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The inaugural speech of Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma (Dr.), the first woman to lead the African Union Commission (AUC)
in its history of almost half a century, shows promises while depicting historical achievements. The continent’s food self-sufficiency, and efforts to secure continental gender equality, unity, peace and security, emerged as top priorities in her speech, while she said nothing about climate change.
“I stand before you today as a humble servant of the African continent and its people, ready together with the newly elected Commissioners, to join the hundreds of African Union Commission staff, who have held the banner of the African Union flying high,” said Dlamini Zuma in the inaugural speech she made last Monday at the newly built conference center of the African Union.
“…filled with humility and honor, I have been elected to this position. The magnitude of the task does not escape me. Let me, therefore, say from the onset that I expect to stand on the shoulders of the giants that preceded me, working together with member states and other partners to create a prosperous Africa, which is at peace with itself and the world,” she added.
She sees the 50th anniversary of the continental political body as an opportunity to take stock of how the organization has evolved over the years.
“I have walked a long road to freedom. I tried not to falter, I have missed steps along the way, but I have discovered the secret, that after climbing the Great Hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I’ve taken a moment to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me. To look at the distance I’ve come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities and I dare not linger. For my long walk is not ended,” she quoted Nelson Mandela’s very famous quote, while underlining the journey ahead to create a prosperous, peaceful and integrated Africa.
She also recalled the need to understand the genesis of African history, to boost its citizen’s confidence on the world stage.
“There is no doubt that Africa is the cradle of humanity and of advanced civilizations. We have had a very rich and proud history. We had advanced civilization as evidenced by the architecture of the Egyptian sphinx and pyramids, the Tunisian city of Carthage, the Great Zimbabwe, the Old City of Timbuktu and many others. If we look at the intricate sculptures of Makhondo of Tanzania and Mozambique, the Bronzes of Nigeria, and the beautiful rock paintings of the Drakensberg Algeria,” she said.
“We can also boast of the highly organized kingdoms of Mesopotamia, the Ashanti and Monomatapa, to name a few. We also have a rich astronomical heritage. The Dogon people of Mali have generational knowledge of the star Sirius A and B which appears only once in fifty years. However scientists and astronauts are only now discovering what the Dogon people have known for generations,” she added.
She noted the concept of gender equality that has flourished in ancient lands where women occupied positions of responsibility including Queen Ann Nzinga of Angola, Makeda (Queen of Sheba) of Ethiopia, Queen Ahmose-Nefertiti of Egypt, Nehanda of Zimbabwe, Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti Empire, Dahia Al-Kahina of Mauritania and Buktu of Mali.
“The great history of Africa was followed by the darker and painful side of slavery and colonialism. The continent responded through the anti-colonial struggles and wars of liberation to make sure that we bring an end to this dark side of our history. Thus, our forbearers were inspired to unite us by creating the Organization of African Unity (OAU),” she explained.
She quoted Emperor Haile Selassie I in a speech made at the launch of the OAU in 1963 to show that tolerance is rooted in the African culture.
“We name our first great task as the final liberation of those Africans who were dominated by foreign exploitation and control. As we renew our vow that all of Africa shall be free, let us also resolve that old wounds shall be healed and past scars forgotten, memories of past injustice shall not divert us from more pressing business at hand. We shall live in peace with our former colonizers shunning accusation and bitterness while foreswearing the luxury of vengeance and retaliation, lest the acid of hatred erode our souls and poison our hearts.”
She lauded the progress made over the past two decades both politically and economically while underscoring the need to strengthen peace and stability as prerequisites for social, economic, human development, and good governance.
“We have witnessed momentous changes to the political landscape of the African continent. Democratic elections are becoming the norm, demonstrating the commitment of African states to promote a political culture based on legitimacy and accountability. This development has not taken place in a vacuum; it has taken place within the context of the African Union’s efforts aimed at consolidating democracy on the continent,” she argued.
In spite of lauding progress, she also acknowledges the instability and conflict the continent is experiencing in pocket areas causing untold suffering, death and destruction, but also impeding the social, political and economic development of the rest of the continent.’
“It is our responsibility as governments, as citizens, as regional bodies, to ensure democratic process is irrevocable and pledge ourselves to work for its success. I would like to assure you that the commission will take proactive steps to support member states and regional bodies in their efforts to promote, consolidate and expand citizen centered, developmental and democratic governance,” she said.
She says that the commission will not spare efforts to try and resolve the conflict in Mali and the Sahel region. This crisis has the potential to spread across the region and even the continent, she says, while explaining the need to closely work with the United Nations Security Council and ECOWAS which has been dealing with the matter for so long. She pledged to continue providing the necessary support to the AU High Level Panel on Sudan, so that it can help both the Republics of Sudan and South Sudan to finalize all outstanding issues between them. She also promised to provide necessary support to the newly elected Somali government, to bring an end to the conflict that has ravaged the republic for over two decades, and help build strong institutions of governance and public order. The resurgence of armed conflicts in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is among the issues that made it to the list of her priorities.
“We will support all efforts to bring about peace and stability in the DRC and the Great Lakes region as a whole. And of course we shall not forget Guinea Bissau,” she said.
She noted that Africa accounts for more than one quarter of the world’s arable land, and land is a source of livelihood for 70 percent of its people. However, Africa currently generates only 10 percent of the global agricultural output. It imports tens of billions of dollars in food a year.
“As a continent we must strive towards food security. Access to food is the most basic right. No nation or continent can develop to its full potential if it cannot feed itself. If we invest in increasing the productivity of our land, we can have food security, export surplus, and generate revenue. Such a move also saves the resources we use to import food. All these resources can be used for development in other sectors of the economy,” she said.
The continent is well endowed with mineral and other natural resources. It is estimated that Africa accounts for 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves. The people of the continent have not seen the full benefit of these resources, neither have the exploitation of national resources been used to develop the productive economies of our continent.
The African population was just above 250 million in 1963 when the OAU was formed. Now it is around a billion, of which more than 50 are women. This figure is expected to rise to two billion by 2050. Africa’s youthful population is perceived as an advantage for its future economic endeavours, unlike many developed countries which host staggering numbers of aging populations.
“We must harness the energy, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm of our young people, so that they contribute positively to our societies, nations and the continent. Our increased investment in young people, in their education and training, in youth employment, in their general economic and social participation must assist them to reach their full potential. An investment in the youth is an investment for the future,” she argued.
“Let us not look at the proportion of women on the African continent; not only as a human rights issue, but also as a resource that we must develop by prioritising investment in the education and health of women and girl children.We must accelerate the implementation of programs related to the Decade of Women, in our efforts to advance and accelerate gender equality. At a time when prospects look bright for our continent, we should ensure that women have access and control of productive resources including in agriculture and business. Proactive measures should be taken to bring women into the mainstream of decision making processes and structures at all levels of society,” she added.