Mabasa Sasa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
African countries will not hesitate to walk away from the United Nations if Westerners continue to block efforts to reform and democratise the organisation, President Mugabe has said.
In an address interrupted several times by thunderous applause, appreciative whistling and standing ovations from Heads of State and other delegates yesterday, the outgoing African Union Chair warned that the day was coming when the continent would say enough was enough.
The no-holds-barred speech, made as President Mugabe opened the 26th Ordinary Summit of the AU in Addis Ababa, was a tour de force in oratory and gave the world nearly an hour of the Zimbabwean leader at his imperious and peerless best on the international stage.
From the start, when giving an impassioned call to action on the Palestine issue, to the end when President Mugabe announced Chad’s President Idriss Déby Itno as his successor at the AU, the gloves were off.
Indeed, on assuming the Chairmanship, President Déby conceded that it was not everyone who could give such a frank talk on the state of Africa and the world.
President Mugabe spoke soon after Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas thanked Africa for its support for a two-state solution to end Israeli aggression in the Middle East.
The Zimbabwean Head of State and Government, credited before the Summit for bringing the Palestinian question back to the centre, rallied African support for fellow oppressed peoples.
He spoke with real fire about the world sitting back as Israel brutalised Palestine — he was to use similarly powerful language later on when denouncing global inaction over Morocco’s continued colonisation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic — before neatly tying this in with the warning that continued injustice would see the continent abandon the UN.
UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-Moon sat at the high table with President Mugabe, and nodded his head as the outgoing AU Chair passionately spelt out the travesty of denying African countries equality in the comity of nations.
“We are supposed to be free and independent Mr Ban Ki Moon; supposed to be free— the 54 countries (of Africa). We come to the United Nations for the ceremonial (General Assembly); every year, September, we are there.
“We pay lots of money, go there and attend the General Assembly and make speeches, go back home: year in year out.
“But the bosses in the Security Council say you shall never have the powers that we have as permanent members … Reform the Security Council!” President Mugabe thundered as African leaders stood as a body in sustained applause, the second such interlude of note after the earlier approbation following his remarks on justice for Palestine.
And with the charm that he is renowned for, President Mugabe pressed home the point with a light touch that drew a mixture of laughs and applause when he continued: “I want to tell you, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, you are a good man. But, of course, that does not make you a fighter; it’s not what your mission was.”
Then it was back to straight shooting and the warning that Africa would pull out of the UN.
“We will fight for our own identity, for our own integrity and personality as Africans. We are Africans. If we decide – and we shall certainly do so one of these days – that down with the United Nations, (then) we are not members of it.
“Others are real members of it, we are artificial members of it. We can’t continue to be artificial members of it
How can only a handful of people (dominate the Security Council)?
“In fact, there is only America and the Europeans – those who say they are white-skinned. . .because they are white-skinned. ‘Anyone who is not like us shall not have the powers, strength and integrity that we have.’ If the United Nations is to survive, we must be equal members of it; equal members who can say when we go to the body, that we are now speaking fully as members with a voice that’s understood, respected and honoured.
“But no, that’s not it. We met in Swaziland years ago and we came up with (the) Ezulwini Consensus. We have said we want two permanent members with a veto if the veto is to continue. We don’t like it, but if the veto is to be retained those (African) members must also have IT, but if the veto is to be abolished they shall be like others.”
The AU’s common position on UN reform as captured by the Ezulwini Consensus demands at least two permanent seats with veto power and five rotating seats on the Security Council.
Britain, China, France, Russia and the US are the current veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.
China and Russia have been open to discussing reforms, as have emerging powers like India and Brazil who also want to sit on the Security Council.
President Mugabe also questioned why the UN was headquartered in the United States and yet the majority of the organisation’s membership could be found in Africa and Asia.
The outgoing AU Chair had one last – good humoured but profound – message for Mr Ban, when he said “tell them (Security Council), for the last time that we are also humans and not ghosts”.
“We also belong to the world. Africa shall no longer tolerate slavery by any means; by denial of rights. . .I hope you will hear from us on the issue of the United Nations reform.
“You’re a good man, you’ve visited our countries where diseases have visited and where calamities and terrorism have taken place. We say thank you. That distinguishes you from others. We know where you come from” President Mugabe said, drawing yet more laughter.
The President aimed a blow at US leader Mr Barrack Obama, asking: “But what is he? A voice made to speak their language, to act their act and not our act. They are still superior.”
He painted a picture of the horror of being black in the United States, saying people of colour were shot by white authorities on the streets and “nobody seems to talk about it, but today instead they still want to talk about us”.
President Mugabe rounded off that matter by saying Western interference in African affairs was directed at trying to plant pliant governments on the continent, adding that the colonial agenda had taken on the robes of NGOs – again drawing enthusiastic applause.
Using their various covers, the agents of neo-colonialism, President Mugabe said, were dispersed all over the continent as “spies, pretenders, some say they are here in Africa to assist us, even in armed groups in our territories”.
In a laugh-inducing farewell to the AU Assembly, he told President Déby he was available to render advice thus: “I will still be there, until God says ‘come join the other angels’.”
President Mugabe also said it “was an honour to guide our organisation to implement its vision of the Africa We Want”.
The applause was long and warm as President Mugabe made his way off the podium, twice raising his fist in a salute that brought the entire AU Assembly to its feet.
And there were to be more laughs when he pretended to hit President Déby over the head with the AU Chairman’s gavel as he handed over the mantle.
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