Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai challenged Africa's leaders and their people on Tuesday to stand up to the challenges facing the world's poorest continent -- not wait for handouts.
Maathai spoke at an annual lecture in honor of former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who turned 87 on Monday.
Maathai expressed concern about African leaders who govern in their own interests and not those of their people. She urged them to invest in education and technical skills for their countries, manage their resources sustainably, promote peace and security, and strengthen their civil societies.
"Friends and leaders of Africa ... should strive to empower Africa and not only give her alms," Maathai said.
Maathai was joined on stage by fellow Nobel Laureate and former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Bill Clinton, who have delivered previous lectures.
"Here is the birthday boy -- 87 years young," Tutu said as a frail-looking Mandela -- also a Nobel winner -- came on stage supported by his wife, Graca Machel. Tutu then led a theater full of political, business and other leaders in singing Happy Birthday as Mandela blew out the candles on a giant cake.
Maathai said she was encouraged by the recent meeting of leaders of the Group of Eight richest countries, who agreed to cancel the debts of some of the poorest countries and pledged to double aid to Africa by 2010. And she noted their reluctance to do more, particularly for countries plagued by corrupt leaders and a poor human-rights record. But she said it is not the guilty who pay the price.
"It is the ordinary citizens who suffer when debts are not canceled, when financial assistance is not forthcoming or when trade barriers are raised," she said.
Clinton said the decisions taken at the G8 summit in Scotland were "the beginning, not the end of the discussion." Decisions still have to be made about how the money is going to be spent and by whom.
"The whole thing should be toward empowerment so that when you are finished everybody who is touched by these benefits will be able to make their own way," he said.