Speaker: Thabo Mbeki, president of the Republic of South Africa
Moderator: Princeton Lyman, director, Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Council on Foreign Relations
June 9, 2004
PRINCETON LYMAN: [In progress]--barriers or other barriers, and opened up the world to the African National Congress. And then he opened up many of the white South Africans to the African National Congress and helped pave the way for the fantastic transformation that took place just over 10 years ago. When President [Nelson] Mandela was elected president in 1994, he selected Thabo Mbeki as his deputy executive president. And President Mbeki oversaw, over the next four years, an extraordinary restructuring of government and, through the Parliament, all the legislation that had been built on an apartheid system, all of which had to be redone and remade for the new era. In 1999 he was elected president of South Africa, and overwhelmingly re-elected this year. In addition to tremendous leadership of his country, President Mbeki has been a leader throughout Africa, and he has led in so many different ways. We will talk a little bit tonight about NEPAD [New Partnership for Africa's Development] and the initiative that he and other presidents of Africa brought to Africa and the world.
But South Africa has also been a leader in bringing peace throughout the continent, playing a major role in, I think, one of the most complicated and important negotiations for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It didn't get a lot of attention in the United States, but 4 million people have died in that conflict, and South Africa has been a leader in bringing peace to that country. And South Africa put its troops on the line in Congo. And then, in Burundi, South Africa has been out in front, and again with other African countries [it] put troops on the line. So it's been more than the leadership of South Africa, it's been leadership throughout Africa and the world. Mr. President, we are honored to have you here, and welcome. [Applause.]
PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI: Thanks, Ambassador.
LYMAN: Mr. President, we, as you know, at the Council, and partly with your inspiration, did a project this year on the G- 8/Africa relationship and the importance of that relation, why it was important; why it was important for the G-8 and why it was important for Africa. And it's a unique partnership. There are over 100 mutual commitments that the G-8 and Africa have agreed to since the beginning of that dialogue and the partnership. You and fellow African presidents will be going tomorrow to Sea Island [Georgia] to meet with the G-8, and I wonder, Mr. President, how you see the agenda for Africa at this meeting and perhaps what you hope to accomplish.
MBEKI: Well, thanks, Ambassador. First of all, I should say that I'm surprised to see so many people here. I thought there were only half a dozen of us meeting. [Laughter.]
LYMAN: We're going to try to make it as intimate as possible.
MBEKI: But thank you very much to everybody for coming. President [George W.] Bush suggested an agenda for our meeting tomorrow with the G-8. In reality, it covers already the agreed agenda. As Ambassador Lyman says, two G-8 meetings back— that was a G-8 meeting in Canada— the G-8 adopted what is called the G-8 Africa Action Plan. That's where all of these commitments were made, and that basically represents the agenda of the partnership between ourselves and the G-8. And when we met in France last year, both sides, because there was an important decision taken in Canada, at Kananaskis, which was that both sides have to be accountable with regard to the commitments that we make. So when we met, therefore, in Evian, in France, both sides had to account for what they had done in the previous 12 months in terms of responding to the commitments that they had made.
Now as we went through that process, it became clear that obviously, given the size of the issues we're dealing with, a period of a year was too short to really do a proper review— to expect that there would have been that much movement. So it was then agreed that we would do that comprehensive and detailed review at the G-8 Summit after this one. So that will happen in England next year. And therefore, what will happen at this particular G-8 Summit is to focus on a few issues. One of them is the question of peace and stability. We have worked with the G-8 in detail of this— what is the African response to the challenges of peace and stability on the African continent, and what's the G-8 response to that same question? And what's happened on the African side is that we have, as you would know, we've now launched the Peace and Security Council. It's been constituted. It's been launched. It's operational. And there are various elements to it which need working on hard. One of them is an early warning mechanism. And you can imagine the difficulties of that, because to come to the South Africans and say to them, "We are getting an early warning that you are going to have trouble in South Africa, and we're coming to sort it out"— we'll chase them away, you would say. [Laughter.] But it has to be done, because we are saying that preventive diplomacy is important. We shouldn't wait until the conflict has broken out. We need to build up that machinery, which has got to keep an eye on all of us on a daily basis and therefore, I'm saying, have the possibility for the African Union to intervene before tensions erupt into something else.
There's a second decision related to that Peace and Security Council, which is the establishment of a defense force. You need the necessary forces on the ground that we're able to deploy, as need arises. And the decision is to have five of these, five regions of Africa, each to produce a regional force which would be available to— for deployment by that Peace and Security Council. Now that requires all the necessary preparation, training of troops from various countries in each region, equipping them and, you know, all of that. So this is something that we'll have to look at. The Peace and Security Council is in place. We need to see what to do to make sure that all these elements become operational.
And fortunately, with regard to this, we have worked very closely with the G-8 in the detailed planning of this. We have had a whole series of meetings. They had established, again, as you would know, a rather unique body at the G-8, which is— it is a committee of the personal representatives of the heads of government, heads of state of the G-8.
MBEKI: So that's a kind of standing committee which interacts very regularly with the steering committee of NEPAD. And so it becomes possible to do all of this work in between the summit meetings. So that's one particular matter that would be looked at— how do we make this body truly operational. There's some detail, obviously, which won't be discussed there, but it's clear that some streamlining will be necessary because the United States, the U.K., France, certainly those three, have had bilateral arrangements with individual African countries to train people for precisely this kind of operation. So that's got to be put into this larger project rather than individual arrangements. It's something that is going to require some attention because you may very well have a situation where each of these countries of the G-8 might be training and working with particular countries on the African continent in a manner that's not necessarily consistent with what is planned by the present [Peace and] Security Council. It shouldn't be too much of a problem, but it's something that clearly, I think, we have to deal with. But that's one particular matter of focus.
There is another matter that's been put on the agenda by the U.S. government. As you know, the host countries of the G-8 have the right to propose an agenda. One of the matters put on that agenda is the issue of the $15 billion made available by the U.S. government with regard to the matter of HIV and AIDS and so on, an overall look at that as to what's happening. We, obviously, would want to discuss that in a larger context because you also, of course, have got the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria], and clearly, you couldn't just discuss one and not discuss the other. You need a more comprehensive approach to this. The African health ministers have just held a meeting while the World Health Assembly was meeting in Geneva. They met and discussed these issues. So again, there will be the challenge of ensuring that the U.S. initiatives, which are all welcomed, should come into the larger thing, because again, as you know with regard to that, the U.S. government selected particular countries— which might be fine from the point of view of the United States, but from our point of view, we've got to deal with the whole continent and see how we deal with that. So that will be another question.
But, I think, essentially to come to the position that— we don't object to people having bilateral relations, but those bilateral relations need to be conducted in a manner that is consistent with what we are, all of us, doing jointly. That emphasizes a point which should be obvious, which is that we need to reaffirm, all of us, our commitment to that G-8 Africa Action Plan. It brings everybody in and limits the possibility of pulling in all sorts of different directions because of particular national agendas. And certainly we're hoping that that would be one of the matters that would be agreed. Let's all agree that we are still sticking to the G-8 Africa Action Plan, because, again, as you'd see— if you see, for instance, the functioning of the Millennium Challenge Account [U.S. government program that gives development aid in the form of grants to poor countries that adopt economic and political reforms]; it's necessary to bring that Millennium Challenge Account again into this larger whole because, again, the United States says with regard to that, we will decide which countries on the African continent to target depending on various criteria. Again, we've got to say we are targeting the entirety of the continent. Yes indeed, we want that assistance from the United States, but it needs to be handled in a particular way.
I'm saying that comes back to the matter of confirmation of our commitment to the G-8 Africa Action Plan. There is a matter that has, I think, become clear to all of us, to all of the partners, which is that there's a serious problem about capacity for project preparation on the continent. We have completed the work relating to the elaboration of a comprehensive Africa agricultural program. That's done, all elements of that. Then you get to a specific question that arises; for instance, Nigeria has got a surplus of cassava [a high protein vegetable]. There are other countries in West Africa that consume cassava that have shortages of cassava. But there's no market to move this cassava. So clearly, you need to do something to strengthen an agricultural trading system. Now this requires a particular project. How do you build the system so that you're able to move trade in agricultural products in West Africa? Now you then run into a problem of, as I was saying, the capacity actually to elaborate a project; to say this is the business plan, this is what you need to do, and cost it, and so on.
MBEKI: Plus the finance. And Professor— [inaudible]--would say, for instance, that we'll be knocking at the door of the World Bank, and even the World Bank says we don't have sufficient funds to finance project preparation. So come to us with your project, that's fine. But it costs a bit of money to prepare the project. Fortunately, Canada has already responded to this; they've already put some money in the African Development Bank. It's just funds for project preparation. This is one of the matters we want to discuss, because indeed as we complete the global planning, whether it's the African Peace and Security Council or agricultural development or whatever, you then have to break that down into these implementable elements. So you run into this problem. So that's an issue that will arise— that we will certainly raise.
There are other commitments which were made even at Kananaskis, and, in this instance, it might very well be a matter of emphasizing the need for movement. One of them was this matter of the agricultural products in the context of the WTO negotiations. As you would remember, there were specific commitments made that there would be an intervention by these heads of government of the G-8 to make sure that that process moves forward. And, well, that process is where it is. So that's an issue. The second commitment that had been made— it's in the G-8 Africa Action Plan— to have a look again at the debt question. And again, certain commitments were made with regard to that. A certain process is taking place on the African continent for us to do a more detailed planning as to how one could intervene in this matter, but we want to see a commitment of a response consistent with what was agreed in the G-8 Africa Action Plan to address this debt question in a much better way than has been the case. So these were some of the issues of focus, pending a more global review of this— of what has happened, which will happen next year.
LYMAN: A heavy agenda.
MBEKI: It is, yes.
LYMAN: A heavy agenda.
MBEKI: It is.
LYMAN: Mr. President, I want to ask you a more general economic question, if I can, because you are well renowned as an economist. In fact, I don't know very many heads of state who give speeches that quote from the latest report of the Bank of International Settlements, but you do. And there's something about the general trend of global economic development that's troubling, and I know it's been troubling in South Africa, and that's the unemployment problem; that even when a country does all the right things— and South Africa has done the right things in economic management— still unemployment persists. And when you look across the continent and especially with the young people, that unemployment problem exists elsewhere. As you think about Africa's development and the interrelationship with the G-8 and the rest of the world, are we getting at the unemployment problem correctly? Do we know enough how to tackle that problem? Because, even if we get growth rates at 3 or 4 or 5 percent, if we don't get at that, it seems to me we have a serious problem.
MBEKI: Well— [inaudible]--might want to take that one. But from the— I can discuss it from the South African end of it. It probably won't be too much different elsewhere on the continent. It's quite clear that, in our context, high growth rates don't necessarily mean reduction in rates of unemployment. That arises from the fact that the modern economy, as it develops and grows it needs more workers. But it needs skilled workers, so if they are not skilled, they won't get employed. I was told not long ago, for instance, one of South Africa's companies— they were constructing a new factory. They ran out of welders, and they imported welders from Malaysia. So indeed, there was more work from the construction of the factory, but it didn't result in reduction of the unemployed in South Africa because they needed particular kinds of workers. Incidentally, the South African welders that emigrated to the Middle East are working in the Gulf. So— [Laughter.]
LYMAN: That's globalization, I guess.
MBEKI: That's globalization. So it's quite clear in South Africa— and we've said we need to do a number of things. Obviously you need higher and sustained rates of growth of the economy in general. That's got to happen, and that will bring you some jobs. You need to train people. We've done, for instance, an assessment of the skill strategies in the South African economy now, and some projections, and there's quite a serious problem to do with training of people to meet those skill shortages. But we've also said it's quite clear that you've also got millions of people who are uneducated, unskilled, and you need special programs to deal with that sector. And so we have said that, in the South African case, what we'll do— a lot of those people will also stay in areas of the country which have got an underdeveloped infrastructure. They don't have roads, they don't have water, and so on. So let's build this infrastructure— social and economic— use the same people who are uneducated, unskilled, which means, therefore, you have to necessarily use labor- intensive methods there. But while people are working, train them at the same time so that you impart the skills which make them employable elsewhere in the economy. Because it's quite clear that you couldn't solve that problem of unemployment merely by seeing higher rates of economic growth, because they won't create the space for this unskilled person to be employed, because the larger economy still requires a skilled worker. So that is the way we're approaching this matter in South Africa.
And I should say that we are, to some extent, fortunate because the South African economy, small as it is, nevertheless is capable of generating some resources to be able to deal with this challenge. A poorer country won't be able to do it. Malawi would not be able to run a program which says we need to absorb these uneducated, unskilled, with public funds and do all the necessary training and so on so that they do have some skill. They won't have those funds. South Africa, there are some. It is possible doing that here.
LYMAN: What is the answer for the poorer countries?
MBEKI: It has to be— well, maybe I should have said we've had a fairly close look at what the Europeans do. This might look strange. But the European Union runs a very interesting program under the general rubric of regional policy. And they say each of the member states of the European Union has got regions within each one that are so underdeveloped that you cannot expect that the market will intervene to ensure their development. For instance, the United Kingdom has got six of these regions. And therefore the United Kingdom, between 2000 and 2006, will get 16.5 billion euro as development assistance to fund development in these six regions of the United Kingdom. And they are quite forthright about this matter; that these areas, relative to the rest of the European Union, are so underdeveloped that you cannot expect that they will do something which will make them attractive to the private investor unless you intervene with public funds in the first instance to raise them up to a certain level.
It's a problem for a country like Portugal. The expansion of the EU has raised a problem, and they are complaining quite publicly about it, that you are bringing in 10 new members who are poorer than Portugal, as a result of which this development assistance that used to come to Portugal is going to diminish because you are going to send money elsewhere. And if the United Kingdom has regions of that kind, you can imagine what the extent of problem is on the African continent.
LYMAN: Yes, exactly.
MBEKI: So I'm saying we looked at that quite closely. And so it is quite clear that you can't address this challenge on the African continent without taking the same route as the Europeans have. So this whole matter of resource transfers from the developed to the developing countries becomes an urgent matter. And therefore the need even to get back to this 0.7 percent of GDP of development assistance [agreed on by participating nations in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio], to come back to this old figure, becomes very important, because that would provide the funds for the African countries, for instance, to be able to address this matter. Because they wouldn't be able to generate these funds on their own, in much the same way as the U.K. doesn't generate these funds to be able to fund development in the six regions of the United Kingdom. You do get, one should say, to be fair, that a lot of discussion, therefore, of how do you generate these additional funds— hence the British proposal, for instance, about an international financing facility—
MBEKI: --to try and generate more resources to be able to address this kind of problem. It's a matter that has to be addressed at some point, because, as I said, I think that without it, if Germany— Germany gets development assistance from the European Commission. If Germany gets development assistance, how much more [will] Malawi [need]? Never mind South Africa.
LYMAN: [Inaudible.] Mr. President, I could go on asking you questions, but I would be shot if I took up all the time. I'm going to open it up for questions. Please wait for the microphone, and please give us your name and affiliation. And unlike the presider, make your questions as concise as possible. Yes, the gentleman right there.
QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]--President, Michael Gillette, former World Bank, businessman, long-time interested in southern Africa and South Africa. When the African National Congress came to power in 1994, one of the policies that it put in place was to empower groups in South Africa that did not have access to the ownership of assets to have access to the ownership of assets, through the empowerment groups. What is your assessment, after 10 years of experience with the empowerment groups, about their performance and their ability to change the distribution of ownership of assets in southern Africa?
MBEKI: Well, to talk about one specific area, we— what happened, very simply, really, is that people went to the banks and said, "I've come to borrow money because I want to buy 25 percent of such-and-such a company." And the banks gave them the money. Shares stood at 50 Rand [about $7.72] at a point when you buy the shares, and then six months later they are at 30 Rand [about $4.63]. And you're expecting to service your loan on the basis of dividends and so on. You are in debt, and the bank takes over the shares, and that's the end of the matter. So a lot of that kind of empowerment didn't work. But those were— these were private business people doing their own thing. From the point of view of the government, we who had thought that you've got a number of problems facing a new business person in reality, regardless of color— one of them is access to capital; one of them is capacity to build and run a business— and therefore that what the public sector had to do is to intervene to try and solve those two problems.
[Inaudible.]--credit to enable small new business people to access capital, which they wouldn't get from the banking system because the banks say, "Where's [the] collateral," and you don't have— by definition, as I say, plus the question of assisting people to know how to manage and run a business and so on. That also didn't work very well, and the reason— part of the reason it didn't is because— well, this is my view. The minister of foreign affairs is here; she'll go and report me to the rest of the cabinet. [Laughter.]
I think we're overcautious and looked for 100 percent success. And so you are afraid to fail and lose some money. And in reality, what happened was that we then imposed rules for access to that capital which are not different from the banks. So we have reviewed that and said this is not working. So there will be— there are changes with regard to that, the manner of financing and the manner of support to these new business people. The particular instrument— the South African government, like governments around the world, is a very big buyer of goods and services from the economy in general, and so we've said that the procurement system should also be used to do that empowerment. One of the advantages of that is that, as the public sector says, we are going to procure goods and services of various kinds from these new, imagined business people, you need to ensure that those new, imagined business people actually supply the goods and services. And so it's in your interest to makes sure that they do produce, and therefore it's in our interest that they succeed. So both the government and the state corporations are paying a lot of attention to this, to procure from this sector and to make sure that the sector exists and is viable and is able to produce these goods and services that you need. So I think there will be much better progress in this context now than there has been in the past.
And the last point I would like to make in this regard is that— or maybe second to last point— is that we are not discouraging acquisition of existing assets, but we're saying the most critical intervention with regard to broadening that asset base in terms of ownership is actually by starting new ventures rather than buying existing equity somewhere. And so the government interventions would aim at that, however small the project might be, but it is somebody who is producing new value rather than acquiring 5 percent of some company or other. That's an important part of what we are doing now. And as I say, I'm quite certain that in this coming period we'll make better progress.
The second element to this, there ought to have developed in South Africa now quite a big market where— strong asset-based, based on houses, because what we've done is to hand over a lot of municipal housing. People at these municipal houses and have been paying rent for many years. These have been transferred fully into ownership of the occupants. Plus the new housing that's been built. This provides you with some collateral. You can go and borrow some money from somebody and pledge this house and do something. That market hasn't developed in reality because the— what happens for people who need houses? Rather than go and buy a house that might be on the market, they put up a shack. It's an interesting development. They put up a shack because they know that six months down the road they will get a municipal house, free of charge. So why go and buy a house when I know a house is coming? So that asset base is there, but it has not been used to multiply wealth. I'm sure it will come in time. But those are essentially the interventions that we are making, and now also focusing on agriculture, development of small farmers. The experience of the previous years, I think, has taught the government what's wrong— what's been wrong with its own interventions in this regard, and I think it's taught the private businesspeople that access to large loans from the financial institutions don't guarantee that what you will acquire now you will still have in six months' time.
LYMAN: Thank you. Yes, right there. Carol? If you could wait to get the microphone, please. I have to apologize. We just learned that [Nigerian] President [Olusegun] Obasanjo's plane landed five minutes ago, which means that he will not make it. His plane was coming into Andrews [Air Force Base] and, as you know, President [Ronald] Reagan's casket is coming in. So I apologize; unfortunately, he will not be able to make it. I'm sorry. Yes, Carol.
QUESTIONER: I'm Carol Lancaster from Georgetown University. I'd like to shift gears and maybe talk about an issue in the region. I'd like— Southern African region. I'd like to get your perspective on Zimbabwe. Can you help us understand what is happening there in terms of the policies of the president, his objectives, and the likely outcome of some of these policies? We hear reporting here that almost puts Zimbabwe in the category of a failing state, and obviously it must be of concern to you, too. So I'd very much appreciate your views on the events there.
MBEKI: A brief history of Zimbabwe. [Laughter.]
LYMAN: We have to make it very brief. [Laughter.]
MBEKI: I think we— we're, all of us, familiar with the political problems and the economic problems of Zimbabwe. The view we've taken is that the Zimbabwe leadership could solve the problems of Zimbabwe, and that it was necessary that the ruling party and the opposition should get together and address all the problems that they have. And they agreed. And so they started a round of negotiations soon after the presidential elections in 2002. Then, the opposition party decided that they wanted to go to court to challenge the legitimacy of the presidential elections and argued that they needed to do this to establish a principle of access to the courts. We didn't— Nigeria— they had asked Nigeria and South Africa to provide people, one each, to facilitate the discussions between the two parties, which we did. And so, when they decided to go to court, we tried to discourage them from this to say even the matter of the legitimacy of the presidential elections was on the agenda of their discussions. But they said no, this is an important principle. So of course they went to court, the result of which was that the ruling party then said fine. It decided to go to court— let's adjourn the negotiations and await the court outcome. So it then took many months to persuade them to go back to the negotiations, which they have. So they've been having informal negotiations now for some time, having agreed that each side would put on the agenda any matter that it considered should be on the agenda, so there's no issue excluded. So they've been discussing on the basis of that agenda.
In December, they called these informal talks. They are dealing with issues of the constitution— elements like the need to establish an independent electoral commission; to establish a constitutional court; various pieces of legislation which have been in contention about freedom of the press, freedom of association, and so on; and some discussion about— we had discussed those pieces of legislation with the Zimbabwe government. But— and they had agreed that they needed to be amended. But in the context of the negotiations, some discussion as to whether— shouldn't you complete a constitutional process, because it might affect a whole variety of laws which might become inconsistent with whatever constitution they might agree? So there will be some debate about that, as to whether to finish whatever constitutional discussions they are having or go for the amendment of the laws. But these are some of the matters that are on the agenda of those discussions.
So to look at the totality of the framework, to see whether it's consistent, what both sides would regard— would consider to be a normal, acceptable democratic system, as well. And naturally, of course, the other matter they've been discussing is the issue of the land question, what to do about it. So they've been involved in these informal talks. We re-discussed this matter with them in December, this last December, and everybody agreed that they needed to move over to formal negotiations instead of the informal talks— to move over to formal negotiations. And indeed both sides— President [Robert] Mugabe and the leader of the opposition MDC [Movement for Democratic Change], Morgan Tsvangirai, both of them made public statements to say they will now be proceeding to hold formal negotiations. And they haven't yet. They are still involved in those informal talks.
What they are trying to do, as I was saying, is to agree on a common constitutional framework that would address whatever concerns both sides have; sort out these other questions, which they've got to do— the land question, because it arose in the manner that it did; agree on, particularly, the presidential elections, because the current system is that the parliament is elected for a period of five years. The president is elected for a period of six years and elections take place at different times, the result of which is that the next parliamentary elections will be in 2005. The next presidential elections will be in 2008. Now one of the things they are discussing is to bring these two together so that they take place at the same time and both hold office for the same period, five years. That raises a question as to, if you have the parliamentary elections in 2005 as has been announced, what happens to presidential elections? But that's something that would come out in the process of their negotiations, at the end of which both sides agree there should then be a constitutional framework defining the kind of Zimbabwe that they want, and then deal with whatever implications arise as far as— as with regard to the matter of when elections take place, et cetera.
So that's what's happening. They are— my view is that they are moving too slowly, but that's my view. But they are talking. They are negotiating. And I think both sides understand the matter which we raise all the time with them, that it is indeed necessary for them to complete these political discussions, come to a conclusion, implement whatever they decide. To create the space to deal with the economic problems that are facing the country, you can't— unfortunately, it can't be handled in any other way except that, that kind of sequence. So that is the view of President Mugabe about his country. That is the view of Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, about the country. And we maintain contact with both to encourage them, really, to conclude this. As I say, they have an agreed constitutional and political system which both sides will support to this possibility to deal with these other issues.
LYMAN: We have, unfortunately, gone past our time. I don't know your schedule, whether you can take one more question. You can take one more question? I think the lady right— is that Susan? Yes. Susan Rice. You know Susan.
QUESTIONER: Susan Rice from the Brookings Institution. Nice to see you, Mr. President. Thank you for being here. I wanted to ask your view of an unfolding humanitarian crisis on the African continent now as we speak, in Western Sudan, the Darfur region. There've been no leaders on the African continent and, indeed, no countries who have been more committed than you and President Obasanjo to engaging in a very substantive and effective way in conflict resolution, both diplomatically and with troops on the ground, in various parts of Africa than your two countries. And as you sit down tomorrow with leaders of the G-8, will the issue of the unfolding genocide in Darfur be on the agenda? The latest estimates are that up to a million people might die. And if it is on the agenda, what will be discussed with respect to what pressure might be applied to the government of Sudan to enable full humanitarian access and stop the killing of civilians and, indeed, consider the possibility of the need, perhaps under [United Nations] Security Council auspices, for a humanitarian intervention?
MBEKI: We've been discussing this matter with the government of the Sudan, I discussed it directly with President [Omar Hassan Ahmad al-] Bashir, to say there's a problem, a big problem, in the way that you described it. We discussed also the political origins of the problem and that there was need to move urgently to solve all the issues, both the conflicts and the humanitarian tragedy that has resulted as a result of the conflict. And we agreed. And he was keen that we should intervene. But of course, we had also been discussing the matter in the context of the African Union. So when the present [Peace and] Security Council met at its inaugural meeting, this indeed was a matter on its agenda. So what's been agreed, therefore, is that the African Union, through the present Security Council, would send people into Darfur. We have been asked to supply military observers as part of this. So we will be supplying the military observers as part of this team to deal with the immediate political challenges there, to try and find a resolution to this problem, include dealing with these Janjaweeds, these militia groups there.
As I said, we agreed on this thing with President Bashir that we have to move like that, quickly. So I'm sure that if these African Union observers, present Security Council people, are not in Darfur already, they are on their way there, so that to make sure that we deal with the conflict as it is continuing there, to have that stopped. Our foreign minister here was in Chad 10 days ago— two weeks ago— because, of course, as so many people have left Darfur and gone into Chad, to go and discuss with the Chadian government as to what might be done with regard to this. So we got some agreements with regard to that. So what we are involved in is to make sure that there's an important African intervention in this matter with regard to the conflict and with regard to the humanitarian matter.
Now indeed this matter ought to arise in the G-8, particularly with regard to the issue of the humanitarian assistance. Secretary of State [Colin] Powell was saying today that the matter— and quite correctly, too— that the matter of the militia needs to be dealt with, because there are instances where food is delivered into the villages, the militia intervene to take the food and shoot people there, so that you have to deal with that. And I'm saying the African Union— that's why we're sending military observers into the area. They're able— so that they are able to deal with this particular challenge. As I was saying, we've discussed the matter with the government of Chad, so that we are able to deal with people both in the Sudan and those who have now gone into— are refugees in Chad.
It's important that the developed world should really respond very quickly, because one of the issues that was then raised with our foreign minister by President [Idriss] Deby of Chad was that once the rains come, there's going to be a major problem, because this area is undeveloped; it's got no roads and so on. And then once the rains come, the people will become inaccessible because it's— you can't get there to them.
So it is important that the intervention of the African Union is made within Darfur, at least, to end the conflict. And the presence of the African Union in the region, I think, would impose certain obligations on everybody concerned, including the government of Sudan, to behave in a manner that— to cooperate with such a mission. And indeed that is what we had discussed with President Bashir— that such a presence in Darfur, not in Khartoum, but in Darfur— it should be there for the purpose of ensuring that the conflict stops. The urgency of the matter is, indeed, accepted by everybody. And as I said, that is why, at the very first meeting of the Peace and Security Council, this matter— it became a matter that was on the agenda, with this need to move urgently. We got this request to supply military observers in the last few days, and we're acting on it immediately, because it's necessary. Hopefully the African continent will move with the urgency that's necessary. The decisions are there to have a presence in Darfur, hopefully resulting in certainly a reduction of the level of conflict, which would open the space to deal with the humanitarian issue.
LYMAN: Mr. President, you've been very kind. I would ask everyone to please wait with us. We want to— [applause]--I just want to conclude by something that I feel is very important, and that is the lessons from Africa that the rest of the world can learn from. We talk about areas like the Middle East. I think what's significant about the African Action Plan is the initiative on governance, on democracy, on human rights, on governance came from Africa. That's where the initiative came from, and I think that makes the African Action Plan very distinctive and perhaps a lesson to the world. Mr. President, thank you very much for being here with us. I would ask everyone again to give him applause, and then please wait and let our distinguished visitors leave first. But again, thank you, Mr. President.
MBEKI: Perhaps before we leave we must apologize for this short thing. We're getting up at five in the morning to go to Sea Island, and as Ambassador Lyman has just said, President Obasanjo has just come. So it will be the first time that our delegation meets tonight. So we have to meet and strategize and make sure that President Obasanjo doesn't talk too much and so on. [Laughter.] So I'm terribly sorry we have to keep it short. This is because we've got to go to that meeting.
LYMAN: You've been very kind.
MBEKI: But thanks a lot. Thanks for coming.
LYMAN: Thank you. [Applause.]
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