“Why an Africa Day?”

A column on Afrika Day written a week after the 50th anniversary of the founding of the OAU.

First Published in the City Press on June 2, 2013

Afrika as known to the world of 1688

Afrika as known to the world of 1688


About a week ago, smack dab in the middle of Africa Day, I saw a tweet by a mom sharing how her little girl made an Emperor-has-no-clothes-observation: “why is today Africa Day when every day in Africa is just that

Cute neh? About as cute as the flood of admissions that followed by many fellow tweeps (twitter users) that they didn’t get it either. Thank goodness for the mouth of babes, we don’t have to ask obvious questions when they’re around.

Meanwhile, my smartphone buzzed with press releases from the African Union (AU) press office announcing the many activities that had been planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the AU’s predecessor organisation, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU).

But as tends to be the case when officialdom celebrates, many of us normal folks tend not to get the memo.

On May 25th 1963 thirty African leaders, struggle heroes who had just achieved liberation for their respective African countries from colonialisation signed the founding charter of the OAU. These were the Madibas of their lands at a time when the Rivonia trial hadn’t even begun here in ours.

This moment was significant because only 5 years prior, only 8 African countries could call themselves independent. Consider the euphoria across the continent at the time, Philip was there!

In the event, one of the luminaries at the time, Kwame Nkrumah summed up the mood of these leaders in a then famous speech.

Unite we must. Without sacrificing our sovereignties… we can forge a political union based on defense, foreign affairs, diplomacy, a common citizenship, an African currency, an African monetary zone and an African bank”

And so he waxed lyrically to rapt applause.

I shudder to imagine what response most of us would get if we were to suggest these things today. Rather a BRICS bank investment than making good on this African bank idea most of us would argue. Whilst every day in Africa might be an African day, Africa Day is a grand symbol of the one thing very few Africans know enough about – Unity amongst Africans. The continent is as united as Korea.

Among last week’s AU activities were talks given by some very smart people, one of whom is a professor and senior researcher in Africa peace and security, named Solomon Derso. In his presentation, he traced the contradictions of the OAU and it’s founding mandates of:

promoting unity and solidarity;

being a collective voice of the continent to secure Africa’s long-term economic and political future”.

Derso went on to examine the current challenges to this ideal of African unity. As you can imagine the is a long lack list –

  • a lack ideological conviction amongst our ruling classes,
  • a lack of sustained political commitment,
  • a lack of leadership in developing the economic and physical infrastructure to unify Africans (like trading zones and trans-continental railway lines),
  • and most importantly a lack of societal awareness and support for the unification project – ergo many of us will ask “what is Africa Day about?”

A few days ago at a dinner with some venerable business executives the question arose of African corporates investing on “the continent” as a means to diversify the risk of keeping all their eggs in a South African basket. Ironic isn’t it, to think that corporate disillusion with our politics means our ruling class could be unwittingly driving such unification?

But seriously, the extent to which us chattering classes as drivers of societal opinion fail to understand or eschew a unitary agenda is evident in the muted response (and investigation into) South Africa’s continued xenophobic-tinged violence (Not quite a Guptagate?) as well as the disenchantment with deploying our troops in fellow African countries.

We’d prefer to wrangling amongst ourselves, about which direction this country should be sailing in, and who should be steering it. What we’re forgetting is that we’re meant to sail in an Armada of African countries.

History informs that some of the challenges of administration we face were also the order of the day in the Americas prior to their unification. And yet today, USA represents a far strong brand than “made in Vermont”.

It’s time to grow out of our navel gazing and into our destiny.

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