/ 17 November 2007

Mbeki calls for diaspora-Africa dialogue

There was an urgent need for greater co-operation between Africa and its compatriots in foreign countries, President Thabo Mbeki said on Friday.

”This is particularly so with all of us on the continent so that we respond successfully to such challenges as the attainment of peace and stability,” he told the opening of the African Diaspora Ministerial Conference in Midrand.

He said while Africans of the diaspora — in the Americas, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and France — had made ”huge contributions” to freedom struggles, countries on the African continent had not reciprocated.

Mbeki said the rich countries of the world currently used global dialogue as an opportunity to dictate terms to the rest of humanity.

Turning to communication, Mbeki said previous discussions had strongly emphasised the need for satellite and fibre-optic cable networks in Africa.

Struggling to make himself heard above the rain, Mbeki said the 9 900km-long submarine table between Durban and Port Sudan would cut telecommunication costs in Africa and be operational by the end of 2008.

He said the African Development Bank had made $1,6-billion available to improve infrastructure in Africa, particularly in the rail, road and energy sectors.

This was in addition to the 33 different projects under Nepad that the bank has already financed to the tune of $800-million.

”If we are able to work together with the Africans in the diaspora, utilising the skills and expertise that many of them have, many of these programmes and projects will be implemented faster and more efficiently.”

In an impassioned speech, Ambassador Dudley Thompson -‒ introduced as a Caribbean Pan-Africanist — spoke out against African’s disempowerment, the excesses of spending in the Western world and six centuries of ”white male capitalistic hegemony”.

He railed against $23 000 toilets and a recent bequest of $12-million the ”Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley left to one of her pampered pooches — symptoms of the ”cruel, stark imbalance of the world order”.

Helmsley, who died in 2007, was a billionaire New York City hotel operator and real estate investor.

Thompson said two million black babies died each year from preventable causes.

”We find ourselves at the bottom of the totem pole economically, militarily, culturally …”

Thompson said black people had been made to believe they descended from an inferior slave race. Slavery, he said, had in fact been an interruption of black people’s history.

”Let us begin to write our own history at this conference.”

He called for the philosophy of Pan-Africanism — a global movement dedicated to black empowerment — to be the ”glue that binds us together”.

During his speech, AU commission chairperson Professor Oumar Konare turned from the podium to face Mbeki and, speaking in French, said there was an ”urgent need to help our brothers in Zimbabwe to solve their problems”.

He called for strategic partnerships between African countries which would help advance the development of infrastructure.

Konare also called for the creation of the United States of Africa and an AU passport. – Sapa