I will quote an extract from one of my favourite authors, Ben Okri - in his book “In Arcadia”, the character Lao, has the following to say about his condition: “I live in despair all the time. Society has perfected the conditions for it. I live a life of endless stoicism. It’s a wonder I get from day to day without suddenly going beserk and screaming genocide myself. It’s a wonder I get from day to day without cutting my throat, unable to drag myself through one more minute of endless rage and humiliation and being excluded, judged, misperceived, colour-coded in all things, denied intelligence, suspected of crimes, burglaries, drug-peddling, muggings, murders, robbing old ladies, of somehow always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for the greatest crime of all which is simply being alive and breathing the air on this good planet….”

Doesn’t this sound familiar?  This is how some have elected to perceive us.  What is important for us is that we have to give ourselves our own definition, our own identity.

Where there is some truth it is imperative to discover the cause and circumstances that give rise to it.  We have to be agents of change, wherever we may be for the creation of a better life for all Africans in a better world.  The question to consider is how we going to achieve that change?

It is unfortunate that as Africans we are susceptible to believing the worst about ourselves and our Continent. 

And those of us who work in the media more often than not tend to entrench rather than challenge such mis-perceptions and perpetuate what has been described by Ben Okri.

The first change has to be within ourselves: belief in ourselves and our capacity and to express solidarity amongst ourselves wherever we may be.

I’ll continue to use the words of Ben Okri from the same book:
 “Don’t sleep through life thinking that all is well under the sun and within society. If you see them dragging me off don’t look away. If I cry out listen. Don’t doubt first. If an unnatural mugshot appears of me in the papers, and I am accused of murdering ten people, don’t pass sentence on me in your mind because of the gruesome blown-up nature of the picture. Don’t let them manipulate your response. Be aware that there are secret laws for different people, and these secret laws are carried out by the most innocent of citizens by you, by your handsome sons and lovely daughters, and by most of the people I know and like….”

“Being more human means being more awake to the beauties and injustices of life. I’m shamelessly on the side of beauty, of the spirit, of the heroic in humanity. But as a daily victim of the human capacity to cast one into darkness, I cannot deny humanity’s capacity for meanness, complacency, and cowardice. I don’t believe in being in a state of perpetual rage. I choose humour, intelligence, imagination, elliptical angles, love and wild wakefulness as my weapons. And I know that all these words are but as water poured into desert sands. You do not hear them….”

“One of my trials right now is simply whether as a black human being I’ll be allowed in.”

It is the duty of Africans in the Continent and elsewhere to HEAR the words being shouted by Ben Okri.

As Africans gathered here today, it is our task to fight against these labels that dare to define us, these stereotypes and racist profiling that dare to define the African – all Africans – as less than human.

No longer shall we ensure such scorn and misinterpretation. No longer shall we accept the lowly status others have given us. We do not accept these labels, this denigration and enforced marginalisation. We refuse racism and reject injustice!

Our task henceforth is to interpret ourselves, to define ourselves, to give shape to our own identity, to believe in our own ethics, to take responsibility for our own actions and to harness our capacity to overcome suffering and together boldly and fearlessly to pave the path to our destiny.

And we shall work towards this destiny of African development with pride, with “humour” and “intelligence,” as Okri suggests and armed with imagination and with love and wakefulness!

Our quest therefore through this Dialogue is to rally behind the call for us collectively to take a global responsibility for our own development, for the African condition in its totality that covers the ground occupied both by Africans in Africa and in the Diaspora.

This meeting here today and tomorrow is also about the opening up of more vistas in which we can create more opportunities and possibilities for the voices of Africans to be heard to influence the shape of the world to come.

Over the next two days, we will deliberate and chart the way forward on crucial issues such as migration, global governance, peace and security, sustainable development, climate change, knowledge sharing and most importantly the empowerment of the vulnerable groups such as women, youth, children, the disabled and the elderly.

Our deliberations should also focus on ensuring that the brutal experience of slavery and slave trade does not manifest itself in new and sophisticated forms like human trafficking.

As Aime Cesaire asserted in his poem, Return to my Native Land:

“No race holds a monopoly of beauty, intelligence and strength
There is room for all at the rendezvous of conquest.”

Indeed this is only the start of what we all hope will be a permanent dialogue between Africa and its Diaspora. This Conference here in Paris is one of the building blocks of an initiative that we believe will ensure greater co-operation across continents, a concerted collective effort towards the sustained development of the African continent that will contribute to the bold assertion of Africans where-ever they may find themselves as equals on the international stage.

Meeting in France, the country that gave birth to human rights through the French Revolution of 1789, that inspired Toussaint L’ouverture and his comrades to establish the first Black Republic of San Domingo in Haiti in 1804 is somewhat special and inspiring.

President Mbeki addressing the French National Assembly in 2003 quoted the words of the Jacobin Maximillian Robespierre in February 1794, words that are described as the "Principles of Political Morality:"

"We wish, in a word, to fulfill the intentions of nature and the destiny of man, realize the promised of philosophy, and acquit providence of a long reign of crime and tyranny.  That France, once illustrious among enslaved nations, may, by eclipsing the glory of all free countries that ever existed, become a model to nations, a terror to oppressors, a consolation to the oppressed, an ornament of the universe and that, by sealing the work with our blood, we may at least witness the dawn of a bright day, of universal happiness.  This is our ambition – this is the end of our efforts …"

President Mbeki explained that:

"I have cited them because they communicate an inspiring message about a French people that dared to be free, that dared to act boldly, to create a new world.  We too have dared to absorb them into our own consciousness because, though two centuries old, they tell us what we should do about our patrimony and ourselves."

"I have made bold to recite them in this hallowed chamber because they have suggested that we have a right to make demands on a nation which cannot but be a great nation, otherwise it could not have sprung upon the world an epoch-making Revolution and placed on our firmament a lodestar that cannot be extinguished, the Declaration of the Rights of Man."

France , like the rest of Europe, is home to many Africans just as Africa is home to many Europeans. 

We recognise that the African Diaspora in Europe continues to face various challenges such as xenophobia, racial discrimination, political and socio-economic marginalisation. As our Continent engages the European Union in a strategic partnership, we have to use our collective strength to address these issues.

A nation so great as France with the European Union, a region so democratic, so conscious of human rights, so concerned about humanity as a whole should act in a way that confirms this attributes not only towards the European migrants but to the African Diaspora as well.

In coming together in the twenty-first century, we should also begin by acknowledging that we are renewing relations and partnerships first forged nearly a century ago when Africans from different parts of the world decided to come together to discuss common problems and to forge a new road ahead.

As we meet here today we should acknowledge the contributions of a long line of African and African Diaspora thinkers, that include in their midst, great Pan-Africanist thinkers such as W.E.B du Bois, Sylvester Williams who organized the first Pan African Congress in London in 1900, Marcus Garvey whose declaration that Africa was for the Africans inspired an entire movement and Pixley Ka Seme who called for the “regeneration of Africa”.

This inspired many other Pan-Africanists, including African-American writers, musicians and artists who embraced their own identity and fought racism in the world.

The founders of African unity in the form of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), among them, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Ben Bella, Nmamdi Azikiwe, Modibo Keita, Sekou Toure, Haile Sellassie and others should also be acknowledged as helping to shape the journey on which we have now embarked.

Kwame Nkrumah argued that:

“The best means of doing so is to begin to create a larger and all-embracing loyalty which will hold Africa together as a united people with one government and one destiny.”

Indeed your presence here signifies your interest in being part of the rising groundswell of consciousness which affirms the view of our President Thabo Mbeki, that the 21st century is indeed an African century.

So as we gather here in Paris, let us draw inspiration from the past generations who laid the intellectual and cultural foundations for the tasks upon which we now embark.

Theirs was to create the dreams for a better Africa and world.

Ours is to make these dreams come true and to achieve the practical realization of an African renaissance!

Our gathering here today has much to do with our common future as Africans and people of African descent. Some would say that like a hen that gathers her chicks under her wings for protection from danger, Africa the motherland, seeks to reconnect with her scattered children, some of whom were forcibly and brutally taken away from her many years ago.

Africa as a cradle of humanity has a proud history and had its glory and its golden age.  We are not only bound by history but in President Leopold Sedar Senghors observation:

"What binds us is beyond history, it is rooted in pre-history.  It arises from geography, ethnology, and hence from culture.  It existed before Christianity and Islam, it is older than all colonization.  It is that ‘community of culture which I call African-ness’"

President Mbeki recently said, "Therefore the political and economic integration of Africa has to happen not merely because we share the same history, populate common geographic space and exhibit identical physiological features – important as these are – but because our destinies are intrinsically bound together.”

"Those who closely follow developments on this matter would be aware of the enormous efforts that are being made by many countries and regions to ensure that we do not unduly postpone our unity any longer.  I am saying that the various regional economic communities on our continent are engaged in processes aimed at integrating our continent even when there is on-going debate about the same modalities for integration."

"This consensus, that Africans, who for centuries together traversed long distances of misery and subjugation, would, through the unity of their actions build a path to a better future, not in isolation for one another but as a united force, is not something new."

Our deliberations here today must speak to what we, acting in unity of purpose, could do collectively and practically, to realise the African Renaissance. The views and recommendations which will emanate from this Conference will be consolidated together with the outcomes from the other regional consultations, in preparation for a Ministerial Meeting which will take place in South Africa from 16-18 November 2007. 

The Ministerial Conference will feed into an African Diaspora Summit in 2008, where Heads of Government/State are expected to endorse a Declaration and Programme of Action. 

It is clear that we need, for example, strong communication, transportation and institutional structures that will pursue the outcomes and recommendations from all the regional consultations taking place worldwide.

A few weeks ago we met in Bridgetown Barbados to dialogue with our Caribbean brothers and sisters. It is clear from the outcomes of that Conference that there is much that Africa and its Diaspora can do together to address issues of racism and xenophobia, the condition of marginality, exclusion and underdevelopment, and issues related to reparations. We met in Barbados on the occasion of the Bicentennial Global Dialogue which was held in recognition of the Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The legacy bequeathed on us by the Atlantic Slave Trade, which was declared a crime against humanity, continues to haunt us in so many different ways. I am happy to report that the Barbados process was able make practical proposals for a new partnership between the Diaspora of Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas.

The AU is making a clarion call on the African Diaspora to put forward concrete and tangible proposals for cooperation between the AU and its Diaspora.  We in Africa are aware of some of the reasons why Africa’s best educated and productive citizens find themselves on this side of the Atlantic- and not at home, where their skills, energies and resources are in great demand.

In responding to the call by the African Union, we must pay due regard to the fact that we are building on many good initiatives that are already underway in Africa which needs our active support.

One crucial element in our quest to reunite Africa and her Diaspora is the need to acknowledge and accept our diversity as Africans as much as we recognize the quest for greater unity. Africa is big with many countries, nations, nationalities, religions, tribes and challenges.

This diversity however, should not preclude us from acting in unity of purpose.  From as far back as the Pan African Conferences held in Paris in 1919 and in Manchester in 1945, and even before that, initiatives have implored on Africans to unite. Notwithstanding the divergent views we may espouse, we should be united in our desire to see this better Africa in a better world.

The NEPAD project of the AU offers us a possibility to work together. NEPAD remains the blueprint for the social and economic regeneration of the continent.

I would also like to make mention of the Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund in which Africa is using its own resources – its own financial muscle – to address its developmental challenges. In this way we are putting our own resources behind infrastructure projects on the African continent.

This initiative launched at the AU meeting in Ghana two months ago launched a continent-wide 25-year equity fund to mobilise local and international investment for infrastructure development in Africa with initial seed money of US$625 million raised within the continent. The fund, the first of its kind, is a public-private sector initiative, conceived, put together and completely managed by Africans.

The Fund will initially focus on transport, energy, water and sanitation, and telecommunications infrastructure investments. It will mainly focus on projects that can contribute to the regional integration of the continent.

Together let us all use this opportunity to strengthen the links that bind us and to forge stronger networks for a better Africa and a better future for Africans all over the world.

The poet and diplomat, Abioseh Nicol, speaks about the meaning of our interaction in his poem “The Meaning of Africa”. And I quote:

“We look across a vast continent
And blindly call it ours
You are not a country, Africa
You are a concept
Fashioned in our minds, each to each
To hide our separate fears
To dream our separate dreams
Only those within you who know
Their circumscribed plot
And till it well with steady plough
Can from that harvest then look up
To the vast enamelled bowl of sky
Which covers you and say
“This is my Africa”

“….I know now that is what you are Africa

Happiness, contentment and fulfilment.”

I thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Pretoria
0001

11 September 2007

 


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