ADDRESS BY THABO MBEKI, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, TO THE GHANA-SOUTH AFRICA FRIENDSHIP ASSOCIATION, Accra, 5 October 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I would like to express my deep appreciation for the opportunity to address you on the topic of "The African Renaissance: The Challenge Of Our Time".
I am sure that we would agree that to be able to discuss comprehensively, the challenges of our rebirth as a continent, it is necessary to take a brief journey back into our history, into some of the many monumental and epoch-making phenomena that have shaped and defined us as Africans.
The Ghanaian, Ayi Kwei Armah, in his novel, The Healers, writes the following passage about story-telling:
"But now this tongue of the story-teller, descendant of masters in the arts of eloquence, this tongue flies too fast for the listener. It flies faster than the story-telling mind itself. .... Proud tongue, child of the Anona masters of eloquence, before you leap so fast to sleep, listen first to the mind's remembrance."
"Did you remember to tell your listeners of what time, what age you rushed so fast to speak? Or did you leave the listener floundering in endless time, abandoned to suppose your story belonged to any confusing age? Is it a story of yesterday, or is it of last year? Is it from the time of the poet Nyankoman Dua, seven centuries ago? Or did it take place ten centuries ago, when Ghana was not just a memory, and the eloquent ones before you still sang praises to the spirit holding our people together? Is it of that marvellous black time before the desert was turned desert, thirty centuries and more ago? Or have you let the listener know the truth: that this story now is not so old - just over a century old?"
"What of the place? Have you told the listener where the town Esuano was, besides which of the numberless rivers of Africa? Or have you left the listening ear without a guide, thinking confusedly of the twin Mfolozi, near whose banks Magolwane, the poet of the soaring silver voice, sang eloquence to the raging shaker of the earth? Is the listener to imagine such a river as the Sankarani, or the wandering Joliba, or the fierce Limpopo? Have you told the listener that of the sacred rivers of our land, the closet to Esuano was the Pra?"
"Let the listener know when. Let the listener know where. Then, Anona tongue, born for eloquence, continue your telling."
And so we continue our telling. This is the spirit with which we have to look at our history.
Despite the fact that it is accepted wisdom that Africa is the cradle of humanity and of the most advanced civilisations, the interpretation of the history of the continent continues to be euro-centric, colonial and racist and therefore in denial of the fact that all humanity is descended from Mother Africa.
Thus, we ourselves must use our proud tongues to relate our lives, to correct the distortions that were meant to define us as being something other than what we are, as not quite human, perhaps sub-human but definitely not human.
This is critical because if we want to be the agents of Africa's rebirth, we must, ourselves, use the gift of the 'Anona masters of eloquence' correctly to relate the story of ourselves, our continent, our great moments as well as the dark periods of our existence.
We must highlight that story to ensure that we use our proud history to inspire everyone of us to overcome the real and artificial obstacles to our development.
As part of our renaissance, we must continue to expose the truth about our continent, not just to the elites of our countries, but to the masses of our people.
The telling of Africa's immense contribution to humanity must help us to entrench the confidence in ourselves that we have the innate human capacity to set our Continent on a winning path.
It is therefore critical that we begin deliberately and consciously to engage in the process of reclaiming our history, our culture, our heritage so as to challenge the stereotypes, distortions of Africa and Africans which, even some amongst us have been socialised into accepting as fact.
These distortions says that as Africans, we were saved from ignorance and backwardness by the colonialists; we are lazy, dishonest, with below average intelligence; given to unbridled sexual promiscuity; and are inherently violent and dictatorial.
So, as Armah has said, let us tell our history, let us, in Anona tongue which is born for eloquence, continue to tell our story.
This is the only manner of reclaiming and recovering our self-identity, self-respect and self-worth.
In the summer of 1995, geologist Dave Roberts discovered an amazing set of fossilised footprints, dating 117 000 years back in the sandy slopes of Langebaan Lagoon, on the Atlantic coast of South Africa.
These footprints dated back to the time that most scientists agree was the period that the first anatomically modern humans emerged. Roberts and his colleague, Lee R. Berger, christened the foot tracks "Eve's footprints".
In a book called "In The Footsteps of Eve", written by Berger and Brett Hilton-Barber, the authors explain the choice of the name Eve for Roberts' discovery:
" 'Eve' of course, refers not to the biblical Eve but to a mitochondrial Eve, ...a scientific theory first coined by scientists at the University of California. The term is used to illustrate the theory that all the world's people are descendents of a small population of anatomically modern humans that existed between 100 000 and 200 000 years ago. Their argument was based on studies in molecular biology, particularly the occurrence of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), genes that are inherited only through the female lineage.
The authors continue that:
"The California team devised a statistical model to measure the rate of mitochondrial DNA mutation over time. What they found was that different populations of humans living in diverse areas of the world exhibited different degrees of variation."
"The variation between Africans was found to be greater than that between any other population grouping, indicating that people from that continent are older than those from anywhere else. Their genes have had more time to mutate. The inescapable logic of this argument is that all modern humans are in fact descendant from a single female living in Africa over 100 000 years ago... Our genes tell us that we all share a very recent African origin."
Older Homo species, which also originated from Africa millions of years ago, were replaced by these anatomically modern humans.
Endowed with a remarkable diversity in its landscape and having seen many important changes to its environment, Africa has also hosted almost every major evolutionary transition to and development of humanity; from apes, to homo sapiens to modern humans.
And as both Berger and Hilton-Barber say, this includes transition "from the leap in brain size to the first stone tool technologies; from the emergence of our own genus some 2,5 million years ago to the conquest of fire over a million years ago...These are developments that have a 'made in Africa' stamp on them."
Humanity has always faced formidable challenges to its survival, including the vicissitudes of nature and the environment, which constantly necessitated relocation to new, favourable and less difficult terrains.
Coupled with the rapid growth of the population, which caused competition for space and scarce resources, resulting in profound effect both on Africa's landscape and its inhabitants, the inevitable consequence was human migrations within the African continent, across the oceans and between the continents.
Africa, the cradle of all humanity, was now seeing its off-spring venturing into many territories.
Noel Mostert in his book 'Frontiers', succinctly captures this amazing human activity, he writes:
" If there is a hemispheric seam to the world, between Occident and Orient, then it must lie along the eastern seaboard of Africa...It was up there behind the rim of the escarpment that human dispersion began from the cradleland of the species: the first frontier, the movement out of Eden, from the valleys, lakeshores and grassy forest edges of the upper plateaux on towards the land bridges between Africa and Asia and Africa and Europe. The psychic power of that knowledge heavily reinforces the impression of universal hemispheric bonding that, one way or another, affects one all along the easterly shoreline of the continent."
"One is aware that the winds which helped to power the longest reach of oceanic commerce in the ancient world blow there. The monsoons filled the sails of an Asiatic trading system, which curved across nearly half the world from the coast of Mozambique to Indonesia and China via Arabia and India. Into that system, eventually, came the tentative feelers of Europe's own oceanic exploration."
Mostert continues that:
"Upon the coasts of Africa therefore, converged all the principal frontiers from which came the global expansion and fusion of human society, and it was the Cape of Good Hope specifically that symbolised for many centuries the two great formative frontiers of the modern world: the physical one of the oceanic barrier to the east, and its concomitant one of the mind, global consciousness."
Having generously donated to the world the human being, Africa also unselfishly contributed to the same world its civilisation.
As I speak from this platform in one of the most important countries whose sons and daughters have made an invaluable contribution to humanity both on the Continent and in the Diaspora, I do so conscious of the fact that once upon a time there existed the Africa that was not only a cradle of humanity, but a continent of abundant life and the habitat of civilisation.
It is the Africa which was the place of the legacy of the pharaohs, and the heritage of the pyramids. It is the Africa of the Akana empire, later to be called Ghana, a prosperous country, as you know, that existed some four to five hundred years before the birth of Christ.
We are referring here to a continent that was home to the glittering gold of the kingdoms of Mandingo in Mali, a continent that has some of the most advanced architecture in Zimbabwe of the time of Mwene Mutapa, which was corrupted by outsiders to Monomotapa.
In a paper presented at an African Renaissance conference in Johannesburg, Dialo Diop, using research done by the distinguished African scholar, Professor Cheik Anta Diop, argued that:
"Africa (established) the first writing, hieroglyphics, the first obelisks and pyramids, the first domestication of animals and plants, the first scientists in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, architecture and so on."
Sadly, Africa's advance was disrupted, and in some cases her rich and proud legacy irretrievably lost as a result of the inhuman violence visited on her people by slavery, imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism.
The challenge facing our continent is to consistently nurture the intellectual capacity of our people and work out plans of arresting the outflow of human capital and create conditions for the retention and utilisation of these skills and expertise for our development.
Clearly, Africa was not only the birthplace of human life on earth, but most importantly, initiated civilisation. The pre-historic and ancient Africa is surely a continent we must all be proud of, a continent that may make many of us nostalgic.
The point however is not nostalgia. The point is that we must use the knowledge of our past to ensure that we ourselves act in a manner that says that so great a Continent can no longer continue to be one of backwardness, underdevelopment, poverty, war, rampant disease and ignorance, an object of pity and charitable concern by the peoples of the world. However, of critical importance is that at this moment we are faced with the huge task of building an even better continent.
The challenge of our time is to ensure that the actual and practical pursuit of the dream of the African Renaissance, of Africa's rebirth, becomes part of our daily activity.
To be able to design appropriate prescriptions for the continent we must fully understand our present-day Africa.
The African poet, A. M. Fayturi, defining the state of Africa and making a wake-up call to a continent in deep sleep says:
"Africa Oh Africa,
Wake up from your dark self...
Many times has the Earth rotated,
And many times have the burning planets rolled.
The rebel has built what he destroyed,
And the worshiper debased what he once adored.
But you are still as you have always been,
A rejected skull, a mere skull."
( From 'The Africans' by Ali A. Mazrui, page 79, published by BBC publications, 1986)
Fayturi laments the Africa that all of us here have known. It is the Africa that has existed throughout our living memory, defined by poverty, under-development, disease, death, conflict and wars, a 'rejected skull', a continent that seems to be in a coma while the Earth rotated and rolled and other parts of the planet built what they have destroyed.
Obviously, this is the Africa we are all not proud of. It is a continent that we have seen been ravaged by slavery, colonial plunder and neo-colonial dependence, conflicts and wars. It is a continent that has seen the worst of nature's merciless droughts and floods, and witnessed helplessly as disease and hunger threatened to decimate her inhabitants.
It is a situation we cannot allow to continue. It is a situation we cannot expect other people to correct for us. It is a situation that should not only shame every African patriot, but should surely mobilise all of us into action.
This is the challenge of our time!
We are ready to meet this challenge, on the basis of the richness of the resources, human and natural, of the continent itself, something that has contributed to the enrichment of outsiders rather than ourselves.
We also think that a new continent will emerge because we have amongst us, many people - politicians, business-people, workers, the intelligentsia, youth and women - who are resolved to bring about the African Renaissance.
Africa accounts for more than fifty percent of the world's gold reserves and nearly half of the planet's platinum deposits. Ninety percent of the world's cobalt is found on the continent.
We have over eighty percent of the world's chrome, and except for the Eastern Europe, nearly all the world's reserves of industrial diamonds are located in Africa. In addition, we have about a third of the planet's reserves of uranium. Eighty percent of tantalum and significant amounts of radium are also found on the continent.
Furthermore, the continent's share of oil and natural gas is expanding and countries such as Nigeria, Gabon, Angola, Libya and Algeria are important oil producers.
These strategic African minerals are consumed by the countries of the North, while there has been very little benefit to African people and African economies from these natural resources extracted from the bowels of this rich continent.
For the consolidation of the unfolding process of the African Renaissance it is imperative that we reclaim ownership of these natural resources for the benefit of the peoples of Africa.
This means that we must add value to these minerals here on the African Continent, exporting the value-added products as processed minerals and no longer as raw materials.
We must no longer be defined as exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured goods, as though we were incapable of mastering the complexities of industry and manufacturing.
Similarly, we have to focus on the development and modernisation of our agriculture. Not many of us will be aware of the fact that Africa contains within it fully one third of the world's habitable land.
It is also important to understand that the origins of hominids in Africa was not by chance, but due to the very favourable climatic conditions that existed over millions of years as Lee Berger writes in the book: "In the Footsteps of Eve". I quote:
"To understand the milieu from which hominids have emerged, we must understand ancient Africa. The key to Africa's conduciveness to human development and habitation is in its size and diversity. The continent is enormous. When one strips away the vast ...places were humans cannot live, one is still left with a continent that has around one third of the habitable landmass on the planet."
We have to restore the situation such that we are self-sufficient in food production while also growing those plants which we can transform into various processed commodities.
In this area, again, we have to end the situation in which we have been exporters of agricultural raw materials, including unprocessed cash crops.
Some incidents in some parts of the continent may lead to a false temptation to say that the African Renaissance can never be realised and that it will remain just a dream.
However, I would like to make bold to say that the African Renaissance is not just a dream whose realisation lies in some dim and distant future.
We are already seeing the seeds of this renewal being planted everyday, by many brave and pioneering ordinary people as well as leaders in business, politics, culture and other fronts.
Telkom, the South African telecommunication parastatal, announced last week Thursday that it had secured over $600 million to fund the implementation of an undersea cable to link Africa with Asia and Europe.
Telkom has itself committed $100 million to the total investment in the fibreoptic cable project to run over a 28 000km marine route, which will start in the middle of October.
The first part would be a 15 000km link between South Africa and Europe, landing at ten West and Southern African countries, including Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana.
The second segment of the project is a 13 800km link to the East. Both the segments of the project should be completed by April next year.
The cable is expected to cater for Africa's communication needs for the next 25 years, connecting the continent directly with many international destinations. It is projected that international telecoms traffic would grow sixty (60) times to and from Africa in the next five years.
This is an important area of development as the development of telecommunications in this age of information technology is vital for the bridging of the digital divide between ourselves and the developed North.
We must adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to create capacity in the area of communication and information technology or face the risk of permanent global marginalisation of our countries and peoples.
Together with the on-going work to ensure that there is access to electricity to many of our countries and peoples, we are planting the seeds of the renewal of our continent.
Another area that is vital for the modernisation of our industries and for the development of telecommunications and information technology, is the production of electricity and hydro-carbons for energy.
Two weeks ago, a number of heads of state, business-people and workers gathered at Beluluane outside Maputo in Mozambique to open a Billion dollar aluminium smelter, called Mozal.
This smelter, one of the most modern facilities of its kind in the world, is the largest single foreign investment in Mozambique, and together with the other two smelters in South Africa, Mozal will raise Southern African aluminium production to five percent of the total world supply and generate earnings of US $1,3 Billion a year.
To a country such as Mozambique, which is one of the poorest and Highly Indebted Countries, this investment, together with numerous others around road construction, rehabilitation of the harbour and other infrastructure are part of a practical renewal of a country that has been devastated by war, droughts and floods.
These investments have created thousands of jobs, boosted the economy and inspired confidence among investors, the local population, and is a practical demonstration that slowly but surely the seeds of a Renaissance are being planted.
The partnership between some of the South African mining houses with leading Ghanaian mining companies is another positive sign that African companies have found common ground for the good of the continent.
As we produce manufactured goods, we need to consistently engage the developed North on the question of access to their markets for our products.
The continent needs to continue to attract Foreign Direct and Domestic Investment in the development of our economies, including infrastructure such as road, rail, airport, sea-port and harbour. Without a massive injection of capital in these areas, the question of free movement of peoples and goods that is critical for economic regional integration and trade will not be realised.
Central to all the above is the development of our human capital. We cannot begin to be fully integrated into the global economy if we do not develop the necessary skills to participate in the increasingly knowledge based communication society.
The examples that we have cited, as well as many others that must surely take the renewal of the continent to a higher level cannot succeed unless we accelerate the political and economic integration of the continent.
Accordingly, we must remove all the obstacles towards regional economic integration.
Furthermore, we have to overcome the artificial divide, a relic of the colonial era, which still defines and identifies us according to our old colonial masters and, we, independent countries, respond to challenges facing us as Anglophone Africa, Francophone Africa and Lusophone Africa.
Of critical importance is that we should have a leadership that is committed to defending the interests of our people, the leadership that has turned its back from corrupt practices and abuse of power for self-interest.
We have at all times to demonstrate deep levels of seriousness and urgency in all we do and avoid the casual approach and a belief that things will happen on their own.
In addition, we must find a permanent solution to the self-serving promotion of ethnic, religious, racial and narrow nationalist interests that are responsible for many conflicts within and between countries.
At the same time, in this rapidly globalising world of today, we are facing the danger of succumbing to the pervasive dominant culture, the 'Coca-Cola' culture at the expense of our own cultures, identities, and national heritage. This culture seeks to deny the validity of our own knowledge systems, our morals and ethics and denies that there are other solutions to our challenges other than those imposed by the dominant cultures.
This lecture is attended mainly by the intelligentsia, leaders in the different areas of Ghanaian life. It is therefore important that we all work towards the creation of a situation that allows the exchange of ideas and programmes so that academics in one corner of Africa are able to engage others in other parts of the continent.
This is important if we are to reverse the phenomenon that has led to the erosion of the significant strides that the continent had made in the areas of science, mathematics, medicine, arts, astronomy, architecture and agriculture.
In so doing, we will be making a very important contribution to the realisation of the African Renaissance.
As Ayi Kwei Armah says in his novel "The Healers":
"Let the listener know when. Let the listener know where."
As an important part of the leading forces for change, we have a responsibility to communicate this proud history of dignity, achievement and civilisation, and use to inspire the rest of society to participate in its ownership and thereby become an integral part of the their own Renaissance.
All of us gathered here today, as well as many others in every part of the continent and in the Diaspora, are therefore faced with this challenge of transforming our continent, so that the assertion that the 21st century will be an African Century, does not turn into a beautiful but false prophesy.
The 21st century must be a hundred years in which when we define the continent as rich, developed and prosperous, it would not be a wish for some distant prospect, but a reality and an existence that in the past have only appeared in dreams.
This is the challenge of our time! I am convinced that we will rise to this challenge.
I THANK YOU
Issued by the Presidency, 5 October 2000