ADDRESS BY THABO MBEKI ON THE OCCASION OF THE CELEBRATION OF THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF THE OAU: ADDIS ABABA, JULY 27, 2013.
Director of Ceremonies,
Distinguished Members of the Haile Selassie I Memorial Association,
Ladies and gentlemen:
First of all I would like to thank the Haile Selassie I Memorial Association for organising this get together during the year of the Golden Jubilee of the OAU, to celebrate the Founding Fathers of the Organisation, including the late Emperor Haile Selassie I and others.
Indeed to read the Roll Call of those who were present at the Inaugural Conference of the OAU in this city 50 years ago is to recall the names of eminent Africans who are now established in the African mind as the founding architects of Project African Unity.
I refer here to such eminent African patriots as Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Modibo Keita of Mali, King Hassan II of Morocco, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
I would like to believe that all of us present here today would agree that these Founding Fathers set themselves and our Continent the six (6) tasks:
(i) to achieve the total liberation of Africa from imperialism, colonialism, apartheid and white minority domination, and therefore the independence of all our countries and peoples;
(ii) to work for the unity of Africa, culminating in a United States of Africa;
(iii) to use this unity to entrench our right and practice as Africans to determine our right to self-determination, without foreign interference;
(iv) to use this unity so to transform all liberated Africa so that all our countries, together, work towards the realisation of the objective to end poverty and underdevelopment on our Continent, and thus achieve the objective of a better life for the masses of the African people;
(v) to position Africa as an important player in the ordering of global affairs, as a respected member of the global community of nations; and therefore,
(vi) to achieve the Renaissance of Africa.
I believe that gathered here today to celebrate the Founding Fathers of the OAU, we must ask ourselves the questions:
– what progress have we made towards the realisation of the strategic objectives which the OAU Founding Fathers set;
– do these remain today our Continental strategic objectives, and if not, what are our new tasks; and,
– what must we do in this regard!
The great Congolese and African patriot, Patrice Lumumba, did not attend the founding Conference of the OAU because he had been murdered ironically by the very same forces, represented by Mobutu Sese Seko, who attended the OAU Founding Conference to register the presence and participation of the important African country of the now Democratic Republic of Congo.
Regrettably and wrongly, but for this historical reason, we do not count Patrice Lumumba as one of the participants in terms of the elaboration and implementation of what I have described as Project African Unity.
However, Patrice Lumumba attended the historic All Africa 1958 Conference convened in Accra, Ghana by the late Kwame Nkrumah.
At this Conference he made an important statement which remains relevant to this day, when he said:
“This historical Conference, which puts us in contact with experienced political figures from all the African countries, reveals one thing to us: despite the boundaries that separate us, despite our ethnic differences, we have the same awareness, the same soul plunged day and night in anguish, the same anxious desire to make this African Continent a free and happy Continent that has rid itself of unrest and of fear and of any sort of colonialist domination. Down with colonialism and tribalism.”
Emperor Haile Selassie I expressed the same sentiment when he addressed the Summit Meeting of the then so-called Monrovia Group at a meeting in Nigeria in 1962, ahead of the establishment of the OAU.
“We are told that Africa has been split into competing groups and that this is inhibiting cooperation among the African states and severely retarding African progress. One hears of the Casablanca group and the Monrovia group, of the Conakry and Dakar declarations, and we are warned that the views and policies of these so-called groups are so antithetical as to make it impossible for them to work together as partners in an enterprise to which all are mutually devoted. But do such hard-and-fast groupings really exist? And if certain nations sharing similar views have taken measures to coordinate their policies, does this mean that, as between these nations and others, there is no possibility of free and mutual cooperation? …Ethiopia considers herself a member of one group only – the African group. When we Africans have been misled into pigeonholing one another, into attributing rigid and inflexible views to states which were present at the conference but to another, then we shall, without reason or justification, have limited our freedom of action and rendered immeasurably more difficult the task of joining our efforts, in harmony and brotherhood, in the common cause of Africa…No wide and unbridgeable gulf exists as between the various groupings which have been created…We urge that this conference use this as its starting point, that we emphasize and lay stress of similarity and agreement rather than upon whatever disagreements and differences may exist among us.”
Not many on our Continent know of the considerable and sustained efforts made by Emperor Haile Selassie I, especially acting through his young Foreign Minister, Ato Ketema Yifru, to help ensure that independent Africa acted in unity to address its challenges.
It was indeed possible that independent Africa could have made a false start with regard to the pursuit of Project African Unity, by splitting into the two blocs which Emperor Haile Selassie mentioned.
However, and very fortunately, as I am certain you know, Emperor Haile Selassie and Minister Ketema Yifru intervened vigorously, and in a sustained manner, successfully to persuade the two blocs to attend the inclusive all-Africa 1963 Summit Meeting which gave birth to the OAU.
During the course of the Summit Meeting, Emperor Haile Selassie put his neck on the block, so to speak, when he insisted that the Summit Meeting could not conclude without forming the OAU and adopting what became the Charter of the OAU.
Again as you know, in this regard he said:
“This Conference cannot close without adopting a single Charter. We cannot leave here without having created a single African organisation possessed of the attributes We have described. If We fail in this, we will have shirked our responsibility to Africa and to the people we lead. If we succeed, then, and only then, will we have justified our presence here.”
I have no doubt that the Emperor insisted on these outcomes to avoid the eventuality that once the Summit Meeting concluded, independent Africa could once again break into antagonistic blocs.
I would therefore like to suggest that one of Africa’s successes we must own as we celebrate the OAU Founding Fathers is the fact that our Continent did not splinter into competing blocs.
Thus have we had the possibility to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the OAU, and therefore, belatedly, the First Decade of the successor African Union.
With regard to this important success, given the threat of division our Continent faced in 1963, then Administrative Secretary General of the OAU, Salim Ahmed Salim, said at the penultimate substantive Summit Meeting of the OAU in Lusaka in 2001:
“As a student of history, I recall that not many had given the Organization of African Unity much of a chance of surviving the turbulence that went with the efforts to consolidate the gains of the post-independence era of African politics. It was a period during which our aspiration for greater unity and cohesion in Africa was repeatedly threatened, in spite of the strong vision of a united Continent that many of the Founding Fathers of the OAU advocated and defended jealously. They refused to be intimidated by the daunting nature of the challenges that confronted them.
“Today, I appeal to you, the successor generation of leaders and champions of our new Pan African quest, once again (to) find that innermost African strength to move our continent to a new level of unity, which irrespective of country, race, creed, ethnicity and religion, can galvanize our people for action.”
I must confess that I have cited what Salim Ahmed Salim said twelve (12) years ago because it is equally applicable today relating to the AU, which emphasises the imperative for us to continue to honour the tasks bestowed to us by Emperor Haile Selassie and the other OAU Founding Fathers.
Earlier I identified what I believe are six (6) strategic tasks these Founding Fathers set for our Continent.
There is absolutely no doubt that the OAU honoured the commitment set by the Founding fathers with regard to the first of these tasks – to help ensure the total liberation of our Continent from colonialism and white minority domination.
I am happy to say that not surprisingly, Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia was not found wanting in this regard. I believe that this could not be otherwise given the fact of the inspiration Ethiopia had given to the African liberation movement, drawn from its millennia of independence as a constituted African State, the historic victory against Italian colonialism at Adwa, and the defeat of the later occupation of Ethiopia, from 1935, by fascist Italy.
To confirm this, in his autobiography, No Easy Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela wrote:
“Ethiopia always has a special place in my imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.”
Even as we salute the fact that the OAU honoured the strategic task set by the Founding Fathers to ensure the total liberation of Africa, including establishing the Liberation Committee to promote this objective, we must also acknowledge and critically review the reality that not all Member States of the OAU honoured the commitments made by the Organisation.
To put this matter frankly, some of these Member States in fact collaborated with the colonial powers, contrary to the interests of our liberation movements and in violation of the OAU decisions.
I will later return to this important matter of the practical reality of division among the member States of the OAU, and later, the AU, despite the existence of these formal formations, the OAU and the AU, the principal expressions of Project African Unity.
The second of the strategic tasks I asserted had been identified by the Founding fathers was – “to work for the unity of Africa, culminating in a United States of Africa.”
In this regard I would like to take this opportunity to refer to comments made by one of the eminent Founding Fathers of the OAU, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
Mwalimu spoke in Accra in March 1997 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the independence of Ghana. Among other things he said:
“In 1965, the OAU met in Accra [Ghana]. That Summit is not as well remembered as the founding Summit in 1963 or the Cairo Summit of 1964. The fact that Nkrumah did not last long as Head of State of Ghana after that Summit may have contributed to the comparative obscurity of that important Summit. But I want to suggest that the reason why we do not talk much about [the 1965] Summit is probably psychological: it was a failure. That failure still haunts us today…
“Kwame Nkrumah was the great crusader of African unity. He wanted the Accra Summit of 1965 to establish a Union Government for the whole of independent Africa. But we failed. The one minor reason is that Kwame, like all great believers, underestimated the degree of suspicion and animosity which his crusading passion had created among a substantial number of his fellow Heads of State. The major reason was linked to the first: already too many of us had a vested interest in keeping Africa divided…
“Once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national passports, seats (at) the United Nations, and individuals entitled to a 21-gun salute, not to speak of a host of Ministers, Prime Ministers and Envoys, you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in keeping Africa balkanised. That was what Nkrumah encountered in 1965. After the failure to establish the Union Government at the Accra Summit, I heard one Head of State express with relief that he was happy to be returning home to his country still Head of State. To this day, I cannot tell whether he was serious or joking.
“But he may well have been serious, because Kwame Nkrumah was very serious, and the fear of a number of us of losing our precious status was quite palpable. But I never believed that the 1965 Accra Summit would have established a Union Government for Africa. When I say that we failed, that is not what I mean; for that clearly was an unrealistic objective for a single Summit.
“What I mean is that we did not even discuss a mechanism for pursuing the objective of a politically united Africa. We had a Liberation Committee already. We should have at least had a Unity Committee or undertaken to establish one. We did not. And after Kwame Nkrumah was removed from the African scene, nobody took up the challenge again.”
I believe that as we celebrate the OAU Founding Fathers we should reflect on these comments by the late Julius Nyerere, including asking ourselves whether the AU is the kind of Unity Committee he suggested.
I also believe that the comments made by Mwalimu raise the critically important question whether there exists on our Continent the sufficient political consensus required decisively to advance Project African Unity.
In this regard I am firmly of the view that the progressive forces on our Continent should inscribe Pan Africanism on their banners as one of the core features of the progressive African agenda.
I am certain that we will not advance towards the achievement of the objectives of Project African Unity, and with the necessary expedition, unless this is driven by these progressive forces, supported by the conscious masses of the African people.
Surely, this progressive movement should itself discuss and agree on the contemporary goals of Pan Africanism, within which it would locate Project African Unity.
It would also have to reflect on why this Unity is important and must be a critical part of the progressive African agenda.
In this regard, the fact of the matter is that despite and contrary to our colonial boundaries, the masses of our people see themselves as Africans rather than the largely tribal segments into which colonialism sought to define us, thus to balkanise Africa and promote its strategic objective of divide and rule.
It was exactly because they recognised this common sense of African identity, and African personality, that the OAU Founding Fathers had no hesitation to agree especially with Kwame Nkrumah that – Africa Must Unite!
Secondly, the fragmentation imposed on us by imperialism and colonialism has left us with many small States which cannot survive and thrive, with each acting individually and on its own.
This is especially so given the objective circumstance of the ineluctable globalisation process which, among others, has emphasised regional integration as exemplified by such formations as the EU, NAFTA, ASEAN and others, and the processes encapsulated in the WTO and the G20.
I say this not to ignore the important global multilateral organisations such as the UN, the IMF and the World Bank.
Third, surely practical experience should have taught us by now that none of our countries and peoples, whatever they may think of themselves individually, can succeed to achieve the all-important objectives of defending the African right to self-determination, and the sustained improvement of the lives of the African people, outside the united pursuit of these goals by Africa as a whole.
Our progressive movement will also have to reflect on the complex matter of how African Unity might be achieved.
Ten (10) years after Mwalimu Julius Nyerere spoke in Accra, and forty-two (42) years after the 1965 OAU Summit which he said had failed, the African Union reconvened in Accra, in 2007, once more to discuss what needed to be done to achieve the objective of African Unity.
In this regard, elsewhere, (The Thinker: May 2013, Vol 51), I wrote:
“In (his) Address at the Conference which established the OAU…(Emperor) Haile Selassie made important comments which remain relevant to this day (when he said)…
“While we agree that the ultimate destiny of this Continent lies in political Union, we must at the same time recognise that the obstacles to be overcome in its achievement are at once numerous and formidable.
“Africa’s people did not emerge into liberty under uniform conditions. Africans maintain different political systems. Our economies are diverse. Our social orders are rooted in differing cultures and traditions.
“Further, no clear consensus exists on the “how” and the “what” of this Union. Is it to be, in form, federal, confederal or unitary? Is the sovereignty of individual states to be reduced, and if so, by how much, and in what areas?
“On these and other questions there is no agreement, and if we wait for agreed answers generations hence, matters will be little advanced, while the debate still rages.
“We should, therefore, not be concerned that complete Union is not attained from one day to the next. The Union which we seek can only come gradually, as the day-to-day progress which we achieve carries us slowly but inexorably along this course…When a solid foundation is laid, if the mason is able and his materials good, a strong house can be built…
“Through all that has been said and written and done (on our Continent)…, there runs a common theme. Unity is the accepted goal.
‘We argue about means. We discuss alternative paths to the same objectives. We engage in debates about techniques and tactics.
“But when semantics are stripped away, there is little argument among us. We are determined to create a Union of Africans.
“In a very real sense, our continent is unmade. It still awaits its creation and its creators.
“It is our duty and privilege to rouse the slumbering giant of Africa, not to the nationalism of Europe in the Nineteenth Century, not to regional consciousness, but to the vision of a single African brotherhood bending its united efforts toward the achievement of a greater and nobler goal.”
To the best of my knowledge, the views expressed by the Emperor fifty (50) years ago remain the majority opinion among the Member States of the AU.
The challenge however is to respond to the task Mwalimu Julius Nyerere set when he spoke in Accra in 1997, to put in place the cumulative process which would result in the unity of our Continent, or what Emperor Haile Selassie described as “a Union of Africans”.
As I have said, I am certain that this will not happen unless the African progressive movement takes this as one of its solemn responsibilities.
The achievement of the other four (4) strategic goals that were set by the OAU Founding Fathers is intimately tied up with exactly our success with regard to developing the Continental consensus that would advance the goals of Project African Unity.
This is obvious with regard, for instance, to the strategic goals to defend and entrench Africa’s right to self-determination, to ensure that Africa plays her rightful role in fashioning the global order, and therefore to achieve the African Renaissance.
In this context, in his 1997 Address in Accra, Julius Nyerere said:
“Together, we, the peoples of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states. The needs of our separate countries can be, and are being, ignored by the rich and powerful. The result is that Africa is marginalised when international decisions affecting our vital interests are made. Unity will not make us rich, but it can make it difficult for Africa and the African peoples to be disregarded and humiliated. And it will, therefore, increase the effectiveness of the decisions we make and try to implement for our development.”
I am certain that all of us present here are aware of what has happened on our Continent which has confirmed what Julius Nyerere said. I refer here, as an example, specifically to the matter of the NATO intervention in Libya, contrary to the express views of the African Union.
In addition, from the beginning of the present Century and Millennium Africa succeeded to place on the global agenda the task to address Africa’s challenges consistent with and according to objectives our Continent had set, independently.
Among others, this was represented by the universal acceptance of African leadership with regard to solving our challenges of peace and security, support for NEPAD, our Continent’s comprehensive development programme, and respect for our APRM, the African Peer Review Mechanism.
To speak honestly, my view is that all this has now dissipated.
Rather, as I have said elsewhere, my own fear is that some in the world, ‘the rich and powerful’ to whom Julius Nyerere referred, are striving to impose a new condition of dependence on Africa, in what some have characterised as ‘a new scramble for Africa’!
Once again, I am convinced that the African progressive movement must reflect seriously on this challenge and help ensure that we do indeed honour the important strategic task set by the OAU Founding Fathers, to defend and entrench our right to self-determination, without foreign interference.
Obviously, our starting point in this regard must be a serious reflection on what we should do to manage the exploitation of our natural resources, including land, and therefore what we should do to ensure that such exploitation contributes to the development and transformation of our Continent.
This draws attention to yet another of the strategic goals I have sought to insist were handed to us by the OAU Founding Fathers.
In the OAU Charter, as you know, these Founding Fathers said they were:
“conscious of their responsibility to harness the natural and human resources of our Continent for the total advancement of our peoples in all spheres of human endeavour.”
They went further to say that they were:
“desirous that all African States should henceforth unite so that the welfare and wellbeing of their peoples can be assured”; and that one the purposes of the OAU would be,
“to coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa.”
The initiatives that were taken resulting in the Lagos Plan of Action, the establishment of the African Economic Community, the related provisions in the Constitutive Act of the AU, and the birth of NEPAD, all sought to help achieve the objectives I have just mentioned, as contained in the OAU Charter.
Today we can and should be proud of the positive news that for some years now, to date, our Continent, including this country, has sustained relatively high economic growth rates.
However, such encouragement as we might share in this regard should not blind us to some fundamental challenges that continue to face us in the context of the strategic tasks set by the OAU Founding Fathers. These include that:
(i) these relatively high economic growth rates are in the majority of cases largely based on global demand for our commodity exports, which entrenches the colonial system of economic relations between Africa and the rest of the world;
(ii) such benefit as has derived from the higher growth rates has not succeeded to translate into the fundamental structural transformation of our economies, focused on value addition and therefore industrialisation;
(iii) these positive growth rates have not impacted in a meaningful positive manner especially on the rural masses, and women, who constitute the majority of the African people; and,
(iv) the healthy African growth rates have been accompanied by growing wealth disparities in our countries, including pervasive and major youth unemployment in a Continent that is very young in terms of our demography, all of which portends great social instability in future.
As I began this Address I thanked the Emperor Haile Selassie I Memorial Association for giving us the possibility to gather here today, in the hall where the OAU was established, to celebrate the Organisation’s and therefore our Founding Fathers as Africans.
I hope that when we conclude our proceedings today we will have agreed on some important matters. Among these are that:
(i) indeed all of us, including our political parties and other mass formations, our Governments, our intelligentsia and media must revisit and propagate the Strategic Tasks set by the OAU Founding fathers, exactly because, in the main, they remain relevant to this day;
(ii) fortunately, today, we have the great benefit and advantage that through both the OAU and the AU, Africa as a whole has adopted specific policies to ensure the implementation of all the Strategic Tasks set by the Founding Fathers,
(iii) accordingly, the obligation we face is not so much new policy formation, as the implementation of the policies all-Africa has adopted through her principal organs, the OAU and the AU;
(iv) many of the objective African and international conditions which informed the adoption of the African Strategic Goals in 1963 have not changed fundamentally, except with regard to the fact that they worsened for Africa after the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialism in Europe;
(v) the African progressive movement has an urgent responsibility to lead the effort to define the contemporary objectives of Pan Africanism, which would include the achievement of the objectives of Project African Unity;
(vi) this movement must ensure the mobilisation of the African masses to engage in struggle to achieve the objectives of Pan Africanism, not allowing that this should be left solely to our Governments, but at all times promoting united African action to achieve the Unity and Renaissance of our Continent;
(vii) the movement must take the responsibility to reflect on the specific steps Africa has to take to advance Project African Unity; and,
(viii) this African progressive movement must deliberately and systematically organise itself to serve as a vanguard force to mobilise the united African masses to achieve the contemporary Pan Africanist goals, including Project African Unity, for instance through what was earlier established as the inclusive mass African Renaissance Movement.
When he spoke on May 15, 1963, here in Addis Ababa, to open the OAU Preparatory Conference of Foreign Ministers, ten (10) days ahead of the formation of the OAU, Emperor Haile Selassie’s Foreign Minister, Ato Ketema Yifru, said:
“It is essential that in the days ahead we are guided by the fundamental principles of the cause of African Unity. We can agree on positive steps. Let us do so.
“Each step takes us just that much nearer our goal and makes the next step just that much easier to take.
“Our views are identical on many questions. Our opinions are unanimous on many matters. The areas in which African States can decide today to cooperate their activities include virtually every aspect of national and international life.
“If we begin from these premises and work together in good will, Africa will prove not only that ultimate Union is possible, but also that we are more than worthy of the independence which we enjoy and the increasingly important role which we are playing in world affairs.”
Our task today, as we celebrate the OAU Founding Fathers, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of our erstwhile Organisation, is to take on board exactly what Emperor Haile Selassie’s Foreign Minister, Ketema Yifru, said fifty (50) years ago, and thus recognise that:
“Each step takes us just that much nearer our goal and makes the next step just that much easier to take.”
Thus our urgent contemporary task is to identify each of these steps, and actually take them!
Africa Must Unite!