Address at the University of Havana,
Cuba, 28 March 2001
Your Excellency President Castro;
Your Excellencies the Ministers;
Your Excellencies Ambassadors;
Comrades and friends:
In 1940, the Office of Public Opinion Research in the
USA conducted a nation wide poll and asked Americans
to indicate those words that seemed to describe best
the people of Central and South Aerica. The results
were the following: When asked whether people in Central
and South America were dark-skinned, 80% said yes. When
asked whether they were quick tempered and emotional,
about 50% said yes.
Asked whether people in these areas were intelligent,
only 15% said yes; and if they were honest, only 13%
said yes. Asked whether they were imaginative, 23% said
yes; and whether people in Central and South America
were efficient only 5% said yes. (Thomas E. Skidmore
& Peter H. Smith, Modern Latin America, page 4,
Published 1984, 1989 by Oxford University Press.)
The stereotype about the Central and South American
people according to this survey was that they are dark-skinned,
quick-tempered, emotional, unimaginative, unintelligent,
dishonest and inefficient.
If the same survey about Africa today was conducted
in some countries of the North, I would not be surprised
if we got exactly the same outcome.
The critical matter however is that we have a duty
to define ourselves.
We speak about the need for the African Renaissance
in part so that we, ourselves, and not another, determine
who we are, what we stand for, what our vision and hopes
are, how we do things, what programs we adopt to make
our lives worth living, who we relate to and how.
Our discussion of the African Renaissance here today
is very appropriate for two reasons. Central and South
America and the Caribbean have so much in common with
Africa that, indeed their fortunes seemed, over time,
to be intertwined.
Secondly and of importance, Cuba occupies a prominent
place in the history of the struggle for, and the achievement
of freedom on the African continent.
Accordingly, the Renaissance of our continent is inextricably
interwoven with this country that has sacrificed so
much so that, Africans can stand tall as equals amongst
fellow human beings.
It may well be that the close affinity of the peoples
of Africa and the Central and South Americas is bound
by our common history and heritage not just in times
that can be captured by humanity's ability to record,
but in such distant times whose preciseness is captured
by the evidence donated to us by nature itself, hidden
in seemly innocent rocks and trees.
Thanks to scientific advancement, we are able to decipher
what these rocks and trees, buried for millions of years,
tell us about our origin, evolution and adaptations
Some of the fossils that assist us to have a better
understanding of ourselves have helped scientists to
explain the link that the greater part of Central and
South America had with Africa for millions of years
before what is generally referred to as the continental
drift separated our two continents.
The Historian John Reader writes about this link between
Africa and the Americas:
"If we look at a terrestrial globe or map of the
world, we shall perceive that the projection of the
western coast of Africa nearly corresponds with the
opening between North and South America, opposite to
the Gulf of Mexico; that the projection in South America,
about Cape St. Roque and St. Salvador, nearly corresponds
with the opening in the Gulf of Guinea; so that, if
we could conceive the two continents being brought into
contact, the opening would be nearly filled up, so as
to form one compact continent". (Africa - a biography
of the continent, page 21, published Penguin Books 1997).
The compact super continent which was in existence
250 million years ago of Africa, South America, the
Indian sub-continent, Australia and Antarctica, has
been called Gondwanaland.
Beyond that, we have many similarities as if our histories
have been painted on the same canvas, as if our different
odysseys had a common navigator, as if we hunted the
same beasts, cooked and feasted from the same pot.
Perhaps, like the true descendents of Gondwanaland,
the super continent, we had no choice but to journey
We have inherited a common colonial legacy, according
to which, upon their arrival, the colonialists destroyed
indigenous communities, almost to a point of extinction.
In Central, South America and The Caribbean the many
indigenous communities, including the Maya, Aztec, Inca
and many others, had their cultures and languages trampled
upon and themselves as a people, almost exterminated.
In our part of the world, the Khoi and the San had
their cultures, traditions and languages destroyed,
and whole communities virtually wiped out such that
only pockets of these proud Africans remain today.
The indigenous people in the Americas were termed 'Indians',
because when the Spaniards arrived on their land, they
mistakenly thought they had arrived at the spice-rich
India. It is an 'error' we still perpetuate today.
The Khoi and the San were derogatorily called Hottentots
One of the colonialists' declared intention in the
Americas was, as they put it, to save the souls of heathen
Indians. They said the same thing in Africa: they wanted
to save the pagans from themselves.
And so the ideological programme of forcing people
to renounce their cultures, languages, beliefs and identity
We are also tied to you and the Americas because inhuman
greed resulted in the transportation of millions of
Africans out of Africa as slaves. No longer slaves,
these millions today constitute an important part of
what makes up the population of the Caribbean and the
For their part, the colonialists wanted nothing but
complete ownership and control over the important minerals
in the Americas, in particular, gold and silver. Across
the Atlantic, the colonialists' rapacious appetite for
wealth just could not get enough of the Africa's gold,
diamonds and other natural resources.
We both had numerous heroic struggles against colonialism
and later its offshoot neo-colonialism - struggles that
are defined by ups and downs, heroes and traitors, triumphs
We speak here today as people born of those victorious
struggles. Contrary to the survey we cited at the beginning,
we speak not emotionally and I must assume not unintelligently.
We are able to do this, in good measure because of the
heroic sacrifices that the people of Cuba made to help
speed up the defeat of colonialism and apartheid in
Even today, your actions continue to give practical
meaning to the wise words of that Cuban revolutionary,
poet, writer and visionary, Jose Marti, when, in the
19th century, he said that:
"Man has no freedom to watch impassively the slavery
and dishonour of fellow men, nor their struggles for
freedom and honour." (Collection of Thoughts of
Jose Marti, vol. II D-G, page 20)
Through your sacrifices, together with those of your
brothers and sisters on the vast expanses of the African
continent, you jointly laid a firm foundation for the
The battle and triumph at Cuito Cuanavale and the subsequent
tripartite accords between Angola, Cuba and apartheid
South Africa, which dramatically changed the political
landscape in Southern Africa and thus ensured the completion
of the important and necessary phase of the total decolonisation
of the continent, remain etched in the collective memory
of all African patriots.
We agree with the observation made by His Excellency
the President of Cuba, Comrade Fidel Castro, when he
said in 1988 that the history of Africa will be divided
into before and after Cuito Cuanavale.
The Africa Renaissance is and will be an outcome of
the constellation of events of which the military defeat
of the apartheid forces in Angola is amongst the most
This constellation of events, particularly in the late
1980s and early 1990s could not have happened at a more
propitious time, a decade before the end of the century
and millennium and the dawn of a new century and millennium.
The last decade of the 20th century prepared the conditions
for us to claim the 21st century as the African Century,
that must be characterised by the all-round advance
and development of the African continent, during which,
through its own efforts and in the context of a new
internationalism, it must catch up with those described
today as developed.
Indeed, this declaration of an African century, born
of the confidence and determination of a free and independent
people, is an aspect of a continuum, of which Cuito
Cuanavale is an integral and an inalienable part.
To advance this perspective, the African continent
is currently working on the Millennium Partnership for
the African Recovery Programme (MAP).
Among others, the elaboration and adoption of this
programme will result in the conscious and deliberate
engagement of all our people in the important work of
the self-definition of Africans by the Africans themselves.
In this process of self-definition we will strike a
blow against the prejudices and stereotypes prevailing
in many parts of the world, particularly in the developed
countries of the North. A central feature is therefore
the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia,
sexism and other intolerances. For this reason, among
others, we consider the International Conference against
Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and other
Intolerances, to be held in Durban, South Africa, this
year, as being of the greatest importance.
Furthermore, the African Recovery Programme must have
both as an integral part and a condition for its success,
an end to coups d'etats and the imposition of military
governments on the peoples of Africa, an end to destructive
violent conflicts and the defeat of elites that corruptly
enrich themselves at the expense of the people. It must
sustain the process on course on our continent focused
on realising the objective that the people shall govern.
This programme is based on a common determination to
end poverty and ensure sustainable growth and development
in all the countries of Africa.
It is based on a common resolve to end the marginalisation
of Africa and the global social exclusion of her people.
It is based on a common view, informed by objective
reality, that resources necessary to eradicate poverty
and the scourge of under-development exist within the
global economy and society. The programme will be driven
by our common conviction that bold and imaginative leadership,
inspired by the need to build caring and people-centred
societies, is a necessary pre-condition if we are to
succeed in the struggle to achieve sustained human development.
In this regard, among other things, we have to reverse
the outflow of the highly skilled labour from Africa
to the countries of the North. In 1998, for instance,
250 000 African professionals were working in the United
States and Europe. About 30 000 African professionals
with PhD's live abroad, while the continent is left
with only one scientist and engineer per 10 000 people.
(UNDP: Human Development Report 1999, p32) Despite
all the odds we make bold to say that we must and can
move away from measures that further entrench the dependence
of Africa on aid. As we are all aware, Africa is endowed
with large and most diverse natural resources. These
precious resources have benefited people other than
We have to end the situation according to which Africa
remains an exporter of primary products and an importer
of manufactured goods. The result is that the continent's
apparent integration in the world economy is actually
as such a producer of primary commodities, an exporter
of skills and capital, through the fact of a heavy debt
burden and a recipient of ever-diminishing volumes of
The Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery
Programme seeks to change this unacceptable situation.
We say that this is the time when by freedom and independence
our people must know we also mean development, genuine
empowerment, self-reliance and a qualitatively better
life for all.
We want our people not to be overwhelmed and continue
to be marginalized by the advances in information and
Instead, we seek through this programme, to ensure
that our people master this technology such that we
increase our knowledge and skills, improve our productive
capacity, increase access to goods and services and
in time, begin to be at the cutting edge of advances
in human development.
Modern societies have become information dependent
and information driven.
One of the challenges we face in this context is to
avoid being overwhelmed by the powerful cultural imperialism
that seeks to penetrate our societies through films,
television, the Internet and other mass media. As part
of our response to this challenge, we have to cultivate
our value systems through the production and sharing
of literature, films, and the products of creative art
and the outcomes of sport that portray us correctly
and differently from the dominant cultures conveyed
by today's mass media.
Africa, together with the other developing regions
of the world, is a victim of the skewed distribution
of the benefits of the global economy, a situation that
is characterised among others by the absence of a fair
and just global order with regard to such important
matters as trade, finance and technology.
Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, humanity
is faced with the huge challenge of the ever-widening
gap between poor and rich people between and within
The United Nations Development Programme report of
1999 states that:
The assets of the three richest people are more than
the combined GNP of all the Least Developed Countries
The assets of the 200 richest people are more than the
combined income of 41% of the world's people;
Nearly 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean
A quarter of the 4,5 billion people in developing countries
do not live beyond the age of 40, have no access to
knowledge and minimum private and public services;
One in seven children of primary school age is out of
About 840 million people are malnourished and 1.3 billion
people live on incomes of less than One Dollar a day.
(UNDP: Human Development Report 1999, pages 28 &
Despite these massive levels of poverty, the world has
sufficient resources successfully to address the challenges
posed by the scourge of underdevelopment. For instance,
a yearly contribution of 1% of the wealth of the 200
richest people, which would amount to $7- 8 billion,
could provide universal access to primary education
Since the majority of poor people live in developing
countries, there is clearly an urgent need for us to
adopt extraordinary measures that will give us the necessary
capacity to address these deep levels of poverty.
As developing countries, we are faced with insufficient
flows of resources into our economies.
The same UNDP Report from which we have quoted states
In 1997, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) increased to
$ 400 billion, but 58% of it went to industrial countries;
More than 80% of the FDI in developing economies in
the 1990's went to just 20 countries, mainly China;
The top fifth of the world's people in the richest countries
enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 62% of FDI.
The bottom fifth of the world's population enjoy barely
more than 1% of the export trade and FDI. (UNDP: Human
Development Report 1999, pages 31 & 38)
Clearly, these figures demonstrate the urgent need to
restructure the world economic order, and the huge challenge
facing all of us is to increase the cooperation between
our countries and ensure that we turn around this process
that seeks to condemn us permanently to deeper levels
of poverty and marginalisation.
To address all these problems, we need to strengthen
South-South cooperation. It is important therefore,
that we work out sustainable programmes around the development
of our human resources, sharing of skills between our
countries, stronger trade relations, co-operation in
science and technology, cultural exchanges and mutual
assistance in the development and strengthening of our
This is important in itself, but also constitutes an
important part of the African Recovery Programme whose
success would also make an important contribution to
the progress of the developing world as a whole.
Cuba has played and continues to play a seminal and
exemplary role in international solidarity, trans-frontier
endeavours in education, health and other areas of scientific
advancement. Again, in this regard, we are guided by
Jose Marti when he said that: "Every man must feel
on his cheek the blow struck against any other man's
cheek." (Collection of Thoughts of Jose Marti,
vol. III H, page 18) The scourge of poverty and underdevelopment
felt by the overwhelming majority of humanity must be
a concern of all humanity. At the UN Millennium Summit
last year, the world's political leaders committed themselves
to work together to address this scourge as a common
For us, this is the orientation that informs the African
Our country, South Africa, is one of the beneficiaries
of your internationalism. Your doctors are ensuring
that the pain of disease among our people is lessened
by their selfless work and dedication. I would like
to take this opportunity, on behalf of the government
and people of South Africa, to thank you for your willingness
to work together with us to confront the health challenges
that are a result of poverty and underdevelopment amongst
The governments of Cuba, South Africa and Mali are
collaborating in assisting with the health needs of
the people of Mali. Clearly, this is one of the practical
expressions of programmes that would change for the
better the living conditions of our people, and in time,
would make the African Renaissance the success that
it surely must be.
I think we owe it to the sacrifices that our people
have made over many years, to better coordinate our
efforts and collaborate amongst ourselves so that these
initiatives bring immediate and visible benefits to
all our people wherever they may be.
We have to do all these things so that we defy the
myopic and self-serving views of those who wish us to
fail, to defeat the millennium old negative stereotype
that was expressed by the results of the survey of the
Office of the Public Opinion Research.
The success of the African Renaissance will be the
success for all the developing countries. It will certainly
be a success for the heroic people of Cuba.
We say this because although our habitat is Africa,
we are part of humanity and when we triumph over poverty
and underdevelopment, that will be a victory for all
humanity. We have ourselves learnt this important lesson
from the words that came from this Island in the 19th
century, from Jose Marti:
"Not only are we Cuban, but part of Humanity,
and we fight for the honour and wellbeing of all Humankind."
(Collection of Thoughts of Jose Marti, vol. III H, page
The spirit of internationalism and solidarity that
drove your sons and daughters to lay down their lives
in Angola so that the peoples of Southern Africa should
be free is what must inform our actions as we wage the
new struggle for the all-round emancipation of all humanity
from everything that denies anyone of us our human dignity.
Again, this is wise counsel from that outstanding son
of Cuba, your own National Hero, Jose Marti.
I thank you.