Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Summit Meeting of Heads of State and Government of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), Ouagadougou - Burkina Faso

8 June 1998

Mr Chairman;
Distinguished Heads of State and Government;
Heads of Delegation;
Honourable Ministers;
Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

In Tunis, among the ruins of historic Carthage, in the year of our liberation from the yoke of apartheid, I had the singular honour to address our Summit, for the first time.

Today, at the lower reaches of the Sahara, under whose majestic sands hides much of our ancient African origins and the things that link the African North and South, I have the honour to present my valediction to a conclave, which was the midwife of our freedom, which has been our teacher as we have striven to learn what we should do with that freedom.

You will pardon me if on this occasion, this old man, on foreseeing the birth of a new century, borrows words from a departed freedom fighter who comes from across the Atlantic, as an affirmation of the African affinity with all across the globe who stand for human dignity and upliftment.

I refer here to the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda who, under the title, "A Century Dying", wrote:

"The tree of our bitterness
has come full leaf:
and the fall of our century
will carry the foliage away:"

From this podium, and after a lifetime spent in struggle, we want to echo the Chilean, and express our conviction that the fall of our century will carry away the foliage of bitterness which has accumulated in our hearts, and to which colonialism, neo-colonialism and white minority domination gave birth.

There is a complex of positions which those who come after us into the new century and millennium must advance, so that those of us who are weighed down by the burdens of age, can say, with conviction, that "the tree of or bitterness has come full leaf" and that the autumn of our lives presages the African spring.

As we were convinced when we established this Organisation 35 years ago, the successor generation can and must reaffirm this, that our countries and peoples are bound together by the reality of a common destiny for our Continent.

It must therefore deal in practical ways with the consequences of this fundamental determination.

Among other things, it must win the war in terms of which victory we, as African countries, would not allow ourselves to be sucked into a fight among the powerless for power over one another.

None of us is a superstar and none can succeed without the success of the other.

That common destiny requires that we should treat the question of peace and stability on or Continent as a common challenge.

Accordingly, I believe that we must all accept that we cannot abuse the concept of national sovereignty to deny the rest of the Continent the right and duty to intervene when, behind those sovereign boundaries, people are being slaughtered to protect tyranny.

In all instances, this takes place with no regard whatsoever to the fact that the legitimacy of our governments derives from our commitment to serve the interests of the people on the basis of mandates given by the people themselves.

In this context, we must frankly assess whether our "Central Organ for the Prevention, Management and Resolution of Conflicts" is succeeding to meet the hopes of our Organisation and peoples.

If it is not, a question which the current and most unfortunate conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea throws up, then we must seriously address the question of what we need to do to ensure that the continent truly and collectively, takes charge of its security and stability.

Again, none can gainsay the fact that our co-operation and integration is a fundamental precondition of the economic success of each of our countries, as is the pursuit of people-centred economic policies in each of our countries.

We must therefore build on the decisions we have taken about the African Economic Community as well as the reality of the regional economic units we have formed in various parts of our Continent.

Clearly, and as a matter or urgency, we must also find ways of acting together with regard to our relations with such important institutions as the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO.

Among the issues on our agenda with these institutions would be the African debt, infrastructure development, capacity building and greater African participation in the world economy.

The matter of the renegotiating of the Lome Convention with the European Union is another issue which we must handle both seriously and with the necessary sense of urgency.

The importance of the fact of African interdependence, and its practical recognition by ourselves, found expression in the Africa Telecom `98 Forum held in my country recently.

Our Ministers responsible for telecommunications emerged out of this conference with a concrete, practicable and exciting programme to move our Continent onto the information super-highway.

I would like to commend this practical and realistic programme to this Summit.

Your engagement in promoting it, as the political leaders of all our peoples, is fundamental to the bending of the possibilities provided by modern communication technology to link us as Africans, one to the other; further to improve our contacts with the rest of the world; and, using this technology, to deliver better services to the masses of our people cheaper and quicker.

Similarly, our Education Ministers have taken decisions to increase access by our youth to one another's institutions of higher education. This is another concrete initiative based on the fundamental concept of a common African destiny which we, as the political leaders of our Continent, must support practically.

In this regard, I would like to reiterate our profound appreciation for the support of UNESCO for this project.

We must also address the important question of exchanges among ourselves in the areas of science, technology and engineering and all other academic disciplines in general.

Among other things, we must attract back into the Continent the very many talented intellectuals who left Africa's shores to look for opportunities in the countries of the North, which offered them security and the possibility to advance their professional careers.

Similarly, we must work systematically to build people-to-people relations among our nations, to entrench the understanding that, as Africans, we are one people who share a common destiny.

Our Continent is confronted by a whole variety of questions impinging on its relations with the rest of the world.

Two of these concern the restructuring of the United Nations and the Summit Meeting of Non-Aligned Countries scheduled to take place in my country from the end of August.

With regard to both these issues, and others we may not have mentioned, we must evolve the necessary and correct African positions to protect and advance our interests.

We, ourselves, look forward to your inputs on these matters, so that we can all act in a manner which truly represents and advances a genuine and beneficial African agenda.

The current conjuncture presents our Continent with many exciting possibilities.

What is clear is that we will not be able to exploit these possibilities unless we ensure that the OAU, as an organisation, is able effectively to lead our Continent. We recognise what has already been achieved, paying particular homage to Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, under whose guidance the Organisation made tremendous advances. At the same time we remain aware of what still needs to be done.

Accordingly, let all of us attend to its strengthening and effective functioning with the necessary seriousness, understanding that without this all-African organisation, we would, one and all, be severely limited in our capacity to achieve the goals which each and everyone of us holds dear, and which we all know are fundamental to the success of the African Renaissance.

Our common African culture allows me to say to those in this august Assembly, who are younger than the veterans such as Robert Mugabe, Sam Nujoma, Abdou Diouf and myself that we charge you with the responsibility to lead our peoples and Continent into the new world of the next century - which must be an African Century - during which all our people will be freed of the bitterness born of the marginalisation and degradation of our proud Continent of Africa.

Let all of us repeat and commit ourselves to the perspective represented by the clarion call; The struggle continues and victory is certain!

Our future as the ordinary masses of Africa is in your hands!

Thank you

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website