Like every year, today 25 May 2010, we are celebrating Africa Day. On this occasion, the African Union has chosen the theme “Building and Sustaining Peace through Sports” to mark this year’s commemoration.
A few weeks to the kick off of the 19th edition of the Soccer World Cup which Africa will be hosting for the first time in history, the choice of this theme gives full meaning to the event, as it highlights our resolve to make all possible efforts in order to fulfill the vision of Africa towards peaceful co-existence, integration, prosperity and proactiveness on the global scene. It also echoes the decision taken in Tripoli in August 2009, by our Heads of State and Government, to proclaim 2010 as the Year of Peace and Security in Africa. It further marks a strong and symbolic moment in the history of our continent, as it has brought to the lime light the power of sports and its contribution to peace and social cohesion.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa that sealed the reconciliation in the rainbow nation, which hitherto had been torn by decades of apartheid, is worthy of remembrance. This feat was achieved thanks to the personal involvement of President Nelson Mandela, a charismatic and visionary leader, who accomplished a highly symbolic gesture during the competition by wearing the shirt of the Springboks, considered by the Black community as the squad of the enemy. This paved the way for an era of pardon and allayed the fears of the Afrikaans community.
Sports have thus become a symbol of unity, national reconciliation, a means by which a nation communes in fervour beyond all its cleavages, through a sacred union with its national team. President Mandela once said that football like rugby, cricket and other team sports has the power to heal old wounds. This is a legacy that our continent like the South African people as a whole, can be proud of and, above all, draw lessons from.
History is full of examples which illustrate that sports can contribute to the achievement of peace and development goals through the surrounding media hype and symbolic acts. The football encounter between Armenia and Turkey that led to the resumption of diplomatic ties between the two countries is one such example. Sports also has the unparalleled potential to mobilize; attract and affect the masses; keep the attention of young generations and make it a formidable tool of training, education, awareness-raising, promotion of tolerance, fairplay, courage, good conduct, rigor, courage, perseverance, effort, humility in victory, self-control and respect for the opponent.
By presenting sport as a powerful instrument for peace promotion, we would like to reassert our faith in the values inherent to sports which are consonant with universal values and our shared African values. We would like to demonstrate our will to further centre our actions on improving humankind and its values through fulfilling activities like sports, exchanges and competition, in a bid to effectively speed up peace in our societies, States and the rest of the world.
In a Continent that continues to be the unfortunate ground for conflict; in a region that has the largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons and where a number of post-conflict reconstruction processes are on-going, sports is an essential tool which, on the one hand, can foster links and ties between communities divided by conflict, and on the hand, improve the relationships between peace keeping missions and civilian populations.
It is against this backdrop, for example, that the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) organised tournaments such as the African Championship of Nations (CHAN) in collaboration with the Confederation of African Football (CAF), a unique event in the history of peace-keeping missions, the first edition of which took place in Cote d’Ivoire, a country emerging from crisis. Sports therefore can contribute to restoring peace which is vital for elections.
Peace is not just simply the absence of war; peace is also synonymous with development. Our Continent has enormous untapped potential, underscoring the need to promote values of solidarity to guarantee it a better future. Sports, that by nature have unifying characteristics involving participation and developing the phenomena of inclusion and citizenry, can significantly contribute to achieving our Continent’s development.
In light of the new context of globalization of which Africa is part and parcel and an actor, and in considering that 2010 is, the year in which many African States are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary of independence, I am confident that efforts to concretise this dream of an independent, united, prosperous and peaceful Africa nurtured by the Founding Fathers will bear fruit. As the Olympic motto suggests, we should not set limits to our collective undertaking to firmly establish our Continent’s sustainable development. Let us remain ambitious and highly performing champions so that together we can ensure the future and Peace of the Continent. Citius, Altius, Fortius! Swifter, Higher, Stronger! United we remain for a winning Africa!
By Dr. Jean Ping,
Chairperson of the African Union Commission.