By Vince Crawley, Africa Center for Strategic Studies
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In her first public appearance in Washington since being elected Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma emphasized the need to balance security and development. She also noted that 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of African unity, and she voiced the vision that half a century from now the continent will be a leader in peace and prosperity.
Dr. Dlamini Zuma also addressed empowering women, healthcare, agriculture and land reform, economic and finance goals, the need for Africa to invest in global transport infrastructure such as shipping, and the need to continue improving bureaucratic processes within the African Union. She made her remarks November 29, 2012, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, during a multiday visit that also included meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Dr. Dlamini Zuma, of South Africa, was elected Chairperson of the African Union in July.
“I think 50 years on we will have a very prosperous Africa, at peace with itself and at peace with the world,” Dr. Dlamini Zuma told the Wilson Center audience. The Organization of African Unity, precursor to the African Union, was established May 25, 1963, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The OAU voted to disband itself in July 2002 and was immediately replaced by the AU.
In earlier brief remarks to the media November 28 alongside Secretary of State Clinton, Dr. Dlamini Zuma said she told Secretary Clinton of the need to strike a balance between security and development in Africa.
“[O]ur approach to this meeting is that we have to have a balance between dealing with crisis and peace-and-security matters with development, because we feel that these are two sides of the same coin,” Dr. Dlamini Zuma said during brief remarks at the State Department. “If we delay development, there’ll be more crisis and more instability. But at the same time, if we don’t deal with the security situation, we can’t develop. So the balance for us is very important.”
In her much longer presentation at the Wilson Center the following evening, Dr. Dlamini Zuma expanded upon this concept.
“Africa has made and is making progress, both in the political and economic fronts, especially over the past two decades,” Dr. Dlamini Zuma told the Wilson Center audience, which filled an auditorium with a standing-room only crowd that spilled over into an adjoining room.
“As has been said, seven of the [world’s] fastest growing economies are in Africa, and Africa has shown resilience even during this global economic crisis. And it has been growing at about 5 percent on average. And it has been dubbed the next global growth pole,” Dr. Dlamini Zuma said.
“Next year we are going to be celebrating 50 years of the Organization of African Unity and African Union. This gives us a golden opportunity to step back for a moment and look back at the rocky road we have traveled so far, but also chart the way forward for the next 50 years. In 50 years, what would Africa be like? And how will we be describing it? I think, 50 years on, we will have a very prosperous Africa, at peace with itself and at peace with the world. But of course there are certain building blocks that we need to put now, every year, step by step, to get to that point.”
Africa today has a fast growing population of more than 1 billion people, more than 50 percent of them young and more than 50 percent of them female, she said.
If managed properly, this dynamic population can be “a great asset to drive the development of the continent,” she said. But if African’s human resources are not well managed, they can become a liability to growth and stability, she added.
African leaders already place a high priority on primary education, she said. But this emphasis should be expanded to include higher education, skills training and a focus on science, technology, and innovation. “These are going to be critical in the coming years for our development,” she said.
“And of course we have to strike a balance in dealing with emergency issues occasioned by conflicts or natural disasters with dealing with areas of sustainable development,” Dr. Dlamini Zuma said. “That balance is critical because if we don’t pay attention to development those countries which are in the majority which are stable today, if we delay development, we might be threatening stability. But at the same time, where there is conflict, there can be no development, so we have to strike the balance.”
In her hour-long presentation, Dr. Dlamini Zuma discussed important issues and initiatives, such as reducing maternal mortality rates and providing more opportunities for women to own land and have access to finance. She said that in Scandinavian nations, where women historically have been engaged in politics, development has been “very people-centric” due to the inclusion of women in societal decisions.
In a question-and-answer session, topics included an upcoming U.S. congressional vote on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness at the African Union headquarters.
A video of Dr. Dlamini Zuma’s full presentation, to include the question-and-answer period, is posted on the Wilson Center website at this link.