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  June 1998    

African Renaissance: Thabo Mbeki foresees continent's era of rebirth
The time has come for an "African Renaissance" in which the troubled continent undergoes a period of renewal to become an equal partner in world affairs, declares South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Mbeki made the statement on 9 April during a speech he gave at the UNU Centre.

Mr. Mbeki (photo) discussed his views on how Africa can take responsibility for solving its problems and use what he referred to as its "immense collective wisdom" to make the idea of an African renaissance a reality. He said there must be a revival in which Africa refuses to be a passive onlooker to what he termed modern machinations by the forces historically responsible for the continent's woes.

Mr. Mbeki's message at the UNU Centre was to urge the world not to turn its back on Africa when the continent is ready to "take off" into a new stage of successful development. He further implored the world to shed its centuries-old view of Africans as being strange, monstrous creatures. He pointed out that only after this stereotype has been forgotten can an African renaissance take place that "addresses not only the improvement of living conditions of Africans, but also the extension of the frontiers of human dignity."

Mr. Mbeki increasingly runs South Africa as Nelson Mandela's heir-apparent. Since his election as president in 1994, Mr. Mandela has concentrated on nation-building, leaving administrative responsibilities largely to Mr. Mbeki and his ministers.

This experience has given Mr. Mbeki the chance to quietly notch up some significant achievements. He was behind the formulation in 1996 of a more market-friendly economic policy. Like his mentor, Mr. Mbeki has spent decades of his life involved in his people's struggle for human dignity against apartheid. And as with Mr. Mandela, his past as a freedom fighter has honed his commitment to political progress as well as his leadership and team-building skills. It is under his guidance that the government is moving ahead with privatization, while not losing support from voters and unions. And he is said to have gained the trust of the largely white business community in the process.

Mr. Mbeki's accomplishments extend beyond South Africa's borders. He has been successful in getting the global press to focus more attention on Africa's national development issues, in addition to the easier-to-report news of coups and natural disasters.

"It is important for the international community to agree that Africa constitutes the principal development challenge in the world," Mr. Mbeki told the audience.

Africa's new maturity demands a fresh attitude from the rest of the world, he declared. Developed nations have tended to see the continent as little more than a recipient of endless charity. But he said the world must stop asking, "What can we do about Africa?" and instead ask, "How do we respond to those African countries that are making real progress, and encourage other nations to do likewise?"

Two main priorities stand out. One is that Africans must improve the way they manage their natural resources. The other is that Africa needs to change its international role from that of "aid addict" to "business partner." This means enhancing Africa's links to world markets and making sure that its competitive products are bought in North America, Europe, and Asia.

The UNU's work is addressing these concerns.

The UNU has set up the Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU/INRA), a unique research and training centre located in Ghana. Its main goals are to help African countries find sustainable ways to use their natural resources and to assist Africans to become self-sufficient in food production. And the UNU has three projects that seek to enhance African countries' links to outside markets: Asia and Africa in the Global Economy; Emerging Relationships Between South Africa and Southern Africa; and Underdevelopment, Transition, and Reconstruction in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The full text of Mr. Mbeki's speech is available from the UNU Public Affairs Section as an inaugural issue of the UNU Public Lecture series. The text is also available on the UNU's homepage at:
Much of sub-Saharan Africa is in the midst of an upturn. In fact, many countries are in better economic and political shape now than they have been for a generation. New African leaders like Mr. Mbeki are no longer portraying their nations as victims, but as emerging markets, capable by dint of their own efforts of developing through globalization. Such spokesmen are changing both global perspectives and local realities.

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