19 July 2001

Thabo Mbeki: Africa's high road to unity and rebirth

During the first three days of this week, July 9 -11, Africa's political leaders met in Lusaka at the 37th Ordinary Session of the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government. These three days in July will go down in history as the days when Africa took the high road towards its unity and rebirth.

The 37th Assembly resolved on concrete measures with regard to the steps that must be taken during the next 12 months to bring the African Union (AU) into being. It also adopted the Programme of Action elaborated in the Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme (MAP), as expanded through the integration of Plan Omega.

With these two decisions, Africa's political leaders set our continent on a double-carriage super-highway towards its political unity and its economic integration. Commenting on MAP, integrating Plan Omega, one of the Heads of Government attending the Assembly, made remarks, which we paraphrase, that captured the critical importance of the moment at which our continent had arrived.

"This Programme creates a new paradigm of development in Africa. It integrates various central objectives such as ending poverty and underdevelopment, deepening democracy, enhancing the capacity of our governments and defining a new relationship with the developed world. It is not a set of projects but a new and coherent paradigm. Nothing should be done to destroy its integrity. We should not sacrifice the Programme to political expediency simply to please particular egos. Those who have the vision, the will and the capacity to lead must occupy the frontline. The African Union will be an economic union or it will be nothing. At the same time, there can be no meaningful African Union that is based on unity in poverty."

These remarks were most appropriate and timely because we can truly say that the decisions taken at the 37th Assembly of OAU Heads of State and Government marked the moment when Africa took its destiny into its own hands for the first time in 500 years. Some will remark correctly that this same observation was made four decades ago as the majority of African countries gained their independence. It was said then that our political independence created the possibility and the necessity for us to determine our destiny. The question can therefore be posed legitimately as to what has happened now, that leads us to conclude that "the 37th Assembly marked the moment when Africa took its destiny into its own hands for the first in 500 years."

What has happened is that as Africans, we have taken our own decisions about the political and economic future of our continent. These are practical and implementable decisions based on the sovereign will of the peoples of our continent, the lessons we have drawn from our collective experience over the last four decades, our capacity as governments and societies, the changing international situation and the aspirations of the masses of our people.

At no stage has our continent as a whole, sadly without Morocco, ever adopted as comprehensive a Programme for the Progressive Transformation of Africa as it did at the 37th Assembly in Lusaka. We speak here of a realistic Programme of Action and not a mere wish list. As we have taken these decisions, we have also made the commitment that we will ourselves, as Africans, ensure that we discharge our own responsibilities to implement what we have committed ourselves to implement. In our actions, we will be guided by the principle - nothing is done until it is done!

We have also taken these decisions during the post-Cold War period. What this means is that we are no longer in the situation in which, regardless of our formal political independence, we were nevertheless subject to enormous political pressures which made it very difficult for us to take independent political positions. Independent as we were, more often than not, we were obliged to take positions about our countries and continent that suited the interests of one or the other of the power-blocks of the period of the Cold War.

As the 37th Assembly convened in Lusaka earlier this week, this situation no longer held in the same ways it did barely, a decade ago. Now, Africa has a much greater possibility to take her own sovereign decisions about her own future, in her own interest, This is what the 37th Assembly did.

The end of the Cold War also enhanced the capacity of the masses of people's of Africa to determine the system of governance in their own countries. This is because corrupt and dictatorial rulers can no longer count on the patronage and protection of superpowers intent on maintaining a particular global balance of power and influence, which enabled the Mobutu's of this world to thrive for decades.

As Africa's leaders met in Lusaka at the 37th Assembly, they knew that it was imperative that they respond to the aspirations of the masses who had elected them to power. We must also make the observation that, bar the unresolved question of Western Sahara, the fact of the complete emancipation of Africa from colonial and white minority rule, brought about by the liberation of our country, created the possibility for the Continent to address its next tasks.

We must also take note of the fact during the last decade of the last century, issues of the global struggle against poverty and underdevelopment, for people-centred development, have come to the fore. This process culminated in the historic United Nations Millennium Summit of the year 2000. None can gainsay the fact that a global victory against poverty and underdevelopment must necessarily be a victory against poverty and underdevelopment in Africa. These circumstances have created conditions for the success of the African Renaissance that have never existed before.

It is planned that the 1st Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union will be held in South Africa in July next year, 2002. This will bring to an end the transitional period from the OAU to the AU, and mark the successful conclusion of the preparatory work that was decided upon at the 37th Assembly in Lusaka. To take forward the decisions taken with regard to MAP + Plan Omega, a committee of 15 Heads of State and Government will be constituted immediately. This will include the Presidents of Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria Senegal and South Africa, who had been charged with the task to work on MAP + Plan Omega.

The 37th Assembly decided that both the African Union and MAP +Plan Omega should be presented to the masses of our people in all our countries to ensure their involvement in determining the future of our Continent. We fully support this decision. Accordingly, we expect that our government will take the necessary steps to ensure that this resolution is translated into reality. Africa's unity and rebirth are matters of concern to all our people and not only the governments of our Continent.

The African Union will be born in South Africa during the same year that we will be celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the ANC, the oldest liberation movement on our Continent. We can also take pride in the fact that our country has played a leading role not only in helping to determine the nature of the African Union, but also in initiating and shaping MAP + Plan Omega.

It is perhaps fitting that we, who were the last to be liberated from white minority rule, should host the last Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU and the first Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. After all, it is our movement and people who bequeathed to our Continent the prayer and anthem - God bless Africa! Bestow on her all her Glory! Bless all of us, her children! (ANC today)

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