Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki at the
European Parliament, Strasbourg: 17 November 2004
President of the European
Parliament, Josep Borrel Fontelles,
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen:
On the 31st of January last year, the "International
Herald Tribune" published an article by a David Harland described by the
newspaper as "a senior policy adviser on humanitarian affairs with the United
Nations in Geneva."
Headed "Talk of Emergencies Misses the Point",
the article discussed the situation in Africa. In part it said:
by the Iraq crisis, quite a lot has been happening in Africa recently. Ivory Coast,
having first taken a step away from war, may be edging back toward the precipice.
Sudan is walking a fine line between war and peace, with an agreement possible
to end what is now Africa's longest-running conflict.
"Civil wars in
Burundi and even Congo may be a little closer to resolution than they were a year
ago. Sierra Leone seems to have put its horrible civil war behind it. As has Angola,
until recently the scene of Africa's Thirty Years' War. The peace between Ethiopia
and Eritrea is holding. Is Africa rejoicing offstage while the world worries about
Not at all. "Despite the small flashes of good news, Africa remains
in a horrible mess
"Pliny the Elder said that "out of Africa there
is always something new." Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. These days it seems
that the opposite is true: Out of Africa there is always something depressingly
"Africa's weak states need long-term assistance
months after this article appeared, on July 13, "The Washington Times"
published yet another opinion about Africa. This one, entitled "An invitation
to disaster", was written by one Arnold Beichman, described as "a Hoover
Institution research fellow". Returning to Pliny's famous expression, Mr
"Pliny the Elder, Roman naturalist and philosopher,
wrote in his multivolume "Natural History": "Ex Africa semper aliquid
novi," or for those who have forgotten their high-school Latin: "There
is always something new out of Africa."
"What could be more new
than Africa south of the Sahara, supported by the United Nations, pleading with
Europe and America for a return of Western soldiers to bring peace to Liberia?
Pleading, if you please, for American troops to oust Liberia's President Charles
Taylor, since it was American slaves who had been freed and sent to form their
own country in 1847.
"How strange that Europe's one-time African colonies
have made such a request even if it could mean many years of occupation of Liberia
by once-hated Western armies. From African emancipation to African re-occupation?
what am I yakking about? No American troops in Liberia or any other part of Africa.
Not one. We've done our share, more than our share in Afghanistan and Iraq. And
we're still not finished in those two countries and we won't be for years to come.
Let Europe -- Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, all one-time
colonial powers -- send in their troops. Enough already."
response to David Harland's observation that 'Africa's weak states need long-term
assistance' was to suggest that rather than the United States, the countries of
Europe represented in this esteemed Parliament, should re-occupy Africa, and be
prepared to stay on for some time, as the United States is, according to Beichman,
prepared to stay on in Afghanistan and Iraq!
If indeed this were the eventuality
with which all of us must contend, that to solve the problems of the developing
South, the developed North has to resurrect old colonial empires, then the well-used
expression "ex Africa semper aliquid novi" would necessarily have to
be re-written to extend beyond the African shores.
I am certain that you
will understand that as Africans we have absolutely no desire to entertain Arnold
Beichman's wishes, and have no wish to have it said that the newest thing out
of Africa is its re-colonisation. I am equally certain that neither do you, and
the peoples of Europe that you represent, want to impose on yourselves what the
British writer, Rudyard Kipling arrogantly described as "the white man's
But before I go any further, let me return to Pliny the Elder.
The motto of the South African Museum, the premier museum in our country, says,
in Latin: "Semper aliquid novi Africa affert." This translates into
"Africa always brings forth/contributes something new."
ask the question - why this corruption of a famous Latin saying, that is seemingly
so beloved to observers of African actuality! If I may, Mr President, digress
briefly into the world of the study of ancient languages and literature, let me
explain how the South African Museum arrived at this particular rendition of the
famous saying by Pliny the Elder.
It transpires that Pliny translated into
Latin what had originally been written by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Referring
to what he described as 'a common saying of Greece", Pliny wrote "unde
etian vulgare Graciae dictum semper aliquid novi Africam Adferre".
expression "ex Africa semper aliquid novi" is a later adaptation of
what Pliny actually wrote. It is for this reason that, for its motto, the South
African Museum reverted to the original Pliny.
As a repository of extraordinary
exhibits that contribute something new to our understanding of the evolution of
our common universe, the earliest being the first fossils of prehistoric animals
to be found in our country, the Museum chose a motto that says - Africa always
contributes something new to human knowledge.
And I want to argue, Mr President
and Honourable Members of the European Parliament, that as you are doing in Europe,
Africa is today involved in an extraordinary and creative endeavour that might
contribute something new to the understanding of the capacity and ability of human
beings to overcome adversity and build a new world of hope.
I come from
an African country whose future was highly uncertain a mere decade ago. As we
approached the end of three-and-a-half cruel centuries of white minority rule,
many in the world held their breath, foreseeing a cataclysmic clash of races that
would transform the streets of our towns and cities into rivers of blood.
because of what the black and white Africans of South Africa did, understanding
that the taking of even one human life would neither remove the great harm that
had been visited on millions for centuries, nor create the possibility to repair
the damage that had been done, Africa's South Africa is today at peace with itself.
Black and white South Africans, and others from elsewhere in the world
who have chosen to join in this effort, are hard at work, striving together, everyday,
to build a new African country that will, in all respects, truly belong to all
who live in it.
Many across the globe who feared for the worst describe
what has been achieved as a miracle. And if it is, it is, remarkably, a human
miracle brought about by the triumphant resurgence of everything that is good
and noble in the human soul. As Africans, we are proud that this, in addition,
is an African miracle.
Ten years ago, a mere 21 days before South Africa
held the first democratic elections that gave us our freedom, the most terrible
genocide began in the African country of Rwanda. In a hundred days, a million
Africans had been butchered by other Africans in a barbaric and savage manner
that would have been difficult to imagine, and is still difficult to understand.
Government and people of Rwanda have left some of the places where the slaughter
occurred as they were when the murderous insanity was brought to an end.
so, today, a decade later, you can see the skeletons with cracked or punctured
skulls, of those who were butchered mercilessly and for no reason except as an
expression of the same criminal hatred for other human beings that resulted in
the annihilation of millions of Jews in the Holocaust that took place in Europe,
as Nazism gave meaning to its vile project.
But even as a South African,
well educated in the unbridled savagery of human beings towards other human beings,
I have wondered at what could have driven the genocidaires to commit the high
crimes that were visited on the people of Rwanda.
But much more than this,
I have marvelled at the unfathomable depths of forgiveness that have allowed the
people of Rwanda to sit together in village assemblies to discuss what happened,
the killers, together with those who carry the indelible scars of the savagery
or lost relatives and friends as a result of the blood letting orgy.
marvelled that simple African folk could convene under the African sky, without
even the sophistication of a simple village hall, the hunters and the hunted together,
and decide to forgive, choosing the path of national reconciliation rather than
And in the end, I have felt proud that other Africans, the
Rwandans, could give our Continent and all humanity the priceless gift and the
miracle of understanding what it means to say let bygones be bygones.
because the thunder of the guns broke the uneasy silence in Ethiopia and Eritrea,
in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, in Algeria and the Cote d'Ivoire,
in Sudan and Uganda, it has seemed to some that Africa is defined by the chatter
of the weapons of war, rather than the striving for peace, exemplified by what
the African peoples of South Africa and Rwanda have, within the last ten years,
sought to do, to address some of the grossest injustices that have occurred on
African soil, or, indeed, the peace that has prevailed in the overwhelming majority
of African countries.
Nevertheless, as an African, I will make bold to state
what I believe are some incontrovertible truths about my continent.
the leadership of African Algeria, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea came to
end. Whatever Africa needs to do to ensure that these two sister African countries
do not go to war again to resolve border disputes, Africa will do. As Africans
we rejoice that peace in this part of our world is holding and will hold.
African leadership, the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic
of Burundi have come to and end. As Africans we rejoice that peace in this part
of our world is holding and will hold, and that these two sister countries continue
to advance, despite the odds, towards the formation of new governments that will
be elected by the African masses in democratic elections, which will be held during
Under the leadership of the African Republic of Kenya, Sudan is about
to end the long drawn out war between the Northern and Southern parts of this
sister African country, and proceed to the formation of a new Government of National
Similarly, under the leadership of the African Union, and whatever
the current difficulties, the conflict in Darfur and other parts of Sudan will
be resolved, leading, among other things, to the redesign of the Sudanese system
of governance to entrench the principles of tolerance and unity in diversity.
terrorist wars in Algeria and Uganda are also coming to their conclusion. Difficult
as this may be for some to understand, as Africans we have no doubt that the people
of the Cote d'Ivoire will find one another and will together establish a stable
peace, reunify their country and join together in electing a government representative
of the people of the Cote d'Ivoire as a whole.
You, Mr President, and the
esteemed Members of the European Parliament will have recognised the fact that
what I have tried to communicate exemplifies the new Africa that is striving to
be born. This is the new Africa defined by the African Union and its socio-economic
programme, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD.
I am talking about an Africa that is using enforceable legal instruments to commit
itself to the fundamental objectives of peace, democracy, respect for human rights,
good governance, development and a better life for all.
This is a new Africa
in the process of birth, which has established or is in the process of establishing
such institutions as an African Commission similar to the European Commission,
a Pan African Parliament, a Peace and Security Council, Pan African Criminal and
Human Rights Courts, an Economic, Social and Cultural Council representative of
African civil society, an African Peer Review Mechanism specifically dedicated
to the objective of promoting good political, economic and corporate good governance,
and, of course, the NEPAD programme.
This is a new Africa that has taken
firm steps to give concrete meaning to the goal of the political and economic
integration of Africa, in pursuit of the objective of African unity that is based
on the understanding that as Africans, we share a common destiny. It is a new
Africa that has finally made the statement to itself that it must take responsibility
for its destiny, that it must take ownership of its own future.
sense, Mr President and Honourable Representative of the peoples of the European
Union, I speak of an Africa that is saying it must be its own liberator from the
ills of war and conflict, dictatorship, corruption and the regression that have
characterised much of Africa over the last few decades.
In this context,
I contest the assertion made by David Harland that "out of Africa there is
always something depressingly familiar." I contest, too, the argument advanced
by Arnold Beichman, that Europe must dispatch expeditionary forces to our Continent
to rescue the hapless African masses from weak states.
A long history of
interaction and interdependence binds Europe and Africa together. That history,
as well as current realities, dictates that our two continents should build a
mutually beneficial partnership for change.
The Africa you know so well is
poor. Yet it is committed to engage in struggle to eradicate that poverty. It
is underdeveloped. But it is determined to extricate itself from this terrible
condition. It continues to suffer from such conflicts as you experienced not so
long ago in the Balkans. Nevertheless, it is resolved to act firmly and consistently
to guarantee itself the gift of peace.
It exports some of its best-prepared
human resources to your countries to your benefit. It is obliged to receive back
into its borders those driven by hunger to undertake hazardous journeys out of
Africa, to enter Europe illegally, and whom you catch and expel.
global realities that threaten us all, concerning failed states, seemingly unbridgeable
ideological differences and international terrorism, are other factors that communicate
the message that during this period of globalisation, no country or continent
can be an island. In the end, the European Union will not succeed in its noble
objectives if neighbouring Africa fails to achieve the same objectives.
you have worked to build the new Europe after the costly Second World War and
the end of the Cold War, you have taken firmly on board two related and critically
important objectives of cohesion and solidarity within the EU. On this basis,
you have made the determination that you are one to the other your brother's and
Through what you have done and are doing through your Regional
Policy, you have succeeded to combine what is practically necessary with what
is morally correct. As a consequence of this, millions throughout the Union have
had their human dignity restored, guaranteeing the possibility for all to thrive
in conditions of peace, friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation, and prosperity.
would like to believe that your experience stretching over many centuries will
have communicated the message to you that were these ever to be built, the walls
of a Fortress Europe would always be easy to breach.
We would also like to
believe that as you act to help the millions of Africans who are working to help
themselves, you would understand that as you come to our aid as Africans to secure
our own human dignity, you would guarantee for yourselves as well as ourselves,
the possibility to thrive in conditions of peace, friendship, mutually beneficial
cooperation, and prosperity.
Simply put, it is difficult to see how Africa
can extricate itself from its terrible condition of poverty and underdevelopment
without resort to the development model epitomised by the EU Regional Policy,
which has recorded the successes it has with regard to the poor and underdeveloped
regions within the EU.
In this regard, I believe that we should engage in
a serious dialogue between ourselves, to answer the question whether the existing
framework of cooperation between Africa and the EU, to address a challenge of
poverty and underdevelopment greater than that experienced within the EU, is informed
by considerations akin to those that inform your internal Regional Policy. Perhaps
the European and Pan African Parliaments could take the initiative to begin this
It would seem obvious that we should avoid a self-fulfilling
prophecy in terms of which, because of what was not done, we would say that David
Harland was correct when he said that "out of Africa there is always something
I would like to thank you most sincerely for
the opportunity you have given us to speak to you, fully aware of the heartfelt
importance of this gesture of solidarity. I would also like to take this opportunity
to wish you the best as you grapple with the challenge, among others, of making
a success of the Enlarged Union.
I am certain that you understand this better
than I do, that the more you succeed to establish a strong, effective and successful
European Union, the more your responsibilities will increase to contribute to
the realisation of the goal of a better world for all.
Success breeds its
own responsibilities. And one of the greatest responsibilities of our time is
to end the obscene reality of endemic poverty for millions, when the means and
know-how exist within human society to achieve the goal of a better life for all.
As I end, I would like to assure you that regardless of what the sceptics
might say, "Semper aliquid novi Africa affert."
I thank you.