|SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE GOVERNMENT AT THE AU SUMMIT IN MALABO
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government
Your Excellency, Chairperson of the African Union Commission
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank the African Union—and, in particular, Mauritania as holder of the presidency and Equatorial Guinea as our host today—for inviting me to take part in this Summit. It is an honour for me to be able to address the leaders of Africa and to share this floor with, among others, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the Palestinian Authority.
The economic crisis in Europe has brought old certainties into question. When the storm was raging, it was hard to believe that good weather was to follow. One of the things that allowed us to begin to glimpse recovery was the upward pull of Africa: while we in Europe battled recession, our neighbours to the south continued to grow at above five per cent.
We Europeans are not used to this image. In Europe it is customary to speak of Africa’s problems. I do not believe that “Africa’s problems” exist. Problems exist, without adjectives or nationalities, and are common to all countries. We all endure them, to a greater or lesser extent, and, as with the storm, we eventually put them behind us if we are able to keep to a steady course. The work of a leader is precisely to set that course and stick to it when surrounded by pessimists. What is difficult, when things go to pieces, is to recognise that within the present evil lies the seed of future well-being. We are the masters of our own fate.
In 1987, on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to ending armed conflict in Central America, Oscar Arias spoke of a continent devastated by poverty, injustice, war and dictatorships. But he reminded us that, even though we cannot change the past, the future is up to us. That dreamed-of future is already the present in Latin America. Today democracy reigns supreme, the economy is growing and the sound of guns is fading away. Reality has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, although few were optimistic in the 1980s.
Spainwas optimistic. And if Spain is now beginning to leave the crisis behind, this is largely due to the robustness of those businesses that managed to lay down roots on both sides of the Atlantic. Spanish companies have invested over 126 billion euros in Latin America since 1980, behind only the United States.
It is once again time to be optimistic, but this time Spain’s optimism does not have to cross an ocean. Its destination is much closer to home: Africa. Our trade with Africa, both imports and exports, has grown by 250% over the last ten years and now exceeds our trade with Latin America. Each year we buy African products totalling over 28 billion euros, almost twice as much as we export to the continent.
Our investment in the continent is still small, but it has not stopped growing, even during the crisis. It is only natural that Spain, as the closest European country to Africa, should have a much more intense relationship with the continent than at present. We want to invest in Africa, just like we did in Latin America back in the day. Spain has leading companies in a range of sectors—including the food and agriculture, infrastructure and energy industries—that are able to play a major role.Spain’s relationship with Africa is one of equals. Our agenda can be summed up in a single sentence: the more prosperous Africa is, the more prosperous Spain will be.
There are many paths towards a prosperous, open and inclusive society, and each country must choose its own. No-one can give anyone else lessons. I believe that there are three cardinal points we all share:
Firstly, nations need peace and security. Without these, no progress is possible. The African Union has demonstrated the continent’s unanimous refusal to tolerate violence and extremism in Mali, the Central African Republic or Somalia. Whenever an African Union soldier in one of these countries has turned his head, he has found a Spanish soldier by his side, because if one of us does not know what it is to live in peace, none of us are truly living in peace.
Spain has proven its commitment to peace and security through its deeds. That is why we have put ourselves forward to be a member of the United Nations Security Council in 2015 and 2016. If Spain is chosen, I can assure you that, in those two years, Africa will not have three seats on the Security Council, but four.
The second cardinal point that must guide our steps is democracy. Each nation’s future should be decided by those called on to build it through their work. Institutions that are sound, transparent and open to citizens produce inclusive societies in which inequality fades away and the incredible creative potential of human beings can expand unchecked. It is a shared project to which all citizens can contribute, regardless of race, gender, ideology or creed, and with full respect for human rights.
Thirdly, we need to create conditions in which businesses and workers can develop a vibrant economy. All citizens should have the opportunity to carry out their life projects, form a family and get ahead, or set up a new company and create jobs. Where there is a strong institutional framework, legal certainty and market freedom, a country’s own resources are mobilised and can be used to benefit the well-being of its citizens. Africa is immensely rich in natural resources, but its main resource is its people. In an aging world, it is the continent with the planet’s youngest population. If I could only state one of the reasons why the future is going to be African, that alone would be enough. The challenge is to provide young Africans with the opportunity to surprise the world with their creativity, energy and work.
The combination of these three elements—peace, democracy and the opening-up of the economy—is how Africa managed to continue to grow robustly while the crisis was battering the rest of the world.
Other western Heads of State and Government have addressed this assembly before me. The majority promised to help Africa and offered funds and programmes. I am not here to offer anything because I don’t have anything to offer that the Africans cannot give themselves. No: I am here to ask you to count on Spain as a partner in Africa’s growth. I am here to ask for more trade and investment between our countries. I am here to reiterate that Spain wants to take part in the African renaissance.
Six months ago we came together to bid farewell to a great African leader, Nelson Mandela. I do not aspire to find a better description of Africa’s future than that coined by Madiba himself, so I will merely repeat it:
“The normal condition for human existence is democracy, justice, peace, non-racism, non-sexism, prosperity for everybody, a healthy environment and equality and solidarity among the peoples”.
Spain believes in Africa’s present and future and is determined to follow through.
Thank you very much.