Africa Day: A Reflection On African Unity And Solidarity 48 Years Later
Apart from a Michael Essien’s Africa 11 versus World 11 charity soccer game held in Accra, Ghana to promote peace in Africa, the official celebration at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa and similar functions in a number of African states, the 48th Anniversary of Africa Day came and went without much interest and notice by many Africans in the African continent and diaspora. The day also attracted limited attention of the international community and did not receive much coverage by the global media which focused on other issues and concerns such as President Obama’s visit to the United Kingdom.
This limited attention elicited by Africa Day – a day which should ideally attract as much attention and publicity as July 4, the Independence Day does for many Americans – raises several questions and concerns about the meaning, significance and relevance of this day, the role of Africa in current global affairs and how Africans in general perceive this day, their continent and their role in its development and envisaged future.
Africa Day marks the historic moment and occasion that took place on May 25, 1963 when African Heads of States and Government meeting in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, adopted the OAU Charter in order to achieve a better life for African people in economic, political, social and cultural terms through the promotion of unity and solidarity amongst African states and people and the eradication of all forms of colonialism. This, together with the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), was an important step for a region and peoples emerging from colonialism, where many African nations and people were still struggling for their freedom against foreign domination and where their ethnic, national, religious and linguistic differences had been used for their subjugation – the divide and rule strategists.
The OAU, without any doubt, has played an important role in the decolonization process since its establishment and has supported liberation struggles in countries like Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and South Africa amongst many others. The institution of a regional human rights system through the adoption of the 1981 African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and its implementing and monitoring body, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights was another achievement.
However, despite several achievements of the OAU, the advancement of democracy, good governance and the promotion and protection of human rights have been a major challenge for the organization and the continent has been marred and marked by coups after coups, armed conflict, poverty, underdevelopment, disease, corruption and poor leadership. The decolonization process for many African people, as a result, has largely been regarded as a process where foreign oppressors have simply been replaced by local ones who have generally behaved no differently from the departed colonialists and even worse in some instances. And the looting, mismanagement and misuse of the continent’s resources following the decolonization process have largely continued unabated with ethnic and religious differences of African people exploited with devastating impact and consequences.
These challenges led to pessimism and cynicism amongst many African people and contributed to their lack of enthusiasm and excitement for Africa Day and its historical significance and the importance of its underlying values and principles for Africa’s development. It is indeed difficult for any people to celebrate this day when corruption, poverty, conflict and lack of respect for human rights continue to take their toll on them.
Many African peoples are not even fully appreciative of this day and its significance in advancing Africa’s development and interests and the day has largely become another wining and dining event for African elites with a few cultural activities and soccer matches for the masses. This is partly due to the failure by many African governments to avail necessary efforts and resources in order to galvanize African people behind the ideals and objectives envisaged in the OAU Charter largely because of their aversion for meaningful and popular participatory democracy and fear of unity and solidarity of ordinary African peoples and the threat that presents to their positions, privileges and power.
While the OAU has been replaced by the African Union (AU) and the OAU Charter by the Constitutive Act of the African Union in order to address weaknesses of the regional system and help the continent meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, the old problems of underdevelopment, lack of democracy, conflict, corruption still exist and will do so for some time even though there are already positive changes taking place – such as the intolerance and rejection of undemocratic changes of government that has seen the suspension of states like Madagascar from the AU and declarations and pronouncements against corruption. Incidents of xenophobic attacks as seen in South Africa in 2008, religious conflicts between Christians and Moslems in Nigeria and Egypt, ethnic violence in Sudan and other places including recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire are an indication of the work that still needs to be done in this regard by the AU.
It is therefore unfortunate and a terrible indictment that the 48th anniversary of Africa Day – African unity and solidarity – other than passing almost unnoticed, was marked by continuing incidents of armed conflict as in Sudan and Libya, death and suffering of millions of African due to preventable diseases, lack of adequate food, water, and health care, xenophobic attacks in parts of South Africa and elsewhere in the continent and lack of democratic governance in many parts of the continent such as Swaziland and Madagascar. It is equally sad for a continent that is so endowed with mineral resources, fertile soils and all other elements that would have made it one of the richest and prosperous, is today 48 years after the adoption of the OAU Charter, is still one of the most impoverished, under-developed, corrupt, undemocratic and conflict ridden regions in the world today.
The limited interest in Africa Day and the challenges the continent still faces highlight the need for greater efforts by African people to promote the ideals of African unity and solidarity without which true independence and economic, social, political and cultural advancement of Africa and its people will not materialize. Warning against African disunity and its consequences, Kwame Nkrumah in his address to the National Conference of African Freedom Fighter on June 4, 1962 said:
As I see it, our greatest danger stems from disunity and the inability to see that the realization of our hopes and aspirations, the realization of our objective of total African independence, and of our future progress and prosperity, is inextricably bound up with the necessity to unify our policy and actions in connection with the continuing struggle for independence and the greater task of economic and social reconstruction beyond it. He went on further to say:
“It is our unity that the imperialist agencies are trying by every means to obstruct and sever. It is the idea of African unity they fear most. ……So long as we remain disunited, so long as we remain balkanized whether regionally or in separate national units, we shall be at the mercy of imperialism and neo-colonialism.”
At the turn of the twenty-first century, heads of States and Governments in adopting the UN Millennium Declaration in New York in September 2000 made a special commitment to help African meets its challenges of development, poverty, conflict, human rights, good governance and democracy and to ensure that the continent takes its rightful role in global affairs. This desire will not materialize until there is greater unity and solidarity amongst African people and their states.
What the past decades since the adoption of the OAU Charter in 1963 have clearly indicated is that the attainment of meaningful and significant African unity and solidarity will not happen at the instance of African governments and leaders by themselves. African people in their different walks of life, occupation and activity need to get more involved in the promotion and advancement of African unity and solidarity and not leave this important task to African governments, African leaders and the international community.
African people in their walks of life should work towards a day when Africa Day will be celebrated for the meaningful progress the continent would have made in terms of democracy, human rights, peace and development and for its role in global affairs. That day is real and achievable through unity and solidarity of African people and African descendants and through their demand and push for better governance and usage of Africa’s immense natural resources.
Political developments and changes that took place in North Africa at the beginning of the year in Tunisia and Egypt – referred to as the Arab Spring – have, notwithstanding several challenges and setbacks, shown that unity and solidarity of African people can bring about change.
What happens in any part of the African continent and what affects the continent whether in the United Nations or the AU should, in the spirit of African unity and solidarity and the pursuit of its underlying ideals and objectives, be a concern of all African people. This is the only way in which Africa as envisioned by the likes of Nkrumah can really be independent and attain the desired economic, political and social development necessary to promote the welfare and well-being of African people – a commitment and loyalty to the continent that transcends ethnic, religious and national differences and a commitment that helped to attain political freedom for South Africans and that could help the people of Zimbabwe, Swaziland and other parts of the continent to overcome their political and economic challenges and that could end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, gender discrimination and conflict and demand good governance and good leadership.
By Tseliso Thipanyane