Ahead May 25th Commemoration of founding of OAU
By Vicky Bricks
There is growing consensus that ‘Africa Day’ is indeed a most memorable day and it should be celebrated and promoted by Africans the world over.
Formerly called “African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day,”, it is an annual commemoration of the formation of the first supra-national platform to spring up on the continent itself, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on the 25th day of May 1963.
To get to that point, the First Congress of Independent African States had been held in Accra, Ghana on 15 April 1958. It was convened by leading pan-Africanist and pioneering Prime Minister of modern Ghana, ‘Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’, and was attended by about all of the then Independent African states. They included Ethiopia, Egypt, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia. As was to be expected, apartheid South Africa was excluded.
The conference was most historic and deliberated on the onward progress of the liberation movements on the Africa continent in addition to symbolizing the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from all vestiges of foreign domination and exploitation. Although the precursor to all of these activities, the Pan-Africanist Congresses that had been convened by the likes of Marcus Garvey had been working towards similar goals since its foundation in 1900, this was the first time such a meeting was taking place on African soil. Also most significant at that meeting, was the fact that the first African Freedom Day was to be formally celebrated.
This epoch-making event was followed up five years later on 25 May 1963, when representatives of thirty African nations met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in another landmark session that was hosted by the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. At the meeting, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded, with the initial aim set to encourage the decolonization of notably yet colonised states like Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. The organization pledged to support the efforts being undertaken by freedom fighters in this regard, and remove military access to colonial nations. Also, a charter was set out which sought to improve the living standards of citizens across member states. In a very dramatic outburst at the summit, Selassie had toasted: “May this convention of union last 1,000 years!”
Part of the boost for the peoples of the continent at this time resided in the fact that as many as seventeen countries had gained independence from European colonizers between 1958 and 1963, and to mark their liberation, several of the newly independent African states starting celebrating African Liberation Day around that time.
The charter establishing the OAU was signed by all attendees on 26 May, with the exception of Morocco whose delegation was present in an observatory capacity only, due to the attendance of Mauritania and the ongoing border dispute between it and that nation. At that meeting, Africa Freedom Day was renamed ‘’Africa Liberation Day’’ particularly when the newly-liberated countries felt the need to express solidarity with one another.
The meeting of the 32 independent African countries in Addis Ababa to form the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) came then as a major political force in the continent and continued to drive activities well into the 1990s. After that historic 1963 event, 21 more states secured their Independence and joined the rest of their brethren. Importantly, several of these who had been former Portuguese colonies became free in the 1970s. They included Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique. Very notably also, Namibia and Zimbabwe were also freed and became independent states and members of the OAU about this time.
With these, the stage was set for the last fight where the shackles of white minority rule were to be broken in South Africa, and the resultant rainbow nation became part of the organization in 1994.
Significantly, the new South Africa is a founding member of the African Union, which evolved out of the OAU and also gave way with the new body, the African Union becoming the new anchor around which the continent would continue to tackle the increasingly economic, rather than political, nature of the challenges faced by the continent in the 1990s and going forward.
In 2002, the OAU was thus replaced by the African Union. However, the celebration of Africa Day was continued on the 25th of May in deference to the historic impetus that the formation of the OAU represented. And so after several years in the making, the African Union was officially launched in Durban, South Africa and 10 years later, the former Foreign Minister of South Africa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma became the first women chair of the AU Commission (the AU’s administrative arm).
Today, while Africa Day is only a national holiday in a handful of African countries, it is widely commemorated and the AU remains headquartered in Addis Ababa, with its legislative arm, the Pan African Parliament, is in Midrand, South Africa.
The Africa Day celebrations for 2017 will be celebrated in Nigeria by among others, The Difference Newspaper, which is hosting a Colloquium on the theme: ‘One People, One Continent: Making the All-Africa Passport Work.’ The event is scheduled to hold at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, Lagos from 11.00am on Thursday, May 25, 2017.