2015 is a great and important year for the African Union. The organization founded in 2002, as the successor of African Unity to help in promoting democracy, human rights and economic development in Africa, delivered in January this year the implementation plan for the first decade of Agenda 2063, a long-term objective program for the continent.
Ahead of this work for three years as president of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is optimistic. “Yes, Agenda 2063 is related to building a fairer and inclusive Africa, where no man, woman or child is left behind,” she says. The position of Dlamini-Zuma allows her to devote virtually all of her time thinking about the future of Africa and closely monitor the improvement, albeit slow, of social indicators on the continent. “This growth has not been transformative, and poverty and large-scale inequalities remain,” she admits. You must face. “Our challenge is to ensure an sustainable, transformative and inclusive growth”.
In a conversation with ATLANTICO, Dlamini-Zuma spoke about the struggle for gender parity in politics and everyday life, the importance of Brazil for South-South cooperation as well as political and economic relationships of Africa with China, Europe and the United States. “The US are still the largest investor in Africa, but these investments are mainly in the extractive industries. Besides, being in a few countries they add very little economic diversification to African development, “she argues.
Considered an exponent in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and an icon in the struggle for reducing social inequalities in Africa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to hold the position of chairman of the AU commission. In addition, she can become the first woman to be the president of South Africa. There are strong rumors of a possible candidacy. But, her party should only discuss it in 2017. Until then, Dlamini-Zuma is concerned in trying to draw the future of Africa. This theme is central in the whole interview which can be observed below.
ATLANTICO — What are your prospects for the reduction of social inequalities in Africa?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — The end of apartheid in Namibia and South Africa during the early 80’s signaled the completion (except for Western Sahara) of the decolonization project in Africa. This provided opportunity for a paradigm shift for the then Organisation of African Unity, from its primary focus on the struggle for complete liberation, to tackling the development of the continent. As a result, Africa made concerted efforts to tackle conflicts (and the absolute number of conflicts have drastically reduced over the last two decades), it adopted the New Partnership for African development (NEPAD) to address its development deficits and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was transformed into the African Union (AU). For over a decade now, the collective economic growth in Africa has averaged 5% and above, with many countries growing in double digits, and social indicators such as reductions in maternal health, HIV and malaria and access to education have all moved in the right direction. Public and private investments in infrastructure development (transport, energy, ICT) are growing. Many African countries will over the next decade or so move into the middle-income category. However, this growth has not been transformative, and large-scale poverty and inequalities remain.
ATLANTICO — What challenge can be expected, then?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — Our challenge is therefore to ensure that growth is sustained, transformative and inclusive. It is for this reason that the African Union at the beginning of 2015 adopted its long-term vision, Agenda 2063 towards an Africa that is integrated, peaceful, people-centered and prosperous. At the centre of Agenda 2063 are investments in African people, especially education and skills, health and access to basic services. With over 70% of our population under the age of 30 years, Africa is a young continent, and will remain so over the coming decades. By 2025 a quarter of all young people under-25 years in the world will be African. This is a huge demographic opportunity. To make use of this, we are therefore focusing on economic transformation and diversification of African economies, moving away from export of primary commodities to manufacturing and value addition, including our blue and oceanic economies. We also have a huge infrastructure backlog, and Agenda 2063 aims to give impetus to infrastructure that connects and integrates Africa. We’ve turned the realities of our backlogs into an opportunity, to use technology, innovation and knowledge to leapfrog development. For example, by the turn of the last century everyone thought the information technology revolution would bypass Africa, given our low levels of fixed line telephones and infrastructure. However, today, we are the second fastest growing market in cellphones and internet, with innovations originating in Africa such as M-Pesa.
“OUR CHALLENGE IS TO ENSURE AN SUSTAINABLE, TRANSFORMATIVE AND INCLUSIVE GROWTH”
ATLANTICO — What assessment do you recognize in relation to the recent rapprochement of rich countries with the African continent?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — Africa has always been on the radar of rich countries, whether for its human resources signified by the Transatlantic slave trade, and its natural resources signified by colonialism and neo-colonialism. Over the last two decades, we’ve worked to redefine the relationship between Africa and the world. Let me use two examples. There is a historical relationship between Africa and the European Union, which has evolved, often with difficulties. As our closest neighbor and for historical reasons, Europe remains Africa’s main trading partner. Despite Africa’s attempts to diversify its economies and industrialize, the European Union’s interest in Africa has been mainly focusing on raw materials and trade. In our engagements with the EU, including the 2014 Africa-EU Summit and meetings between the AU and EC Commissions, the African Union has been very insistent that the relationship must move beyond this. There is progress, as well as setbacks, such as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which have the potential to undermine African integration and diversification. On the burning issue of migration, for example, our view is that we must address the factors that make Africans immigrate in such large numbers, by building inclusive, democratic and peaceful societies and by providing economic opportunities and skill our young people. The EU (and other partners) must therefore work with us on these issues as the sustainable solution to the challenges. The African Union is also strengthening its relationship with the USA. We had the first US-Africa Leadership Summit last year and the visit of President Obama to the AU Headquarters in July this year. The USA is still the largest investor on the African continent, but these investments are mainly in the extractive industries, in a few countries and add very little to African economic diversification and development. We raised this in the engagements with the US administration, including the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. I’m pleased to say that we are making progress, with cooperation in energy through Power Africa and the AU’s Programme for Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA), and on the issues of attracting US investments beyond the extractive sectors, and with forward and backward linkages to African economies. We are also cooperating in the areas of peace and security, including the fight against terrorism. It is in Africa’s interest to diversify its partnerships and relationships with the world. In addition to our relations with the EU, US, China and BRICS, we also have and are building working partnerships with Japan, Russia, Turkey and other countries across the world, based on our priorities set out in Agenda 2063.
“BY 2025, A QUARTER OF ALL YOUNG PEOPLE UNDER 25 IN THE WORLD WILL BE IN AFRICA”
ATLANTICO — And the Chinese presence in Africa, for instance, is it good for the growth of African countries?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — Africa has a long history with China, from pre-colonial trade links to their support for the anti-colonial struggles and for post-independence African countries. Over the last decade or so, trade and investment between China and Africa have grown, and China heavily invests in infrastructure development — energy, transport and aviation in the continent. The African Union last year, when Premier Li Keqiang visited the AU headquarters last year, we signed a memorandum of understanding with China on the development of rail, road and aviation infrastructure and on industrialization. We’ve raised with our Chinese partners the need for greater focus on beneficiation and building African manufacturing, so that we don’t only export raw materials to China. We are seeing the beginnings of this change in countries like Ethiopia, where they cooperate in the development of a local textile sector. It is therefore an evolving relationship, and we are certain it is moving in the right direction.
ATLANTICO — How to have a very significant position in a continent where many women are not even emancipated? What efforts must be arranged to upsurge the empowerment of women in Africa? And what is the importance of such empowerment for the development of the continent?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — Well, Africa is making progress on this score as well. In the political sphere, although to date we only had two female Presidents (Liberia and Malawi) and a few Prime ministers, there are 33 countries where women constitute 30% and more of Members of Parliament, including Rwanda that leads the world with 64% female Parliamentarians. Fourteen African countries have at least 30% of their Ministers in government being female, with Cabo Verde leading with over 50% women Ministers in their government. We think we will achieve or be close to achieving our continental target of gender parity by 2020. Of course we still have a long way to go, and that is why we celebrate 2015 as African year for the Empowerment of Women. We focus on strengthening the position of women in agriculture, with access to better technology, inputs such as seeds and irrigation, as well as markets and storage, and getting women into agro-processing. Patriarchy in many countries prevent women from owning and inheriting land, we are advocating for changes in these laws and practices, so that women who produce 70% of African agricultural products can be empowered and lead the African agrarian revolution. Across Africa, women are also Organising and mobilizing for their economic empowerment, in all sectors. We have women entrepreneurs working on getting more women in the mining sector, recently when we launched the African Decade of the Seas and Oceans (2015–2020), the Women in Maritime Africa association was a leading voice, to name but a few. We are also tackling the issue of financial exclusion of women, where it’s very difficult for women business to access capital, even though research shows that they have much better repayment rates than men who borrow money. The research about the positive impact of the empowerment of girls and women on development and growth is growing. Better educated and healthy girls and women mean healthier, safer, better educated and more productive families and communities and societies. Africa is therefore determined not to leave out half of its population.
ATLANTICO — In 2002, as Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, you said that the political ties between Brazil and Africa would be strategic and critical for the development of more cooperation projects. What you have seen from there to here? Is Brazil more usual in Africa than before? How do you measure the current initiatives of South-South cooperation, such as the BRICs, and the impacts of these initiatives on the African continent? What is the role of Brazil in this context?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — We agree with Ana Cristina Alves, when she says that “not only was Brazil built upon the sweat and blood of slaves brought from western Africa throughout colonial and imperial eras, but the heritage of these slaves imprinted strong African nuances in modern Brazil. To this day, the African dimension remains very robust and apparent in Brazil, namely through its genetic, cultural (such as folklore, music, religion, literature and cuisine) and linguistic legacy.” This umbilical link with Brazil, as we have with the peoples of the Caribbean, is an important basis for the friendship and solidarity between Brazil and Africa. We therefore watch and celebrate very keenly your achievements, and we know the reverse is true. Brazil and African countries have worked closely to ensure that we foster South-South relations, through such forums as the G77 and the G20, as well as BRICS. Through these joint efforts, we are ensuring a stronger voice for developing countries in international forums and negotiations, especially around issues such as climate change, trade and development.
ATLANTICO — You held various positions in the government of South Africa and have a vast knowledge about the country’s challenges. What are your plans after leaving the African Union?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — I was very privileged to serve over a period of 18 years as South Africa’s ministers of health (1994–1999), foreign affairs (1999–2009) and interior affairs (2009–2012) during a critical formative period of its history. South Africa this year celebrates 21 years since its transition from apartheid, and the country has achieved a great deal. The leadership of the country, including my organisation the ANC, has given me the task to serve in this position as Chairperson of the African Union Commission. This task is not yet completed.
ATLANTICO — Do you plan to run in the elections in your country as South Africa’s first woman president?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — My organization, the ANC through its structure will decide on the presidency at its Conference in 2017. I agree with the position taken by the ANC Women’s League that it is time for South Africa to have a woman president. We have many capable women, including many who have served in government and other institutions over the last 21 years of our democracy.
ATLANTICO — How do you see progress towards the democratization of the continent? How the legacy of Nelson Mandela inspires democracy in Africa?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — By the end of 2015, we would have held more than fifteen elections on the continent, most were peaceful, including in Nigeria where we had a change of party. Next year we shall have elections in 20 other African countries. Most of these elections are democratic, and are the third or fourth multi-party elections of this nature. We have the African Governance Architecture to ensure that we keep improving democracy and governance on the continent. There are challenges, such as the ongoing debate on presidential term limits, but we are making positive strides. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is an African and global icon, not only for his commitment to democracy, but his commitment to humanity, to diversity, reconciliation and freedom. Africa continues to be inspired by his leadership.
ATLANTICO — How do you see the future of Africa?
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — I am very positive. Yes we have challenges, but the African leadership and citizens, especially young people and women, are determined to be the generations that build and sustain a different trajectory for our continent. We know that as Madiba said, that ‘after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb’, and that will hold true for our development as well. So, we are in for the long haul.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has long experience in public life. In South Africa, she occupied the positions of Minister of Health,Minister Foreign Affairs and Minister of Internal Affairs in the governments of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki,Kgalema Molanthe and Jacob Zuma, who is also her ex-husband. Dlamini-Zuma is the oldest of eight children. Born in KwaZulu-Natal in 1949, she studied Zoology and Botany and the Bachelor of Science at the University of Zululand. Then, she devoted herself to the study of medicine. In parallel to her studies, in the 1970s, she became involved with the African National Congress (ANC), then an underground party. In 1976, as elected vice president of the Organization of South African Students, she had to flee into exile. Because of this, she needed to finish school in Britain. Then, she served as a doctor in Swaziland, where she met her future husband — current President of the ANC — Jacob Zuma, who was married between 1982 and 1998 and had four children.