‘Africa, rise up and walk’

20 July 2005

Nobel Peace prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai has challenged Africa to “rise up and walk,” saying the continent needs to be empowered to help itself.

The 2004 Nobel laureate was speaking at the third annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg on Tuesday, a day after Mandela’s 87th birthday.

The Kenyan environmentalist proposed a two-pronged approach to the solution of African problems.

Debt write-off
Debt relief, such as the recent write-off agreed to at the G8 Summit in Scotland was important, Maathai said, but the other part of the solution lay within Africa.

The G8 leaders agreed to cancel the debts of many of Africa’s poorest countries, and to double aid to the continent by 2010.

Maathai said that agreements such as this one were encouraging, but noted the concerns of the G8 leaders regarding corruption on the continent.

“There are some leaders who are corrupt, who siphon money into their accounts. It is difficult not to dismiss the concerns of G8 leaders.

“But it is important to realise that those who are guilty do not suffer,” she said. “It is the poor who suffer. Ordinary citizens will continue to suffer when debt is not cancelled.”

Maathai said that while debt relief and the lifting of trade barriers were important, Africa needed to be empowered.

‘Rise up and walk’
Using the example of a Biblical parable about a beggar who was miraculously cured, she pointed out that, “It was the beggar that had to stand up and do the walking. He was ready for it and his life changed for the better.

“Friends and leaders of Africa should strive to empower her and not just give her alms,” Maathai said.

She was addressing a panel that included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US president Bill Clinton, who have each delivered previous Nelson Mandela lectures.

Responding to Maathai, Tutu suggested that Africa’s future lay in the hands of women.

“Women need to say to men: Look here, we have given you a helluva long time and look at the mess you’ve made. Women, how about a revolution,” Tutu said.

He also led the audience of prominent local businessmen, politicians and other dignitaries in a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” in honour of “birthday boy” Mandela, who described himself as “87 years young.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter