On Saturday 25 May, Africa commemorates Africa Day, a day set aside to mark the formation of the then Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU), now the African Union, which was formed more than half a century ago to spearhead African unity and the fight against the evils of colonialism and imperialism.
That the day is a public holiday in a handful of countries on the continent is an indictment on our leaders who must seriously look at where Africa is coming from and where it is going. Africans must never forget and sacrifice their history, a history littered with slavery, colonial subjugation punctuated by mass murders, torture, rape, theft, massive plunder and exploitation of their resources by the West, at the altar of political expedience.
For history tells us that on May 25 1963, 31 African leaders convened a summit in Addis Ababa to found the OAU, the precursor to the African Union, to spearhead the fight against colonial subjugation which culminated in political independence. The leaders renamed Africa Freedom Day as “African Liberation Day" and changed its date to May 25. The founding date of the OAU is what we know today as Africa Day.
The OAU was replaced by the African Union (AU), a continental union consisting of all 55 countries on the African continent, on 26 May 2001 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and launched on 9 July 2002 in Durban, South Africa.
The purpose of Africa Day is to annually mark the progress and symbolise the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.
African Day has helped to raise political awareness in African communities across the world. It has also been a source of information about the struggles for liberation and development.
This year, 56 years down the line, Africa must take stock of what it has achieved and at the same time gird its loins to confront the challenges ahead. Yes, the continent is free politically but conflicts in the Saharawi, where a fellow African country, Morocco, is still occupying another African country depriving citizens of their civil liberties, are a blot on the African conscience and call for more concerted efforts to resolve them.
Sadly, African leaders are divided as to how to tackle this issue, with SADC leaders strongly calling for self-determination of the people of the Saharawi, while leaders elsewhere on the continent seem to be on the side of continued Moroccan occupation judging by its re-admission into the AU two years ago.
In fact, SADC leaders recently held a solidarity summit in support of the freedom and independence of the Saharawi. It therefore boggles the mind why other African leaders continue to stand aloof while Morocco continues to act like a colonial power, occupying the Saharawi with impunity. Is it not a shame that African leaders have re-admitted Morocco into the AU?
Going forward, as Africa commemorates its day, it is time to seriously tackle issues around economic development of the continent. As we have said before, the continent is endowed with vast quantities of natural resources – from oil, rubber, timber, gold, copper, platinum, nickel, coal, uranium and precious stones such as diamonds and emeralds – yet its people wallow in abject poverty and thousands drown each year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek opportunities in Europe.
It is time for leaders on the continent to vigorously pursue the beneficiation and industrialisation strategies as espoused by SADC and the AU a few years ago for the benefit of the African people.
African countries cannot continue to export their minerals in their raw forms and getting nothing in return, while their people wallow in entrenched poverty. Millions of young men and women on the continent are in need of jobs and better living conditions and we believe these can only be obtained if leaders on the continent prioritise economic development, ahead of political issues.
As we commemorate Africa Day, it is time for Africa to stand up and be counted and get value from its vast natural resources for the benefit of its citizens. There is therefore a need to wage a new struggle for economic emancipation across the continent.