Africa must recapture the intellectual space to define its future, especially if it aims to leave its mark on the twenty-first century, former President Thabo Mbeki said on Thursday.
"We must give ourselves the time and space that the African masses need to determine the future of our continent," he said at the inaugural Thabo Mbeki lecture entitled "Investing in Thought Leaders for Africa's Renewal", at Unisa in Pretoria.
"The continent has to take the necessary steps to ensure that it occupies its rightful place within the global community."
In doing this, Africans must at all times be conscious of the "glorious history" that was made and continued to be made, he said.
The "provocative" question about whether Africa could "claim" the century first arose in a report published by the World Bank ten years ago to mark the close of the twentieth century.
He related to the audience how he and his delegation defeated the "pernicious" view previously held by the European Union that Africa was but a "hapless appendage" to the rest of humanity, condemned to survival as an object of pity and charity.
"Over the years, Africa has exported significant numbers of qualified professionals to the developed world who are contributing in important ways to the further socioeconomic development of these countries."
Turning to illegal immigration, Mbeki said that the longer Africa remained mired in poverty, the longer many Africans would try to enter and stay in Europe, regardless of any steps taken against them.
"Even if some Europeans sustain the view that they do not need a strategic perspective relating to Africa, the illegal African migration they consider to be a threat obliges them to treat Africa as a partner of one kind or another."
He said that the Group of Eight's (G8's) adoption of the African Action Plan in 2002 had fallen by a wayside as the G8 was replaced by the Group of 20 (G20). It constituted the only comprehensive framework defining equitable partnerships between Africa and the developing countries, he said.
"It [the G20] therefore does not have an integrated programme to respond to Africa's development challenges."
There was not a single empty seat in the university's Great Hall. Among those in attendance where former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Haiti's former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and members of the judiciary.
Practical steps that Mbeki suggested should be taken to achieve Africa's renewal were nurturing the "native intellectual" committed to the transformation of Africa, developing capacity in the state and achieving African cohesion.
Mbeki, who was warmly received, used most of his lecture to highlight the importance of being aware of the past and its relevance to establishing African identity.
He spoke of the World Cup being "Africa's journey of hope".
"Hope that in time, Africans will arrive at a future when their continent will be free of wars, refugees, and displaced people, tyranny, ethnic and religious divisions."