David Miliband – 2008 Speech on Africa


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, at the University of South Africa on 7th July 2008.

This is my first visit to South Africa as Foreign Secretary and I’m delighted to be here at the University of South Africa.  The purpose of my visit is simple: to recommit Britain to support the next steps in South Africa’s progress and to lay the foundations for government, business and civil society from our two countries to work together in the future.

For my generation, not just in Africa, but around the world, South Africa’s journey to freedom will always be an inspiration. A fortnight ago, the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birthday in London was an opportunity for the whole world to honour a man and a struggle that has come to represent the very best to which humanity can aspire.

Today, as I have already seen in Alexandra township, the challenges seem to multiply as the enemies of progress become more complex. The aspiration is simple. As Nelson Mandela once said “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.

That demand for respect and freedom is at the heart of the UK government’s approach to domestic and international policy. At home, we seek to spread opportunity, redistribute power, and strengthen security. Abroad, we seek to use all the UK’s assets to help every nation build the democratic accountability and human security on which true stability is based.

In my speech today, I want to talk about how we apply those values to a world where the balance of power within and between states is shifting.

Around the world, there is what I call ‘a civilian surge’.  Power is moving downwards, as people demand more rights, more protection, and more accountability. Whether it is monks protesting on the streets of Burma, Iranian bloggers voicing their opposition online, or voters in Pakistan defying terrorist attacks, people are showing they have the will and capacity to take back their freedom.

Power is shifting upwards too. Trade, climate change, and terrorism cannot be addressed by any single nation. So together, countries are working out shared rules and developing shared institutions, whether regional like the EU and AU, or global.

And power is moving across from West to East, as India and China become global players, both economically and politically. By 2020 it is estimated that Asia will account for 45% of global GDP and one third of global trade. Its military spending will have grown by a quarter and its energy demand by 60%.  No wonder some call it the ‘Asian century’.

Change always brings uncertainty and instability. But my view is that the power to do good in the world is greater than ever before. Rising literacy, the availability of mobile phones and the internet, and the spread of democracy, for all its faltering progress, promises to liberate. But the old ideologies of foreign policy – balance of power, non-interventionism – don’t address the real issues. Today, I want to sketch out how we might do so.

Power Shifting Downwards

Over the last thirty years, we have seen what some describe as the ‘third wave of democracy’. Across central and eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and much of Africa, democratic accountability has replaced authoritarianism.

Yet today, there is a pause in the democratic advance. In some countries, democratic advances have been reversed, in others, authoritarian regimes have been resilient to civilian protest.

Some argue that this proves that democracy is not suitable for countries with under-developed economies or deep tribal divisions. Or that democracy is merely a western aspiration.  It follows from both of these assertions that countries should not interfere in other countries’ struggles for democracy.

I disagree. I believe that democracy is a universal aspiration. 9 out of 10 Africans say they want to live in a democracy. Already this year we’ve seen in Kenya and Zimbabwe the determination of ordinary Africans to make their voice heard.   When people are fighting for democracy, democratic governments should support them. Why? Not just out of moral duty. Democracies are also more likely to respect human rights, more likely to support open trade, and less likely to go to war.

The question I believe we should focus on is not whether to support democracy, but what forms of democracy work in countries with weak states, ethnic divisions, and fragile economies.

Democracy is, in my view, often defined too narrowly.   Free and fair elections are the most basic demand. But elections without a functioning state, without buttressing institutions within civil society, are of limited value.

Rather than back individuals, we must support the institutions that provide checks and balances on the concentration of power.

In Tanzania, the Prime Minister resigned because of Parliamentary pressure over allegations of involvement in corruption deals.

In Sierra Leone, the electoral commission played a critical role in preventing corruption in the elections last summer. As a result,    people have confidence that the results are fair.

In the DRC, South Africa has been providing support for policing, the judiciary, and civil service. This is critical to ensuring the state is able to enforce the rule of law, raise tax, and spend money effectively and without corruption.

I’ll talk in more detail later about Zimbabwe, but let me just add here the example of Zimbabwe, where in the first round of the Presidential elections, monitors armed with satellite and mobile phones were able to publish results independently on the web. Bloggers and others ensured the world knew exactly what was going on, as the Mugabe government unleashed a campaign of violence and censorship against its opponents.

The common theme here it is that we need constitutions and institutions that disperse power, rather than concentrate it.  For example, in Kenya the winner-takes-all approach with highly centralised and strong presidential power is problematic in an ethnically divided country. Constitutional reform to share power more evenly is now being tested with the formation of a coalition government and a new office of prime minister.

The most difficult argument against promoting democracy is that democracy has to be home-grown. It is neither legitimate nor effective when promoted by outsiders.  However, I believe there are practical things that all governments can and must do to support democracy.

First, we can use our aid budgets to support accountability and help support state institutions and civil society.  Across Africa, the UK is investing in bodies such as the judiciary, Parliaments and Ombudsmen. For example, since 2001, our Department for International Development has provided nearly £4.5 million to the Malawian Parliament.  In Kenya’s Rift Valley, we are working through local NGOs to bring together diverse communities and help them resolve their differences peacefully. And in Liberia, thanks to the BBC World Service Trust, which my department helps fund, 70% of Liberians are now following Charles Taylor’s trial in The Hague.

Second, trade can be used not just to drive economic growth but also to nurture social and political modernisation. That is why the “Everything but Arms” system and the EPAs are so important, offering duty free, quota free access to EU markets. It is why Aid for Trade is a central plank of our development agenda, and it is why we are pushing hard – including within the EU – for a new global trade deal to give all developing countries better access to global markets.

Third, we can deploy robust diplomacy. Where the international community through the United Nations is united in its condemnation of a regime, where it is prepared to support that with targeted sanctions against and where it is prepared to play an active role in mediation, we can undermine the legitimacy and viability of authoritarian regimes.

Fourth, in countries suffering from conflict, troops may be needed to provide the security that is the platform for re-establishing democratic government. Where possible, in Africa, troops should come from African countries.

But, in some situations, international support will be needed. In Sierra Leone, seven years ago the UK intervened to defeat rebel forces and restore the democratically elected government of Tejan Kabbah. Since then our troops have continued to work alongside the country’s own armed forces, ensuring adequate security for last year’s successful elections.

Power Shifting Upwards

If states are increasingly under-pressure to become accountable downwards to citizens, they are also having to increasingly cooperate regionally.

This continent is scarred by problems that have spread across national borders.

A conflict that began with the Rwandan genocide engulfed the entire Great Lakes Region, and now the fighting in Darfur has contributed to instability in Chad. Over two and a half million Africans have fled their homelands, seeking refuge from war or famine.  Malaria still kills a child every thirty seconds. And of course this continent is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The basic public goods we used to be able to count on getting from the nation state, in particular, security and health, are hard to provide by nation-states alone.

It was such problems – economic depression, refugees and war – that spurred the creation of the European Union after the Second World War. Force gave way to politics. Common markets can replace military conflict with trade. And nations can come together to manage their problems collectively, rather than let them tear them apart.

I’m not suggesting this can be replicated everywhere, but Europe has shown that by pooling resources and sharing political power you can replace centuries of conflict with security and prosperity.

That is why I was interested to hear the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, trumpet the EU as a potential model for cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. And it is why, in my view, the African Union, launched here in South Africa, is one of the most important developments on this continent in recent years.

Having replaced the old OAU principle of “non-interference” in other states’ affairs with one of “non-indifference”, in the last seven years the AU has played a major role in restoring peace to Burundi, and deployed peacekeeping missions in both Sudan and Somalia while the rest of the world sat on the sidelines.  The AU’s Peer Review Mechanism is a groundbreaking initiative to encourage countries to seek support and advice from each other on governance.

I believe that the EU and the AU are natural partners.  I want to see them working together in three key areas:

The first is conflict.

In 2003 the EU deployment in Ituri, North-eastern Congo, helped to prevent the bloodbath that many were predicting and allowed the UN time to reinforce and reconfigure its peacekeeping mission. And of course 3,000 EU troops are today trying to stabilise eastern Chad.

But our aim for the longer-term is to build African capacity to prevent conflict and respond to crises, rather than try to fill gaps ourselves. This is why the EU is spending 300m euros over the next three years on all aspect of AU peace and security capacity.

And it is why we in the UK are supporting the creation of the African Stand-by force, which involves training 12,000 peacekeepers.

Over the next two decades, Africans should start to take over from the UN as the primary source for conflict prevention and resolution on this continent.

The second area is energy. With the world’s largest desert in the Sahara, Africa has huge solar power potential.

The proposed Grand Inga hydroelectric project on the Congo River in DRC could bring power for the first time to 500 million Africans.

Through the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Clean Development Mechanism the EU could help provide the financial transfers that Africa needs to make this a reality and to bypass the high-carbon stage of industrialisation.

If African countries work together to tap new sources, in twenty years many more states could be exporting rather than importing energy.

Higher global energy prices should be lifting Africans out of poverty, not pushing them further into desperation.  And for Europe this means a new, green energy supply right on its southern doorstep.

Third is development. Rising food prices are forcing Africans to cut back on education and healthcare, and sell off livestock in order to eat. The EU, as the world’s largest aid donor, and the world’s largest single market, can play a big role.

Malawi has shown that by subsidising fertilisers and agricultural inputs it is possible to double agricultural productivity in just twelve months.

For larger scale agriculture, we need more progress on reducing agricultural tariffs and subsidies.

If we can secure a global trade deal to liberalise global agricultural markets, in ten years time Africa could be not only feeding itself, but also exporting agricultural produce and helping to dampen food prices throughout the world.

Power Shifting Eastwards

When it comes to trade and development, Africa’s dominant relationship has historically been with Europe and America. But with the rise of China and India, and the resurgence of Russia, economic and political power is becoming more fragmented.

China is set to become Africa’s biggest trade partner, overtaking the US in 2010.  Japan is doubling its aid and Russia is committed to cancelling over $11bn of bilateral debt.

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are now the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, with 25,000 troops stations around the continent.

This is a major opportunity for Africa. Money flowing into Africa from the commodity boom far outstrips money from aid. Chinese investment in infrastructure – in the roads and railway networks that are the spine of any developing economy – has already matched that of the whole OECD combined.

In Mozambique for instance Chinese firms have helped repair 600km of road.

Low-priced Asian goods mean more Africans can afford mobile phones or motorbikes. India is working to narrow Africa’s “digital divide”, funding a Pan-African E-network to give more Africans access to the internet.

As African countries are being courted by investors around the world, they can become more demanding in their negotiations.

But the risk is that history repeats itself: a commodity boom enriches the few, stunts the diversification of the economy, and leads to poor governance, with rulers accountable to foreign interests, rather than to their people.

That is why I believe we need to forge a consensus on what I call ‘responsible sovereignty’.

In an interdependent world, all nations, both existing and emerging powers, have to act responsibility towards each other. They must show respect for democracy. They must support good governance. They must work to eradicate poverty, and tackle climate change.

These high standards also apply to companies and countries that wish to invest in Africa.  We need transparency about business relationships and about where the money from the commodities boom is going.

Unless states act responsibly, they can face a backlash. It may come from financial markets or it may come from the people. It is interesting that in the last Zambian election, the threat by one opposition candidate to expel all Chinese labourers – however much we might deplore it – spoke to a widespread feeling in the country that that some Chinese firms were not fully respecting local labour law.


And that brings me to Zimbabwe, where the power shifts I have described and the great challenges we face – come together.

Britain has long and historical links with Zimbabwe. I have never believed that the rights and wrongs of our history should prevent us from speaking clearly and frankly about the situation today. Robert Mugabe’s misrule does not invalidate the struggle for independence; our colonial history does not mean we cannot denounce what is wrong. The test, at all times, should be whether our commitment and action can help the people of Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe was once a liberator. His struggle for independence in the 1970s earned him a place in the history books.

But politicians in democracies must answer to the people not once, or twice but continually, in regular, free and fair elections.

Today, Robert Mugabe is refusing that most basic of tests. He has turned the weapons of the state against his own people.

On 29 March Zimbabwe’s people voted – in huge numbers – for change.  But the man who was once the people’s President, has shown that he is no longer listening.

Worse, he is so determined to cling on to power that he has unleashed a campaign of unchecked brutality against his own people. Three million Zimbabwean refugees have fled across the border to your country. I met some of them yesterday in the central Methodist Church in Johannesburg. I heard of the hunger, the violence and loss of life that had led them to flee their country. This is human suffering which need not and should not be happening.

In the UK, we have followed very closely the response of South Africans to this unfolding disaster.  The letter signed by 40 leading Africans, including eight prominent South Africans, on June 13th, expressing their concern about “intimidation, harassment and violence” was an early expression of alarm. We also noted:

– the dock-workers who refused to handle shipments of arms bound for Zimbabwe

– the church leaders, political parties, trade unionists and independent commentators who have  spoken out in the strongest terms; Archbishop Desmond Tutu said recently that Mugabe has “turned into a kind of Frankenstein for his people.”

Nelson Mandela himself who has spoken of “a tragic failure of leadership”.

And South Africa joined the international consensus at the UN on the 23rd June to say “to be legitimate, any government of Zimbabwe must take account of the interest of all its citizens…[and] that the results of the 29 March 2008 elections must be respected.”

Elsewhere in Africa, leading voices from Botswana and Tanzania to Kenya have added their voices to those urging Mr Mugabe to respect the democratic verdict of the Zimbabwean people. To step back from tragic failure.

In South Africa you see and pay everyday the consequences of economical and political meltdown in Zimbabwe. For the British government, the way out is clear:

There needs to be a transitional government led by those won the 29 March election.

The world community needs to unite at the UN this week not just to condemn violence but to initiate  sanctions on the regime and send a human rights envoy to Zimbabwe.

And the AU and UN need to appoint a representative to work with SADC on the way forward.

The Zimbabwe people need urgent aid to keep body and soul together.

We need to plan together for the day when Zimbabwe has a legitimate government and needs a broader package of international support.

I believe this is an agenda that is not a British agenda or a Western agenda but a humanitarian agenda around which the world can unite.

President Mbeki in 1998 called for an African Renaissance.

I want to echo that call today. For this is a continent with a long and vibrant history. It is a continent of great creativity and enormous diversity. But too many of its people still lives scarred by poverty and fear.

It will not be an easy journey, but it is a possible journey and one which will enable Africans to complete their liberation struggle. To complete their release from centuries of slavery and colonial domination.

That is the Renaissance which you, Africa’s new generation, deserve.