Press Releases

    SG/SM/8298
    AFR/428
    9 July 2002

    "Great Stamina, Iron Political Will" Required to Build Successful African Union, Secretary-General Says

    NEW YORK, 8 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address, as delivered today, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the 38th Summit of the Organization of African Unity in Durban, South Africa:

    I should first of all like to express on behalf of my delegation and myself, our most sincere gratitude to my brother and friend, President Thabo Mbeki, to the city of Durban and to the Government and people of South Africa for your warm welcome and splendid hospitality extended to us on this historic occasion.

    I would also want to thank Amara Essy, the Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) for taking on the difficult task, and perhaps a thankless one, of leading the OAU during this period of transition and steering us to this crucial point.

    Mr President, we have reached this stage and moment by a long and winding road.

    Thirty-nine years ago, when your visionary predecessors met in Addis Ababa to found the Organization of African Unity, they could not, even if they wished, have met here in Durban.

    South Africa was then only beginning the most acute and painful phase of its struggle against apartheid, and many other African countries were still under the yoke of colonialism.

    The road to freedom, for many of our brothers and sisters, was to prove longer and harder than most of us dared imagine in 1963.

    The road to prosperity, alas, has proved even more elusive.

    And the road to union has been strewn with many obstacles.

    Yet apartheid and colonialism have been defeated. And the OAU, which was the unwavering voice of Africa on both those issues, deserves a greater share of the credit than has been given so far.

    It has other achievements, too.

    It has established important pan-African doctrines -- such as respect for existing frontiers, and, more recently, the unique validity of free and fair elections as a means of bringing about political change.

    It has also secured peace agreements among several of its members; it has set up a conflict prevention mechanism; and it has begun to develop a peacekeeping capacity.

    The fact that you can proclaim the birth of the African Union tomorrow is a tribute to the OAU's success. It is an occasion to celebrate and, more important, an occasion for hope.

    The idea of a Union -- of Africans helping one another, and working together to reach common solutions to their common problems -- is noble and inspiring. And in several parts of Africa it has already yielded results at the subregional level.

    The experience of other parts of the world -- notably Europe -- has also shown that regional unity can bring practical benefits.

    Europe in 1945 was utterly devastated by conflict -- much more generally so than in Africa today. Its present peace and prosperity make a striking contrast, and few would deny that it is due, at least in part, to regional integration.

    But let us be careful not to mistake hope for achievement.

    Let us not risk jeopardizing what we have already achieved.

    And let us not imagine that, once proclaimed, our Union will become a reality without further effort.

    A study of the European experience would quickly disabuse us of any such notion. Every step of Europe's road has been fraught with difficulty, and even now Europeans face many doubts and disputes as they prepare to enlarge eastwards.

    Yet we Africans have undertaken to build a Union in conditions that are objectively much less favourable:

    We have a much larger geographical space to cover, with far fewer resources.

    We start at a much earlier stage of industrial development.

    And many of our economies are saddled with unsustainable debt, or crippled by the legacy of wars in which, over generations, outside powers exploited and prolonged African quarrels.

    To build a successful Union in such conditions will require great stamina and iron political will, combined with the readiness to accept seemingly endless series of negotiations and compromises.

    I believe we Africans have those qualities, or at least that we can develop them.

    We have African traditions we can draw on -- traditions that teach us the value of democracy based on consensus.

    Too often, in recent times, the name of democracy has been misused to describe situations where a vote is taken without free and fair debate beforehand, and where those who have won 51 per cent of the votes claim the right to ride rough-shod over the other 49 per cent.

    But that, I suggest, is not true African democracy. In African democracy, the rulers listen to the ruled, and the majority to the minority.

    Our traditions teach us to respect each other; to share power; to give every man his say, and every woman hers.

    Consent and consensus, achieved through long and patient discussion, are at the heart of many of those traditions. Let us keep that in mind, and resist the temptation of short cuts, or solutions imposed by force.

    The empires of the past, built by military conquest, were a simple matter compared with what you are attempting now. But they were also more brittle than our Union will be, if it is built on voluntary agreements between democratic countries, negotiated by leaders and ratified by free vote of the peoples or their representatives.

    That is the kind of Union we must build -- a Union that will last.

    Such a Union cannot replace the sovereign States of which it is composed. On the contrary, it must strengthen them, by allowing each to draw strength from the others.

    In the last resort, only a Union of strong States can be strong itself. And the States must derive their strength, not from military force, but from the support of their people, mediated through a civil society.

    Excellencies, I know you understand this -- and that is why, in your New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), you have laid so much emphasis on issues of governance.

    We know that States are strongest when they are based firmly on the rule of law, and on the free consent of the citizens.

    That is what NEPAD is all about: an African model for development, based on an investment-friendly climate.

    Yes, Africans need help from the outside -- from those who of late have been more successful or more fortunate than us.

    Those outsiders have become very cynical over the decades. Sometimes they use Africa's shortcomings to excuse their own inertia.

    But I believe that is beginning to change.

    Some of you were with me in Canada the week before last, when we met with the leaders of the Group of Eight, and they announced their Action Plan for Africa.

    Did we get all we asked for? No, we did not. But I think we did sense a new respect among those leaders.

    And I believe they will respect us even more when they see us actually resolve the conflicts that disfigure our continent. And I do mean, resolve them. Managing them is not enough and will not be enough.

    Africa's persistent image as a continent in crisis tends to discourage domestic and foreign investors from recognizing or taking advantage of the opportunities that Africa offers them. It imposes almost as high a risk premium on countries that are not in conflict as on those that are.

    What this means is that all countries in the region have a stake in promoting peace -- and that includes joining the international struggle against terrorism.

    People in other parts of the world tend to forget that terrorism has claimed many African victims.

    But let us not remind them of that. Let us not portray ourselves as victims, but as men and women determined, in the words of President Mandela, "that Africa's Renaissance will strike deep roots and blossom forever, without regard to the changing seasons".

    "Renaissance" is a French word that is current in English. That makes it a fitting word for an African project that must overcome the divisions left on our continent by rival colonial empires -- and a regional project that is closely linked to the universal project of the United Nations.

    The African Union and our United Nations are striving for the same goals: peaceful settlement of disputes, economic and social development, and the full realization of human rights.

    The United Nations Charter, like yours, recognizes that strong regional organizations can complement, and contribute to, the strength of the United Nations.

    A year ago the world gathered in this city and resolved to confront racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Next month it has an opportunity to gather again, in Johannesburg, at the renewed invitation of this generous country. I hope it can do so in closer harmony, and with even greater conviction.

    This time the stakes will even be higher: we have to trace a path for development that will not only be shared by all nations, but can be sustained and enjoyed by future generations. In this part of Africa, already stricken by drought and menaced by famine, we need no reminder of the urgency of that task.

    So let us apply ourselves, as Africans, to persuading the rest of the world to join us next month and start implementing the measures we all know are needed, if development is to be truly sustainable.

    So doing, Mr. President, Africa will not only confront its own troubles. It will also provide much-needed leadership for the rest of the world!

    Thank you very much.

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