Africa 'ready to tackle its own problems'

President Thabo Mbeki described the new African era as the season of hope for the continent and one in which Africans are prepared to take care of their own.

He was addressing the 26th Singapore Lecture on the island during his one-day state visit on Thursday. He was invited to give the lecture, one that former president Nelson Mandela was also “honoured” to provide.

He told the 1 000-strong audience that both Asia and Africa suffered many years of colonial rule, which negatively impacted their development.

At the 1955 Bandung Conference held in Indonesia, most Asian countries had only just emerged from colonial rule and many African countries were still engaged in “a bitter struggle for freedom”.

But, Mbeki said, on the eve of the Asia-Africa Summit, all the countries are now able to take their place as sovereign nations.

“Accordingly, through the fearless and unshakeable cooperation and solidarity between Africa and Asia, international forums such as the United Nations, the nations of Africa and Asia achieved political and moral victory over colonialism and apartheid.”

Now is the time to boost links and create new and closer relationships between the two regions.

“And so, today, we have come here to this Asian crossroad [Singapore is seen as the link between South and East Asia] to share and exchange ideas on the current challenges facing our common world, especially the continent of Africa.”

Many Africans who have been following events on the continent over the past 15 years will agree that, unlike decades before, the continent is experiencing an era away from the problems of the past, “into the possibility of a better and prosperous future”.

“We are talking about a sense of hope because Africans dare to ensure that there was ‘a gigantic death’ of the numerous bad practices of the past that prolonged the nightmare of poverty and underdevelopment of ordinary people.”

Mbeki said they dare to hope because there are many Africans who now contemplate the quantum questions of democracy, culture, people and human rights and the rule of law.

In the past, non-Africans had tried to solve Africa’s problems, but after ever-deepening poverty levels, Africa decided to remedy its own problems.

The newly formed African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development are among the organisations created to unite the continent.

With the added cooperation of Asia, the two regions can confidently take on the world.

“I am confident that we will agree to strengthen our alliance and collaboration with countries such as Singapore and other Asian countries for our mutual benefit, especially in the next round of the World Trade Organisation negotiations.”

Mbeki acknowledged that Africa has come from decades of autocracy, military coups and general disregard for the democratic ideal.

Africans now realise they have to end this “unacceptable situation”.

“For all our efforts to succeed in all that we are doing, we have placed special emphasis on the need for partnership between and with African countries and other developing countries, and between Africa and Asia.”

Africans agree this is needed in order to achieve their goals, “because we have a pressing duty to collaborate, for us to banish hunger, disease, poverty and underdevelopment from the face of the earth.”

His speech was well-received, with many saying he put the African agenda into perspective.

Responding to Mbeki’s speech, the director of the Institute for South-East Asia Studies, K Kesavapany, lauded the president for his all-encompassing approach.

In the past, some speakers discussed their countries, others discussed their regions, but Mbeki discussed not only his own continent but two continents, he said.

Mbeki, according to Time magazine, is regarded as one of the top 100 most influential figures in the world and the most powerful leader on the African continent.—Sapa

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