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This transcript appears in the April 15, 2022 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

[Print version of this transcript]

Jay Naidoo

The African Citizen’s Perspective

This is an edited transcript of the remarks of Jay Naidoo to the Plenary Session of the Schiller Institute’s April 9, 2022 conference, “Establish a New Security and Development Architecture for All Nations.” Mr. Naidoo is a former cabinet minister under President Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

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Schiller Institute
Jay Naidoo

I present to you today an African citizen’s perspective. Alongside most African citizens, I am deeply concerned about the human suffering in Ukraine, and call for the war to end, for Russia to withdraw its armed forces, and for the humanitarian crisis to be urgently addressed. I urge that NATO and Russia sit around a negotiation table and that a lasting peace settlement be reached that embraces a new secure and envisioned peace between Eastern and Western Europe. The world does not need another world war, or even the doomsday scenario of a nuclear winter. The UN Charter commits all of us to find a peaceful means to settle our differences and ensure that sovereignty and integrity of all states needs to be upheld.

I have played a role as a freedom fighter against Apartheid. I have been a member of President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet.

I reiterate that the only way we can rise above our differences and our constituencies and find common ground, is through peaceful negotiations. Will we find the courage to see and understand each other, and manage both transition and diversity in our world? Africa has no intention of becoming again the theater of proxy wars in geopolitical conflicts between global powers. Humanity is facing an intersect of global crises that create a perfect storm for an extinction event. Science overwhelmingly confirms we are living through a dire ecological emergency with rising pandemics, inequality, hunger, and poverty.

The world cannot afford a nuclear war, another arms race, or even conventional warfare. And yet, that’s exactly what is happening. No one wants another Cold War. In Africa, we paid heavily in the massive loss of lives, the destruction of infrastructure, and even our social fabric. In 1990, we welcomed the ending of the Cold War and the dream of a nuclear arms-free world. South Africa historically dismantled its nuclear arms program, and argued alongside its African peers for a new world order based on peace, on multilateral cooperation, and a new global security architecture based on sustainable development. Our shared imperative is for a permanent and transformative global peace.

Imagine a world that had embraced a proposal made by Gorbachev in 1986, when he announced a Soviet proposal for a ban on all nuclear weapons by 2000. Or, if the vision of Olof Palme, then Swedish Prime Minister, had been achieved when he echoed on all our behalf, that a nuclear war can hit all peoples and all states, even those that are farthest away from the theater of war. But this also means that all peoples and all nations have a right to have a say about these weapons of mass destruction. We have wasted an important moment to secure global peace, arms reduction. The momentum behind the end of nuclear weapons was lost as agreements fell by the wayside, and three decades later, we face a crisis of a new arms race.

The treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is the only commitment with a multilateral goal of nuclear disarmament, enforced in 1970, that needs to be reactivated, and a comprehensive framework put into place democratically that represents the world of all of humanity.

In the crude binaries of global geopolitical temper, African citizens have chosen to stand above these narratives. Africa has historically been part of a Non-Aligned Movement. Our continent is already burning, through the conflicts waged in the resource wars that afflict us, driven by predatory interests of global multinationals that seek to recolonize our continent and impose yet another brutally exploitative model of violent extraction. Africa has its challenges related to eradicating our continent as an epicenter of hunger. We want our sovereignty respected. We cannot divert our scarce resources to a heightened global arms race.

In a world where we seek to build a functioning and responsible global governance, we need to reimagine a very different world to the one that we faced in 1989, 1990, or even post-World War II. The Security Council of the UN is an anachronism of a world long gone, constrained by the divisions between its five permanent veto-wielding members—the U.S., Russia, England, France, and China—with each prioritizing its own interests and influence.

We argue for a new security architecture that reflects the will and aspirations of more than major global powers. Africa, with its 54 countries and 1.4 billion citizens, cannot be excluded from meaningful participation in decision making. African citizens want to be part of a global movement that bridges the old divides of East and West. A continent with mineral and natural resources that fuel a global economy, and the youngest profile of demographics in the world, wants a new economic and political deal that seeks to build a transformative peace. We don’t need any global power acting as our policeman. We strive to rise above the paradigm of war driven by imperial and colonial thinking. Centrally, the goal we seek to tackle head on is the climate crisis, building a circular green economy that embraces sustainable human development and renewable energy.

Our hope is that Africa will have its voice heard, not just of our governments, but also the debate on a new inclusive and developmental architecture must include the voices of citizens, civic groups, students, women, youth, and a broad range of grassroots organizations and coalitions. We contend with a chemistry of circumstances of crises that we can galvanize a new beginning of what makes us human; what defines a positive passage for our evolutionary journey to a better humanity, away from war, economic and political aggression, and militarism, toward a new transformative global peace.

As our President Nelson Mandela wisely said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I pray and hope, along with the majority of African citizens, that we find the political will today to find that piece of Mandela within ourselves, to manifest a greater humanity that we are capable of achieving.

I thank you.

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