Wangari Maathai adresses the African Diaspora
On the day when Geldof et al were busy trying to make themselves feel good at the expense of Africa, in another venue not far from Hyde Park, Wangari Maathai was addressing the African Diaspora in London at the Africa Diaspora and Development Day in London.
Hers is one of the millions of African voices that Geldof, Blair Bush etc have ignored and in fact tried to supress.
"Allow me to thank you most sincerely for inviting me to share this day
with you. This is a historic time, when the spot light is on Africa. It
is appropriate for us to recognize and applaud the efforts of our
friends, both within the G8 and in the wider civil society, who are
trying to improve the quality of life in Africa.
I also take this opportunity to congratulate the organizers of this
meeting. I know that a lot of time has gone into the planning and
mobilizing and that the experience will be rewarding.
The African Diaspora & Development Day is a great idea and I
congratulate you for organizing this annual event to celebrate Africa
by bringing together Africans in the diaspora around a common theme. It
is indeed a noble vision to advance the well being of Africa &
Africans. This year’s theme of “Enterprise Africa!” reflects the need
to mobilize resources of the African diaspora to create & sustain
enterprises, jobs & wealth in the region. Congratulations for your
I know you continue to celebrate & appreciate the decision by the
Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to the environment
and to link it with democratic governance and peace. You may also have
read about my comparing these three themes and the situation they
create to a traditional African stool. Just like such a stool needs
three solid legs to be stable, so does any stable state. And just as
the legs, the body and the basin of the stool are made from one log, so
leaders and citizens must mould the three pillars simultaneously. One
cannot try to build democracy in order to LATER manage resources
sustainably and create peace. Managing resources accountably,
responsibly and sharing them more equitably is more likely to nurture a
culture of peace. This is only possible if there is adequate democratic
space for everybody; space where the rights of all, including the weak
and vulnerable, and space where the rule of law is respected.
As I travel across the world sharing this message I find that people
are concerned about this shift in the concept of peace and security.
There can be no peace without sustainable management of resources,
justice and fairness. Indeed most of the conflicts and wars are over
resources: who will access, exploit and utilize them? Who will be
excluded? Those who feel excluded, exploited and humiliated can
threaten peace and security.
One of the worst outcomes of injustices is poverty. It robs human
beings of their dignity. When people are poor and when they are reduced
to beggars, they feel weak, humiliated, disrespected and undignified.
They hide alone in corners and dare not raise their voices. They are
therefore, neither heard nor seen. They do not organize but often
suffer in isolation and in desperation.
Yet all human beings deserve respect and dignity. Indeed it should be
unacceptable to push other human beings to such levels of indiginity.
Even before any other rights, perhaps it may be time to campaign for
all human beings to have the right to a life of dignity: a life devoid
of poverty in the midst of plenty because such poverty demonstrates
gross inequalities. As long as millions of people live in poverty and
indignity, humanity should feel diminished. A time such as this gives
all of us, and especially those in leadership, the opportunity to
There is a lot of poverty in Africa. This is largely due to economic
injustices, which must be addressed not only by the rich industrialized
countries but also by leaders in Africa. This is partly because, as I
have said elsewhere, Africa is not a poor continent. Africa is endowed
with, for example, human beings, sunshine, oil, precious stones,
forests, water, wildlife, soil, land and agricultural products. So what
is the problem?
Well, many African people lack knowledge, skills and tools to add value
to their raw materials so that they can take more processed goods into
the local and international markets, where they would negotiate better
prices and better rules for trade. In such situations, Africans find
themselves locked out of productive, rewarding economic activities that
would provide them with the regular income they need to sustain
themselves. They are either unemployed or underemployed and they are
certainly underpaid. They may wish to secure a well-paid job, but if
they do not have the tools, nobody will hire them. Neither will they be
able to take care of their housing, healthcare, education, nutrition,
and other family and personal needs. Secondly, Africans have been
poorly governed. This continues to allow the exploitation of resources
in Africa without much benefit to the ordinary people.
It is for that reason that I commend the African Diaspora for believing
in small and medium-sized enterprises. Indeed a thriving small
enterprise culture is key to enabling Africans to exploit their
capacities and fulfil their aspirations for jobs and economic security.
According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization 90
percent of all businesses in Africa are small & medium sized
enterprises. We must support this sector and ensure that it grows and
thrives. Many of you in the Diaspora can ensure that this sector grows
in countries where you come from.
I understand that Africans in the diaspora are estimated to send back
to Africa each year some 200 billion US Dollars. Such money assists
both your families and the national economy. We need to encourage each
other to sustain interest and commitment. We need initiatives that are
simple, attainable and that generate visible success in a short space
of time. This creates momentum, trust, excitement and goodwill around
solutions that ordinary people themselves own and believe in.
Even then within Africa, despite the fact that a lot remains to be
done, I am encouraged by the increased willingness on the part of the
African leadership to commit to gradual improvement of governance,
especially through comparatively more free and fair elections, creation
of NEPAD, sub-regional political and economic coalitions and the
Recently I was requested by the African Union to lead a process of
mobilizing the African Civil Society. My role is to create an organ to
advise the African Union on the best way to involve the African people
as active participants in the creation of a New Africa. I was also
appointed by the eleven (11) Heads of States within the Central African
sub-region to be a Goodwill Ambassador for the Congo Basin Forest
Ecosystem These are all initiatives that demonstrate a new renaissance
that needs encouragement and support from friends, partners and the
I want to encourage you to support campaigns to save African forests
and biodiversity. The importance of forests and the many services
humanity gets from them is well known: ecological balance of the earth;
they absorb carbon; prevent loss of soil and subsequent
desertification; they offer safeguards against flooding; they are
reservoirs for genetic resources; the control rainfall patterns and
serve as catchment areas for freshwater and rivers. Forests have been a
source of wealth and inspiration throughout centuries.
Other environmental issues confronting us include climate change and
air pollution. Nature provides so many “services” that the decline of
ecosystems worldwide will have adverse effects on our well-being but we
are told that Africa will be especially adversely affected by climate
change. Unfortunately, many services from forests are taken for granted
even through without such green life, humankind would not survive on
this planet. Despite that and the many efforts to save the environment
degradation continues, especially in Africa.
Let me draw your attention especially to the Congo forest ecosystem. As
we speak, 200 million hectares of forest are under threat of
extinction; 400 mammalian species and more than 10,000 plant species
not to mention livelihoods of over a million indigenous people who
depend on the forest resources of the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem.
We recommend to G8 that the Convergence Plan for the Conservation and
Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa be a
priority and especially with respect to the “Climate change and
Africa”. A financing mechanism should be created by cancelling the
debts of these countries and putting the money in an independent Trust
We thank the G8 countries for cancelling the debts of the 18 HIPIC
countries, but urge that the other countries in the region also be
considered. This is because, even though they are able to make debt
payments, they do so at the expense of education and healthcare, and
indeed sacrifice the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals.
We owe gratitude to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, and his
initiative (The Africa Commission) and hope that other G8 countries
will support his recommendations, especially in the area of debt,
doubling of financial assistance and better terms of trade.
While it is sometimes understandable why governments may wish to give
conditional aid, patronizing sovereign states undermines their
authority, respect and trust before their people. With greater
improvement of governance in Africa, it would be more appropriate to
give aid that is not tied so as to allow governments to address
priorities identified by them and their citizens.
As for the Diaspora, you are the face of Africa and you have a special
responsibility to be good ambassadors of Africa by working hard,
respecting the law of the land, and being responsible and accountable
member of the society in which you live. Remember, it is especially the
Diaspora that could influence the perception of African people and the
attitude towards them.
In many industrialized countries like Britain and Japan, there is 3R
campaign ( reduce, repair & reuse, recycle), which calls for more
sustainable use of the resources. Individuals and groups can engage in
initiatives, which support the spirit of the Kyoto protocol and
In Japan, a campaign incorporating the 3R is strengthened by the
beautiful concept of mottainai, which urges people not to waste
resources but to instead use them with respect and care. Awareness and
commitment at a personal level is very important.
These examples are simple and workable ideas that we can practice
individually everywhere: recyling plastic, reusing plastic bags,
planting trees, printing on both sides of the paper, saving water — all
in the spirit of mottainai.
As we continue the struggle on behalf of our people, let us remember
that we are not alone. We have friends and we build on bricks laid by
our ancestors who laboured and even died so that we, their children,
might regain respect and dignity. This is out time, let us give our
Pambazuka News / AFFORD