Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the AU-African Diaspora Ministerial Conference Gallagher Estate, Friday 16 November 2007

Director of Ceremonies,
Your Excellency, Chairperson of the AU Commission, Prof. Alpha Oumar Konare,
Your Excellencies Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Members of the AU Commission,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen:

I am honoured to welcome you to South Africa and this critically important and historic conference. Our government and people are indeed very pleased that together, as Africans, we have taken yet another step towards building a system of cooperation among ourselves that will increase our capacity to confront and solve the common problems we share, enabling us to assert our dignity as human beings.

Let me repeat a story you know very well. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Trinidad barrister, Sylvester Williams, sponsored the first Pan-African Congress which was held in London in 1900. One of the most important and indelible results of this gathering was that it gave birth to the concept of Pan-Africanism.

Accordingly, engagements such as this AU-African Diaspora Ministerial Conference are part of the great tradition of the African people, wherever they are, to unite and confront the many challenges we have faced for many centuries.

Whereas Sylvester Williams, W.E.B. duBois, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta and others organised the Pan-African Congresses so as to mobilise and fight colonialism and racism, today we are faced with multiple challenges most of which are the legacy of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

Indeed, the various African Diaspora Regional Consultative Conferences held on the different continents identified appropriate themes which are at the very heart of our common struggle of defeating poverty, underdevelopment and the marginalisation of the African people.

I would therefore like to make some comments on these sub-themes that you have used as a guide in your various regional consultative conferences and which are central to your discussions in this particular conference.

As you know, these sub-themes are:

• Global Dialogue, Peace and Stability;
• Historical, Socio-Cultural and Religious Commonalities;
• Knowledge Sharing;
• Women, Youth, Children and Vulnerable Groups;
• Economic Cooperation; and
• Regional Development and Integration.

If we were to pose the question in this room whether the contemporary system of international relations is characterised by global dialogue, I am certain the answer would be in the negative because if we had proper global dialogue, humanity would not be confronted by as many problems as we are today, because dialogue is supposed to be a reciprocal conversation between people.

Indeed, the Russian philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin describes dialogue as the power of discourse to increase understanding of multiple perspectives and create myriad possibilities. He asserts that relationships and connections exist among all living beings, and that dialogue creates a new understanding of a situation that demands change.

Similarly, the well-known Brazilian educationist, Paulo Freire, described dialogue as a type of classroom pedagogy. He believed that dialogued communication allowed students and teachers to learn from one another in an environment characterised by respect and equality. For Paulo Freire dialogued pedagogy was not only about deepening understanding, it was also about making positive changes in the world.

However, as we know from our own experiences, more often than not, the powerful and the rich of the world understand global dialogue as an opportunity to dictate terms to the rest of humanity.

Contrary to this, just like Mikhail Bakhtin and Paulo Freire, we see dialogue being about understanding and learning from others. Dialogue is important to us because it dispels stereotypes, builds trust and helps people to be open to views and perspectives that are very different from their own.

Therefore, all of us as Africans, both in the motherland and in the Diaspora should entrench dialogue in our engagements. This is particularly so with all of us on the continent so that we respond successfully to such challenges as the attainment of peace and stability.

Further, that we need to do more to strengthen our historical, socio-cultural and religious commonalities. I have noted the correct observation from our compatriots in the Diaspora that while many of them have made huge contributions to our struggles for freedom, those on the African continent have not reciprocated, especially in the many struggles that they themselves face today.

This, I believe, is something that both our individual countries as well as the African Union have to look into seriously.

Chairperson,

There is an urgent need for knowledge sharing and economic cooperation between Africa and the Diaspora. For instance, the development programme of the African Union, NEPAD, has developed various projects and programmes that are currently being implemented.

The report presented to this conference indicates, among other things, that the regional consultative conferences that have already taken place have strongly emphasised the need for the development of modern communication infrastructure in Africa in the form of satellite networks and fibre optic cables.

Indeed, one of NEPAD’s important projects is the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), a 9 900km-long submarine cable between Durban on our east coast and Port Sudan, which will undoubtedly transform the telecommunication sector in Africa. This project which would also cut telecommunication costs in Africa could be operational by the end of 2008.

EASSy will connect with terrestrial fibre-optic cables to make up what will be known as the NEPAD ICT Broadband Network. This, I have no doubt is consistent with your own discussions and would help the continent to free itself from its dependence on expensive satellite systems to carry voice and data traffic.

Let me take this opportunity to mention a few of other NEPAD projects. We have spoken about them before, but because of the importance of the leadership gathered here I think it is proper to mention them again.

These NEPAD projects include the Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund, which we launched this year, to finance large-scale African infrastructure projects, using funds mobilised from our own continent. We are indeed very happy that we have so far managed to capitalise this Fund to the tune of $625-million, depending exclusively on African capital.

The Fund has pledged to finance projects, on the African continent, in areas such as transport, energy, technology and general infrastructure.

In addition, the African Development Bank has been very busy with the funding of various NEPAD projects. The Bank has reported that it has mobilised US $1,6 billion to finance various infrastructure improvement projects across Africa, mainly in the rail, road and energy sectors. This is in addition to the 33 different projects under NEPAD that the Bank has already financed to the cost of US$800 million.

NEPAD has also launched an important ICT programme called the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative which aims to ensure that schools across the continent have access to modern communication technology.

There are indeed other projects in different sectors and I am confident that through these projects some of which are in collaboration with partners from the developed north, the vision of the African Renaissance will, in time, become a living reality.

At the same, if we were able to work better together with the Africans in the Diaspora, utilising the skills and expertise that many of them have, many of these programmes and projects will be implemented faster and I am certain more efficiently.

Further, I think while we have pressing challenges here on the African continent, it would be proper for us to look into ways and means of extending the NEPAD programmes and projects to the Africans in the Diaspora.

Through these programmes and projects should also be possible to attract back into Africa the much-needed scarce and critical African skills that have emigrated to the developed North.

I would also like fully to endorse the identification by the regional consultative conferences of the need for collaboration between the private sectors in Africa and the Diaspora to increase access to capital, to business expertise and markets to accelerate development both on the Continent and the African Diaspora.

Indeed, we should move with the necessary speed to implement the Action Plan on Science and Technology of the African Union. In this regard, our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora are very critical. Further, we should identify institutions and universities that could form strategic partnerships across the African world so that these institutions accelerate their practical work relevant to our common challenges.

Again, as you have observed, it is important that the issues of women, youth, children and vulnerable groups should not be left at the periphery but should be central to all the work we would do. The progress we make against poverty, underdevelopment and marginalisation can only be properly measured by the steps we take to ensure advancement and prosperity of women, youth, children and vulnerable groups.

Before I conclude, I would like to assure you that our eminent continental organisation, the African Union is determined to give effect to the Pan-African vision that first found organised expression in the Pan-African Conference of 1900. While remaining firmly committed to the objective of uniting the African Continent, it similarly remains firmly committed to meaningful cooperation between our Continent and the African Diaspora.

For this reason, for instance, the African Union fully supported our proposal to FIFA that we should treat the 2010 Soccer World Cup which we will host, as an African Soccer World Cup, inclusive of the African Diaspora. Accordingly, therefore, our Continent is at one that the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup should also benefit the African Diaspora. We remain committed to this goal.

Fellow Africans:

Together, we will have to work hard to implement the recommendations that you will be making at this conference so that our meetings should always be important platforms for action that would ensure that Africans, wherever they are, enjoy prosperity and are able to walk tall among all the peoples of the world.

I wish this important conference success and thank you for your attention.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
Pretoria
0001
16 November 2007

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