- Written by Salim Ahmed Salim
Your Excellency President Thabo Mbeki, Patron of The Thabo Mbeki Foundation; Members of the Board of Trustees of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen; All protocols observed.
As we are all very much aware that on Africa Day, we formally commemorate the creation of the Organisation of the African Unity in 1963, 51 years from this Sunday, as well as the inception of its successor, the African Union, just 12 years ago. Obviously, these landmark occasions signify the achievements of our liberated continent, the collective assertion of freedom, equality, and a distinctly pan-African identity as we reflect on our colonial past and as we define the future direction for our individual countries and our continent as a whole.
We also take this day to honour the countless lives that were dedicated to our struggle, those whose contributions shall for ever continue to inspire us and remain indispensible in our collective efforts to realise a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and united Africa, much sooner than later.
Let me, therefore, hasten to pay my special tribute to you, President Thabo Mbeki, for your own personal contribution in that regard. Your tireless efforts in bringing peace and developing new thought leadership on accelerated socio-economic development on the continent, is well appreciated and greatly valued. I therefore take this opportunity to say, thank you very much President Mbeki for dedicating your entire life to the liberation and meaningful socio-economic transformation of our continent.
The African continent left behind by the likes of Kwame Nkrumah; Gamal Abdel Nasser; Julius Nyerere; Ahmed Ben Ben Bella; Modibo Keita; Aboubakar Tafawa Balewa; Emperor Haille Sellasie; Kenneth Kaunda; Jomo Kenyatta; Patrice Lumumba; Amilcar Cabral; Eduardo Mondlane; Agostinho Neto; Sylvanus Olympio; Sir Milton Margai; Felix Houphouet Boigny; Leopold Sedar Senghor and your very own Oliver Tambo; Robert Sobukwe; and our recently departed hero, Tata Nelson Mandela, just to mention a few who constituted the “Freedom Generation” of African leadership finds in you, President Mbeki, a committed foot soldier, as the continent seeks to confidently match into the future and make the 21st Century, rightfully its own!
I purposely began my submission by recognising the role that had been played by the “Freedom Generation” of the African leadership, simply to underscore three obvious issues that relate to the central role that effective leadership plays in changing the fortunes of our individual countries and our continent, in the past and as we strive for a prosperous future.
In the first instance and through the individual and collective legacy of the “Freedom Generation” leadership that still continues to inspire the masses of our people, it has become an undisputable fact that Africa is capable and has indeed, produced strong, effective, reliable and world-class leaders. Leaders who could and have effectively met the challenges of their time and their generation, however difficult the circumstances may have been!
Secondly, it is the fact that such leadership should in essence be “people centred” as it is constituted to serve the interests of the majority of our people. The many successes and victories that were recorded by this generation, were strongly driven and underpinned by the massive support that this leadership enjoyed from the masses of our people in response to the profound commitment to the fundamental aspiration of the people on whose interest they mounted and led the struggle!
Thirdly and in that regard, through the eyes of the “Freedom Generation” of African leadership, we should also see how the power of an inspiring Vision; deep sense of Mission; profound Commitment, Selflessness and readiness to make extreme sacrifices, can overcome even the most unbearable challenges that may embrace the continent, at any moment in its history.
Africa’s resounding successes in the struggle against the very powerful and well organised colonial and apartheid forces bear testimony to this conclusion.
It is indeed important to understand how we were able to attain this achievement, especially in the case of those countries where colonialism and racism was not only totally intransigent but also enjoyed the support of some powerful external powers.
For example I recall that during my tenure of Office as the Permanent Representative of my country at the United Nations in the 1970s some of our friends in the West were talking about the “invincibility of the white redoubt in Southern Africa.” In other words they perpetuated the myth that the colonial and racist situation in Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe, South West Africa now Namibia, Angola, Mozambique as well as South Africa will basically remain unaltered. How then given the formidable obstacles that confronted the liberation movements, we are today able to be here and celebrate the independence of the entire continent?
Simply put three factors made this possible. First and foremost, the resilience, determination and sacrifices of our people and their liberation movements. Second, the unity and cohesion of the independent African states in supporting this struggle.
True, the extent of that support varied from one country to another but the support was always there. Third, the valuable support and solidarity of the international community in various forms and manifestation.
It is therefore, important that I make an early conclusion in my submission that, as we focus on our continent’s future in a manner that effectively meets the massive challenges and exploit the vast opportunities that exist for Africa’s development and prosperous future, at the very least, these leadership attributes need to be internalised and creatively applied in shaping Africa’s current and future cadre of leadership.
It is tragedy that, precisely because of its profound commitment to the continent’s meaningful emancipation, the Freedom Generation of African Leadership was effectively undermined during the first decade of Africa’s independence. This was the height of the cold war tensions, as competing powers sought to extend their respective spheres of influence on the continent.
Africa’s promise and hope for a meaningful UHURU disappeared fast, as post-independence
Africa became characterised by wars, instabilities and undemocratic regimes, thereby losing the transformative and development Vision that had characterised and energised the nationalist and pan-Africanist struggles of our forebearers.
Yet, all was not lost, particularly in the Southern African Region, where the strong leadership of the Front Line States and the liberation movements, sustained the vanguard of the African Revolution, within the region and the continent as well as through the non-alignment movement and the international community at large.
It is in this context that, one of the early Pan-Africanist acts by President Mandela’s administration, after coming to power in 1994, was to resuscitate the cause for Africa’s Re-birth or Renaissance in which You, President Mbeki, have been and continue to be actively involved.
To chart Africa’s pathway forward, we must be frank in our assessments of Africa since the era of our collective independence. Now we are free. It is indeed pertinent to ask ourselves whether the Aims and Objectives articulated by the pioneers of our independence movements have been achieved or for that matter anywhere near fulfillment. I am afraid, at a certain juncture of the past few decades; we seem to have lost that compass, with all its attendant implications.
It is indeed a fact that though our countries are free, the aims and objectives of the freedom struggle, has yet to be attained in many of our countries. When we fought for freedom we did not just fight for the purpose of replacing the white colonialism. The objective was to improve the lot of our people. It was intended to ensure larger freedoms including the right to decide how we are governed, by whom and for what period. It was to remove injustice and ensure that the country’s resources are utilized for the betterment of our people. It was to fight disease, ignorance and abject poverty. To change the lives of our people and to transform the continent from what it used to be called the dark continent to the continent which is living up to its responsibilities.
As we therefore mark 51 years since laying the foundations of African Unity and reflect and plan for the future, there are some soul searching questions which we as Africans need to ask ourselves.
• Why is it a continent, which is one of the richest if not the richest in terms of resources both human and material, continues to have the poorest people?
• How can we rationally explain the continued and in some cases escalating internal conflicts in some parts of our continent with attendant loss of millions of lives, human misery and destruction as well as forcing millions of our people to vote with their feet.
• How do we erase the image of a continent where corruption is considered endemic?
• How do we sustain and better utilize the current decade old achievements of economic growth into a shared prosperity for all?
Indeed, some of our leaders in Africa including you President Thabo Mbeki have characterized the 21st Century as Africa’s century. I believe that this is possible, achievable and most of all necessary. This should be the clarion of the new generation of young people who unlike in our times, has more privileges of global interconnectivity including advance communication technology, to use for fulfilling its generational mission. But we must move with seriousness and deliberate speed in addressing all those problems which are within our means to resolve. These include:
Lecture delivered by Dr Salim, former Secretary General of the OAU and Chairperson of the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Foundation at the Annual Thabo Mbeki Foundation Africa Day Lecture, UNISA, Tshwane, South Africa, 23rd May 2014.