Keynote Address by Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, at the Book Launch of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), Pretoria, 03 February 2020
The Programme Director,
The Executive Director of MISTRA, Mr Joel Netshitenzhe,
MISTRA Board of Advisors and Advisory Council,
The Management Committee of MISTRA,
The Editors of and Contributors to the Book Project,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) for this kind invitation to address the launch of its Geopolitics book, ‘Africa and the World: Navigating Shifting Geopolitics’.
The decision to write a book on such an important contemporary subject is well timed and appropriate from a foreign policy perspective. Even more important is the investment in relevant and innovative knowledge generation from within institutions on our continent.
The adoption of perspectives on international affairs has become increasingly complex and trying given shifting sands and drifting alliances. MISTRA is going to do very well for our intellectual project of new and refreshing literature on politics and co-operation in the world. MISTRA is also contributing significantly to producing a new generation of researchers and thinkers and this bodes well for the emerging Africa knowledge project.
From the preliminary reading that I have managed to do within the short space of time I have had, I am convinced that this book’s key themes explore subjects African policy makers need to consider in our continuing struggle to locate ourselves in the world on our own terms within the current, fluid geopolitical space.
For example, a compelling case is made in Mr Francis Kornegay’s chapter titled ‘Africa at the Centre’—released as a MISTRA Working Paper – which unapologetically recasts the traditional stereotypical perspective of the two poles and locates Africa at the Geopolitical epicentre suggesting an Africa-centric understanding of the world.
While these perspectives are critically important their value ties in the implied meaning for policy makers and Africa based institutions – we need to think and act differently – with greater confidence and strategic awareness. Such a shift is considerably difficult but urgently necessary. It seems that for some time Africa has been reluctant to lead in formulating new ideas, new strategies and programmes. This seminal research sets out a range of sectors in which we could use our position and latent power as a continent to define and pursue a refreshed and responsive vision of a reimagined continent.
If Africa is to assert itself as a continent that appreciates itself as a significant part of an influential global block, our work in global institutions and our African union will have to alter substantively. We have tended not to set the agenda, we would need to do so and achieve this through coherent and co-ordinated planning as Africa.
One of the features of African relations is that they tend to be tenuous and somewhat inadequately appreciative of the value of united policy action. The work done by MISTRA could play a valuable role in pointing to actions that could enhance pursuit of opportunities that would signal revived attention to redefining our place in world affairs.
The shift in international perspectives in the past four years offer wide scope. Africa could be a decisive voice for multilateralism and the rejection of unilateral dominance of world affairs. Of course, this would need to be done while also asserting the need for effective democratisation of institutions such as the UNSC and the WTO.
South Africa’s impending Chairship of the African Union is a critical opportunity. We become chair along with the privilege of a further year of non-permanent membership of the UNSC. This is definitely a period for smart navigation.
There are a range of challenges that we hope to focus upon. Firstly, we intend to initiate a concerted focus on the continent’s peace agenda through agreeing on interventions to really silence the guns and focus on Africa’s development.
As this publication that is unveiled tonight suggests, it is the intersection between the historically debased image of Africa as a geographical vacuity, as dehistoried space and as socio-culturally inadequate mind, that we the modern African political development and intellectual actors bear the epochal responsibility to put to bed, in our lifetime. We will do so only when we address our ills. Our focus will also include good governance, economic development and the empowerment of women.
South Africa’s Chairship of the AU as well as membership of and participation in many other continental and global platforms can serve this broader African Agenda of reclaiming the African subjectivity. We should use the opportunity created by this work to publicly reflect on how all sectors of our continent can play a decisive role in this shift.
There has to be this concerted effort to draw governance into the formulation of a new approach to ideas and plans that already imagine a new vision. The ideas of a better Africa exist in abundance, the challenge is to secure belief that we can achieve their intended objectives.
Africa has been a political project for many decades, the time has come for Africa to become an intellectual project of all institutions that generate new ideas.
MISTRA’s intervention articulates the role of the African intellectual community at large and calls for shared collaboration between African political leadership and civil society in this epic battle for peace, justice, fairness and equality in global affairs.
Africa’s own history teems with names of philosophers and scholars whose work proves that, as Mistra’s volume demonstrates, there is a sore need for a more voluble and independent African critical discourse, not only to keep political leadership on its feet as it executes the continental mandate but also, to harness their scholarly capabilities to the interests of Africa’s future. We owe the launching of such strategic partnerships to African people, who bear the brunt of the worse forms of social existence.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The evolution of Geopolitics has shaped the world’s imagination about Africa as a geographic entity in enduring ways, to this day. When the owners of private international capital express anxiety about the safety of their investments in any part of the African continent the stereotypical negative image of Africa always lurks somewhere behind.
As indicated shifting these notions will require much from us. I have observed how we are often ‘invisible’ to the world except when needed for exports, dumping of imports and support for worrying resolutions in global institutions.
The development of the Free Trade Agreement of Africa is a development all of us should focus on as a real chance at the fundamental shift we require to assert our economic significance for world markets. It would be very empowering if academic institutions united behind the Agreement and provided policy support and monitoring to the African Union as it begins implementation. Much as we wish Africa to shift it is also social actors in Africa who must shift.
Much more should be done to make the proposed changes on the subject of academic scrutiny and support.
Finally, attention must be given to educating our youth differently and inculcating ambitious notions of Africa’s place in the world. Our education must include that which will not hold us back and explore what will advance us. This publication contains the essence of the focus which should be appropriated for education at all levels.
This would include our universities finding a new lifeline and knowledge generation that empowers Africa and places universities all over Africa at the cutting edge of intellectual leadership encompassing institutes such as MISTRA.
I wish to congratulate MISTRA on what is has achieved in a very short time and welcome this new work which will assist our reshaping of Foreign policy.
MISTRA’s book, ‘Africa and the World: Navigating Shifting Geopolitics’, affirms the self-evident fact that Africa’s people are its greatest assets. We are confident that more of this nature will come forth in the future.
I thank you.
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