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Diplomats urge respect for African self-determination

Soumana Sako describes poverty as the biggest threat to peace and development
in Africa. A UMNS photo by Victor Babbage.









By Andra Stevens*
Oct. 23, 2006 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

Africa's right to pursue peace, democracy and development on its own terms emerged as a strong underlying theme in comments from African diplomats speaking recently at Africa University.

The diplomats had gathered for the annual Dag Hammarskj÷ld Commemorative event that began Oct. 9. The weeklong observance provided opportunities for public reflection and debate on topical issues such as peace, gender and development.


Angolan Ambassador to Zimbabwe Joaquim de Lemos (center) shares a laugh with participants at the annual gathering of diplomats at Africa University. A UMNS
photo by Victor Babbage.

Dag Hammarskj÷ld (pronounced HAM-mar-shold) assisted the emerging nations of Asia and Africa as the former secretary-general of the United Nations before dying in a 1961 plane crash in Zambia, which was formally Northern Rhodesia.

Talk of political independence and self-determination was a common thread in the comments of Joaquim de Lemos, the Angolan ambassador and dean of the African Group of Ambassadors Resident in Zimbabwe, and Rear Admiral John K. Gbenah, Ghana's ambassador to Zimbabwe.

Issues of peace and governance, De Lemos said, were best tackled by respective countries or regions, taking into account their peculiar histories. 

"Right now in Angola, we have enjoyed relative peace for about three years, after having spent over 30 years in the bush," he said. "Therefore processes such as elections and multi-partyism will also take time to realize. (This is) something that has to be understood by the regional as well as international community."

Gbenah concurred and said that "as African people, we need to examine ourselves and try to solve problems which are particular and specific to us in our own context."


Namibian Ambassador Kakena Nangula reaffirms her country's solidarity with Zimbabwe at the annual Dag Hammarskj÷ld Commemorative event at Africa University.
A UMNS photo by Victor Babbage.

Namibia's ambassador, Kakena Nangula, took the opportunity to reaffirm her country's solidarity with Zimbabwe.

"Namibia shall forever stand by Zimbabwe, for better or for worse," Nangula said. "We fought together, bled together in the trenches.  … Like Zimbabwe, we declared national reconciliation at independence after waging a 23-year war against South Africa. This was rather out of the realization and recognition of peace and its importance to the people and development."

However, Nangula said, "as Africans, the vestiges of colonialism remain with us, and we need to go through the process of rediscovering ourselves."

Empowering women

The various diplomats spoke of poverty, gender and HIV/AIDS as critical challenges in the African context. Soumana Sako, the executive director of the African Capacity Building Foundation and a former prime minister of Mali, described poverty as the biggest threat to peace and development in Africa. Sako, whose country of Mali is one of the 14 least developed countries in the world, said "…poverty takes away from human beings any hope."

The first step to fighting poverty in Africa and the world, he said, was the empowerment of women. Sako added that governments should put in place mechanisms to ensure equitable access to national resources, which in turn would build transparency and accountability.

Ambassador Sheila Siwela of Zambia took the discussion even further with an appeal for women's and men's voices, ideas and agendas to be given equal weight in peace-building and development efforts. She noted that "the peace agenda is a women's agenda." Issues such as poverty and HIV/AIDS have been given a female face, she said, so African women must be made effective partners in efforts to eradicate war, poverty and disease.

The Dag Hammarskj÷ld Commemorative Week at Africa University ended Oct. 13 with a one-day focus on United Nations peacekeepers and capacity building for peace and reconciliation in various African countries.

The Dag Hammarskj÷ld commemorations are an annual event at Africa University, held in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden in Zimbabwe. This year's event featured key speeches, seminars and cultural performances that engaged the public and fostered discussion on issues of peace, gender, leadership, governance and development in Africa.

*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa University.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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