STATEMENT OF THE PATRON OF TMF, THABO MBEKI, ON THE OCCASION OF THE AWARD OF THE OBAFEMI AWOLOWO LEADERSHIP PRIZE: LAGOS , MARCH 6, 2015.

Programme Director,

Eminent representatives of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation and members of the Awolowo family,

Your Excellency Mr Goodluck Jonathan, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria ,

Your Excellency President Abdulsalami Abubakar,

Your Excellency Chief Emeka Anyaoku,

Distinguished leaders of the sister people of Nigeria ,

Esteemed members of the diplomatic corps,

Fellow participants at this moving occasion:

First of all, and with all humility, I would like to convey my sincere thanks to the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation for honouring me by the award of the Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize.

It is truly humbling that thus I come to be associated with one of the great African leaders of the 20 th Century.

We were very fortunate as we grew up in the South African liberation movement, and specifically the African National Congress, that we were constantly exposed to other struggles taking place elsewhere on our Continent and abroad.

Thus even as the young, we came to know of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a member of that historic collective of African leaders who had stood up to demand the emancipation of our Continent from colonialism. We came to know of him as one of the towering personalities who had taken on the exciting challenge to lead our independent States as they defined themselves as constituent parts of free Africa.

Brought up within a political paradigm that was African nationalist, Pan African and internationalist, we understood and accepted this as a matter of fact that as an African liberator and an architect of the new Africa, Chief Awolowo was one of our own leaders, informed by the knowledge that as Africans we share a common destiny.

Sometimes, relating to our departed leaders such as Chief Awolowo, we say this as a matter of routine that all those of us who live should continue their legacy.

However I am certain that those of us who grew up during an earlier epoch when we had African leaders who set an admirable and inspiring example about what leadership on our Continent should mean would never intend that statements about honouring the legacy we inherit from the departed are made merely as a matter of expected protocol to honour the dead.

It is an obvious and established truth that a critically important contribution made by leaders of the kind I have mentioned is that they serve as exactly the kind of role models which inspire the later successor generations as they strive further to develop the Africa they would have inherited.

What I am trying to say is that it remains our challenge to understand what it was about Chief Awolowo which convinced young liberation activists from as far away as South Africa to understand that he was one of their own leaders.

I believe that all of us present here this afternoon would not find it difficult to explain this.

In reality this explanation is rather simple and straight-forward.

It is that Chief Awolowo came across to us as a principled fighter and defender of the genuine independence of our Continent and all Africans.

I was therefore not at all surprised when I read that when he spoke at the 1967 OAU Summit Meeting in Kinshasa he said:

“Today, Africa is a continent of competing beggar-nations. We vie with one another for favours from our former colonial masters; and we deliberately fall over one another to invite neo-colonialists to come over to our different territories to preside over our economic fortunes ... Unless a beggar resolutely shakes off, and irrevocably turns his back on his begging habit, he will forever remain a beggar. For the more he begs, the more he develops the beggar characteristics of lack of initiative, courage, drive and self-reliance.”

The reason he served as one of our own leaders was also because he came across as a leader of great integrity, determined to serve the people, and never to enrich or otherwise advantage himself, his family and friends.

Serving in high government positions at both regional and national levels here in Nigeria , he led the offensive practically to answer the question - what should we do with the freedom we had won?

Actions that were taken to address such matters as education, health, housing, industrial and rural development, the management of public finances, the role of the State in economic development and so on, were and remain exactly some of the matters which are at the heart of the African development agenda.

What I am saying in sum is that as much as he served as an exemplary leader while he lived, so must we continue today to pose and answer the question – what can we learn from Awo's legacy which would help us to confront Africa 's contemporary challenges?

As an aside I would like to suggest that perhaps our Universities should combine to prepare and publish some books on the exemplary leaders I have mentioned, both men and women, so that younger generations get to know as much as possible of what needs to be known about these leaders, which was good and noble.

It would of course be important that such literature does not seek to deify these leaders, presenting them as saints, or pretending that they acted alone, thus, among others, to hide whatever mistakes they might have made.

Indeed, understanding the nature and the root causes of those mistakes is itself an important part of the process of the formation of the cadre of thought leaders and transformation agents which our Continent needs.

I must also take this opportunity to make a public confession. This is that for me, my wife, Zanele, and others in our delegation our presence here in Lagos and Nigeria is a home-coming.

In this regard I beg your indulgence by permitting me to relate fragments of a fuller history that has still to be told.

The first time I came to this city was early in 1971. Then I was accompanying the late President of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, who had come to speak about our struggle at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, at the invitation of the Institute.

The second time was five years later, towards the end of 1976, which, as you know, was a momentous year in South Africa .

Zanele and I then stayed on in this city throughout 1977 into 1978 on Victoria Island, with Zanele attending to the South African students who had left our country in the aftermath of the 1976 uprising, whom Nigeria very generously received, creating possibilities for them to continue with their education.

I attended to the then perhaps less challenging but nevertheless exciting and enriching job of serving as the official ANC Representative to Nigeria .

In this context I must mention that whereas I had come to Lagos and Nigeria in 1971 at the instance of an invitation from the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, I returned in 1976 as the ANC Representative at the invitation of the Federal Government.

You might be interested to know a little more about how this happened.

At some point during 1976 I happened to be visiting London from our Headquarters. The ANC Office informed me that the Nigerian Commissioner to the UK had a message which had to be transmitted to the ANC Headquarters in Lusaka , Zambia . I was therefore asked to go to the High Commission to receive this message, which I did.

To my surprise I found Babagana Kingibe waiting for me, bearing the message to which the High Commissioner had referred. The surprise was occasioned by the fact that more than ten years earlier Baba Kingibe and I had been students at the same university in England but had lost contact with each other.

His message was very direct. It was that the Federal Government of Nigeria wanted to play a more active role in terms of supporting our struggle. For this reason, it was important that the ANC should place a Representative in Lagos to help ensure the necessary coordination between the Federal Government and the ANC.

The ANC leadership immediately accepted this proposal and sent me to Lagos as the first ANC Representative to Nigeria .
During our stay in Nigeria in the latter half of the 1970s, at last we came into direct contact with Nigeria and the Nigerians in all their diversity, came to understand the country better, and made many friends and acquaintances, ranging from Fela at his Shrine here in Lagos , to Yusuf Bala Usman at ABU in Kaduna .

We are very happy that we have many others among us today who served selflessly as the very core of this country's principled solidarity base for the liberation of Southern Africa as a whole and therefore the final liquidation of the system of colonialism in Africa and globally.

Certainly for me during our stay in this city and country, the understanding I had developed vaguely from afar became firmly entrenched in my mind that Nigeria had the obligation and capacity to act as one of the most important leaders as the African Continent worked to address its challenges.

This was reinforced by the close interaction we had with Dodan Barracks and therefore officials like Babagana Kingibe and Tunji Olagunju, exposed to some interaction and thinking of the then military government including their Excellencies, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Yar' Adua, T.Y. Danjuma and M.D. Yusuf.

Outside of Nigeria , as the South African liberation movement, we experienced this close cooperation with Nigeria when President Obasanjo served as Co-Chair of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, when Chief Emeka Anyaoku was Deputy and Secretary General of the Commonwealth, and when we had a succession of Nigerian diplomats who chaired the important UN Special Committee against Apartheid.

With regard to the latter, as you know, I refer to such eminent and senior Nigerian diplomats as Leslie O. Harriman, B. Akporode Clark, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama-Sule, Maj Gen Joe Garba, and Ibrahim Gambari, themselves honoured combatants in the struggle for the defeat of the apartheid crime against humanity and white minority domination in general.

I would like to suggest that there are some matters which arise from what I have said so far.

One of these is that because as Africans we share a common destiny, what happens in each of our countries, as was represented by what Chief Awolowo and his colleagues sought to achieve with regard to the socio-economic development of Nigeria , is directly relevant to the development of Africa as a whole.

The second is that even today, all of us as Africans and particularly the younger generations, need to learn from and draw inspiration from our erstwhile leaders such as Awo, to empower ourselves and themselves more effectively to address Africa 's contemporary challenges.

The third is that Nigeria occupies a particular place on our Continent in terms of the challenge correctly and timeously to respond to these African challenges as one of the eminent conscious leaders of the process for the renewal of Africa .

In this regard I am by no means suggesting that Nigeria should act as some Lone Ranger acting on her own to provide the kind of leadership I am suggesting.

Rather, what I would very dearly like to see is Nigeria acting in concert with other like-minded African countries together with these to advance Africa 's progress towards defining this 21 st as truly the African Century.

In addition and as I have said, which I mean, our presence here today as South Africans is a home-coming because, during a period spanning some decades, some of us, your fellow Africans with whom you share a common destiny, have become so involved with Nigeria and Nigerians that we can no longer identify ourselves as being other than Nigerian!

Indeed and happily, there are eminent Nigerians present here this afternoon who, for the same reason, are no less South African than I am!

This is not an occasion to address parochial issues or passing matters about inter-State relations.

However, I must say this that I personally have been deeply troubled when I have read about or been told of absolutely unnecessary and petty tensions and conflicts between Nigeria and South Africa .

Neither of our countries and peoples, nor Africa as a whole, have any need for such tensions and conflicts!

All of us present here this afternoon know that over many decades our detractors, both African and foreign, have enjoyed singing the same song that both the OAU, the Organisation of African Unity, and the successor AU, the African Union, have been an absolute failure.

The charge is made, seriously and insistently, that both these, the OAU and the AU, have served as nothing more than a “club of authoritarian leaders” who meet regularly merely to reinforce and protect one another!

This assertion is a gross and insulting parody of a very important period of African history, emanating from the very same people, our former colonisers, who justified our oppression by themselves by claiming that we were so backward and bereft of the capacity to uplift ourselves that they had an obligation to civilise us, to engage in what the French characterised as a “mission civilasatrice” – the civilising mission!

Thus did they provide the justification for themselves to transport millions of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to serve as slaves, to subjugate as much of our Continent as possible as possessions of various European powers, and to position in some of our countries settler European colonial populations which would serve as outposts and managers of the African colonies, acting on behalf of the authorities of their European countries of origin.

After centuries, and perhaps a millennium of a very painful, conflict-ridden and poisoned relationship between Africa and one if its immediate neighbours, Europe , we, the Africans, won our right to determine our destiny just over half-a-century ago.

However, as Chief Awolowo indicated in Kinshasa in 1967, after some of our African countries attained their independence, and even to this day, the leadership we produced as Africans worked to maintain such a relationship with the former colonial powers, and therefore the global economic system, that objectively we failed to create the conditions such that we could change the material conditions of the African masses.

Of course we would have to assess this phenomenon bearing in mind the politics of the day and the world balance of forces during the Cold War.

Much has changed in the world since then. However, as Africans we must still answer the question whether our own posture as a Continent in this regard has changed sufficiently and correctly, taking into account the changes in the global situation!

For some time after the end of the Cold War the space emerged for our Continent both to act independently to determine its destiny and to assume its rightful place among the global community of nations.

I would like to believe that our Continent responded appropriately during this favourable period. I think that the positive actions that were taken reflected the deep-seated sentiment among all Africans that we must truly and practically decide our destiny.

Among others action was taken frontally to address the important matter of the unequal relations between Africa and the developed countries.

This resulted in our reaching an agreement with the G8 Governments that they would align their economic interventions in our Continent with NEPAD, Africa 's own development programme. Agreement was also reached that because of this, a system of mutual accountability should and was put in place.

I believe that the situation has now changed quite significantly. Thus we can say with justification that somewhat of a new scramble for Africa has started.

This was illustrated in a very dramatic and destructive manner by the regime change war of aggression waged by NATO against Libya in 2011. This was done specifically contrary to the decisions taken African Union precisely to avoid the use of force in terms of resolving the matter of future political arrangements within Libya .

Obviously one of the matters at the heart of the new scramble for Africa is immediate and long-term access to the vast store of natural resources that are found on our Continent.

Necessarily, this impacts on the vitally important matter of our possibility and capacity as Africans freely to determine our destiny and therefore bears on the defence of the gains we secured for ourselves when we won our independence from colonialism.

How should we respond to this challenging situation?

Earlier I made some comments about both the OAU and the AU. I would like to add to these the observation that one of the outstanding achievements of these two eminent organisations is that, practically, they formulated a comprehensive body of policies relating to all the major challenges facing our Continent.

Accordingly this means that the principal task we face properly to respond to the issues on the Continental agenda is not the elaboration of policies but the implementation of the existing ones.

I would say that another vitally important contribution of both the OAU and the AU has been the success they have had in terms of entrenching the practice among us as Africans to act together in concert, informed by the knowledge that our strength lies in our unity and that we share a common destiny.

I think we should rely on these two outstanding achievements as we respond to the situation to which I have referred of a new scramble for Africa . This means that we should do everything possible to ensure the implementation of the relevant policies and do everything necessary to ensure that we act together in unity.

To put the matter frankly, I would make bold to say that we are not acting on these matters with the boldness, determination and persistence which our situation demands.

The Constitutive [founding] Act of the African Union acknowledges that the OAU “ played a determining and invaluable role in the liberation of the continent, the affirmation of a common identity and the process of attainment of the unity of our continent and has provided a unique framework for our collective action in Africa and in our relations with the rest of the world.”

It commits the AU to pursue the same objectives.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the AU as recently as when it adopted a Declaration in 2013 to celebrate the 50 th Anniversary of the OAU/AU.

Correctly, the Declaration said that some of our outstanding challenges are “the implementation of the integration agenda; the involvement of people, including our Diaspora in the affairs of the Union; the quest for peace and security and preventing wars and genocide such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide; the alignment between our institutional framework and the vision of the Union; the fight against poverty, inequality and underdevelopment; and, assuring Africa's rightful place in the world…”

I have no doubt whatsoever that the masses of the African people throughout our Continent support with great enthusiasm the vision spelt out in the Constitutive Act and the 2013 Declaration because it indicates what has to be done to achieve the renaissance of our Continent.

As I have indicated, which all of us know, Africa has the policies to address the specific challenges identified in the documents I have cited, as adopted by all our countries through our Continental organisations. Among others, these include such issues of common concern throughout Africa as:

 

  • democracy, human rights, elections and governance;
  • economic development and integration and the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment;
  • war, peace and the resolution of conflicts;
  • national and social integration, including the gender question; and,
  • education and culture.

Underpinning the perspective for the implementation of all these policies is the aspiration that our countries would actively support one another through such processes as regional integration and the values of solidarity which informed the establishment and the functioning of the African Peer Review Mechanism.

In this regard, I am certain that we cannot put on hold for ever the task critically to examine why we are not making the faster progress towards Africa 's renewal which we should, indicating what we should do in this regard.

During recent years the argument has gained some prominence that we need strong institutions to help us overcome our problems and achieve the progress we seek.

I would like to believe that no rational person would oppose this assertion.

However, the point must also be emphasised that institutions are established, run and staffed by human beings to pursue objectives decided by human beings.

Accordingly, I believe that we would be gravely mistaken if we assume that because some institution or other is required because of what some textbook prescribes or because this is what international best practice suggests, the people will therefore be there to establish such an institution.

Obafemi Awolowo was a product of the times and circumstances in which he grew up and developed into the role model whose positive example we now seek to emulate.

Will our times and circumstances produce the Obafemi Awolowo's we need to lead us today, in the numbers demanded by the challenges we face?

I think that the answer to this question would be in the negative.

And yet the reality stares us in the face that the progressive change we so urgently need for both our countries and Continent will not happen without the required change agents – without the Obafemi Awolowo's of our day.

We must therefore respond to what I consider to be a truly strategic challenge – the challenge to nurture the kind of leadership which will inspire the billion Africans to act in unity to engage in the fundamental process of the transformation of our lives as Africans fully to restore our human dignity.

Any failure on our part adequately to carry out this task will not only mean that we do not achieve the goals we have set ourselves but also that the new scramble for Africa will succeed in its purposes, with disastrous consequences for all of us as Africans.

It may be that history will determine whether we have truly honoured the legacy of an outstanding Nigerian and African patriot, Obafemi Awolowo, by assessing the progress we would have made to nurture a million new Obafemi Awolowo's.

Thank you.

© Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. All rights reserved. 2012.
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