Address by African Union Commission Chairperson and Home Affairs Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to the 24th congress of the Socialist International: 'For a common road to peace, sustainability and cooperation: the need to secure multilateralism' at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town
31 Aug 2012
The President of Socialist International, Your Excellency George Papandreou
The Secretary-General of Socialist International, Your Excellency Luis Ayala
Comrades and friends
I am pleased to stand before a gathering of people who represent 161 social democratic, socialist and labour parties and organisations from all continents to deliberate on the issue of “a common road to peace, sustainability and co-operation: the need to secure multilateralism.”
In this session, the question we must respond to, clearly and strategically, is how to achieve the level of international cooperation required to secure a future for our children and grandchildren. Conflicts, unsustainable development and lack of cooperation threaten that future. As individuals and collectively, you constitute a critical moral, intellectual and organisational resource and this Congress must provide leadership.
The nature and seriousness of the challenge
Our first task is to grasp what is at stake and the nature of the challenges we are confronting. What is beyond dispute is that never before have people been so connected and so interdependent. Economic systems are connected to the extent that a conflict in a distant country can increase the price of food on your plate within days. Your job may depend on your country importing parts produced in five other countries. Globalised technology ensures that information spreads across the world within minutes.
What is also evident is that our potential ability to deal effectively with even the most serious problems has never been greater. Rapid advances in knowledge and technology are providing us with the means to eradicate hunger and poverty; and to stop destroying the environment that sustains life on our planet.
However, we must boldly confront the fact that our domestic and international systems and institutions are largely not geared to cooperate in building a better future for humanity. They continue instead to be geared to monopolising resources and to preserving - and indeed increasing - the huge inequalities that divide us. For example it should be sufficient to point to the persistent failure to end grossly unjust terms of trade between more and less developed nations; and the failure to take meaningful steps to mitigate climate change.
Under the Heading “Global Change and Future Prospects” the following statement was part of the declaration of principles adopted at the 18th Congress of the Socialist International in 1989:
“The rapid process of internationalisation and interdependence in the world economy has given rise to contradictions within existing political, social and national institutions. This growing gap between an international economy and inadequate international political structures has been a contributory factor to the poverty and underdevelopment of the South, as well as to mass unemployment and new forms of poverty in many areas of the North.”
Why the Socialist International can make a difference
Our second task is to understand why the Socialist International and this Congress can make a difference in relation to promoting and securing multilateralism.
In answering this question it is important to remind ourselves that the Socialist International is an expression of a larger and deeper historical movement that has united people across the globe. Socialism is rooted in humanism, the most fundamental aspect of which is to value humanity and see it as indivisible. Humanism itself has roots in all cultures and societies and in many faiths and ideologies. Ubuntu translates as “a person is a person through other people”.
Socialists must logically be activists. They unite in action and confront injustice and inequality, promote democracy and strive to develop our collective and individual human potential. Socialists know from historical experience that humanity can co-operate in finding rational solutions to common problems. For example, we know that the participants to this Congress can make a difference, in all their rich varieties, are more relevant than ever before.
How the Socialist International can make a difference
Our last and most important task is to understand and determine how to secure a multilateral approach to achieving peace and development that is sustainable.
I want to emphasise that the approach to be adopted to multilateralism must also be aimed at confronting injustice. Peace and development is not sustainable without justice.
We should not make the fatal mistake of assuming that humble working people will also be passive people. Inequalities and the systems that produce them are the main source of conflicts, directly or indirectly. Conflicts in turn undermine efforts towards sustainable development. (For countries that are vulnerable, to have valuable minerals such as oil is often more of a “curse” than a blessing.)
Multilateralism may take many forms, but the most important thing is for the actors involved to define its content. As the apex multilateral institution involved in global governance the United Nations (UN) provides the most legitimate context and content. In its Founding Charter the main purpose of the UN is stated and it clearly defines the basic principles of multilateralism, without actually using the term.
The United Nations aims:
- “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace; and
- To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
I hope that we are moved by these beautiful words and recognise that the existence of the United Nations, with all its limitations, represents perhaps the greatest collective achievement of humankind. As socialists we should know that the United Nations will be attacked and why; and we should know that by defending it and strengthening it we will be advancing an inclusive multilateralism.
And by inclusive I wish to remind you that more than half the human population of the planet are women and issues of gender rights and equality must be an integral part of any multilateral approach.
It is not possible to be any kind of a socialist and not be an internationalist because internationalism is an expression of the most fundamental of all values, which is human solidarity. Academics argue about the definition of multilateralism and its complexities; but we need to define, explain and make real its content. It is not so complex. When somebody asks in frustration “Why don’t they just get together and solve the problem?” they are asking a question that demands an adequate answer.
By extension, I would propose that a key resolution of this Congress must be that member organisations make a greater effort to defend and strengthen key multilateral bodies. The reform of the United Nations and the Bretton Wood institutions must be at the top of the agenda; but I would argue that success depends on local, regional and international efforts.
Comrades and friends,
The time has never been riper to advance a multilateralism agenda and push for the reform of key multilateral bodies. Successive economic crises are making it clear that the global governance of economic systems is a crucial issue for every citizen.
Former colonies and victims of imperialism are now the centre of growth and in some cases social and democratic renewal. Africa in particular is poised to take off but is being held back by outdated and unjust terms of trade and financial institutions. The times indeed demand a new internationalism and a new culture of solidarity.
Immoveable objects can be moved only if the mass of ordinary people understand and actively support a cause. For that to happen, they must clearly see how their everyday lives and the world at large are connected to the decisions and actions of multilateral bodies. The particular challenge in the case of multilateral bodies is that they are formed between states and are more or less disconnected from local democratic processes. It is therefore important to unite around clear issues, as we did around the debt crisis and the isolation of the apartheid state.
The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is perhaps the single most effective set of issues to unite around. They are coherent, focus on basic rights and needs and represent clear standards that have been publically committed to. As we have stated, human beings are essentially rational and will begin to draw conclusions and hold the relevant people and their organisations accountable if these standards are not met as agreed.
The importance of working at the level of regional economic and political organisations cannot be overstated. Continental bodies, such as the African Union (AU), depend very largely on these bodies and their individual member states to implement decisions.
The UN in particular should give recognition and support to regional bodies and their programmes, as allowed for in its Charter. A special Research Report of the Security Council published in 2011 is interesting in this regard. The Report examines how cooperation with the African Union and the AU Peace and Security Council can be strengthened to help prevent and resolve violent conflicts in Africa. The practical proposals in the report can be applied to any area of work and to any region, such as clear terms of engagement, joint working groups, appropriate burden sharing and effective use made of people on the ground.
Given the potential for more effective cooperation between global and regional bodies, the reform of the United Nations becomes even more urgent. In 1992 the Secretary-General issued a report entitled “Strengthening of the United Nations: an agenda for further change” after a comprehensive review of the work of the organisation. It is now 20 years on and most of the larger issues remain unresolved, such as strengthening the General Assembly and the reform of the Security Council.
Multilateralism should also realistically reflect objective conditions in the world today. For instance the World Bank and the IMF currently face three major deficits: relevance, credibility and trust and deepening our engagement with them can significantly improve these institutions.
For instance, the weight of major advanced economies in gross domestic product decreased significantly from 63% to 45%. This collapse of the economic relevance of the Triad (the US, Europe and Japan) was offset by the rise of four emerging powers – Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICS) which rose from 15% to 27% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and growth in much of the rest of the developing world.
As of 2012, the five BRICS countries represent almost 3 billion people, with a combined nominal GDP of US$ 13.7 trillion, and an estimated US$ 4 trillion in combined foreign reserves.
These figures are significantly different from the agreements that shaped the Bretton Woods institutions when they were created after the Second World War. These institutions are lagging behind in terms of these realities on the ground.
Clearly there are entrenched interests that are holding on to structures that have their origins in the Second World War and were frozen, as it were, during the Cold War.
Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that international bodies are sometimes used for purposes outside of their mandates. It is difficult to build genuine multilateralism within a framework that is out of joint with the real world and unrepresentative.
Before concluding I want to point out that it is very fitting that we are holding our 24th Congress; and it is fitting that we are discussing this theme in Africa, in South Africa and in Cape Town.
Firstly, it is fitting to reflect on this theme on African soil, which nourished the first humans and from where we all originated.
Secondly, it is fitting to discuss multilateralism and internationalism in a free South Africa. Our liberation involved tens of millions of people on every continent contributing to our collective victory over the most dangerous form of injustice. Colonialism and racism are twin evils that all progressive people clearly understood threatened the whole of humanity; even if some of their governments clearly lacked that understanding.
Thirdly, it is fitting that the Congress is in Cape Town, which was a place where the world got connected through the trading of goods and slaves and the building of colonial empires in Africa, Asia and the Americas. What is more, I can connect this global context to my own recent history.
I want to conclude with a quote and a question I hope will be answered in the course of the session. The quote is from a speech made by Willie Brandt in Stockholm at the 18th Congress in 1989, which was also the Centenary of the Second International:
“World problems increasingly affect all of humanity. As such, they can only be solved by a ‘world politics’ that goes way beyond the limited horizon of national borders. But many governments are reacting to this challenge at less than a snail’s pace and persist in the pursuit of narrow individual interests.
Democratic socialists, on the other hand, are aware of the global nature of these problems. We want to remove the differences between the rich and the poor, both within countries and between nations. We are against the cynics who wish to undermine the welfare state wherever it exists, and for whom international solidarity is a swear-word.”
That important speech by Willie Brandt was more than 20 years ago. We need to ask ourselves if, since then, we have moved with sufficient pace and urgency to deal with the challenges of world politics.
By “we” I mean as members of the Socialist International, as members of organisations and in many cases as current or former members of governments.
Or, as actors on the world political stage, perhaps we have stayed in the wings because it is safer to deal with narrow issues that relate to our narrow interests. There has been a sense of urgency here at this Congress that suggests we are ready to translate our words into action, move to the centre stage and provide the kind of leadership on the big issues that our constituencies expect of us.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Home Affairs
31 Aug 2012
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