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Mo Ibrahim speaks on building social cohesion at the 11th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in South Africa

Mo Ibrahim delivered the 11th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of South Africa in Pretoria on 17 August 2013. The theme for this year’s lecture was Building Social Cohesion – a call for all South Africans to work towards a united, cohesive, democratic and national society.

Mo Ibrahim’s address focused on the need for social cohesion – not only in South Africa, but also throughout the continent’s 54 nations. The message was clear: Africa expects more from South Africa. Mo Ibrahim said that there is a serious deficit of leadership in Africa and he asked South Africa to step up its efforts to become an example for the rest of the continent. South Africa ranked number five in terms of governance in the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2012 Ibrahim Index of African Governance. However, Mo Ibrahim said that the gap between the rich and the poor is still stark:

South Africa is the least equitable country in the whole world, and it’s only legitimate for us to ask after 20 years of independence, why is that? It’s a challenge our friends in South Africa need to face up to.

Youth and employment

The importance of Africa’s youth featured strongly in Mo’s address. “The youth is the largest constituency in Africa,” he said. “Half of Africa’s population is below 19 years old. This can be wonderful news for us, or a major problem. It is the reverse trend of what we are seeing in China, Japan and Europe, where the number of young people is very low. Can Africa dream of being the future factory of the world with China running out of workers? What a prospect for us.”

Mo Ibrahim called for African leaders to address the issue of education to enable young people to fulfill their potential: “What are we preparing (young people) for?” he asked. “Are we producing the kind of people that future jobs will require? I am not sure….This is the mother of all social cohesion problems that we are about to face. Who is listening to them? They understand the future better than us. Have we made space for them to join us in making decisions about the future?”

A united Africa?

On the need for African integration, Mo Ibrahim stated that only 11% of trade in Africa takes place between its 54 states. He argued that Africa must do much more to ease travelling between countries and to strengthen financial systems.

Women in Africa

“We cannot talk about social cohesion without talking about women, the pillar of the African economy. Seventy percent of the population is dependent on the land, and women do agriculture, not men,” Mo Ibrahim pointed out. Violent crimes committed against women, he said, represent a serious threat to the African economy. “One cannot afford to lose this vital production element of society essential for social cohesion,” he said.

He commended the South African government for being one of the most progressive in the world in terms of female representation in leadership, but pointed out that this is not reflected in society: “Cultural issues are difficult to face and it takes everyone in society to address them.”

South Africa matters

In conclusion, Mo Ibrahim called on South Africa to live up to its promise and to show the type of leadership that is fitting of the most advanced economy on the continent. “South Africa really matters to us Africans,” he said. “We look up to you. We look with admiration at the wonderful struggle for freedom, your founding fathers, especially Nelson Mandela, who is an African icon.” “We expect a lot from you, and we will not refrain from being critical if you waver or misbehave.” “We’re looking for a true engagement to ensure a coherent voice for Africa on climate change, transparency, tax evasion, the illicit transfer of funds. These are issues in Africa where we need your strong voice.”