Thabo Mbeki’s Legacy to Africa
“I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land…”
The above quote is Thabo Mbeki’s introduction to his famous “I am African” speech in Cape Town on May 8, 1996. The speech marked the arrival of one of the best African leaders of the modern day.
This is so because Thabo Mbeki is among the political players who emphasised a necessary precondition if Africa is to claim the 21st century, namely, “the need for Africa to recapture the intellectual space to define its future, and therefore the imperative to develop its intellectual capital”.
Mbeki believes the first step is to nurture and build Africa’s intellectual cadre, including “to rebuild and sustain our universities and other centres of learning, attract back to Africa the intelligentsia that has migrated to the developed North, build strong links with the intelligentsia in the African Diaspora, and give the space to these the time and space they need to help determine the future of the Africans”.
He appeals for the reinvigoration of the African Renaissance Movement. For this, Mbeki is known today for a pragmatic vision and a no-nonsense management style.
Mbeki believes: “Making and sustaining peace and security is an intellectual challenge.
We therefore undertake to build the capacity of our universities and research institutes to explore the nature of African conflicts, to investigate what succeeds and what fails in conflict resolution efforts, and to arrive at African-centered solutions, drawing from our own distinctive and unique experience.”
Mbeki is among a few African leaders who know that controlling the intellectual agenda is claiming the future: abdicating that leadership is surrendering the future.
Therefore, he wants to see an Africa that is determined to set its own terms for tackling security challenges and economic development on the continent not the one that exposes itself to the hostile world.
For this, Thabo Mbeki is the master of African diplomacy.
He believes that Africa is capable of solving its internal challenges without interference from the West and other self titled paragons of democracy.
Isaac Mpho Mogotsi believes there is general consensus in the African continent and in South Africa that it was in the area of diplomacy that Thabo Mbeki was most impactful during his long years of public service.
He is acknowledged by admirers and detractors alike as Africa’s finest diplomat ever.
To understand the effectiveness of President Thabo Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy, Mogotsi says, “We need to understand that, sometimes, finding African solutions to African problems is a phenomenon that cannot be put into words.”
Mbeki employed the strategy of using quite diplomacy. Most people have failed to grasp quiet diplomacy because everybody expects to hear what they want to from President Mbeki. And as long as people want him to do as they expect, he cannot say anything.
Quiet diplomacy is beyond the conceptual grasp of these people. For instance, when he mediated in the Zimbabwean issue, Mbeki used closed-door sessions to find solutions to the challenges impacting the country.
He used quiet diplomacy and the west nailed him for that. Instead of succumbing to pressure, the intelligent Mbeki defended his ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach in Zimbabwe, saying that “loud diplomacy” was no diplomacy.
Examining criticism of his quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe, the former South African leader asked: “What is loud diplomacy? Well, it is not diplomacy, it cannot be.”
It is critical to note that President Mbeki’s remarks about “loud diplomacy” appeared aimed at British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to demonise Zimbabwe.
There have been indications that the former South African leader has been growing increasingly irritated by pressure from Western countries, mainly former colonial power Britain, to take a tougher stance against Zimbabwe.
Because of his resilience, Andrew Maykuth, inquirer staff writer, describes Mbeki as, “Regal, sophisticated and enigmatic and a key player when it comes to negotiating for peoples’ rights in the continent.
Maybe his background motivated him to serve the interests of the continent not of the west. Mark Gevisser, of the Sunday Times thanks the exile for moulding Mbeki.
Gevisser says: “It was in exile that Mbeki found his particular path to leadership; in exile that he developed the key relationships that were to propel his ascendancy in the liberation movement – with his mentor, Oliver “OR” Tambo, and with the SA Communist Party.
“Balanced between the pragmatism of the former and the ideology of the latter, he developed a leadership style – and an approach to liberation – that he deploys to this day; one that played a major role in bringing reform to the ANC (and, ultimately, through negotiations, peace to South Africa).
You will simply not find any one Great Leader who can solve the whole world’s problems but Mbeki believes that democracy is an experience that expresses the collective will of the people of a country.
Mbeki’s mastery of diplomacy presents Africa and her citizenry with a lot of lessons.
Ultimately, what Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy teaches Africa is that true democracy is keeping quiet to allow Africans take their own present and future into their own hands.
What happens or fails to happen on the African continent will always be a direct result of what African people themselves choose to do and not what one Great Leader decides.
Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy is the best gift to the people of Zimbabwe and other citizens of the African soil to find solutions to their own African problems.
Without doubt, Mbeki’s visions remind Africa and her citizenry of great crusaders of African Unity like Kwame Nkrumah, Robert Mugabe, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Julius Nyerere.
His record, while in office, made all Africa proud, even Zuma. That he continues with his political zeal, intellectual commitment and sheer hard work even after leaving office attests to his progressive Pan-Africanist credentials.
Mbeki envisions a united Africa. A united, all-African approach is clearly still needed if we are to emerge from the mess we are in. In the eternal words of Nkrumah; “If we are to remain free, if we are to enjoy the full benefits if Africa’s rich heritage, we must unite to plan our total defence and full exploration of our material and human means in the full interest of our people. To do it alone will limit our horizon, curtail our expectations and threaten our liberty.”
Mbeki’s stand on other African issues won wide support – with his vision of an African Renaissance.
Under his leadership South African troops went into Darfur and supported peace operations in Burundi. He backed efforts to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo and – less successfully – in Ivory Coast.
As leader of South Africa he has had his fair share of strengths and weaknesses.
He was widely criticised for his unexplained stand on HIV and Aids, when he supported alternative treatments rather than backing medical advice.
Mbeki’s strategic mind and intellectual capacity made him indispensable even to those who mistrusted him.
Mbeki’s way, says one of his close associates, “Is to absorb, take everything in, and then make a decision … always a compromise – no winners or losers. Everybody recognises everybody else’s interests.”