WE MUST EMPOWER THE PEOPLE

address by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa during
the 40th independence anniversary of Nigeria at Abuja (October 2000).


"An important document of our liberation struggle, adopted a congress of the
People in 1955, is called the Freedom Charter.  Among its clauses, it
contains the important provision that: "The People shall Govern".  In the
course of our struggle, this was expressed in the mobilizing slogan - Power
to the People"  Across our border, in Zimbabwe, the sister liberation
movement of the country emphasised the concept that --- the people are their
own liberators.

It is from this tradition that I come.  It is this tradition that we seek to
represent and advance at all times.  This is a progressive tradition,
according to which as a movement we do not fear the people but strive at all
times to empower them, to act as a conscious force for their own all-round
emancipation.

Tyrants fear the masses and will always seek to demobilise them through
propaganda, bribery and terror.  Our task as progressives is to oppose these
tyrants.  Accordingly, the concept of democracy is fundamental to the very
character of the political formations to which we belong.  Without an
attachment to democracy, they would cease to be what they have been which
enabled them successfully to mobilise the people tp defeat colonialism and
apartheid. It is from this perspective that we will try to address the topic
we have been given.

When students of history look back to the past few years, I am sure that
they will be able to see beyond the conflicts in the Great Lakes Region. 
They will see beyond the savage brutality of those who terrorised and
mercilessly killed and maimed innocent people, especially women and children
in Sierra-Leone. They will see beyond the unspeakable genocide that took
place in Rwanda while we watched as though this was nothing but the swatting
of a fly.  They will see something beyond the never-ending war in Angola.

The students of history will see something other than the negative news of
disease and hunger that dominate news headlines in the countries of the
North, as if to say that the single definition of Africa is calamity.  What
will they see!
decade of the second millennium, the African Renaissance, the renewal
They will see that in the last of the continent, started however hesitantly.
  An important and critical element of this renaissance is that in the last
few years, we have witnessed a widespread democratic awakening in all parts
of our continent.

Today, many countries have gone though more than one multi-party election
since 1990.n  The movement towards the consolidation and deepening of this
democracy continues apace, whatever the interruptions and occasional
setbacks.  Critical to this democratic renaissance in many parts of Africa
has been the rule of the masses of our people through their formations, who
have fought to end destructive and undemocratic systems of government.

Through their heroic struggles, these masses have ensured that Africa
experiences her second liberation in decades while at the same time,
creating the possibility for the establishment of stable democratic systems
of governments, political accountability and respect for human rights.

Clearly it is important that all of us should strengthen this movement
towards a democratic continent and through our daily actions make certain
that the democratic wave becomes an unstoppable and irreversible tide.  In
this regard and among other things, we need to energise the masses to
reinforce the positions taken by Africa's leaders to banish from the OAU
those who assume power through coups d'etat.

At the same time, we must be vigilant and guard against any possibility of
complacency because even though we have prevailed over undemocratic forces
in many parts of our continent, we can see that reversals are possible as
demonstrated less than 12 months ago in Cote d'ivoire.

In the critical work, Imagining Insiders, the following story is told:
"Olofi created the world and all things in it.  He created beautiful things
and ugly things.  He created Truth and Falsehood.  He made truth big and
powerful, but he made falsehood skinny and weak.  And he made them enemies. 
He gave Falsehood a cutlass, unbeknownst to Truth.  One day, the two met and
started fighting.  Truth, being so big and powerful, felt confident and also
very complacent since he did not know that Falsehood had a cutlass.

So Falsehood cunningly cut off Truth's head.  This jolted and enraged Truth
and he started scrambling around for his head.  He stumbled on Falsehood
and, knocking him down, Truth felt he head of Falsehood, which he took to
his own.  His strength being truly awesome, a mere pull from Truth yanked
off the head of Falsehood and this Truth placed on his own neck.  And from
that day: what we have is this grotesque and confusing mismatch: the body of
Truth: the head of Falsehood."

As we consolidate, strengthen and spread democracy throughout Africa, we
must be careful not fall into the trap of lowering our democratic guard thus
allowing the undemocratic forces, which always will have a hidden cutlass to
do what 'Falsehood' did to 'Truth' in the story we have just quoted.  We
need to ensure that these undemocratic forces are not able to smuggle
themselves into power such that, like in our story, we end up with the head
of Falsehood and the body of Truth. Central to the achievement of this
objective must be the education of the masses or our people truly to
understand their interests as well as their organization and mobilization so
that they are able to act at all times in defence of those interests.

Thus would these masses not allow that those who seek to dominate take
advantage of the dust occasioned by the struggle for democracy, opportunity
to steal power from the people and place it in their own hands. 
Consciousness by the masses of their interest would also help to ensure that
the processes of fundamental social change in which our continent must
engage are not derailed by demagogues who thrive on making false promises,
exploiting the burning aspirations of the people for a better life.

As part of the building and consolidation of democracy, we need to move from
the African reality, from the truths that we see and know in our countries
and continent, and be able to t ell them from the falsehoods.  We need to
retain a memory of our past, which should invariably inform our vision for
the future as we intensify the process of the development and advancement of
our countries.

Clearly one of the critical elements of the process of deepening democracy
is to build, nurture and strengthen indigenous institutions of research,
information gathering and dissemination, including the media.

Our own experience tells us that as long as these important institutions
are owned and controlled by people other than Africans, we will fail to end
the distortions about ourselves: distortions that lead to the
dis-empowerment of our people to self-hate and confusion about what we ought
to do to advance our development.

As long as these institutions are not informed by African realities, it will
be difficult to produce appropriate solutions to our problems.  I would like
to suggest that we, ourselves, should look at ways of building these
institutions that would assist in the process of democratic consolidation.

These institutions may also help in monitoring democracy, identifying
threats, criticising fearlessly where things go wrong and suggesting ways
and means of improving democratic rule where it is weak and be a resource
for all of us.  Our democratic processes need to address this shortcoming if
we are to reverse the Afro-pessimism that prevails in many parts of the
world as well as in our own continent, a situation that often leads to
ambivalence, despondency and a feeling of hopelessness among our people.
This is to say that we have a responsibility to ensure that our people do
not fall to the power of falsehood.

Paulo Freire, in The Pedagogy of the Oppresses, says "an epoch is
charcterised by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values and
challenges in dialectical interaction with their opposites, striving towards
plenitude.  The concrete representation of many of these ideas, values,
concepts, as well as the obstacles which impede the people's full
humanisation, constitutes the themes of that epoch. These themes imply
others which are opposing or even antithetical, they also indicate tasks to
be carried out and fulfilled."

The challenge to our intelligentsia and indeed, to all of us is, therefore,
to ensure that in this epoch, the ideas, concepts and hopes of our people
are not distorted, because the very act of distortion is a threat to our
democracy and development.  Freire continues by explaining that "Antagonism
deepens between themes which are the expression of reality, there is a
tendency for the themes and for reality to be mythicised, establishing a
climate of irrationality and sectarianism.. In such a situation,
myth-creating irrationality itself becomes a fundamental theme.  Its
opposing theme, the critical and dynamic view of the world, strives to
unveil reality, unmasks its mythicism and achieve the full realisation of
the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favour of the
liberation of people."

If indeed we view democracy as a vital element of the humanisation process,
then the way in which people should account to each other to express their
human needs and thus best "achieve the full realisation of the human task"
in our present time, is crucial.  The organization of political power must
be such as to favour a dynamic approach to the unveiling reality as it exist
s, the truths that it reveals to us and the changing ways in which we
grapple with this reality to further our human development.

One of the realities of our continent is the tendency to use ethnicity and
religion for political mobilisation and access to power. For many years,
this tendency has contributed to the continued strife and disunity as those
who felt marginalised by the dominant groups mobilise against their
exclusion from political power and access to resources.  This problem has
faced almost every part of our continent and the manner in which different
countries dealt with it has been critical to the stability of each country. 
It is, therefore, our task to ensure that as we work for the renewal of our
continent, we should continue to seek the best effective ways of addressing
this problem of dispensing political power, privilege and in most instances,
wealth according to the ethnic and religious identities of various sectors
of our peoples.

Clearly, the consolidation of democracy is also dependent on the strength
and maturity of political parties.  In situations where there is an absence
of strong, mass based political parties, it has been easier for undemocratic
forces to impose their will on the rest of society. In addition, parties
that are not rooted in the ideology that is informed by plight and concerns
of poor people are unable to respond to the challenges of underdevelopment
and poverty. This failure must surely lead to the betrayal of the interests
of the people, the elevation of those of the elite and therefore resort to
repression to suppress the dissatisfied masses of the people and the
encouragement of a false consciousness among the people to lead them away
from recognition of their true interests.

It is important therefore, that as we consolidate our democracies and use
them as necessary platforms for the acceleration of our development, the
progressive movement ensures that the orientation of our parties is informed
by the need to empower the masses of our people, so that they themselves can
lead the African renaissance.

As leaders in different fields, it is incumbent on us to ensure that our
people, wherever they are, acquire sufficient capacity to identify this
moment of our re-awakening as a continent and be able themselves, to
participate in the unfolding process.

The movement for our renewal will gather speed once we are able to harness
the tremendous potential and energy of the ordinary people.  The ordinary
people of the towns and the rural areas must be an integral part of these
programs.  The possibility for our programs to bring about the rebirth for
all can only be understood clearly and possessed by those who are conscious
of their own powers as actors on the continental stage, as thinkers who
realise that their dreams of prosperity are enhanced by interaction with
other Africans.

In his work, Citizens and Subject Mahmood Mamdami says: "To understand the
nature of struggle and agency, one needs to understand the nature of power."
Whether the organization of power still reflected the colonial legacy,
whether the form of the form of the independent state were deeply shaped by
the African colonial experience are questions we must still grapple with,
for they may explain past failures and point the way to present and future
successes.

The recognition of these connections, between past and present in the
exercise of power must, at the very least enable us to be in a position of
control over the organisation of power.  Furthermore, we must recognise the
fact that the organisation of power and how democracy is practised in any
given time are surely influenced and shaped by the arrangements of economic
power within our societies and globally.  In this context, there can be no
genuine democratic empowerment of the people without economic empowerment.

The poverty of our people throughout the continent, both as a result of
colonialism and through neo-colonialism and their continued impoverishment
today, constitutes a loss of power by the people.  This has led to an
inability by these masses to exercise their rights to the fullest extent,
being pre-occupied with a hand-to-mouth existence, the difficult struggle to
survive.  Most of those who reside in the developed nations of the world,
for the most part, do not have to worry about their basic needs such as
food, security, welfare and basic amenities.

Under the favourable economic circumstances, conditions exist for the
entrenchment of democracy.  Hence, the proliferation of movements that are
vocal on all manner of issues as represented by organisations of civil
society and numerous NGO's.  This situation contributes, in many respects to
the deepening of democracy within a country.  It is, therefore, important
that we sustain a speedy movement towards the attainment of a better life
for al our people.

Among other things, we need to use our resources to empower our people with
education, knowledge and information, so that they become their own
liberators and participate in the reconstruction of both their lives and
their countries.  In this way, they will be able to participate fully in and
strengthen the democratic process.  It is important that all of us, in all
our various countries, our understanding of Africa now and Africa's future
must move even faster towards commonality, to strengthen our economic ties
and relations.

In addition, we must build an Africa that shares a common vision for a more
humane, caring society freed of dictatorship, warfare and military
Upheavals, where there is a desire among all that the conflicts that will
exist will be resolved peacefully.  At the same time, for our people to have
the space to participate in the processes of the renaissance, there must
exist conditions of peace and stability throughout the continent.

John Stremlau, in his essay: "African Renaissance and International
Relations" has this to say: "None of the political disasters afflicting
Africa in recent years were inevitable nor do any more have to be. 
Surmounting the legacies of colonialism remains a complex challenge for many
communities, but at least no future imperial threats loom.  Resolving
current crises and preventing new ones will require much broader and deeper
forms of intra-African co-operation.  If successful, an African renaissance
will finally bring an enduring pax africana and the promise of evolving
political frameworks that will allow the continent's rich cultural diversity
to flourish.  Only then can inescapable forces of economic and technological
globalisation can be managed and eventually turned to advantage at all
levels of African society.

We would agree that one of the most important challenges facing Africa today
is to achieve a comprehensive and sustained peace and ensure that we arrive
at an enduring pax africana for democracy and sustained development are
possible only in conditions of peace and stability.  It should also be one
of the tasks of all of us - politicians, business people, workers,
intellectuals, women and youth, but especially those among us who consider
themselves as progressives - to work together for the entrenchment of a
culture of peace in our regions, countries and within our circumstances. 
The resolution of conflicts can be expedited if the whole of society and all
sectors mediate and alongside their governments, work towards an enduring
peace.

Accordingly, we have to strengthen our regional and continental structures,
so that we are able, ourselves, to ensure that we bring to an end all these
unnecessary wars and conflicts and that the energies of our people are
directed at the questions of development and advancement of our societies. 
Furthermore, in the age of globalisation and the power of communication and
information technology this new phenomenon for the advancement of our
democracies and our renaissance.

We should do so while remaining true to ourselves, retaining our identity,
our culture, our values and concepts.  We have to exploit the huge potential
offered by the new situation to attain and sustain the full participation of
all our people in all our democratic processes.

Finally, the challenges of the renaissance means that we have to work hard
to bring about sustained socio-economic development, put an end to the
poverty of the African people, increase the capacity of our economies and
strengthen our democracies.  It means that we must empower people so that
they become activists for people-centred development.

It means that we have to activate the intelligentsia so as to play the
important role of conceptualising, formulating and articulating our thoughts
and planning for the renaissance.  It means mobilising our business people
to play the critical role, themselves as agents of the continental rebirth. 
It means bringing all the women into the centre of this epoch-making process
because, as we are all aware, the extent of our social transformation and
development will be measured by the degree to which the goal of the
emancipation of women is realised.  It means ensuring that the workers, as
an important component of our economies and societies, as well as their
trade unions, play their critical and independent role.

It means channeling the energy an exuberance of the youth so that they who
represent the future must begin to build that better future today.  The
African renaissance is not just a dream waiting to happen in some distant
future, it is already unfolding before our very eyes.  Like any process, it
will experience setbacks and reversals.

Also, this renaissance will not happen in a flash, as an event nor can we
judge its success or failure in a matter of few years.  It is going to take
time, spanning several generations.  But most importantly our rebirth will
need a lot of efforts and it is critical that all of us must find for
ourselves a role so that together we should be able to accelerate this
process and ensure that we, as Africans, begin to occupy our pride of place
amongst the peoples of the world."

End of speech.


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