KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS
31 MARCH 2004
WHY EDUCATION AND HEALTH ARE ESSENTIAL BUILDING BLOCKS FOR PEACE AND RECONCILIATION IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT.
The new millennium – which is now four years old – coincides with one of the most profound developments in human history, the process that we have come to call globalisation – or world integration.
During the past decades we have begun to lay the foundations of a new supranational global community:
- mass jet transportation has brought every corner of the earth within the reach of a single day’s travel – not only for businessmen but for hundreds of millions of tourists.
- satellite telecommunication now makes it possible to communicate with anybody, anywhere at any time and has enabled us to view breaking news and sports events on the other side of the world at the very moment they occur;
- the internet and the world-wide web – which are little more than a decade old – have given every person with a modem instant access to information on any subject from sources all over the world. They have expanded the speed and facility of international communication beyond our wildest dreams only a few years ago. They are already having a major impact on many aspects of our lives – on the way we do our shopping; on the way we receive information and entertainment; on the way we communicate; and even on our ability to work from home.
What may well turn out to be another major threshold in human history is the human genome project. We stand on the threshold of being able to understand – and manipulate – the genetic patterns which determine our very being. We will soon unravel the causes of many diseases and may even be able to understand and influence the aging process. The implications of such knowledge for the future of human society are astounding.
The scientific and technological progress of the past few decades confronts us – not only with breath-taking opportunities – but also with an awesome challenge:
It is the fact that billions of human beings have still not joined in the global march to prosperity, peace and freedom. They continue to live in abject poverty; in ignorance and disease. They do not enjoy basic political, civil and economic freedom and many of them continue to suffer as a result of persistent ethnic and religious conflicts.
One of the central implications of globalisation is that we can any longer ignore crises and grievances in distant countries. Non-performing economies cannot be relegated to a basket-case category outside of the mainstream of global commerce; and bloody conflicts in distant societies deserve much more than mere thirty-second segments on the evening news.
Some will argue that there has been progress, that the portion of the world’s population living in absolute poverty has declined from two thirds to one third in the past forty years. However, fact is that the total number of people living below the poverty line has stayed about the same – because the world’s population has doubled since 1960. Even more serious is the fact that the disparity per capita between the poorest and richest fifths of the world’s nations has widened from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 78 to 1 in 2001.
The world cannot accept a new de facto apartheid between a rich white north and an impoverished and unstable black south, or between a stable and prosperous West and an unstable East with its billions of very poor people. In a shrinking world, the problems of one region will inevitably become the problems of other regions and ultimately of the whole world:
- Diseases like AIDS – which first appeared in Africa – do not observe international boundaries;
- As we saw a few years ago, economic crises in emerging markets can have serious negative consequences for the whole of the global economy; and
- conflicts and instability in distant societies can reverberate throughout the whole international community.
The solution to many of these problems firstly lies in rapid and sustained economic growth.
Better education lies at the heart of the challenge of development. How are the peoples of Africa and the rest of the developing world supposed to compete in the global information society if they do not have access to the tools that are necessary to obtain and use information?
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 Africa are lagging far behind in the race for knowledge. Only 86% of Africa’s children attend primary school compared with 100% in the developed world. Only fourteen of the 45 countries in the African region – representing only 20% of the region’s school age population – have the apparent ability to provide education for all their children. In 2001 only 26% of African children of the relevant ages were in secondary school compared with 100% in developed countries. Less than 4% of young African men and women make it to the tertiary level of education compared with more than 51% in developed countries. Sadly, many of Africa’s graduates leave the continent for better employment opportunities in Europe and North America . and do not use their education for the advantage of their own countries.
Developed countries enjoy many other advantages in the globalisation process. For example, only 1% of people in Africa have access to the internet compared with 64% in the USA. How under these circumstances is Africa supposed to compete in the global information economy?
The education challenge that Africa faces is not only to equip its children to compete in the globalised information economy: it is also to teach them to be proud of their 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 Africa – 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 their political freedom, Africans were to be robbed of their identity by a new brand of cultural imperialism. The leaders of Africa accordingly also have a duty to help to nurture their 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 – and this can best be done through the right educational porgrammes.
Secondly, how can developing countries – and especially the countries of Africa – compete in a globalised world if they are crippled by disease and decimated by pandemics?
My message this afternoon holds no comfort: the people of Africa and of many other parts of the developing world are in dreadful peril. The challenge to the leadership of Africa and to the international community is to wrestle these perils to the ground and to stop forever the threat that they pose.
The threat of AIDS is so enormous that it is difficult for us to assimilate and understand it. The lives of millions – if not tens of millions – of Africans 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 one of the greatest humanitarian challenges that the international community had ever faced:
we must mobilise the people of the world, 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. There is still not cure for AIDS but it can, increasingly, be held at bay by anti-retrovirals. Together with communication, determination and compassion AIDS can be beaten.
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. 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 African humanism – which we call 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 for the leaders of Africa and for the international community.
In the final analysis, education and health are essential building blocks in the promotion of development and peace. However, they must be part of an overall and inclusive approach that includes the resolution of existing conflicts; the promotion of good governance based on democratic principles and human rights; and economic development flowing from sound fiscal and economic policies.
The problems that many developing societies – particularly in Africa – continue to experience with education and health are all too often symptoms of broader underlying social and political problems.
A holistic approach is required that will address all these problems simultaniously.
How can there be proper education and health services in situations of war, conflict, and anarchy ?
The reality is that Africa has been torn by conflict from Somalia in the east to Sierra Leone in the West; from the anarchy in Mogadishu to the interminable conflict between the northerners and the southerners in Sudan; from endemic warfare in northern Uganda to the killing fields of Rwanda and Burundi; from ongoing conflict in the DRC to the present and recent wars in the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Invariably, children are among the main victims of these wars. 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.
We must renew our efforts to make peace. If we study the causes of these conflicts and we will 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.
There is an undeniable link between peace, development, growth and democracy. Only a few of the countries in the world with per capita incomes of less than US $ 1,000 are full democracies, while nearly all of the twenty richest countries – those with per capita incomes above US $ 18 000 – are democracies (the exceptions being a number of oil-rich states).
There is also a link between levels of development and peace. Eleven of the thirty poorest countries – including Rwanda, Burundi, Afghanistan, Sudan, Liberia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – have in recent years been wracked by devastating wars. On the other hand, there has been very little really serious conflict in the twenty richest countries.
How then can we achieve this symbiosis between economic development, stability and democracy? I can suggest a few guidelines.
In the sphere of the economy, the developed countries can help to promote economic growth in Africa and other least developed societies by helping to remove some of the obstacles which at present hobble their economies. In particular, further attention should be given to the alleviation of the debt burden of the world’s 41 highly indebted poor countries – 34 of which are in Africa .
Exports from poorer countries also need more favourable access to first world markets and consideration should be given to counter the increasingly negative terms of trade which most of these countries experience
Apart from the need for economic development, we need to find ways and means to defuse the conflict potential inherent in multi-cultural and multi-ethnic societies. We need to promote democracy and fundamental human rights.
We must recognise the symbiosis between these challenges. Economic prosperity creates the environment in which democracy and free institutions can grow – and they, in turn, help to promote the stability which is essential for economic growth. All of this creates an environment in which education can take place and in which serious threats to health – like AIDS – can be systematically addressed.
South Africa – and other leading countries of Africa – are endeavouring to address these challenges through the New Plan for Africa’s Development – otherwise known as NEPAD. It requires African states to maintain high standards of democracy, human rights and good governance. They must also implement sound economic and social policies. Importantly, NEPAD makes provision for peer review processes that will enable African countries to call one another to account if they stray from NEPAD’s code of values.
However, the creation of the conditions in which the children of Africa and other developing societies can grow up in a decent education and health environment is not just challenge for the leadership of their own countries. I believe that in a globalising and interdependent world it is a challenege for the whole international community.
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 their communities; in their economies and in their cultures?
The central challenge of leadership is to prepare a better world and a better life for all our children.