Africa Can Be Recovered

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Violent conflicts continue to rage in many spots on the continent, including Northern Uganda and Darfur. More than 300 million people in south of the Sahara live on less than $1 a day – what the world rightly recognizes as the most extreme kind of poverty—ravaged by disease, betrayed by their leaders, starved not only for food, but for opportunity and hope.


The Fifth Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Address delivered by Kofi
Annan in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 22 July 2007.


It is truly a privilege for me to deliver this year’s Mandela Lecture.  Before I begin, I want to clarify something.  I am delivering a lecture in honor of Nelson Mandela.  I am in no way delivering a lecture to Nelson Mandela. I wouldn’t dare.

If I did, I imagine he would listen graciously… tolerantly.  But let me tell you this: one does not presume to lecture Madiba.  Not on his birthday, not on any other day.  He may have relinquished his office years ago, but he has not relinquished one ounce of his natural, personal authority.

Still, for some reason he persists in calling me ‘boss’. 

For years, whenever I’d call, he would say, ‘My boss.  How are you, boss?’  I’d reply, ‘How can I be your boss?’  He’d say, ‘Secretary-General of the UN.  You run the world.’  Of course, as he knows, I never did run the world.  Now I don’t even run the UN. 

And still he persists.  I think he is teasing me.

But then, he has always been like that. You see it in his expansive smile.  Nelson Mandela may be the most gentle, good-humored, even mischievous icon that the world has known.

He is also one of the strongest.  We all know about his courage and tenacity—which saw him through 27 years in prison, and saw South Africa through the end of apartheid and a difficult, but successful, transition to freedom.

The world has seen how deeply he believes in freedom, human dignity, and the right of the individual to fulfill his or her dream.  And in our work together, I have been privileged to see how determined he can be in pursuit of those ideals.  I have seen him in tough negotiations like those in Burundi, where he was trying to get the warring factions to put down their guns and make peace.  When he saw what was going on around him, he said, ‘You men make me ashamed to be African.’ 

A withering indictment from someone who makes us all proud to be African.
You can imagine the force of these words.  Or perhaps you cannot.  It was an extraordinarily powerful moment.  And it certainly had its intended effect.

On certain points—certain principles—Nelson Mandela cannot be moved. 

When his term as president ended, as you know, a lot of people tried to talk him into staying on.  But he was determined to leave office.  What a wonderful example on a continent where presidents have, in some cases, defied or changed their countries’ constitutions and clung to power for decades.

There are other former leaders have drawn important lessons from Mandela’s post-presidency: that the center stage is not the only place from which you can make a contribution. 

That is what brought leaders like Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Muhammad Yunus, Li Zhaozing, myself, and others to Johannesburg last week—to announce our intention to work together on solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems.  As ‘elders,’ so to speak, we have a unique perspective to share, and, we believe, an obligation to share it.

We will be joined in that effort by Graça Machel—a partner to Madiba in life and in work, both in South Africa and across the continent.  Graça has long been well respected in Mozambique and beyond, for her leadership in education and on the rights of children, especially children caught up in armed conflict.  And now she lends her strength to this important partnership.

And that is a great gift to us all.  We need her energy and experience—matched by her husband’s—because so much work remains to be done.

There has been great change in Africa in the years since Nelson Mandela walked out of prison.  Even since 1999, the year he left office, we have seen considerable progress on a number of fronts: progress in peace and security, where the number of civil wars and inter-state conflicts continues to decline; in development, where we see a rise in direct investment, trade and aid, and measurable progress toward the Millennium Development Goals; and lastly, in the spread of freedom and the strengthening of human rights.

Progress has not always been as consistent, or as extensive, as we might have wished.  Violent conflicts continue to rage in many spots on the continent, including Northern Uganda and Darfur. More than 300 million people in south of the Sahara live on less than $1 a day – what the world rightly recognizes as the most extreme kind of poverty—ravaged by disease, betrayed by their leaders, starved not only for food, but for opportunity and hope.

Still, this wave of progress continues to unfold. Our challenge, in this new century, is to ensure that the gains some of us have made can be experienced not just by a few but by all who live on this rich, vast and varied continent. 

We live in an era of interdependence.  That is true everywhere in the world; but in some ways it is more obvious in Africa than anywhere else.  We Africans know, perhaps more than most, that problems like water shortages and disease, like environmental degradation and political unrest, cannot be neatly contained within national borders.  If some of us are poor, we are all the poorer; if some countries are unstable, we are all less secure.

Similarly, we know that solutions to these problems will only come if we work together—across borders, across boundaries of race, religion, language and culture.

To accelerate our progress, to extend its reach into every corner of this continent, we must work together toward a comprehensive strategy—one that rests on three pillars: peace and security; development; human rights and the rule of law.

They all reinforce each other; they all depend on each other, just as we do.

On the first of these pillars—peace and security—we have seen real and measurable progress in the past decade.  Many bloody civil wars have ended; and there are fewer inter-state conflicts than there used to be.

I am proud that the UN has been an important actor in resolving conflicts.  And I am proud of what my fellow Africans have achieved in ending much of the violence that has disfigured our continent.  South Africa, under President Mbeki’s leadership, has played a major role.

But we should be under no illusion.

About half the world’s armed conflicts, and some three quarters of the UN’s peacekeepers, are in Africa.  That is because millions of Africans are still at the mercy of brutal regimes, gangs and rebels—wielding small, but deadly, weapons and showing no respect for human rights, or even human life.

Every day, in Darfur, more men, women and children are being driven from their homes.  Villages are burned.  Murder and rape are commonplace.  Beyond Sudan, less visible but no less devastating conflicts cry for action by Africans and others. The ever downward spiral of Zimbabwe, for example, is both intolerable and unsustainable; we all have a stake in resolving the crisis.

Stability in Africa may be spreading, but a continent at peace—which, after all, is what we seek—remains a distant goal.  Most Africans have come to recognize the high cost of persistent conflict: the years of squandered development, the displacement of people, the enormous loss of life.  And most realize that they need to work together to pacify the continent.

So we are working harder for peace.  Through the African Union we are learning to better manage and resolve conflicts and, most important, to prevent new ones from breaking out. 

We all share responsibility for each other’s security—all nations, not just those in the AU.  At the UN Summit two years ago, all nations solemnly accepted that obligation—meaning that national sovereignty can no longer be used as a shield by governments that massacre their own people, or as an excuse for the rest of us to do nothing about it.

Only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve security for ourselves; only by acting together can we achieve lasting peace on this continent, or anywhere else in the world.

Make no mistake: this can be achieved.  The Africa of my youth, the Africa I knew, the Africa that I remember, was not this violent Africa.  Yes, there was repression, brutal repression, in South Africa and elsewhere.  Yes, there were conflicts.  But on the whole, the Africa of my youth was tolerant, it was conciliatory, it was forgiving.

These are the best attributes of Africa.  They are not a relic of the past.  They have the power to define our future.  We see the power of tolerance and reconciliation not only in remarkable individuals like Nelson Mandela, or nations like South Africa, but in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone - nations reclaimed from the ashes of violence.

Of course, lasting peace requires more than the absence of war—or the continued presence of peacekeepers.  Peace will endure only when it is accompanied by economic and social development—the second pillar of an African renaissance.

Here, again, there is reason for cautious optimism. Today, inflation is at historic lows in many countries, and 27 African economies are projected to grow by more than 5 per cent this year.  Direct investment has increased more than 200 per cent in the past five years.  Exports are also rising. There have been spectacular advances on debt relief, most notably, Nigeria, as well as encouraging initiatives on aid and investment.

Africa has also made headway toward the UN Millennium Development Goals. The latest report from the UN shows that today – halfway to the 2015 target date – we’ve achieved positive change in several crucial areas. We are not excelling, but we are advancing.

Take the goal of achieving universal primary education.  Enrolment is up in many countries, especially enrolment of girls.  Or fighting AIDS: through better treatment, victims are living longer and more productive lives; through better prevention, prevalence is dropping in several countries.

We have also seen progress in reducing maternal mortality, and in providing safe drinking water.  We have seen how limited, even low-cost, interventions—like fighting malaria with bed nets – can make dramatic improvements.

Today, one thing is clear to all of us here: Africa’s development disproves the widespread notion of our continent as a sea of undifferentiated poverty.

Still, there can be no denying the magnitude of African needs—and no minimizing the stakes for us all.  How much longer can the wealthiest nations derive great benefits from globalization while billions of their fellow human beings remain in abject poverty?  Is that sustainable?  Is it morally defensible?  If all lives have equal worth, should all not have the chance to live, work, and prosper?

We know the right answer.

Every single African – every single person – should have that chance.
So there is more to be done for the welfare of all.

It is vital that Africa lead its own development process.  The key now is to reinforce the progress we have made and eliminate shortfalls in development assistance, debt relief and fair trade.

Of course, the imperative for leadership does not fall entirely on Africa.  The G8 has made significant and welcome promises of aid.  Their resolve to meet their Gleneagles commitment to increase ODA to Africa by $25 billion a year by 2010 is encouraging.  But the only promises that truly count are promises met.

And the G8’s track record, to be frank, is not very good.  As the chairman of the Africa Progress Panel—an independent body focused on fulfillment of these promises—I have urged the G8 to set a specific timetable and deliver the aid it has pledged.

Of course, aid alone will not end poverty in Africa.

Market access, fair terms of trade, and a non-discriminatory financial system are equally essential in helping Africans to lift themselves out of poverty and deprivation.

The path to prosperity begins at the fields of our farmers.  Yet ours is the only continent that cannot feed itself.  To address poverty at its core, we need a uniquely African green revolution.  Our farmers need better seeds, soils, and prices for what they sell.  They need access to water, markets and credit.  They need national policies that accelerate rural economic growth, investment and job creation.

Water scarcity will be an increasing focus as climate change intensifies.  Africa’s great lakes—Victoria, Tanganyika, and others—are shrinking.  Climate change is the world’s responsibility, but it may be Africa’s particular problem.  Non-African nations are doing the polluting, but as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned, Africa will pay the most severe price.  As global weather patterns have changed, crops here have failed.  Yields will decline.  Other continents can survive such a fate.  Africa cannot.

For me, there is nothing more important than reversing these trends.  That is why I have accepted the chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.  AGRA sees agricultural production as the leading edge of a larger revolution—one that delivers greater opportunity, enterprise and prosperity to all Africans.

To realize this vision, we must also strengthen the third pillar of African progress: human rights and the rule of law.

Ten years ago, I said some African leaders viewed human rights as a rich country’s luxury. Others treated it as an imposition, if not a plot.  I find these thoughts demeaning to African people, and have called on them to ostracize leaders who seize power through military coups against elected governments.

Africans must guard against a pernicious, self-destructive form of racism—that unites citizens to rise up and expel tyrannical rulers who are white, but to excuse tyrannical rulers who are Black.

Only when government is grounded in the rule of law—fairly and consistently applied—can society rest on a solid foundation.  Leaders must ensure that the rules are respected—that they protect the rights and property of individual citizens.  Leaders must also hold themselves to the same rules, the same restraints—never above them.

In the past decade, Africans have increasingly shown that human rights are African rights, and that democracy has deepening roots in this continent.  More states than ever have governments that were duly elected – instead of imposed.  And these governments, through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, have explicitly agreed to uphold human rights and democracy, to fight corruption and promote good governance.

In most countries, the rights of women are better respected.  The political empowerment of women is on the rise, such that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of Liberia, has become the first woman ever elected President of an African state.  Throughout Africa, civil society and ordinary citizens also are engaged as never before.   Africans are standing up for their rights, demanding honest and accountable leadership. 

Governments are beginning to listen. 

Societal shifts—urbanization, demographic changes, and new technologies—all require governments to be more inclusive, more accountable and more responsive, and require leaders who are in tune with this new, and increasingly complex, Africa.

Last year, I made what I think is a strange confession: that as the leader of the UN, I envied the World Cup. Every four years, the entire world is focused on soccer.  All nations compete to be the best, and all citizens know where their team stands and what it did to get there. 

I wish we had more of that sort of competition in the family of nations.  Countries vying for the best standing in respect for human rights, trying to outscore each other in governance.  Performances ranked for all the world to see.  Governments held accountable for whether goals are met.  Citizens taking pride in the results.

Good governance and democracy are central to Africa’s development—and to its security.  That is why, in addition to my other work, which I have described, I have accepted the chairmanship of the prize committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. 

Mo—who, of course, is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Africa—is establishing an index of good governance—sort of a FIFA table for governments. He is also offering the largest cash prize in the world - to the former African head of state or government who has set the highest standard for honest and enlightened leadership.  It will help them to continue their work—and to inspire the next generation to reach an even higher standard of public service.

Without such leadership, it will be hard if not impossible to reach the MDGs by 2015 and continue to prosper.

Again, we see how the three pillars of security, development and human rights all reinforce one another.  The rule of law, like peace and security, is a prerequisite to strong and sustained development.  And without prosperity and opportunity that are widely shared, peace cannot last long and democratic institutions cannot truly flourish.

Here in South Africa we see this virtuous cycle in motion.  So much has changed here that it is hard to believe only 13 years have passed since Nelson Mandela’s inauguration.  There have, of course, been setbacks; but a lot has been achieved.

Since the years when Madiba helped free this nation from the prison of its history, President Mbeki—whom I considered an essential partner during my tenure as Secretary-General—has steered a steady course economically, on security questions, and in safeguarding the rights of people here and around the world.

Under his leadership, South Africa is showing the way—as a beacon of tolerance, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.  You exercise a powerful, beneficial influence through NEPAD and the AU, helping solve crises from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Cote d’Ivoire and Burundi.

There is much to be done; but the momentum here is strong, and in the right direction.
The same is true for Africa as a whole – the Africa we love.

The Africa we love is capable of the best.

And the Africa we love is capable of some surprises.

There is tremendous energy on this continent—and it is being channeled, more effectively than ever, toward a future of shared prosperity, shared security, and a shared sense of values and purpose.

Working together—just as the races and colors and cultures of South Africa have worked together—we Africans can meet our greatest challenges.  We will do this in partnership—not only with one another but with the other nations of the world, all of whom have a stake in our success.

The greatest instrument for global collaboration, I believe, is the institution I was privileged to lead: the United Nations.  It is, as it has been for the past half century, the most powerful expression of the idea of multilateralism. 

Because we believe so strongly in that idea, we must address what President Mbeki has called “the gross imbalance of power” between rich and poor member states.  We must give the world’s poorest people a greater voice in the decisions that shape their lives.

When Nelson Mandela received the Africa Peace Award in 1995, he said that while Africa “should challenge the untenable global division of power and wealth…  Africa has long traversed past a mindset that seeks to heap all blame on the past and on others.”  He continued:  “The era of renaissance we are entering is, and should be, based on our own efforts as Africans to change Africa’s conditions for the better.”

I agree.  I share Madiba’s belief—and his faith that we can find the strength we need within ourselves, as Africans.  Such strength as we have, and such wisdom—these are the legacies of Nelson Mandela.  Let us strive to be worthy of his example—as we strive to create a future worthy of our children.

Thank you.


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