We remember the commitment and dedication of our African leaders who, through tremendous effort and sacrifice, brought about independence on our continent – leaders who stated categorically that they would not rest until every square centimetre of Africa was free.
We celebrate Africa. We celebrate our achievements, our people and, more especially, our ability to change our future for the better. We remember the many travesties of our past that have created unacceptable levels of poverty and desperation. We remember the many heroes of our continent who have spoken out and acted for the common good of our people.
We reflect on the possibilities of a new dawn. We also reflect on the challenges that face us in the mammoth task of ensuring that Africa reaches its full potential. We rejoice that we have visionary leaders working for sustainable development on our continent. We salute the leaders who formulated a plan for Africa’s development in 2001, which led to the adoption of the G8 Plan of Action on Africa and the creation of Nepad.
We rejoice because Africans are ready to work for social development. We have the potential and latent energy to carve out our own destiny. One of my favourite Nigerian proverbs is: “The pillar of the world is hope.”
At the heart of development are the people, who have the ability to control their destiny. The hope continues in the opportunities that we have to use the vision of these people, together with our natural resources, to create long-lasting sustainable development interventions that will improve the lives of our people. The future is here!
On February 3 1960 Harold Macmillan, then the British prime minister, made his famous “Winds of Change” speech in South Africa’s parliament in which he signalled the end of British colonial rule. He said: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”
So here we are today in our jubilee year, free of colonialism.
As a cleric I note that the Bible makes reference to the obligations and benefits of a jubilee year. It is a time when debts and loans are paid off, when land is given back, when the poor start with a clean slate. Jubilee year is a sign that we can drive our own development.
African people have excelled in art, literature, sport, poetry, economics, environmental issues, world peace and human rights. Africa has given the world the wisdom and skill of people like Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist; Nelson Mandela, the first president of a democratic South Africa; Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian former secretary-general of the UN; and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel peace laureate.
On Africa Day we celebrate the achievements of countries like Malawi, where after the drought in 2002 there were about 5million people in dire need of food. But this year Malawi became an overnight donor of maize to other hunger- stricken countries in the region. In 2008 they were able to sell their surplus harvest, even after donating crops to other countries.
Dare I add that this success happened after they ignored recommendations by some funding agencies not to subsidise fertiliser and other farming inputs!
This is one of the most dramatic interventions in the history of the battle against hunger in Africa.
Sierra Leone was once a war-torn country but has now been declared a success story with good governance, tolerance and a commitment to fight corruption and drugs. Sierra Leone was invited to Australia to be the co-founder of the international commission for the fight against corruption.
In landlocked Mali the implementation of a multi-modal (road, rail, and sea) transport system was key to overcoming infrastructural constraints. This, coupled with improved phytosanitary, orchard management and post-harvest handling training programmes, increased mango exports to the European Union five- fold between 2003 and 2008.
Rwanda has succeeded in the coffee sector and Kenya’s cellphone industry has mushroomed. These successes have changed lives.
Aloys Havugimana, a Rwandan coffee farmer, was a business owner with a shop and a car until the genocide, when he lost everything. After deciding to plant coffee he has been able to send his three children to school, donate livestock to his neighbours, build houses and plant a four hectares of forest.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the economic conditions and landscape have changed dramatically since the middle of the 1990s. By 2008, aggregate GDPs had grown from 2,5 to more than 6percent. The region has also made headway fighting poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
On Africa Day we have much to celebrate. Development is often a long, slow and painful process; it does not happen overnight.
Looking at the many achievements in Africa after such a short time is truly amazing. One only has to compare the length of time it took the so-called wealthy countries to recover and develop after wars and famines to see that our progress is quite remarkable.
I believe that the winds of change that are driving this new progress are due to stronger leadership, better governance and an improved business climate. Africans have come to the fore with innovation, market-based solutions, people participation and self-reliance. In this context it is important to stress the importance of intra- Africa trade and integration.
African people are proud and full of hope. Let us be motivated to work resolutely for a world that is whole, happy and where all may live with dignity.
By The Most Reverend Ndungane, Former Archbishop of Cape Town.
This is an edited version of his Africa Day speech in Johannesburg.