Address of the President of the South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at
the 38th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association - Africa Region Conference (CPA),
Cape Town 27 July 2007
Chairperson of the Commonwealth
Presiding Officers of the South African Parliament
Ladies and gentlemen
had wished to be with you at the beginning of this important conference. However,
owing to unavoidable government commitments, I was unfortunately unable to come
when you began your work. I trust that you have had very fruitful deliberations
on the various topics reflected on the week-long programme of your conference.
If a question was put to all of us gathered here in Cape Town under the
umbrella of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as to, "What gives
us our shared commonality, what would our answer be?"
Would the answer
be that we are a commonwealth because we speak the same language as that of our
erstwhile coloniser? Or is it that we are a commonwealth because we share a common
and unique destiny?
I think we would agree that forums such as this one
provide us with the opportunity to address such important questions even though
the particular question I posed was only inspired by my recollection of an African
saying that, 'the name we carry is either a blessing or a curse.'
of course, more significant than any label by which we identify ourselves, is
what we can and should do to respond to the pressing and immediate reality of
a shared African heritage of poverty and underdevelopment and a shared African
heritage of a common resolve to act together to place ourselves on the high road
It is fitting, Chairperson, that the 38th Commonwealth Parliamentary
Association (CPA) has assembled in Cape Town under the broad theme of "Parliamentarians
building strong democratic institutions for promoting development in the 21st
century." This theme focuses our attention on the task we set ourselves when
we, as Africans, declared the 21st century, an African century.
made this declaration, we knew that Africa's all round advance and its recovery
from centuries of slavery, imperialism, colonialism, apartheid and neo-colonialism
would, among other things, intrinsically be linked to its to realisation of the
goals of peace, democracy, prosperity and unity.
As we strive to accomplish
these goals, we must be inspired by the understanding that it is only when the
masses of the people repossess the right to be their own liberators that we will
release the immense energy that resides among these masses, which our continent
sorely needs rapidly to advance towards the realisation of the goal of the emancipation
of all Africans from the curse of poverty, underdevelopment and global marginalisation.
To create the possibility for the masses of our people to discharge their
historic mission as their own liberators means transforming our continent into
a home of democracy and entrenched democratic practice. I am honoured that you
gave me the possibility, this morning, perhaps belatedly to welcome you to our
country as democrats, the elected tribunes of the African masses.
you to our young democracy as comrades in arms engaged in a common struggle to
ensure that our continent should never again allow that the masses of our people
are deprived of their right to determine their destiny by people who impose themselves
on the masses as rulers, simply because they have the capacity to proclaim themselves
our masters by virtue of the fact that they carry weapons of death in their hands.
I must confess that I say all this to bind all of us to a common compact
that obliges all of us constantly and everyday to strive for the realisation of
the goal that, the people shall govern!
I am certain that together we
share the understanding that only through a democratic system of governance can
the masses of the African people acquire the space to give let to their extraordinary
talents, to give free reign to their ingenuity and creativity in an environment
liberated from the choking fetters of oppressive, autocratic and dictatorial government
It is fitting that you, African parliamentarians, who have gathered
here, have discussed the important topics that appear on your agenda. Among these
is the issue that is central to all of us as Africans, the fight against poverty
and underdevelopment and the role that our parliaments should play in this regard.
Indeed, the struggle to combat underdevelopment and push back the frontiers
of poverty on our continent demands the collective effort not only of Africans
but also determined engagement with the African Diaspora, south-south partnerships
and partnerships of equals with the countries of the north.
I am informed
that quite correctly, you have also discussed the important issue of the environment
and the role that our parliaments should play to ensure that our continent and
all our people respond in a timely and correct manner to the critical matter of
environmental protection, which is an important subject not just for Africa but
also for all humanity.
It is now universally accepted that the consequences
of global warming will be especially severe for the developing countries and particularly
our continent. The severity of this impact will derive precisely from the fact
that because we are poor, we do not have the means to adapt to and mitigate the
effects of climate change. Despite the objective reality that we would have contributed
very little to such climate change, we would nevertheless be condemned to bear
the brunt of environmental degradation in all its manifestations including desertification.
To bring all this close to our lived experience, we all know that it is
the poor who inhabit the informal settlements in our towns, cities and villages
that are often built in marginal areas such as natural fault lines, floodplains
and unstable hillsides. This renders such communities especially vulnerable to
floods, landslides and other natural disasters.
Chairperson, as we all
know, after the wave of independence mainly in the 1960s a combination of factors
that brought about numerous crises in our countries ensured that our continent
was placed under de facto trusteeship, with programmes and policies for Africa's
development drawn up by people who were not only not African but were in many
instances those who had been our colonial masters.
To defeat this neo-colonial
stranglehold, we have developed our own path of development as reflected in the
Constitutive Act authorising the establishment of the African Union (AU) and the
AU development and reconstruction programme, the New Partnership for Africa's
These African creations represent formidable instruments
to address the important matters that you as African Commonwealth Parliamentarians
have discussed during the course of this week.
I am certain that at previous
meetings you have discussed both the Constitutive Act and the AU. I am not convinced
that together, we have fully understood the true meaning of the Constitutive Act
which had to be and was approved by our national parliaments. As you know, this
means that it therefore enjoys the status of municipal law in each of our countries,
equal in importance to all other laws approved by our parliaments.
must surely mean that your oversight function as parliamentarians includes oversight
over the implementation of the Constitutive Act. I am not certain that even our
own Parliament has seen it as its task to honour this obligation.
to this, all our parliaments are represented in the Pan African Parliament (PAP).
Obviously the PAP itself a child of the Constitutive Act, cannot ignore its responsibility
to act vigorously to ensure that all our countries respect all the injunctions
contained in the Constitutive Act, which have the force of law in each of our
I am certain that you have understood that all I am trying
to do is to encourage you as an African Association of Parliamentarians to take
most seriously your responsibility as elected leaders of our people to ensure
the success of the AU in all its elements including the institutions that have
already been established, such as the PAP, the Court of Human and Peoples Rights,
the Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Economic, Social and Cultural
This should include assistance to all our countries
to respect the prescriptions of the Constitutive Act and support for all the countries
that have acceded to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) to meet the benchmarks
of good governance set by the APRM, which serves as an instrument for the implementation
of the objectives set by the Constitutive Act.
Everything I have said
makes the statement that it is obvious that we have a lot of work ahead of us.
If I may give you yet another example, let me refer to the fact you are aware
of, that all of us are obliged to take action to implement the provisions of the
African Convention on terrorism.
I am convinced that not all our countries
have passed the necessary legislation to make the convention on terrorism operational.
This association could work with the PAP to prepare model legislation on terrorism
to be made available to all African parliaments, which would help to ensure that
all our countries have compatible legislation that brings the African Convention
on terrorism into force in all our countries.
This would enormously strengthen
the capacity of our continent to defeat the threat of terrorism which has already
claimed many African lives. I am certain that you, honourable parliamentarians,
would be aware of other interventions of a similar kind that you can make. These
might include such important matters as confronting the mercenary scourge, human
and drug trafficking, gender equality and children's rights.
As part of
the many on-going programmes of NEPAD, one of the most recent areas of progress
that deserves special mention is the birth of the Pan-African Infrastructure Development
Fund, which was launched in Accra during the 9th Ordinary Summit Meeting of the
AU earlier this month.
The Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund
has been established to finance large scale African infrastructure development
projects. Of critical and historic importance is the fact that the entirety of
the capital of the fund, currently amounting to US $625-million, originates exclusively
from within our continent.
We are confident that within the next 12 months
the capital base of the Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund will reach
US $1 billion. Practically, we, as Africans, are making the firm statement that
we are ready to rely on our resources to finance our own development focusing
in the first instance on the critically important infrastructure projects already
elaborated by NEPAD.
Further, the introduction of the APRM as part of
NEPAD and its acceptance by many member states of the AU have already begun to
make an important contribution to our efforts to sustain and entrench good political,
economic and corporate governance on our continent and strengthen the bonds of
solidarity and mutual support among our countries.
I am certain that you,
as African parliamentarians have an important role to play to ensure the success
of the NEPAD programmes. Not least among these is educating the masses of our
people about what NEPAD is and mobilising them to engage in the development process.
I would like to suggest that if this has not been done already, this association
should establish direct contact with the NEPAD Secretariat to facilitate its systematic
engagement with the NEPAD programmes.
Chairperson, as we are aware, the
AU held its 9th Ordinary Summit meeting in Accra, Ghana from 1 to 3 July 2007.
The principal aim of the summit was to provide an opportunity to the African leaders
to engage in what had been described as a "Grand Debate on the AU government",
as well as celebrate the historic 50th anniversary of the independence of the
sister country of Ghana.
As you know, the summit meeting concluded with
the adoption of the Accra Declaration, which outlined the continental programme
of action on the question of a union government. In essence, the Accra Declaration
is a collective decision of the African political leaders on how to proceed with
the question of African integration. It is therefore important to reflect briefly
on this matter.
To provide the context within which the grand debate took
place in Accra, I would like to draw from an article that I wrote three weeks
ago on this matter. In that article, in part, I said, "The grand debate centred
on one critical strategic question. This was, should we adopt a top down approach
to the formation of the United States of Africa with its union government or should
we follow the bottom up route! Should we set up a union government to lead this
process or should we use our existing structures, especially the regional economic
communities and the AU to effect the process of integration that would lead to
the formation of a union government serving as the executive authority of the
United States of Africa!"
I further noted that the Accra Summit meeting
decided unanimously in favour of the latter option of building the House of Africa
from its foundation upwards, "constructing one floor at a time", as
Uganda President, Yoweri Museveni, put it.
Lastly, I observed that representing
the united view of the region of southern Africa, the current Chairperson of SADC,
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho said, "We recognise that Africa's
interests would be best served through both political and economic integration.
However, we must adopt a bottom up approach, not a top down one. The entire process
must be people driven and not leaders driven. It must be the voice of the masses
that determine Africa's ultimate destiny."
Indeed, the Accra Declaration
stated that the African leaders who gathered in Ghana agreed to accelerate the
economic and political integration of the African continent including the formation
of a union government for Africa, with the ultimate objective of creating the
United States of Africa. However, in order to realise this objective, the African
leaders agreed on the necessary steps that must be taken which include:
The rationalisation, strengthening and harmonisation of the activities of the
Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in line with previous decisions of the AU,
with the RECs mandated also to work for regional political integration, with these
acting as building blocks in the advance towards the creation of the United States
- The conduct of an audit of the executive council, the AU Commission,
as well as the other organs of the AU in terms of Article 10 of the Constitutive
- The establishment of a Ministerial Committee that will examine a
number of matters including the identification of the possible mandate of the
union government and its relations with national governments, identification of
domains of competence and the impact of the establishment of the union government
on the sovereignty of Member States and the determination of the relationship
between the union government and the RECs.
Indicating the seriousness
with which our continent views the imperative to accelerate its advance towards
its unity, the next Ordinary Session of the AU, next January, will consider a
report on the implementation of the Accra Declaration.
A significant assertion
made by the Accra Declaration is the obligation to involve the African masses
in the process leading up to the creation of a union government. Accordingly,
the declaration stated that the Heads of States and government of the AU "agree
on the importance of involving the African peoples, including Africans in the
diaspora, in the process leading to the formation of the union government".
The reasoning of the African Heads of State and government was that the
involvement of the African peoples is necessary "in order to ensure that
the AU is a union of peoples and not just a Union of States and governments".
The challenge that faces African parliaments is how to seize the moment
created by the debate from the recently concluded Accra Summit meeting of the
AU. The voice of the African masses must be heard in the on going process to strengthen
African co-operation and unity.
Clearly, if our parliamentarians, such
as yourselves, fail to make their voices heard by participating in the processes
that were identified by the AU Summit meeting, a critically important African
constituency would be left out of an historic process to translate into reality
the age old African dream of African unity. In this regard, you, our parliamentarians,
elected representatives of the African masses have to ensure that the people fully
play their role as makers of history.
Chairperson, a new spirit is abroad
on our continent. I have felt its palpable presence personally, in many countries
of our continent and in all our regions. In a few days I will have the privilege
to join President Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d'Ivoire and Prime Minister Guillaume
Soro as well as other African Heads of State in an important ceremony in Cote
d'Ivoire to ignite a Flame of Peace signalling the return of peace to this important
That Ivorian Flame of Peace will, at the same time, serve
as a symbol of the determination of the African masses truly the wretched of the
earth to free themselves from all the evil spirits that have had a free run over
the face of our continent for far too long, stripping us of our dignity and imposing
on us the humiliating condition that many in the rest of the world have come to
treat us as being nothing more than mere objects of charitable kindness.
new spirit is abroad on our continent. The great African masses are saying, 'enough
is enough'! All of us are privileged that we live during this new age of the Renaissance
of Africa. We are privileged that we can take action as African patriots and register
new African victories that will bring joy and constitute our sacred memorial prayer
of tribute to our great heroes wherever they are, Mohamed V; Kwame Nkrumah; Patrice
Lumumba; Abdel Gamel Nasser; Mwalimu Julius Nyerere; Modibo Keita; Eric Williams;
Martin Luther King Jnr; Malcolm X; Murtala Mohamed; Seretse Khama; Albert Mvumbi
Luthuli and Oliver Tambo.
The lyrics of one of our liberation songs, which
young female and male combatants of our movement sang during the years when we
had to take up arms to secure our freedom, asked the question, when the roll call
of heroes and heroines is read, will my name also be mentioned? Ma ebizwa amagam'
amaqhawe, ngob'elami ngolifica likhona?
I believe that all of us present
here today, leaders elected by the new African masses must ask ourselves the same
question, when these masses read out the roll call of their contemporary heroines
and heroes will our own names be worthy of mention?
The answer to that
question rests entirely in our hands. I am certain that if singly and collectively
we make the pledge, we serve the people of Africa! And honour this pledge, the
masses of our people will invoke the blessings of the ancestors as they bestow
on us the eminent title of hero and heroine.
A new and indestructible spirit
of dedication to progressive and people centred change is abroad in Africa. The
only question that remains to be answered is whether we, whom the African masses
accept as their leaders, are ready and willing to play our part as midwives of
the new Africa that is striving to be born!
In the name of the African
masses including those in the African Diaspora I am privileged to wish you, who
represent the African contingent of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
success in all your future endeavours.
27 July 2007