Kigali, 7 May 2017

  • Excellency, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission
  • Honourable Ministers & Heads of Delegation
  • Permanent Representatives
  • African Union Commissioners
  • Members of the Pan-African Advisory Team
  • Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters

First of all, let me thank the African Union Commission Chairperson, who has very eloquently presented the key points and themes of the very reasons which we are here, and that makes my job much easier. I just may repeat some of the things, and we move forward from there.

It is an honour for us to welcome you to Rwanda, and thank you and your governments for responding to this invitation so decisively. This demonstrates the importance that we all attach to the strength of our Union.

As you know, the Heads of State took a decision last year to finance the African Union from our own resources. This move prompted renewed interest in completing the ongoing institutional reforms of the African Union, and in January the Assembly adopted a wide-ranging decision to make the African Union fit-for-purpose in this rapidly changing world.

The report I presented to the Assembly was not the result of a magical inspiration. Assisted by a Pan-African Advisory Team, the work consisted mainly of thinking through ideas that were already on the table.

As a result, it was very important to invite you here to go over these matters in detail, as we turn to the phase of implementation. In any complex endeavour, discussion is valuable in and of itself, and beyond that, these are issues with which you have been engaged for some time now.

The road ahead is long, and at times it may be even uncomfortable. But there is no easy switch to flip. It requires us to work together closely, because the African Union represents us all.

It is important that we don’t waste this opportunity to learn lessons and apply what we have learned. Wherever you look—North, South, East, West, Central—there is an unmistakable momentum for us to build on. The mood is right and Africans clearly want something to come out of this effort. They are waiting for leaders to take us in the right direction.

In that context, I wish to share a few points that may be useful as we move forward. Let me start, if I may, with the experience of my own country.

Of course, we are always happy to hear that visitors appreciate one thing or two that they see and experience in in our country. It means a lot to us, given where we have come from.

However, to the extent that Rwanda now may serve as a positive example in some way, it is related to having epitomised, at a certain moment, the absolute worst of which human beings are capable.

Whatever people might value here or elsewhere should be taken generally as examples of what is also possible, on the positive side. Even difficult things are doable. The Rwanda you find today is not a miracle. It is the result of lots of hard work, and it began by coming together as a nation and deciding that we were never going to go back to that darkness.

Having resolved to change our circumstances, two things became very important as we struggled to turn our aspirations for a new Rwanda into reality.

The first was to overcome the mindset of sitting back and waiting for rescue. Doing so involved becoming aware of the substantial means we already have, both in our soil and much more importantly in our people, our heads. With these resources, we found we had more than enough to get started.

The second was to cultivate a positive attitude in the face of adversity. If the mentality is to look for stumbling blocks, you will surely find lots of them, and the end result is that goals are never accomplished. So instead of finding reasons to do nothing, look for what should compel us to act.

The decisive factor here was therefore changing our mindset from dependence to ownership, and from “we can’t” to “we can”. That is an asset that cannot be imported. We all have it within us in all our countries.

It is no different with the job we have for Africa, which brings me to the task of implementing these two critically important decisions on financing and institutional reform.

To those who have problems or difficulties to raise: You may be right. There will always be more we can do, or do better, to refine and improve upon the details.

Let me take the example of the 0.2 per cent levy on eligible imports. This is first and foremost a choice to no longer be dependent on outsiders. That is the principle at stake. It’s really about the value we attach to being effective and self-reliant as an organisation and as a continent.

The levy is the formula we came up with to assure our independence as Africans. If there are any problems with it, let’s improve on the technicality instead of sacrificing the principle.

Regardless of the challenges we face in implementing these decisions, they are certainly better problems than the ones we faced before. Let’s work together on the details while standing firm on our principles.

I have a particular message to address to our brothers and sisters, starting with the Permanent Representatives Committee. First of all, it is important that you and all of us realise you have an essential role to play representing your governments day-to-day in Addis Ababa. As such the PRC should not underrate its relevance, nor should anyone else.

The main task is for us to bring the different levels together to work in complementarity, and we should not underrate the weight of synergy in achieving our objectives. In Addis Ababa we have the PRC; we also have the African Union Commission. Working together and supporting each other is the best way to be productive in terms of achieving the goals of our continent. We will be looking forward at all levels to work together to achieve this.

We talk often about the deliberations of Heads of State, and of course it is leaders’ responsibility collectively to make the final decisions. It’s their right as well. However, I want to emphasise that there are layers of communication and analysis that build on each other and we will always be influenced by input coming from the bottom up. If this is not the case, we should make it the case, again with careful attention to the principles underlying our mission.

In the time ahead, some immediate actions we can take are obvious, such as managing upcoming partnership summits, as well as our own African Union Summits, in accordance with the Reform Decision. I think the Chairperson has already talked sufficiently about this.

Fully supporting the Chairperson of the Commission and his staff to implement the decisions is another clear priority. We have entrusted them to do that, and we can’t be the ones to not support them.

I have another request for all of us. When we have returned home, let’s find how to communicate the essence of these reforms to our people and institutions. The Commission can’t do it alone, much less Heads of State. The task of engaging citizens involves all of us, each at our level.

Let me close with a couple of observations, in a different way.

First, this process is not about what each country can do on its own, but rather what we can all do together, for each other and with each other. If some of us get it right, while others lag behind, most likely we will all be stuck. We affect each other one way or another.

That is why cooperation is the key, as underlined by the name we gave our organisation: Union.

Secondly, whatever challenges lie ahead, it is the lives and well-being of our people, our own people, that is at stake. We are not among those who deal with Africa with professional detachment. It is our children, it’s our parents. It’s us.

On this note, if I may share with you again our own experience, as the leaders here present know, especially ministers who deal with this on a daily basis (and really it goes in line with what the Chairperson of the Commission talked about earlier, in a different way). We used to have problems with our partners who finance a lot of things here, and who have really contributed a lot to our development.

But whenever there was a slight problem, they would come to us and say, no, we’re not going to deal with you or finance through government or work with the leaders of this country. We are going to make our contribution directly to the people.

And we said, which people are you talking about? You mean the Rwandans? They say, yes, we don’t trust your leaders and structures, so we will go directly to the people. I tell them, these are not your people. Why do you think you mind our people and their interests more than we actually do? (I see the foreign minister of Benin smiling because one time he was working here as the representative of one of these big organisations.)

This relates really to what we are trying to deal with as ours, not things that belong to other people. So we had a couple of run-ins with our friends and we told them that when it comes to the Rwandan people, these are our people, and we have their mandate and their understanding. You have to deal with us or you can divert your generosity somewhere else.

And gradually it came to some understanding because we insisted and had reasons to insist. I think it’s high time we Africans take full responsibility for our affairs, and we’ve got to do it right. This cannot in any way justify any wrong things we might do. If we are doing anything wrong, we have got to attend to that as well and correct it. But we can’t allow the issue of external factors trying to interfere with our situation to cover up for our wrongs. We have got to do it the right way.

At the same time, if somebody made a mistake and did something wrong, that’s not an excuse for somebody to come from outside and say: I will do it for you. So we have to understand each other and understand our responsibilities as well, so we are not people detached from the interests of our own people.

In a sense our gathering today is just about looking each other in the eyes and saying, you know what, who have we been waiting for to do all these things for us? In the end, we have only been waiting for ourselves. It is painful to keep talking about the Africa we have today, when we are aware of where we could be, had we taken action long ago.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone would accept that this is our place, and I know none of you does either. So if this is not our place, let’s change it and be where we have to be. We cannot be given peace, prosperity, independence, and dignity by anyone else. It is we, we ourselves, to do it.

However, I think we are finally ready to move, from what I hear, from what I see, and from what I experience. I think there are many in this room who also see it that way.

So once again thank you for availing yourselves to contribute to this process. I look forward very much to our discussion.