Speech of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the Africa EU Summit Meeting: Lisbon, Portugal, 8-9 December 2007

Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government,
Distinguished delegates:

I have been asked to speak on the topic of Governance and Human Rights in Africa. I would like to start by saying that our Continent is hard at work doing everything possible to address this important and complex issue.

As African leaders gathered here at this Summit Meeting we are acutely aware of our obligations to the millions of African people, especially the poor majority that constitutes the bulk of the African population. We are determined to do everything possible to ensure that these masses escape from the clutches of poverty, underdevelopment and dehumanisation as speedily as possible.

We are fully conscious of the fact that good governance and respect for human rights are fundamental to the achievement of this objective. We are also very much alive to our own experience as a Continent.

I speak here of the period during the post-colonial years when our Continent fell victim to military coups and dictatorship, intense civil conflict including genocide, disrespect for human rights, corruption, and, in some instances, the virtual collapse of the machinery of state.

As a Continent we are determined that we should never again return to these dark days, which pushed our peoples deeper and deeper into the dehumanising pit of poverty and have therefore taken and are taking many practical steps in this regard.

In this context, I must emphasise that we are doing this of our own accord, driven by the fundamental interests of our peoples, having drawn the necessary lessons from our own experience.

To reflect what I have said I would like to quote the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, H.E. Prof Alpha Omar Konare when he spoke on the occasion of the Solemn Launch of the AU Peace and Security Council on Africa Day, May 25, 2004.

He said: “The Protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council asserts the importance of good governance in the efforts for conflict prevention and management. In this regard, the Preamble stresses what the development of institutions, the dissemination of a strong democratic culture, the observance of human rights and the rule of law represent for the promotion of lasting peace and stability as well as conflict prevention.”

I followed in his footsteps a few months later when I spoke at the first sitting of the Pan African Parliament on September 16, 2004 and said:

“(The instruments that establish this Parliament) make the unequivocal statement that the peoples of Africa yearn for peace, democracy and respect for human rights. They make the unequivocal statement that the peoples of Africa are determined to extricate themselves from poverty and underdevelopment.

“They make the unequivocal statement that Africa must and will unite and that she will take her place among the continents as an equal partner in the human striving for a world of peace, freedom, respect for all human beings and a shared prosperity.”

I would therefore like to draw the attention of the Summit Meeting to the founding document of the African Union, which was approved by all our parliaments, the Constitutive Act.

To indicate the seriousness of the intent of our Continent when it considered the Constitutive Act, I would like to underline that fact that since the Act was formally adopted by our Parliaments, it is part of the municipal law of each of our countries.

Addressing the issues of good governance and human rights, the Constitutive Act says the Objectives of the African Union shall be to:

  • encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • promote peace, security, and stability on the continent;
  • promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; and,
  • promote and protect human and peoples' rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.

Further, it says, “The Union shall function in accordance with the following principles:

  • promotion of gender equality;
  • respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance;
  • promotion of social justice to ensure balanced economic development;
  • respect for the sanctity of human life;
  • condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities; and,
  • condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments.”

For its part, addressing the matter of governance, among its objectives the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, states that it seeks to:

  • Promote and protect the independence of the judiciary;
  • Nurture, support and consolidate good governance by promoting democratic culture and practice, building and strengthening governance institutions and inculcating political pluralism and tolerance; and,
  • Promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, freedom of the press and accountability in the management of public affairs.

To summarise this section of our presentation, I would like to say that we believe that we have established the policy positions we need to address the challenge of governance and human rights on our Continent. In this regard we can, in addition, also mention the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the AU Convention on Prevention and Combating Corruption, and the Standards and Codes that govern the African Peer Review Mechanism.

Needless to say, we need the necessary institutions to ensure that we achieve the objectives we have set ourselves. These have been established and, although relatively new, are operational. I refer here in particular to the Peace and Security Council, with which our European friends are familiar, the Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the Court on Human and People’s Rights, and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

It is not necessary here to describe any of these. In any case we would not have the time.

We are determined that the institutions I have mentioned discharge their responsibilities in terms of their founding documents and Protocols.

Needless to say, in implementing the vision set out in the Act, we will at times have temporary setbacks.

We will not relax our efforts in this regard. To illustrate this point, we could indeed cite specific instances of work currently being done in various parts of our Continent.

We continue to face challenges relating to governance in Africa, as this is the case with other regions of the world. However, to put the matter frankly, by far the biggest challenge we face in terms of implementing our programmes on good governance and human rights is the issue of resources.

We agreed to convene here in Lisbon inspired by a common resolve to establish a true partnership between Africa and the EU. This derives from our common understanding that we are united by a shared interest in the all-round success and development of both our regions.

For this reason I trust that we will find time to discuss what we might do together further to re inforce Africa’s continuing efforts to ensure good governance, the protection of human rights, sustained development and poverty eradication.

Thank you for your attention.

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