Menu Close

Africa Day: No poetry of peace for Africa as war and conflict fester

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

A boy eats out of a ladle at his home in Ngop in war-torn South Sudan’s Unity State. Africa is a bastion of instability rather than a unified kingdom. Not only is leadership failing to create the right environment for peace and economic flourish, but it is also failing to silence the guns, the writer says. – Picture: Albert Gonzalez Farran / AFP / March, 10, 2017

By Kim Heller

The African (African Union) anthem was inscribed on the exquisite lyrics of Ethiopian poet Tsegaye Gabre-Medhinas. The anthem beckons the sons and daughters of the Continent to make Africa the Tree of Life.

The anthem’s stanza on unity is a strong rally call for Africans to stand together for lasting peace and justice. “Let us all unite and sing together” the anthem implores, “To uphold the bonds that frame our destiny”.

Sixty-one years ago, 32 African nations came together in Ethiopia to establish the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which is today known as the African Union. Since 1963, Africa Day has been celebrated annually, on May 25, as a commemoration of this historical unification of African countries.

Through the decades, Africa Day has become an important marker of the Continent’s move away from a history of subjugation and poverty, under colonialism, towards one of unity and prosperity, in post-independence Africa. Africa Day has provided an opportunity to celebrate progress as well as reflect on missteps and new challenges.

As the Continent prepares for Africa Day celebrations on May 25, there is a loud crack of discord and disharmony across the Continent. The deep stirring of unity expressed so poetically and poignantly in the African Union anthem is being deafened by the ever-increasing roar of guns across the Continent.

In 2016, the AU launched a campaign to “silence the guns by 2020”, but ongoing conflicts and heightened insurgency saw the AU extending the deadline to 2030. Despite a spate of programmes and interventions, the African Union has battled to contain the spiral of violence and terror.

The noble move to establish the African Union as part of a new era of liberation based on African solutions has yet to bring soothe or salvation. The Tree of Life is in wilt, as conflict, warfare, terrorism, and counterinsurgency sweep across the Continent, and root out hopes for peace and prosperity.

The Geneva Academy reports that the Continent is currently embroiled in over 35 armed conflicts. Second to Asia, Africa is the most war-torn Continent in the World. The Continent has seen nine military coups since 2020.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa has estimated that 55 million people have been plunged into poverty since 2020, in an epic concert of political instability, climate change, weak global growth and high interest rates.

At an Africa Day commemoration in 2023, Dr Onyinye Onwuka, Head of Mediation and Co-ordination of Regional Political Affairs Division at Ecowas emphasised the need to confront the myriad of challenges on the Continent. She spoke of the fact that almost every part of Africa has a “dotted line of conflicts”.

She said, “These gory images of war, poverty, displacement, despondency, and illegal migration of Africans challenge our collective quest for meaningful development and stability of this generation, and I dare say generations yet unborn, if nothing is done to address these challenges.”

Onwuka spoke of “weak governance, corrupt judiciary, legislature and non-inclusive governance in places where there is a democracy”.

This year, the African Union is accelerating momentum to address peace, security, regional integration, and development. At its 47th Ordinary Session of the Permanent Representative’s Committee (PRC) in January, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said the “the only recourse that Africa has in the face of the challenges of our time is its unity and solidarity”.

“A unity that we build with perseverance and tolerance, in a co-operative effort that transcends particularities, neutralises considerations contrary to the general interest and constantly draws inspiration from mutual understanding,” he said.

Permanent Representative of the Union of Comoros to the African Union and Chairperson of the PRC, Youssouf Mondoha Assoumani decried the suffering caused by “the theatre of wars” on the Continent and across the world. “Let us together make the wish for a world of peace, a world of solidarity, a world of tolerance where the only weapon would be the weapon of dialogue, for a harmonious living together,” he said.

Sixty-one years ago, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s President, spoke at the formation of the OAU. He unequivocally told delegates that unity was crucial for the full liberation of the Continent.

“Unite we must” Kwame Nkrumah said, “Without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties, big or small, we can here and now forge a political union based on defence, foreign affairs and diplomacy, and a common citizenship, an African currency, an African monetary zone, and an African central bank.”

He spoke about the need for a “common defence system with African high command to ensure the stability and security of Africa”. He said, “We have been charged with this sacred task by our own people, and we cannot betray their trust by failing them. We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay in tackling realistically this question of African unity.”

For Nkrumah unless economic power is in the hands of Africans, the masses will have no real interest in safeguarding the security and stability of their nations. Nkrumah was eternally optimistic about the power of unity to transform economies and eliminate inequality and poverty.

“Only on a continental basis shall we be able to plan the proper utilisation of all our resources for the full development of our Continent” he said. In the ever-powerful words of Kwame Nkrumah, “African unity is, above all, a political kingdom”.

But for now, Africa is a bastion of instability rather than a unified kingdom. Not only is its leadership failing to create the right environment for peace and economic flourish, but it is also failing to silence the guns. The lack of decisive and unified leadership, and the preoccupation with personal ambitions rather than the plight of ordinary people is contributing to the carnage of war and economic devastation in Africa.

Cavalcades of conferences, policy papers, and easy talk, without urgent, daily actions are no match for the ongoing warfare. In the end, it is African leaders who are holding peace and prosperity hostage in Africa.

The beautiful call in the African anthem which implores citizens of Africa to “unite and toil together” and “give the best we have to Africa” is being drowned out not only by the guns but by disconnected and self-serving African leaders.

The grand vision by the African Union for a united, peaceful, and thriving Continent is a song yet sung. For now, it is but an exquisitely sorrowful war cry.

Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.