Podium: Africa bleeds, but don't write it off

From a speech by the Zambian president marking the 36th anniversary of African Freedom Day
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The Independent Culture
AFRICA TODAY faces many political conflicts, social displacements and economic disruptions. The image of Africa to the international community is dented, while our peace and stability is threatened as we slide back from the image of an awakened giant to that of the Dark Continent. No! We should not allow that. It is primarily our task as Africans to sit together and find solutions to our problems. Only when we are ready to do that shall even the rest of the international community be ready to assist us.

Each day that passes adds another conflict situation. In West Africa, the Sierra Leone peace process remains fluid. In Guinea-Bissau, the flicker of hope that was briefly experienced has gone with the recent coup d'etat. The democratisation process in Niger has also been set back by another recent coup.

In the Horn of Africa, brother has been pitted against brother in the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. The East and Central African regions have not been spared in this spiral of conflicts. Peace seems to have eluded the Sudan, Somalia and the Comoros for years now. The Great Lakes region poses such a threat to Africa's security that if the situation is not quickly and seriously addressed, the whole of Africa will be engulfed in war. Ethnic tensions in Burundi and Rwanda continue. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo rages on. Southern Africa, which at some stage looked promising, has also lapsed into a state of despair as the Angolan peace process has completely collapsed and war has broken out once again.

Countrymen and women, it would not be right for me to give the impression that the Organisation for African Unity has not done much to resolve conflicts. To the contrary. Each year we meet, the bigger part of our agenda is devoted to seeking solutions to conflicts. We have established frameworks for conflict prevention. We have passed resolutions and made declarations and fresh commitments. Unfortunately, most of them have been ignored by warring parties.

Yes, Africa is bleeding, Africa appears cursed to endless calamities. Yes, for the cynics Africa is a continent written off. But countrymen and women, I have faith - faith in the abiding resilience of the African people to surmount these seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

Africa is traversing a familiar path of political, economic and social restructuring that many of the developed countries have experienced at various stages of their development. Africa's big challenge today is to give a new impetus to our organisation by making practical reality of our pledges to strengthen the OAU, so that it becomes a viable instrument for addressing the continent's problems. We should endeavour to search for where we have gone wrong in our strategies and in the institutions that we have established.

I have dwelt much more on conflicts because they have become a scourge that continues to threaten the economic development of our continent.

The strengthening of our regional economic communities - such as SADC [Southern African Development Community] and Comesa [the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa] - is, in this regard, very important in laying a solid foundation for Africa's economic development and integration through the African economic community. Our aim should eventually be to free Africa from the grip of poverty and backwardness and to be an equal participant in international economic relations.

Zambia will continue to work for good governance, democratisation, observance of human rights, freedom and liberty in its boundaries. We will continue to give sanctuary to our brothers and sisters displaced in raging conflicts, even when this is a severe strain on our meagre resources.

We believe strongly that Zambia will only be as good as we Zambians want it to be, and Africa will only be as good as we Africans want it to be. Let us create a better Zambia and a better Africa now and into the next millennium. Countrymen and women, I trust that the spirit of Pan Africanism, solidarity and cooperation that has inspired us since 1963 will continue to unite us towards achieving our noble goals.

Africa, countrymen and women, is a battlefield, where open wars are raging. Concurrent to these are the invidious economic struggles the continent must wage against globalised greed, exemplified by unfair trade terms designed against us. But I am confident that Africa will triumph.

Time is with us. We have ideas, we have an enduring culture and, indeed, the spirit of fortitude and resilience to carry us through these tough, trying times. Long live Africa.