Diversity Should Work for Africa's Greatness

Published on 1st February 2016

Africa is very diverse in every respect. Artists throughout the ages have eulogised the great diversity of our beautiful continent. They painted the majestic mountains, as they navigated the water masses of our lakes and wrote about the symphonies of our waterfalls. They sang about the mighty Congo River, meandering at some points, and thundering through others; about the Nile, Zambezi, Limpopo and Niger and about the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean and Red Seas that surround our shores.

African people compose, perform, write, recite and sing in over a thousand languages. Our priests and imams, rabbis and pastors, pray for Africa, mindful of our common humanity.They tell the stories of our ancient civilizations and heritage: the obelix of Axum, the pyramids of Egypt and Sudan; the stone churches of Lalibela; the historic sites of Great Zimbabwe, the M’Zab Valley, Mapungubwe, Ribeira Grande, Medina, the Stone Town of Zanzibar and the old town of Djenne, the universities and libraries of Timbuktu and Alexandria; and sing praises to the ancient kingdoms of Songai, Mali, Ghana, and Dahome.

The great diversity of Africa is its biggest strength and its enduring splendour. We also know that we share our land with 4700 mammal, 2,000 bird and 950 amphibian species; a diversity that we ought to preserve. Deep in the bowls of the continent, African workers are slaving in the bauxite, industrial diamonds, manganese, phosphate rock, platinum group metals, gold and zirconium mines, which represent the largest or second-largest reserves of these important minerals.

The miners of at least sixteen countries are involved in the extraction of precious metals. Moreover, thirteen of them in diamonds and a further six as copper producers. The largest producer of coltan, essential to modern technology such as cellphones, laptops and tablets, is in Africa. Many African countries extract iron ore, while the majority of iron deposits still lie dormant in other countries.

In addition to the thirty six countries, we are also home to the world’s largest extractors of chrome, manganese, vanadium, and vermiculite; and the second-largest extractors of limonite, palladium, and rutile. More than 85% of global phosphate reserves are located in North Africa.
Furthermore, the majority of Africans remains in the dark without reliable and affordable energy, and yet we have twenty-six (26) oil and gas producing countries, and eighteen (18) countries that extract uranium. We also have an abundance of sun, wind, geothermal and hydro to power our renewable energies, which are necessary for Africa’s transformation.

We have allowed for far too long, the diversity of our lands, soil, workforce, oceans and forests to be taken away as raw materials, thus exporting jobs and supplementary revenue streams, along with the means of our own development.

A few days ago, the Executive Council at a retreat in Mek’ele in the north of Ethiopia, discussed our rich diversity of peoples, cultures, biodiversity, mineral and natural resources. We came to the conclusion that indeed the Africa we have is rich, but the paradox is that the majority of African people are poor. We must therefore resolve this ironic paradox that deprives us from creating wealth and shared prosperity. Unlike other regions, Africa has the human and other resources to leapfrog development at a much faster pace.

We must also utilise the splendour of our landscapes, our long coast lines and beaches, mountains, lakes, wildlife and heritage to expand domestic, African and global tourism. We continue to welcome tourists from outside the continent, but for the over one billion Africans to visit Africa, we ask our Heads of States to consider the change proposed by the Executive Council, that will make the free movement of Africans on our continent possible.

In the climate change negotiations last year, Africa showed that it was also not indifferent to its responsibility to our planet. Even though we contribute the least to global emissions and are most affected, we are leapfrogging to promote climate smart agriculture, renewable energy, to save our lakes, forests, oceans and rivers, and to insure against natural and other disasters through the African Risk Capacity Agency.

Although the final commitments of the climate deal fall short of what is required, we call on all African states to move swiftly, so that the agreement can come into effect, in time to unlock the wealth of our nations and to save our planet.

Through renewed commitment to the beloved continent, fifty years after the birth of the OAU, we affirmed our determination to ‎‎build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven and managed by its own citizens‎ and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.By adopting Agenda 2063, we pledged to act to change the present, and build the Africa we want. It is our generation’s mission to ensure that we build a rich Africa, with prosperous people.

During 2016, as we celebrate the Year of Human Rights, with particular focus on the rights of Women and Girls, we must therefore speed up transformation. We must continue to place our people and their basic human rights, at the centre of Agenda 2063. This includes our people’s rights to education, to food and nutrition, to health care, to safe water, sanitation and energy, to join in peace, to be safe from violence and extremism, to reach their full potential, in addition to the right to association, to free speech, to freedom of the media and to be protected from discrimination on any grounds. We are making progress, but our pace is very slow. We must use 2016 as a platform to advance these human rights of all the inhabitants of our continent, in their full diversity, as we work together to create the Africa we want.

We acknowledge that our united voices paint a picture of what we desire for ourselves, for future generations and the continent. The aspirations of Agenda 2063 reflect our desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want. It is indeed those ideals that are enshrined in Agenda 2063 that need to be translated into individual and collective action. As we reflect at this Summit on how best to realize the aspirations of the African people, and resolve the paradox which Foreign Ministers debated about in Mek’ele, we need to ensure that the words of wisdom from one of our forebearers, resonate with us and future generations.

Let me borrow from Emperor Haile Selassie, OAU founder who best expressed it as: “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

By adopting Agenda 2063, we raised our voices in unison to reclaim our past and claim our future. We have refused to be inactive, indifferent or silent about the evil of violent extremism, of gender based violence, the suffering and misery of our people as a result of wars and conflict. We refuse to allow injustice and the violation of the human rights of individuals and groups, no matter how small they are, and no matter how much their views differ from ours. We bow our heads in acknowledgement of the AU peacekeepers, who continue to be in the frontline of our efforts to silence the guns on the continent, and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

We are also not indifferent to the plight of our young people, who met during this Summit in their Intergenerational Dialogue, to talk about the responsibilities they have and what they expect from us. For example, they want to be used to promote peace in their countries, because it is young people who are carrying arms in the various conflicts and who are lured by extremism, that so much erode the fabric of our societies and our unity. Our young men and women want to be educated and skilled, so that they can become the engine and the drivers of our renaissance and transformation. But, if we are not responsive to their demand and as their patience run thin, their will be growing perceptions that we are indifference to their plight.

Pope Francis over fifty years after the words of Emperor Selassie, recently conveyed the same sentiments in his World Peace Day message, when he said…clearly, indifference is not something new; every period of history has known people who close their hearts to the needs of others, who close their eyes to what is happening around them, who turn aside to avoid encountering other people's problems. He continued: When people witness the denial of their elementary rights, such as the right to food, water, health care or employment, they are tempted to obtain them by force.

Having been entrusted by our people with the duty to lead, to care, to work tirelessly and selflessly to transform Africa and create a better life for all, as a leadership we are not and should not be indifferent to this great responsibility.

Our pledge in Agenda 2063 is to use the diversity that is our strength as a force for peace and democracy, to transform our economies, and to eradicate poverty and create a better life for all Africans.

I would like to announce that on 14-15 April 2016 we shall convene the inaugural African Economic Platform in Mauritius to have the conversation with the African private sector, academics and think tanks, on the urgent issues of the huge skills gap in the continent, on industrialisation and integration and other critical matters before us.

During the 50th anniversary we also committed to the completion of the decolonization process. On Western Sahara, as Africans we pushed for a referendum and agreed. We remained on pause for twenty five years. In 2016, we can no longer be indifferent to the position of the people of Western Sahara, who have struggled to determine their fate.

Twenty-five years is a generation, who has been languishing in refugee camps, being held back from our continental march towards the Africa we want. The referendum is a promise we made, their future in Africa depends on it.We urge the Secretary General of the United Nations and the UN to help resolve this matter, before the threat of radicalisation of young people in the camps – in the face of our indifference and inaction - becomes a further destabilising force.

To unlock the full potential of our continent we must put an end to the pervasive culture that limits full participation of girls and women in all spheres of society. There is progress but not at the expected level approved in Agenda 2063. This discrimination in law, by practice, in culture and through pervasive sexist attitudes, takes a diversity of forms: exclusion from land rights, gender based violence, child marriages which denies them opportunities for education among other limiting factors that maintain them in a second class citizen status.

Moreover, we boast an unprecedented diverse pool of human resources between the ages of 15-35 years representing 35% of our total population, yet we are unable to provide jobs for over 60% of them. The skills revolution so necessary to the realization of Agenda 2063, making agriculture and agribusinesses attractive to young men and women, their involvement in manufacturing, implies that we create the jobs and equip young people with the necessary skills required to transform our economies along the value chains of all our resources.

Allow me to conclude with a call to action from the first elected woman President on the continent, President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, when she reminded us that:The size of our dreams, must always exceed our current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.We choose peace, unity and prosperity.

By Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

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