Towards a united continent

By Kizito Sikuka

“Our liberty is meaningless unless all Africans are free. Our brothers in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in Mozambique, in Angola, in South Africa cry out in anguish for our support and assistance.”

“We must urge on their behalf their peaceful accession to independence. We must align and identify ourselves with all aspects of their struggle.”

These words were said by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia on 25 May 1963 at the historic launch of the Organisation of African Union (OAU) – precursor to the African Union (AU.)

Selassie was the first President of the OAU, which was established to rid the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonisation and apartheid, as well as to promote unity and solidarity among African countries.

At its inception, the AU had a total of 32 independent countries, and today there are 55 sovereign states.

To celebrate the African narratives of the past, present and future, the continent has set aside 25 May of each year as Africa Day.

The day is an important part of the continent’s heritage and should be remembered with respect and vision.

The day traces its origin to the first-ever conference of independent African states hosted by the founding President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah on 15 April 1958.

The conference was the first Pan-African conference held on African soil, representing the collective expression of African resistance to colonialism, and was hosted by the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from a colonial power in March 1957.

The First Conference of Independent African States was attended by eight African leaders from Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan Tunisia and Ghana, who comprised the total representation for Africa at the United Nations.

Representatives of the National Liberation Front of Algeria and the Union of Cameroonian Peoples also attended.

The conference called for the founding of African Freedom Day, a day to “mark each year the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolise the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.”

Five years later – on 25 May 1963 – another historic meeting took place in Ethiopia, after many more countries had gained political independence.

Leaders of 32 independent African states met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on that historic day on 25 May 1963 to form the OAU, which is now the AU.

At this historic meeting, the date of Africa Freedom Day was changed from 15 April to 25 May and Africa Freedom Day was declared African Liberation Day, now celebrated across the continent as Africa Day.

The founding President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, who is a symbol of freedom in Africa was instrumental together with other African leaders in the formation of the OAU.

Nyerere played a critical role in supporting the liberation of the continent from colonial rule as Tanzania hosted the Liberation Committee of OAU that provided diplomatic support and materials to the liberation movements, who now govern several independent countries in Africa.

At his country’s own independence in December 1961, Nyerere was ready to delay the independence until the neighbouring countries of Kenya and Uganda could gain independence at the same time, but they reached this goal a few years later.

As the continent celebrates Africa Day, what does it mean for the present and future generations?

The commemoration provides a platform for remembering African history, from the rich pre-colonial development period through the dark days of slavery and colonialism right up to the liberation of southern Africa and the end of the apartheid system in South Africa in May 1994, more than 30 years after the formation of the OAU and its Liberation Committee.

It also presents an opportunity for Africa to take stock of its achievements and challenges to ensure that its aspirations are reality.

Africa’s longstanding vision is a united, prosperous and integrated continent. Significant progress is being made to achieve these goals. –

June 2017
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