Ladies and Gentlemen


The creation of the conditions in which the children of Africa can develop is not just another challenge for the leadership of our continent:  it is their central task and function and should take precedence over any other consideration.   What is the purpose of leadership if it is not to create the circumstances in which our children can develop and prosper; in which they can grow to maturity as healthy individuals; if it is not to create the conditions in which they can be educated to play a positive and constructive role in our communities; in our economies and in our cultures?   The central challenge of leadership is to prepare a better world and a better life for our children.


It is a challenge that we, the leaders of Africa, are not meeting successfully.


The unfortunate truth is that

·     instead of being able to look forward to long and healthy lives, our children are threatened by one of the most deadly plagues since the black death;

·     instead of being able to live and prosper in peace, too many of our children are the victims of brutal and seemingly interminable wars;

·     instead of being educated to lead our continent into the prosperity of the globalised economy, too many of our children continue to live in ignorance and illiteracy;

·     instead of being able to enjoy the benefits of material prosperity that are taken for granted in the developed world, too many of our children continue to languish in abysmal poverty.


My message this afternoon holds no comfort:  our children are in dreadful peril.  The challenge to the leadership of Africa is to wrestle these perils to the ground and to stop forever the threat that they pose to our children.


The first of these perils is AIDS.    The threat is so enormous that it is difficult for us to assimilate and understand it.  Yet only two weeks ago there were double page advertisements in our newspapers in South Africa warning that half of our dear children under the age of 15 would be dead before they reach the age of 35.   The lives of millions – if not tens of millions – of the children of Africa are in mortal peril because of the threat of AIDS.  The catastrophe that confronts us will be more terrible than the holocaust that killed six million Jews; it will take many more lives than the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi.


This is the first and greatest challenge to the leaders of Africa:

we must mobilise our continent, we must apply every sinew of our strength, every facet of our ingenuity, to repel the dreaded invader.  Just as Winston Churchill called on the people of Britain to withstand the onslaught of Nazi Germany in the darkest days of World War II, our leaders must call on all their people to join the struggle against AIDS.   To paraphrase Winston Churchill: we must fight AIDS in our schoolrooms; we must fight it in our churches and mosques; we must fight it in our villages and in the sprawling shanty towns around our cities; we must fight it in the streets and in the fields;  we must fight it in our parliaments and in our council chambers.  Like the people of Britain during the Second World War, we must never surrender.  Our enemy, alas, cannot at present be defeated by medicines – but it can be beaten by communication, determination and compassion.


We know what causes AIDS.


We know how to stop it from spreading. We know how to protect our children and ourselves.   We must spread the message of how we can defeat AIDS in all our communication.  We must discuss it in our homes and in our schools.  We must spread the message in our places of work and when we get together for recreation.   it must be sung in our songs and depicted in our paintings; it must be whispered into the ears of lovers; it must be shouted by children to one another in their games; it must be written on our walls and in our books; like devout Jews we should bind it to our wrists and foreheads and nail it to our door posts.   Only if we are all totally committed to this struggle will we succeed.


We must show the compassion of Africa to those who become the victims of AIDS – either those who themselves succumb to the disease and to the millions of orphans who will be left in its wake.   Where possible we must alleviate the symptoms and prevent the spreading of AIDS by making anti-retroviral drugs available to those who suffer from the disease and particularly to pregnant mothers.    We must ease the passing of the dying and ensure that they leave us and their families with dignity and with as little suffering as possible.   We must harness the spirit of ubuntu to open our hearts, our homes and our communities to the millions of AIDS orphans.  We must not allow them to grow up unloved and uncared for in the streets or in impersonal institutions.  This is the challenge of our leaders.


The second peril that is ravaging our children is war.   Our continent is torn by conflict from Somalia in the east to Sierra Leone in the West; from the anarchy in Mogadishu to the recent warfare between the Eritreans and the Ethiopians; from the interminable conflict between the northerners and the southerners in Sudan to the warfare in northern Uganda and the killing fields of Rwanda and Burundi;  from the international war in the DRC to the unending suffering of the people of Angola; from the simmering conflict in Liberia to the vicious war in Sierra Leone.  These conflicts are an insult and a shame to all the people of Africa.


Once again, it is the innocent children who are among the main victims.    Many tens of thousands of them have been recruited against their will into the contending armies.   It is estimated that some 300 000 children are at present fighting in armed conflicts around the world.  Most of them are in Africa.  The wars in our continent are robbing them not only of their lives and limbs but also of their innocence.  Those who are not combatants are all too often the victims of landmines, of indiscriminate attacks on civilians or of ethnic massacres.


Leaders of Africa!  We cannot allow these dreadful wars to continue!  Many of them are fuelled by greed for resources, for oil and diamonds and copper – but they are destroying our dearest and most cherished resource, our children.


We must renew our efforts to make peace.  We must study the causes of these conflicts and we will then discover that many of them have their roots in the inability of people from different ethnic groups to co-exist peacefully.  We must learn toleration and respect the right of people from different communities to be themselves and to educate their children in their own cultures, religions and languages.   We must help them to put the bitterness of past conflicts and injuries behind them and to find new unity in common goals and values.


The third great challenge to the leaders of Africa is to educate our children.  Education is not only the key to economic growth and development – it is also the first requirement in the war against AIDS and in the struggle for peace and toleration.   And yet, once again, the children of our continent are lagging far behind in the race for knowledge.   Only 76% of our children attend primary school compared with 100% in the developed world.  Only fourteen of the 45 countries in our region – representing only 20% of the region’s school age population – have the apparent ability to provide education for all their children.  In 1997 only 26% of our children of the relevant ages were in secondary school compared with 100% in developed countries.  Less than 4% of our young men and women make it to the tertiary level of education compared with more than 51% in developed countries.  Many of our graduates leave Africa and do not use their education for the advantage of our continent.  How under these circumstances are we supposed to compete in the global information economy?


The education challenge that we face is not only to equip our children to compete in the globalised information economy:  it is also to teach them to be proud of our own rich cultural heritage. Although globalisation brings the promise of economic growth and prosperity, it also poses a serious threat to healthy cultural diversity.


Everywhere – including our continent – regional and national cultures and identities are under pressure.   It has been estimated that half of the world’s   6 000 languages will disappear during the next century.  Our cultural diversity is now under greater threat than the bio-diversity of our planet.


It would be a bitter irony if, after winning our political freedom, we were to be robbed of our identity as Africans by a new brand of cultural imperialism.   The leaders of Africa accordingly also have a duty to help to nurture our cultural heritage.  It is from the rich soil of our cultures, languages, myths and traditions that we derive much of our personal and communal meaning, purpose and identity.   These factors inspire our art, our music and our literature and have left us with a treasure house of meaning and beauty.  We have a duty to preserve this heritage for our children.


Finally, the fourth challenge to the leaders of Africa is presented by the curse of poverty.    Although the seed of AIDS is the HIV virus; although conflict has many causes; although ignorance and illiteracy may arise from failure of government, all these curses germinate in conditions of poverty and deprivation.


Much of Africa is lagging further and further behind, in the global race for prosperity.  Between 1980 and 1992 GNP per capita income in Sub-Saharan Africa declined by an average of 0,8% per year, compared with a an average annual growth of 1,2% for the rest of the world during the same period.  All of this has led to a situation where the rest of the world is increasingly inclined to marginalise our continent – despite their protestations to the contrary.


There are, indeed, too many countries that continue to conform to the African stereotype of poverty, conflict and political instability.  However, such states conform to the stereotype not because they are African, but because poverty, conflict and political instability go hand in hand throughout the world and throughout history and not just in Africa.   The nine countries in Africa that are currently experiencing the bitterest conflict have one thing in common:  they are all amongst the poorest countries on the continent with an average per capita GNP incomes of only US$188.00.


On the other hand, a substantial part of our continent has shown that poverty is not the inevitable destiny of Africa.  14 sub-Saharan countries registered average growth rates of more than 4% between 1990 and 1998.  It should come as no surprise that these are also the countries that are making the greatest social and political progress and that are the most stable. Freedom House, a New York-based organization which monitors the state of civil and political rights in countries around the world, now classifies 8 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 47 states as being ‘free’ multi-party democracies; another 22 are regarded as being ‘partly free’ and 17 as ‘not free’.    This compares quite favourably with the countries north of the Sahara, 4 of which are regarded as ‘not free’ and only one as ‘partly free’!


The problem, accordingly, is poverty – and not Africa.


The challenge to our leaders is to address the root causes of the vicious cycle of poverty.  Peace and stability are the first requirements.   Secondly, having established stability, African governments should create the environment in which economic growth can take place. This will require the implementation of policies that encourage competition and the development of free markets; the development of human resources by means of appropriate education, health and population policies; the maintenance of fiscal discipline and frugal government; and the maximum reduction of unnecessary state regulation and intervention in the economy.


But even if Africans do all the right things, they should be forgiven for sometimes thinking that the cards are stacked against them in the international globalisation game.   They have to labour under the burden of relatively enormous foreign debts. 34 of the world’s 41 highly indebted poor countries are in Africa.  The cost to Africa of servicing its foreign debt of US$ 349 billion in 1997 amounted to 21.3% of its earnings from the export of goods and services.


Steps should also be taken to increase Africa’s diminishing share in global trade – which is less than 2% of the total.   African exports need more favourable access to first world markets and consideration should be given to countering the increasingly negative terms of trade which most African countries experience.  Prices for many of Africa’s primary exports have stagnated or declined since 1980.  These products include maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, sugar, copper and bauxite.  Africa also requires higher levels of foreign and domestic investment to achieve the 5% per annum growth levels that are necessary to break out of the grip of poverty.


Although developed nations are quick to give lip service to the need to help develop African economies, they are often ruthless when their own interests are adversely affected.   Many of the European leaders who flocked to South Africa for photo opportunities with President Mandela, were rigidly uncompromising when it came to trade negotiations with us that might have adversely affected the interests of their own farmers.   Earlier this year South Africa had an excellent chance of being awarded the right to host the 2006 Soccer World Cup.  This would have been a wonderful opportunity not only for us, but for the whole African continent. However, at the last moment our chances were dashed when one of the members of the panel whose vote had been committed to us, inexplicably abstained.  The result was that the event was given to Germany – which had already hosted the World Cup.  South Africans – and Africans – could not avoid the conclusion that they had once again been unfairly treated.


I do not agree with the generalization that sub-Saharan Africa does not have a future.  Many of the countries in our region are making good progress economically, socially and constitutionally.   There are, indeed, too many others that have lagged behind – but their problem is that they are desperately poor – not that they are African.  What Africa needs is a fair break from the rest of the world – a fair break with its crippling debt and a fair break with access to first world markets and first world investment.


I am haunted by an incident that apparently occurred a few years ago during the bitter ethnic conflict  in Rwanda.   At the top of a green hill there was a strongly manned observer post of the UN peace-keeping force.   Some 10 000 tribesmen, under mortal threat from rampaging militia flocked up the hill begging for protection.  The UN force did not intervene because their rules of engagement forbade them to use their weapons unless they were fired on.  So they watched as 10 000 men, women and children were hacked to death on the hillside in front of them.


I mention this disturbing story because the plight of the children of Africa does not present a challenge only to the leaders of our continent.  It is a challenge to leaders and to people of good conscience throughout the world.  They must ask themselves what their rules of engagement are.  Will they become involved in the problems of Africa only if – as in the Middle East and the Balkans – their own vital interests are immediately at stake? Will they help provide the anti-retroviral drugs that we desperately need?  Will they take real and decisive action to help us to lighten the intolerable burden of international debt that continues to hobble us? Will they open their markets to our exports and their purses to investment?  Will they help ensure that the globalised information economy works for us all?  Or will they watch from their hilltop observation posts while the children of Africa are ravaged by AIDS and conflict and while they continue to struggle under the burden of illiteracy and poverty.


Tomorrow is International Aids Day.


It is a fitting time for us all to give deep consideration to these questions.   The children of Africa are awaiting the response of leaders in our continent and throughout the world.  The challenge to leadership is clear:


·     Heal our children and shield them from the scourge of AIDS.


·     Protect our children from war and violence and let them live and grow in peace.


·     Teach our children.  Impart to them the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in the globalised economy. Teach them to cherish their cultural heritage and identity.


·     Free our children from the curse of poverty and let them join their brothers and sisters throughout the rest of the world in the global march to a better life.