Salim Ahmed Salim, OAU Secretary-General
Individually none of our countries in Africa is in a
position to have any serious, meaningful impact on the world scene
During his recent visit to Brussels, the Secretary-General of
the OAU gave an interview to The Courier in which he discussed the political and
economic situation in Africa and looked to the future of the continent with a
fair amount of optimism.
· Secretary-Gerneral, would you summarise the main
objective and results of your visit to Brussels?
- Well, the objective of my visit in Brussels, was, first, to
make contact with the ACP Group of States and the OAU Group here, with Belgian
government officials and also to establish contact with EEC officials.
I had a very good meeting with the ACP Group and its
Secretary-General, Dr Ghebray Berhane, with the Belgian Minister of Cooperation
and the Foreign Minister as well as with the Director of the Centre for the
Development of Industry, Dr Akinrele.
On the whole, I am satisfied with the visit in the sense that I
am able to understand more about the sentiments and the priorities that I
touched here in Brussels. I believe I was able, also, to project our own
priorities and our own feelings about what is going on.
· On African matters, have you had specific discussions
with either the Belgian Authorities or the EEC officials here, and what have you
learned from those discussions which could prove useful for your future action?
- With both the Belgian Authorities and with the EEC officials
we naturally discussed the changes in Europe and their impact on Africa, and
what are the concerns of Africa in general. On both situations, both the Belgian
Authorities and the EEC officials made it very clear to me that, with respect to
a possible diversion of official assistance from Europe, or from the Community,
to Eastern Europe, this is not in the pipeline. The assistance which has been
earmarked for Africa will continue, but both also understood our own concern
that really its not just a question of official development assistance, it
is a question of attitudes and the whole perception that people have of Africa.
I was told, for example, of something called - its the first time I heard
it here Afro-pessimism, whatever that means. So, my point has been
really that we understand, as Africans, that in the final analysis things will
be better or worse off depending on how we Africans do - our own action. But we
also understand - and its a point which has to be made - that Africa is
not an island. It is affected by developments in the world, by decisions made by
the world, and, to that extent, there are some decisions which are made which
affect Africa and over which Africans have no control.
It is those decisions which really sometimes make a difference
between the development or otherwise of our continent.
So while we Africans will make our own appraisal of the
situation in the continent, and what is to be done to meet with the global
changes, it is very important also that it is understood that some of the
decisions which are made and which have a direct adverse effect on Africa are
also responsible for some of the situations in our continent today. This has
been my message here in Brussels, as well as in Paris, and in London, and
its a message which I will continue to make because it is an important
one. We have a problem in getting it through - people talk about the situation
in the continent, the lack of democracy, of lack of human rights, the corruption
and so on. People really tend to emphasise the negative aspects. I am not in any
way justifying these negatives, but there are so many other things that are
happening in Africa which are hardly reported or taken into account.
· Such as?
- Well, for one thing, the shattering of the myth that Africans
dont work hard - that if only we would work harder, things would be
better. Thats a myth. Our people work hard - and Im saying our
people in every part of the continent. You go to the rural areas, you see how
people work under the most difficult conditions and what is the result?
Definitely, you have an increase in production, whether it is cotton, coffee,
cocoa, groundouts, what have you. Sometimes you double or triple production and
what is the result? You earn less, because you do not fix the price of the raw
materials and of the commodities. And the reverse is not the case. You tell me
if there has ever been an occasion in recent history where an African has been
in a position to buy a tractor, or a spare part, or a car, or even fertiliser,
at a lesser price than the price at which he bought them last year.
Two factors have brought about the present changes in
· One of the most important African problems is the
question of South Africa. How does the OAU view the developments there and what
can it do to help Nelson Mandela from now on?
- There are changes in South Africa which have to be encouraged.
The release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC organisation, some of the
steps taken by Mr De Klerk, are changes which Africa has welcomed; but these
changes are not sufficient. They have not yet touched the fundamentals of the
problem. The fundamental South African situation is a struggle to end a system
which is anachronistic, and which has been characterised by the world community
as a crime against humanity. A system where a person is judged not by his
contribution but by the colour of his skin. And that system is intact.
So the struggle against apartheid is the actual
raison-de of the international consensus behind the support for the
nationalist struggle in South Africa. We must recognise the changes but we must
also recognise what hasnt changed. What hasnt changed is that the
apartheid system is still intact and that some of the trappings of apartheid,
some of its consequences are now beginning to be redressed. But it is very
important to maintain the pressure on the South African regime, so that the
changes which have been started are not forgotten.
And these pressures include, first and foremost, the economic
sanctions. Because what has brought about the present changes in South Africa
has two factors: the resistance of the African people and the other
anti-apartheid forces in South Africa, and the pressure of the international
community. These two pressures must continue. Its not simply a question of
helping Mandela, its a question of continuing the struggle for which the
world community as a whole has been striving. We have to maintain the momentum
of the pressure against this regime. At the same time we have to create
conditions which will allow the African National Congress, and other
anti-apartheid forces to be able to operate effectively within South Africa in
the new atmosphere. In other words, to give them the necessary backup, the
necessary assistance and the necessary logistical support which is so useful now
in order for this movement to operate as a political organisation in South
A question of a system
· Would you consider that Mr De Klerks words are
sweet-sounding words still?
- The issue is not words. The issue is not whether one has
confidence in someone. The issue is not even a question of the integrity of an
individual. For example, with Mr De Klerk, Mr Mandela has said repeatedly that
he thinks hes an honest man - he is trying. But Mr Mandela himself has
also said, and of course this is a point which has to be emphasised - that, it
is not a questions of how good, or how well intentioned Mr De Klerk is; it is a
question of a system.
The apartheid system remains, racial laws continue to prevail in
South Africa; the various draconian legislations which keep the African people
in what is considered to be their place - permanent underdogs, permanent
underprivileged people in their own society. This is the struggle, this is the
situation. So really what we are interested in is what sort of measures are
taken to put into practice the declarations that are made. Mr De Klerk, I would
say without any hesitation, compared to his predecessors has really made
tremendous changes, but these dramatic changes are in the context of, and in
comparison to, what his predecessors have done. In the context of the actual
situation in South Africa, things have not fundamentally changed.
· What do you see as the principal preoccupation of your
Organisation at present?
- The question of South Africa will continue to be an area of
utmost priority and concern for the Organisation of African Unity, first,
because without South African freedom, Africa cannot claim to be completely
free; secondly, and more fundamentally, the creation in South Africa of a
democratic non-racial united State will make a major impact on Africas
other objective, namely the struggle for the development of our continent.
But apart from South Africa and with the independence of Namibia
- the process of decolonisation in the continent is over, and this is one major
achievement of the OAU. The major priority of our Organisation right now is the
development of our people. That is where we have a very hard and challenging
task ahead of us. So our Organisations priorities will be clearly devoted
to the issues of economic development, the welfare of the African people, to
ensuring that Africa is not marginalised in the context of the international
scene. And we can only do this by ensuring that the declarations and the
decisions which have been made by our leaders, in various fore, on different
occasions, are put into practice and, more particularly, the thrust of economic
cooperation into African cooperation and the eventual creation of an integrated
To do so, also, we have to look inward and address ourselves
seriously to some of the problems facing our continent, particularly the problem
of inter-African conflicts. Internal African conflicts will clearly be to the
forefront in the agenda of our leaders in our Organisation, because without
peace and stability one cannot seriously talk in terms of development. So
Africas, and the OAUs, priorities will be to try and settle
inter-African problems, to try and promote inter-African cooperation and to
really try for the implementation of those decisions which have been taken by
our leaders and which so far have remained unimplemented.
· But reports say that the OAU has not been really
achieving so much in terms of solving internal conflicts between its Member
States. How can you explain that? Is it due to the structure or is there another
explanation such as ideological differences between the Member States?
- It is true that, on the issue of conflicts resolution, the OAU
has not made the type of progress that we would have liked to make, and to that
extent I think our Organisation has to face a serious challenge in this
direction. Let me digress a bit. These issues of conflicts among African
countries should not be exaggerated. Im not saying that conflicts in
Africa should not be resolved, but it should not be presumed that it is only in
Africa where conflicts remain unresolved. There are also cultural conflicts in
Asia, in Latin America, even in Europe and they do not stop economic and
political cooperation and progress among these countries and continents. Having
said that, I will put it to you this way: I dont think that, as Africans,
we can afford these conflicts.
Most of our countries are in extreme economic difficulty. Very
little collective attention was devoted to what I would call a continental
approach to the inter-African political problem. But also there was a question
of ones interpretation of what the OAU can do or shouldnt do. In our
opinion, with decolonialisation over, with the global changes taking place, with
ideology becoming more and more irrelevant in the actual context of world
situation and world politics, Africa has no option but to look inward and to try
and resolve some of these problems. If we are to have a voice in the world, it
is my firm submission that Africa cannot afford to be marginalised. By
collective action, through African cooperation and unity, no country and no
combination of countries can afford to ignore Africa.
What we have to do now
· Do you think that the OAU should now revise its structure
in order to focus on economic issues, and should it try, particularly to smooth
out ideological clashes within the Member countries?
- Different continents and different organisations have
different histories and the OAU history is such that we had first to focus on
the political matters, because we are talking in terms of freedom of our people.
How could we talk in terms of unity and economic cooperation when at the time of
the founding of the Organisation almost one third of the continent was under
colonial domination? Clearly the focus was political ... a united position for
the onslaught against colonialism. But even then the OAU Charter clearly talked
in terms of economic cooperation among the African countries. Even then, there
was emphasis on such areas as transport and communications between our
countries, and even the creation of specialised Commissions - the Commission for
Economic and Social Development, the Commission for Science, Culture and
Education, the Military Commission as well as the Commission on Conciliation and
Arbitration. The only thing that went wrong is that, because of the politics of
the moment, the emphasis was almost exclusively put on the political field,
while all these other institutions remain almost dormant.
What we have to do now - in the light of the changes in Africa
itself, the changes in the world, the fact that we have to focus on economic
development and technical and social cooperation - is to revive quickly the
machinery which exists within the OAU to ensure that it functions and also to
update it, and to make the necessary reforms which will take into account the
We are now preparing a draft for the establishment of the
African Economic Community. But the African Economic Community is going to be a
product of a result of the many areas of sub-regional cooperation which are
taking place. There is already a number of economic subregional groups such as
ECOWAS, SADCC, the PTA, the ECAS in Central Africa and there is the UMA in the
Maghreb. So really, since the focus is on economic cooperation, well have
to see also how the OAU institutions are structured in such a manner as to be
able to face this objective.
The African economies have been more or less mixed
· What is your feeling about the impact of ideologies,
different models of economic development, on the OAUs action to achieve
this very important economic objective youve just described?
- I dont frankly believe the problem in Africa which has
militated against African economic integration has been ideological at all. All
African economies are either mixed economies or capitalist economies. They have
never been any different. I dont want anyone to tell me which African
country could have been described as what I would call purely socialist,
scientific socialist. Theres none. There have been declarations on
marxism. There have been declarations on one type of political position. But
essentially the African economies have been more or less mixed, a combination of
state and private enterprise. So really thats not the issue. The issue is
that, all along, African countries have not really focussed seriously and
meaningfully on the question of economic cooperation among themselves. We have
paid more lip service to the question of economic cooperation than we have
really translated into concrete action.
What Im saying to you now is that we could afford to do
that, maybe, in the sixties, maybe in the seventies, in the early eighties. Now
we cannot afford to do this because the requirements of the situation in the
continent are such that African countries, to be able to make meaningful
progress, have to have their own rightful position in the world scene, they have
to work as a cohesive unit.
· Do you think that the Lomonvention can help, to a
certain extent, in the development of Africa?
- The Lomonvention is going to help us for another 10 years.
Naturally, because we are committed to this Convention, we expect, and we have
every reason to believe that our desire for intra-African cooperation, for
economic integration of African countries, will also be seen by our partners in
the Lomonvention as one of the important priority of focus in our economic
There is no argument that we are bound by this Convention for
the next 10 years, and our partners, also, are saying, notwithstanding whatever
is happening in Europe, and in the world, things are going as far as their own
commitments are concerned, to be there. So the question is within the context of
these commitments. I would like to believe that there would be greater attention
and a greater focus on Africas efforts towards economic integration.
· To what extent have you solved some of the
Organisations internal difficulties which were in the headlines of the
newspapers before your election - the financial issue for example?
- First, no single person can change an institution, or is
required to change an institution. The process for the better is a continuous
process. It started with my predecessors and I will continue with this process
and my successors will follow.
What we have been trying to do in the last few months is to
rationalise our own work programme to improve the working methods and
efficiency of the Organisation. In terms of the present manpower allocation, we
have also been trying to respond more favourably to the needs and requirements
of the situation. Again, we have increasingly been impressing issues like
economic cooperation upon our Heads of State and to a certain extent, the
response has been quite encouraging. This is an African institution, voluntarily
created by African States to serve African interests. It is a premier
pan-African institution. It is the only institution where Heads of State meet at
least once a year. And where foreign ministers meet at least twice a year. It
embodies the aspirations of our people, and the collective decisions of our
This institution must be given the resources. If we are to
appear serious to our own people, to say nothing of the outside world, we must
first equip our institution with the resources it demands; we must take all our
African institutions seriously. If we dont want these organisations, we
can decide to wind them up. But for as long as these institutions are there,
they are supposed to serve African interests. And it is Africas obligation
and responsibility, first and foremost, to ensure that the institution, which
they have themselves created, must serve the interests of our people, and they
can only do so by being given resources. The question of contribution is still
not satisfactory, but there has been a marked improvement. Some Member States
have been paying their arrears. So the contributions have been forthcoming, but
I am still of the opinion that there is no reason whatsoever for anyone not to
be able to pay his or her contribution.
Let me say I understand very clearly the very difficult economic
situation which our countries are facing, but obligations are obligations, and
this is an institution which was created by the Heads of State. I am confident
that, as the months and years go by, more and more countries will live up to
their obligations and more and more countries will live up to their
responsibilities because, as I said at the beginning, we dont have an
alternative. The OAU is the vehicle which can serve pan-African interests. If we
ignore it, if we do not equip the OAU, then we are talking in terms of acting
individually - and individually none of our countries in Africa, not even the
most powerful, are in a position to have any serious, meaningful impact on the
world scene. But through the OAU, through the collective inspiration and
expressions of Africa, no country, no power block, no combination in the world,
no continent can ignore Africa.