Key Speeches & Articles

Sustained Development, Democracy, and Peace in Africa

By Wangari Maathai
Gwangju, South Korea
June 16, 2006

Japan, February 2005. Photo: Mainichi Corporation.Your Excellencies President Kim Dae-Jung and former President Mikhail Gorbachev

Fellow Nobel Laureates, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me to thank you very much for the honour and privilege extended to me when I was invited to this summit, which commemorates the May 18 Democratic Uprising. I am very grateful for the warm welcome and hospitality we have enjoyed since we arrived in South Korea. We thank the organising committee led by the Government of Gwangju City, the Kim Dae-Jung Presidential Library and Museum, the Government offices that worked closely with them as well as the Korean Democracy Foundation, and the Nobel Laureates Follow up Fund, in Norway. 

We value the opportunity to participate at the commemorations of the May 18 Democratic Movement and honour and respect those who lost their lives in search of democracy. May all the citizens of the Korean peninsular realise the dream for which so many lives were lost when the military opened fire on defenseless citizens, killing about 150 and injuring more than a thousand. 

We regret that even as we continue to preach democracy and peace some of the Laureates like Madame Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, remains a prisoner in her country and the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was not facilitated with a Visa to attend this Laureate Summit. We appeal to their governments for their freedom of movement. 

We commend the leadership of the former President Kim Dae-Jung for the progress that continues to be made to realise democratic governance, peace, and reunification of the two Koreas. The South-North summit of June 15th 2000 was a great milestone—for as long as the leaders of the North and South Korea continue to hold dialogue and seek understanding, there is hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues that divide the two peoples. Dialogue, reconciliation, and forgiveness will be the only option. 

As ambassadors of peace, the Laureates have come to celebrate with the people of Gwangju in particular and the entire Korean people in general. We have come to encourage you, to commend you for your patience and persistence, and to bring goodwill as you continue the search for democracy and peace in the Peninsular.

Allow me to remind your excellencies that when the Norwegian Nobel Committee honoured me with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 it intended to send a new and historic message to the world: to rethink peace and security. It wanted to challenge the world to discover the close linkage between good governance, sustainable management of resources, and peace. In managing our resources, we need to realise that they are limited and need to be managed more sustainably, responsibly, and accountably. It is also important that the resources be shared more equitably both at the commemorations of the May 18 Democratic Movement national but also at the global level. 

Sustainable management of the resources is only possible if we practice good governance, which calls for respect for the rule of law, respect for human rights, a willingness to give space and a voice to the weak and the more vulnerable in our societies; that we respect the voice of the minority, even while accepting the decision of the majority, and respect diversity. Good governance seeks justice and equity for all irrespective of race, religion, gender, and any other parameters, which man uses to discriminate and exclude. Good governance is indeed inclusive and seeks participatory democracy.

We call for the strengthening of institutions, such as the United Nations and its many organs to restrain strong nations so that they do not walk all over the weak ones. Security of nations at the global level is as important as security of individuals within the national boundaries. And for individuals, as well for the nations, if they are not secure, no one is secure. This is true whether the threat comes from nuclear power or an AK-47.

When we manage our resources sustainably and practice good governance we deliberately and consciously promote cultures of peace, which include the willingness to dialogue and make genuine efforts for healing and reconciliation, especially where there has been misunderstanding, lost of trust, and even conflict. Whenever we fail to nurture these three themes, conflict becomes inevitable. 

I come from a continent that has known many conflicts for a long time. Many of them are glaringly due to bad governance, unwillingness to share resources more equitably, selfishness, and a failure to promote cultures of peace. Leaders fail to care enough for the ordinary citizens and pre-occupy themselves with matters that concern them and let their people down.

As I speak we continue to have problems in the Darfur region of Sudan, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and many other corners of the African continent. All of the conflicts can be traced to failure in governance, responsible and accountable management of resources, and the failure to cultivate cultures of peace, especially engaging in dialogue and reconciliation. 

Indeed all over the world, this is often the root cause of conflicts. Inequities, both national and international, are largely responsible for poverty and all its manifestations. There is hardly any conflict in the world that is an exception. Below the thin layer of racial and ethnic chauvinism, religion, and politics, the real reason for many conflicts is the struggle for the access and control of the limited resources on our planet.

A good number of African leaders have recognised the need for good governance in Africa. This is because, despite all the resources in Africa, development continues to lag behind due to lack of peace and sustainable management of resources. Corruption and mismanagement of resources frustrates development and exacerbates poverty. At the African Union leaders are encouraging each other to deliberately and consciously promote good governance and peace and give development a chance. Challenges are many and varied, but what is encouraging is the commitment demonstrated by leaders, now willing to shun conflict and violence through peaceful resolutions. More of them are willing to face the fact that no development will take place in a state of conflict and mismanagement of state affairs.

As part of this drive in Africa, I have been invited by the Heads of States in the Central African sub-region to be a Goodwill Ambassador for the Congo Forest Ecosystem. This is not only important to Africa but to the whole world especially with respect to the climate change. The forest is the second largest: only second to the Amazon forest. Both forests, and indeed other forests of the world, are very important, as they serve as major carbon sinks.

I have also been requested by the African Union to preside over the mobilisation of the African Civil Society in order to form a forum, which will advise the Union on how to manage African affairs more justly and responsibly. We all know that weak civil societies are unable to hold their leaders responsible and accountable. Therefore, strengthening civil society would also strengthen the democratisation process. A strong civil society can also be an important vehicle for delivery of services like health.

One of the difficult issues we face in sustainable development is consumerism, especially in the rich industrialised countries. In this case technological advancement can assist with the campaign to reduce, reuse, and recycle resources (the 3Rs). Recently while visiting Japan, I learned of the wonderful concept of mottainai, which not only calls for the practicing of the 3Rs, but also teaches us to be grateful, to not waste, and to be appreciative. This old Buddhist teaching is in complete agreement with the concept of sustainability. Indeed, I was very impressed to learn that by using technology many new items were being made from recycled materials like plastic waste, from which companies could make beautiful furoshiki.

In the area of energy, use of hybrid cars contributes to the reduction of the consumption of fossil fuels. Countries that generate much waste must assume responsibility and take action against threats like climate change. The Green Belt Movement is partnering with some organisations by planting trees in our region to offset some carbon and contribute towards the reduction of the greenhouse gases.

As we planted a tree today at the memorial grounds for the victims of the May 18 Democratic Uprising in 1980, I was very aware of the importance of that symbolism. For trees are symbols of peace and hope. We know that the people of the Korean peninsular have hope. May Peace Prevail.

Thank you.