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“Africa Day” and the 60-Year Commemoration of the OAU: Wither Pan-Africanism?

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Photo: TIKSA NEGERI/Reuters

By Dr Adeoye O. Akinola

On 25 May 1963, a genuine Pan-African institution, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was born.

The OAU later transformed into the African Union (AU) in 2002.

The celebration of the 2023 “Africa Day” on 25 May 2023, marks the 60-year commemoration of the OAU.

African immediate post-independence leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Ali Scermarch of Somalia, Ben Bella of Algeria, Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon, and Milton Obote of Uganda, met with 24 leaders of other African states in Addis Ababa to establish the continental organisation.

The optimism that accompanied the creation of the OAU was better imagined. The leaders had something in common – the unity and emancipation of Africa.

At the celebration of Ghana’s independence in 1957, Pan-African Kwame Nkrumah noted that the country’s independence “is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent”.

The Pan-African agenda that led to the establishment of the OAU was initiated hundreds of thousands of miles from the African continent. Sylvester-Williams – a Trinidadian lawyer, activist, and writer – organised the first Pan-African Conference in London from 23-25 July 1900.

From the Caribbean to the US, and from London to Manchester, African sons and daughters put their lives on the line to liberate African people from the chains of slavery and the grips of colonialism. After more than 65 years of decolonization, Africa is still underdeveloped and unable to create the “Africa that We Want”. Thus, is there a reason to celebrate “Africa Day”? Oh yes!

However, as Africans roll out the drums, it is pertinent to continue the struggle to convert the symbolic political independence of African states to socio-economic independence, thereby ridding Africa of the hegemony of global powers.

Can the AU lead?

While the OAU is well noted for its Pan-African stance against colonialism and its concerted efforts in support of liberation movements on the African continent and beyond, several questions have been raised concerning the position of the AU as an effective Pan-African agency and a beacon of hope for the African child.

The AU has been frequently accused of “ignoring” the African Diaspora community. Though the organisation has been found wanting in protecting the interests of all Africans over the years, the official recognition of the African Diaspora as its 6 th region was a step in the right direction.

African Diaspora comprises people of African descent living outside the walls of the African continent, such as those in Asia, the Americas (including the Caribbean), Europe, Australia, Asia, and Europe.

In Trinidad and Tobago for instance, African descent made up about 34.2% of the population.Furthermore, the AU Commission also formalised the institutional relationship between the AU and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 2018, to promote cooperation and strengthen the relationship between Africa and the Caribbean, leading to the first Africa/CARICOM Summit in 2021.

Many of the founders of the OAU had envisaged the eventual integration of African people and economies through the realisation of the “United States of Africa”.

The AU has taken this further by launching the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in 2018, as part of the 13 flagship projects of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. This was a landslide victory for Pan-Africanism and the African integration scheme. The AU has also declared the “Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation”, as its theme for the year.

The AU must rethink its seeming non-commitment to its protocol on the free movement of Africans on the continent and intensify its efforts to roll out the much-celebrated African passports.

Will AfCFTA be successful with the proliferation of xenophobia and extreme economic protectionism across Africa?

The AU’s transport, infrastructure, and energy initiative and theSingle African air-transport Market (SAATM) are brilliant initiatives that must be matched with serious commitments by both national and regional actors.Indeed, Agenda 2063 remains the AU’s blueprint for Africa’s development, prosperity, peace, and security. Despite the rhetoric on the promises of the initiatives, Agenda 2063 is stuttering along, with serious negative implications for the continent.

Apart from the conventional challenges such as hunger and poverty, the politics of exclusivity, and the militarisation of African societies by both local and external actors, the democratic reversals and resurgence of military regimes in the Sahel should be a serious concern to the AU.

Peace and security are necessary conditions for both political and economic development. It is impossible to harness the potential of AfCFTA when Africa continues to experience de-industrialisation.

Who will invest in an environment of conflict and wars?

Due to their enormous mineral resources, Nigeria and Congo DRC, which ought to be one of the most resource-based industrial countries in the world, have become a theatre of resource conflict and insurgencies. In Nigeria, the hitherto state-owned oil giant, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is associated with redundancy, its counterpart, the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) recently announced its full-year 2022 financial results, declaring a record net income of $161.1 billion.

It is commendable that Goal 1 of Agenda 2063 is to increase the standard of living and quality of life and well-being of Africans. However, at the launch of the agenda in 2013, the unemployment rate in Africa was estimated at 11%, which increased to 15% in 2021.

Is Pan-Africanism still an enviable concept within Africa’s political, socio-economic, and academic spaces?

Nowadays, it is extremely challenging to see postgraduate research on Pan-Africanism. It is rarer to see any African leaders making references to Pan-Africanism in their public conversations. Africa seems to be sliding into disunity, while the ethos of Pan-Africanism is fast eroding.

The AU should focus on strengthening what binds Africans together and always remember the hurtful experience of slavery and colonialism, and the prices the pan-African patriarchs paid to liberate Africa. A united Africa remains a dominant force.Thus, as the AU’s secretariat is alright with the celebration of “Africa Day”, it is time for the AU, African regional actors, national leaders, and other African agencies, to reflect on how to address the multifarious challenges confronting the African child.

There is also a need to rethink the invitation of African leaders and the AU’s team to attend different “Summits” across the world.

Is it against international laws to host such in Africa?

Decades after decolonisation, the continuation of these asymmetrical relationships runs contrary to Pan-African interests. Africans should also think of the non-silencing of guns in Sudan, where two power-thirsty army leaders have held the country under siege.

*Adeoye O. Akinola is Head of Research and Teaching at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, South Africa.