Speaking against the backdrop of the attacks unleashed on Libya in a bid to unseat its deposed leader, the late Muammar Ghaddafi, Zuma said African countries should rise to defend their true sovereignty by freeing themselves from the apron strings of foreign countries so that they can formulate their own policies without imperialistic interference.
Zuma, who spoke in Abuja as the guest speaker at the Shehu Yar’Adua Anniversary lecture, called for what he called “African solutions to African problems.”
He and his Nigerian counterpart, President Goodluck Jonathan, also paid tributes to the late Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, a former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headqua-rters during the General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime and an influential politician in the aborted Third Republic who died in prison under the General Sani Abacha regime.
Zuma said South Africa and Nigeria should collaborate and play the leading role by pursuing a common economic interest that will change the course of events in Africa.
He warned that unless there was cohesive leadership in the quest for change on the continent, the emerging balance of power to enable Africa to define and play its roles would not be achieved.
He particularly lamented the roles foreign powers play in Africa, especially the economic policies foisted on African nations which engender their economic woes and called for closing of ranks to harness the budding economic gains.
Zuma criticised the bombing of Libya by foreign powers in the guise of protecting civilians and the killing of Ghaddafi without recourse to the rule of law, adding, “Such can only happen in Africa.”
He commended the sacrifice made by the late Musa Yar’Adua in instilling and entrenching democracy, especially for risking his life by standing for the principles of democracy.
He said Africa was better today “thanks to the sacrifices of heroes like General Yar’Adua who were ready to pay the supreme price for a better and prosperous Africa.
“Indeed, two years before his untimely death in 1997 in prison, he wrote, saying, ‘Don’t worry too much about me, it is the sacrifice that some of us must make for our country to be free.'”
He said there was some improvement both in the democratic and economic spheres of the continent, but expressed regrets at the violence arising from electoral disputes.
Zuma said: “That we still fight over the results of elections is one indication of the fragility of the progress we have made. Our democracy also requires strong, active and capable institutions which are complemented by independent constitutional bodies.
“Some may even go further to argue that our governments must reduce their dependence on overseas development assistance for fiscal support, in order for them to be truly independent and have control over their policy choices before they can stand on their own.
“The manner in which Libya was treated by some countries in the developed world remains a scar that will take many years to heal for Africa.
“The African Union Summit next month will have to deliberate very seriously on the Libyan question to help this country to return to normalcy.
“We must deliberate as well on how to ensure that we do not have a repeat of what happened in Libya.
“The Libyan situation is the latest challenge to the African continent. The challenge is how do we help Libyans build a democratic Libya.
“That is the challenge we face at the next summit. And we cannot do it alone; we need the Arab League to work with us. Those who bombed Libya, they do not have a solution now and the problem is not just Libya, it is all the countries that border Libya.
“Those countries for their own personal agenda hijacked a genuine democratic protest by the people of Libya to further regime change. Some of these countries however were looking for excuses to interfere in the continent.
“In the past, they used to say it was because of the absence of democracy. They are now confused about how to resolve the Libyan issue. Working with the Libyans, going forward, we need to work with all the affected regional bodies and the United Nations to assist Libyans.
“The Libyan situation is a reminder of how to entrench unity in Africa so we can deal with these challenges together in a focused manner to defend the place and authority of Africa and the AU on matters affecting the continent.”
According to him, looking back some years, the future of the continent looked bleak, but due to the vision and conviction of people like the late General Musa Yar’Adua who braced all odds, the continent is marching forward.
He thanked the people behind the Yar’Adua Foundation and its Board of Trustees for immortalising the late politician.
“Your Excellencies, dear brothers and sisters, the last tribute we can pay to General Yar’Adua is to not go back and rest on our efforts to strengthen democracy and the capability of our states to discharge their functions.
“General Yar’Adua was one of those leaders who represented the spirit and a deep-seated passion for justice and the rule of law in Africa. We have to promote true freedom and democracy in his memory.
“We have to promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty from our continent in his memory,” he added.
He said the philosophy of the late General Yar’Adua was proof that “we cannot have peace without development or development without peace; nor can we sustain democracy without economic prosperity in Africa.”
Jonathan, in his address, extolled the late General Yar’Adua for living according to his democratic convictions, which he lived and died for, and for displaying courage to give his best to the country.
Jonathan, represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, said the late Yar’Adua was worthy of honour for dying to ensure the speedy transformation of the country and for distinguishing himself as a soldier, farmer, publisher, industrialist and banker.
“I am particularly struck by his dedication to move Nigeria beyond the confines of what he once described as the ‘siege mentality’ which he felt had been the bane of Nigeria politics since 1914.
“It was this commitment to a Nigeria, founded on the principles of equity and unity that pressed this great man into politics. His political vision inspired Nigerians all over the country and he paid the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs and refusal to compromise on his dream,” he said.
Jonathan listed the efforts his administration was putting into transforming the country to include the building of power stations, restoration of critical infrastructure like the rail transportation, and electoral reforms that will reduce disputes among politicians.
Chairman of the occasion and former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, recalled the achievements of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, saying the last 10 years had seen it meeting its targets in respect of programmes aimed at immortalising the late General Yar’Adua.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar nearly ruffled feathers when he was asked to introduce Zuma as he recalled his travails as Obasanjo’s deputy which he likened to what Zuma experienced when he was deputy to former President Thabo Mbeki.