The Sunday Mail
The continent commemorates Africa Day tomorrow. The day is a celebration of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) on May 25, 1963. OAU’s initial remit was to fight colonialism and apartheid. It, however, evolved into the AU on July 9, 2002.
Our Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo (LT) spoke to South African Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Mphakama Mbete (MM) on his reflections on the significance of the day in the modern era. South Africa currently chairs the continental body.
LT: What is the significance of Africa Day in today’s world?
MM: Africa Day is important for us in Africa as well as being part of the international community.
It is a day that reminds us of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which later graduated and became the African Union.
It is important because it gives us a sense of who we are, our identity, our present situation and where we want to go.
It gives us a sense of identity and a sense of pride.
This is a moment where, we as people of Africa, we reaffirm our commitment to building a prosperous future.
LT: How well has the continent fared insofar as fostering unity as envisioned by the founders of the OAU?
MM: In my view, it has fared well in that when it was formed in 1963, as the OAU, it was an initial phase and since then, it has graduated into the AU, where it has built better and stronger institutions.
It has built a better body, which is more efficient and effective towards achieving its goals of a prosperous continent. Yes, there are still some problems, but I think the AU is trying to solve these.
For instance, there are still pockets of violent conflict.
We also still have one country, which is not part of the AU, in the sense of recognition by the international community, and that is the Saharawi Democratic Republic.
However, this is work in progress. Overall, I think that the AU is on the right track for a continent of more than one billion people.
LT: Given the continent’s multiplicity of challenges, how well has the grouping managed to unite to address these problems?
MM: For a continental body as big as the AU, compared to other continental bodies, it has fared fairly well if you look at some of the activities and efforts it has made.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) is the latest important project, where the countries have agreed to broaden and deepen trading among themselves and uniting in terms of economic activities.
This body is due for launch this year.
It has united in terms of, as an example, dealing with conflict in a very important country, which is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A number of African countries have sent military forces there working under the auspices of the United Nations to try to deal, to manage, to quell and reduce the conflict in the eastern part of the DRC.
Through some of the regional economic communities, which are in a sense the pillars of the AU, it is making progress.
We can quote a recent example of the SADC Organ on Defence, Politics and Security Cooperation in its efforts to try to help Mozambique, which has a problem of terrorism and attacks on civilians and state infrastructure in parts of the Cabo Delgado province.
I think the continent is forging ahead in trying to achieve unity in action around certain developments that are there in the continent.
LT: Africa is currently fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. How well has Africa fared in confronting this challenge?
MM: You will possibly agree this is a new development, which we have never experienced before as Africa.
However, Africa is moving ahead and forging unity to fight this pandemic.
The AU has developed a comprehensive Covid-19 strategy to deal with this problem across the African continent.
It has established a Covid-19 response fund to deal with this threat.
In this regard, US$61 million has been raised for this response fund, together with funding for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
These are examples of practical efforts.
However, there is also regular exchange of information and strategies among countries in Africa such as, for instance, the SADC region.
There have been several virtual meetings to discuss how best to deal with this pandemic.
In the midst of this, there are also bilateral exchanges between individual countries to help each other.
I can give an example of my own country, South Africa, which is preparing to donate some medical supplies and equipment to some 20 African countries.
Africa is also taking part in global research efforts to find a cure for this pandemic.
As an example, we have been working with Madagascar, which has put forward a medical solution that it thinks can help towards curing this disease.
Our experts are also dealing with other countries and medical expert institutions towards finding a medical solution to this pandemic.
LT: In which areas, given the lessons learnt, should the continent improve in preparing responses towards disease outbreaks of magnitudes such as the coronavirus pandemic?
MM: I would say the underlying and fundamental solution is to do what we are already trying to do. We have to accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2060, our strategic blueprint for the future.
If we attend to that, as best as we can, we begin to anticipate and solve problems that can come in the future.
It is very important to intensify cooperation between our institutions in the area of science, technology, research and innovation.
We have to strengthen the body of science, technology, research and innovation in Africa so that we are in a position to apply solutions initiated and led from the continent.
This is without, of course, ignoring cooperation with the international community.
Here we are talking about universities, think tanks, professional bodies in Africa and related institutions.
LT: You mention the issue of African cooperation. In the context of South Africa’s collaboration with Madagascar, how important is this type of cooperation during these times?
MM: It is very important. It can best be done with an attitude that Africans are capable of providing solutions to international challenges and that we are not just recipients of donations and help, but we are part of the solution to any problem, this one and others in the future.
That is why we have begun collaborating with Madagascar.
LT: What sort of collaboration is there between SA and Zimbabwe in fighting Covid-19?
MM: Our leadership is intensifying contact and exchange. Recently, the ministers of health of Zimbabwe and South Africa were in touch and subsequent to that, there was a virtual meeting of SADC Heads of State and South Africa and Zimbabwe played an integral role in ensuring the success of that virtual meeting.
This was a virtual meeting of select SADC Heads of State. Otherwise the two countries are cooperating on an ongoing basis in terms of implementing the agreements of the Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission of 2019, which was held here in Zimbabwe in January last year.
We were on the verge of preparing for the Bi-National Commission for this year, but it was interrupted by this coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
We are not sure when it is going to be held now.
LT: Africa is currently working on Agenda 2063, which is a blueprint and masterplan for transforming the continent into the global powerhouse of the future. How well has the continent done in implementing this blueprint since its adoption?
MM: Agenda 2063 is a very comprehensive, deep, complex and multi-faceted programme of ideas, strategies and activities that the AU and its constituent members need to carry out.
It is linked to sustainable development goals of the UN.
Amongst its priorities is social and economic development, regional and continental integration, democratic governance, peace and security.
Guided by that, we are galvanising our various institutions, established by the AU, towards achieving these priorities.
We have NEPAD, which is working with five regional economic communities of Africa towards implementing the economic-related projects and activities envisioned in Agenda 2063.
We have the forum of governors of the reserve banks of African states, which are working together to improve; to envision where Africa should go, financially speaking.
As I mentioned earlier, the AfCTA is part of the attempt to ensure that Africa grows and flourishes in terms of trade and economic integration.
These activities, for a continent of more than one billion people and 55 countries, which are at various stages of development, are very complex.
Unfortunately, sometimes the work they do does not get the publicity in international media platforms.
However, work is continuing to move, one step at a time, towards achieving Agenda 2063.
LT: How can African leaders help engender Pan-African unity and cooperation among the continents young generations?
MM: The majority of people on the continent are youths, so they are the future.
It becomes important that they are the centre of developing a continent towards a prosperous future.
I think there is not as much progress as we would have wanted, but there are efforts to involve youth in the activities of the AU.
It is important and confirmed by the leadership of the African Union to involve young people in leadership positions in the Pan-African institutions under the AU.
It is important to enable young people to access resources, especially with regard to innovation and research, towards the successful implementation of the Agenda 2063 vision and activities.
Many of the young people today are well skilled and educated and there is an effort to involve them in this particular area towards creating an African continent that is self-contained and self-sustained in the area of science and technology.
In this regard, more young people are getting involved in various training initiatives to afford them the skills.
The chair of the African Union wants to involve the youths of Africa in online activities, especially in terms of cultural expression, because we know young people are very rich in this regard.
Therefore, I think progress will be made in involving the youths in shaping Africa.
As South Africa and chair of the AU, we are very optimistic in this regard.
LT: Zimbabwe has its challenges on both the political and economic front. Is there scope for assistance from South Africa in addressing these two critical areas?
MM: Politically, the two countries are independent sovereign countries and, therefore, they are entitled to devising their own political programmes, strategies and solutions.
Any discussions that happened between the two countries are very confidential and behind the scenes, as and when any one of them requires assistance.
Economically, the programmes are laid out in terms of the industrial development programme of Sadc and specific economic trade agreement among the countries.
In addition, both countries have their own challenges in the economic sphere.
LT: We have two African countries, including Zimbabwe, that are under economic sanctions and this has affected how they manage the coronavirus pandemic. What is Africa’s message in terms of finding assistance for these counties?
MM: It is not only countries that are under sanctions which have been affected and need assistance.
We are calling on the world and to international finance institutions (IFFs) in particular to stay debts that these countries owe.
We are calling on IFFs and the international community, in general, to help these countries; the two you have mentioned and other developing countries for economic stimulus packages to assist them through this difficult situation.