Salim Ahmed Salim: son of Africa

As honorary patron and president of the ISS Advisory Council since 1997, Salim Ahmed Salim has helped shape and guide the organisation.

Dr Salim Ahmed Salim can be described in many ways. A superb diplomat, internationalist, social democrat, distinguished leader, compassionate politician, freedom fighter, African statesman, and committed Pan-Africanist.

His political life began at 17 years old when he helped establish and lead a vibrant student group, the All Zanzibari National Student Organisation. He later became a leading figure within the Zanzibari liberation movement.

Through the party newspaper, which he edited, Salim was able to play a major role in galvanizing the Zanzibar population in its struggle for independence from British colonialism.

His international career took off just four years later when he was sent, by the Independent Zanzibar Nationalist government, to establish Zanzibar’s diplomatic office in Havana, Cuba as the Deputy Head of Mission. After the 1964 revolution that saw the overthrow of the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government, President Abeid Karume of Zanzibar appointed Salim as Zanzibar High Commissioner in Cairo at just 22 years of age.

Shortly thereafter, the United Republic of Tanzania was founded, with Karume as vice president and Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika as president of the new country. Nyerere then appointed Salim as the new Tanzanian ambassador in Cairo and he went on to serve as high commissioner and ambassador in New Delhi and Beijing before being sent to New York as the permanent representative of Tanzania’s delegation to the United Nations (UN) in 1970. He occupied this post for almost 10 years and played a prominent role in articulating Nyerere’s famous foreign policy of African liberation and struggle against oppression.

Salim played a strategic role in the battle for China’s seat in the UN

Salim served as the chairman of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation (or C-24) for eight consecutive years. He was also the president of the 34th Session of the General Assembly, president of the UN Security Council, and chairman of various UN special summits. Salim played a pivotal role within the Group of 77 and the Non-aligned Movement as well as the Africa Group. He helped forge key alliances to advocate for the cause of the developing world and place the development agenda firmly on the UN negotiating table.

In all these capacities, Salim contributed to the struggle for Africa’s liberation. As chairman of the UN decolonisation committee, he fought tirelessly to help achieve the defeat of Portuguese and Rhodesian settler colonialism in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe, and Zimbabwe. The triumph in these countries energised the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, and laid the foundation for the liberation of Namibia and South Africa.

Salim was responsible for key decisions including convening an International Conference on Sanctions against South Africa, which reinvigorated the campaign for disinvestment that delivered a fatal blow to apartheid. He played a central role in coordinating Africa’s challenge to the legitimacy of the South African government and its participation in the UN, which culminated in the epic battle on the rules of procedures in the General Assembly and South Africa’s eventual suspension. This remains a landmark political event in the UN’s history.

As prime minister of Tanzania, he played an important role in major constitutional reforms in Tanzania and Zanzibar

Salim played a strategic role in the battle for China’s seat in the UN. His part in this historic moment would however haunt him later when a veto apparently by the Ronald Reagan administration ended his candidacy as the Third World and majority UN member states’ candidate for the position of UN secretary general. Nevertheless, the election galvanised Africa, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 and gave confidence to China, then a fledgling power, to veto a western sponsored candidate.

In Tanzania, Salim remains a leading political figure and is widely known as a trusted protégé of Nyerere and a symbol of Nyerere’s vision, values and principled leadership. Salim served in Nyerere’s cabinet first as foreign minister from 1981 and later as prime minister from 1984-85. As prime minister, Salim played an important role in major constitutional reforms both in Tanzania and Zanzibar. These processes saw the political space in Tanzania opening up and the introduction of human rights values and the principles of separation of powers in both constitutions.

Under Tanzania’s second president, Sheikh Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Salim served as minister of defence and national service, and deputy prime minister. He was instrumental in the reform of the army and coordinated its role in the frontline liberation struggles especially during the war between the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) government and Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) rebels. Tanzania had provided military, logistical and diplomatic support to the FRELIMO government.

In 1989 Salimtook up the position ofsecretary general of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Africa was in flux, with the end of the Cold War robbing the continent of its relevance as a proxy for super power ideological wars and conflicts. The rise of democracy in the former Eastern Bloc coincided with similar fervor for multi-party politics in Africa. In addition, the independence of Namibia and start of negotiations in South Africa signaled the completion of the continent’s liberation from colonialism and apartheid. The implications for Africa were far-reaching.

He established the ‘responsibility to protect’ in Africa despite the fact that it went against some of the OAU’s founding principles

The end of the Cold War weakened many regimes in Africa and provided room for the resurgence of internal conflict. The demand for political freedoms placed Africa on a new path, and created new problems for the OAU. In response, Salim began a process of in-depth reviews of Africa’s challenges and the responses that would be required. The 1990 Declaration on Fundamental Changes and Africa’s Response was a road map for a continental strategy to address those challenges.

Ending conflicts, fostering democracy, promoting regional economic integration and deepening and expanding African unity, were the key objectives of that declaration. Salim was able to establish the new principle of the responsibility to protect within the African context despite the fact that it went against the OAU’s founding principles of non-interference in states’ internal affairs and an unwillingness to compromise member states’ sovereignty.

His vision of a continent that could resolve its conflicts, find common ground after decolonisation and the defeat of apartheid, embrace democracy, and foster continental integration for development has matured. Today the OAU’s successor, the African Union (AU), is firmly engaged with the democratisation process and its role is largely taken for granted.

After leaving the OAU, Salim settled into the role of national, African and world statesman, helping to resolve conflicts in Darfur and leading numerous election observer missions – a role that he complemented through his membership of the AU’s Panel of the Wise. Salim was elected the Chairman of the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation soon after he returned to Tanzania and serves on numerous boards and councils such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Salim served first as honorary patron and then as president of the Advisory Council of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) since March 1997. In this role he has guided and helped to shape the ISS over the past 17 years. On 2 December 2014 the ISS, in collaboration with the AU, ACCORD, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation will pay tribute to a wise man, freedom fighter and defender of peace and justice.

This article is an extract from the archives of Salim Ahmed Salim's office

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