By Tswelopele Makoe
LAST month saw the annual commemoration of Africa Day, on May 25th, as well as marking the entire Africa Month as a revelation period of how far back our continent still lags in its notion of freedom.
Africa day is notably distinguished as the day when the whole continent should pause to take stock of where we come from, where we are, and how our journey into the future is progressing.
This past Africa Day was the celebration of the 60th anniversary since the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), predecessor to the African Union (AU). The formation of the OAU in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was to address the multifarious social, political, and economic challenges of the continent.
It was ultimately aimed at the consolidation, acceleration, integration, and empowerment of African states in the worldwide economy. The mandate of the OAU was steadfast in the unification and the promotion of solidarity across the African continent.
The present-day AU was motivated by the atrocities of colonialism and apartheid, and endeavoured to stabilise healthcare, technological, educational, economical, scientific, and political policies of its member-states. Ultimately, the AU’s objectives are to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of African nations, whilst promoting international cooperation across the continent.
The AU itself is rooted in a progressive and transformational agenda that seeks to develop and uplift the continental African community. It is particularly invaluable organisation, which aims to address the myriad of challenges that have plagued Africa and continue to be faced in the post-colonial era. In fact, the AU is an ideal body for wielding meaningful transformation and transnational collaboration.
The colonial and apartheid regime was an abhorrent scourge on the continent, and the remnants of it are highly visible in the post-colonial African context. From soaring rates of economic inequalities, to dilapidated infrastructure, to institutional and political corruption, the continent has seen extraordinarily little redress since African nations’ independence. The AU is oftentimes overlooked as a valuable body in measuring the progress that Africa has made since the scourge of colonialism and apartheid.
What was particularly striking about this year’s Africa Day, is the lack of attention and observation given to it. Evidence show that Africa Day, a day meant for the fostering of unity and progression across the entire continent, is merely side-lined. This immediately impedes our opportunities to collaborate, promote and progress the upliftment of African people continentally.
It is distinctly evident that Africa Month, and more so Africa Day, is not treated with the seriousness that is deserves to be adhered to. Out of all 54 African nations, and 55 member states of the AU, only 12 countries observe Africa Day as a public holiday. This truly shines a light on the flippant nature in which continental unity and development is managed.
How can African nations be expected to grow and develop, when there is not mutuality or cooperation? How can the African Agenda 2063, intended to achieve continental free trade and a single African currency, be achieved if we are failing to acknowledge and collaborate, using the traits that unify us as a continent?
Africa itself consists of over a billion people. Across the continent, African nations combat similar challenges, prejudices, and institutional obstacles. The AU is in an optimal position to combat these challenges and prejudices.
It could foster collaborative research, systems, and development across multiple nations. It is in the perfect position to create constructive collaboration, promote societal discourses, advocate to the underprivileged, and demand institutional redress, especially where education is concerned.
Many still live in fear and trepidation of the obstacles that our continent continues to contend with. According to Statista, over 469 million people live in extreme poverty across the continent. This is approximately a third of the entire continent. The Democratic Republic of Congo alone, accounted for 10% of the global population in extreme poverty.
The literacy rates across the continent have also been plummeting, with some of the larger nations like Niger, Mali, Sudan, and Nigeria still struggling with adult literacy rates. The average rate of literacy across the continent stands only at 67%.
Education, infrastructure, socio-economic development, and institutional competence should be at the forefront of the continental mandate, led by the AU. May, our annual Africa month, should be used as an opportunity to highlight, address, and cooperate with one another, as African nations with uniquely African problems, and solutions.
Africa Month should be used as a time to focus on the development of African people, and to interrogate the structures with which they contend with in their life’s realities. Africa Month is the time to highlight African knowledge, African cultures, African galleries, and African communities. This is the time to consolidate our national mandates to advocate for a continental vision of who we want to be. It is the time to wave the African flag high, and to enact the meaningful changes that we desperately need as African people.
For far too long, Africans have been idealised as merely a place, a history, a coincidental context in which people have found themselves. We need to vigorously assess and redress the ways in which we think about, and we grapple with our continent, our people, and our African identity.
This is the agenda that we, particularly as the peoples of Africa, led by their governments, should focus on throughout the month of May, the Africa Month. Devastatingly, evidence points to too much fragmentation in the quest to attain this noble dream. Overall, There is a waning attitude when it comes to African unity.
Politically, institutionally, socio-economically, we are not upholding our responsibility to ensure transformation, progression, and the decolonisation of our institutions and our societies. There is a lack of engagement, cooperation, and intentionality from African leaders in bettering and strengthening the African continent. As it stands, we are sadly not doing things the right way.
Africa Day is a tremendous opportunity to highlight African culture and African people in all their glory. Africa consists of numerous cultures, languages, traditions, expressions, and resources. Realistically speaking, Africa is a stronghold that would stand steadfast if it were ever locked off from the rest of the world.
There is limitless opportunity and innumerable resources at our disposal. Although we are often positioned as powerless in the contact of the global arena, we embody an immeasurable amount of power, and we would ameliorate countless challenges through collaborative efforts.
It is the responsibility of the respective African governments to declare Africa Day as a paid public holiday. It is the responsibility of African leaders to ensure that their institutions and their systems acknowledge and promote Africa Day. It is the responsibility of our national media, our civic services, and our educational systems to spread the knowledge about Africa Day, and to actively participate in meaningful transformation in their contexts.
We cannot treat Africa Day like it is just another day because it is not. It is the opportunity that African leaders ought to grab with both hands, to redress the ails of their nations, and to build relationships that are not only continentally strong, but globally as well. We need to underscore its pertinence, and uphold it in action, not just word.
How can Africans, who are obligated to work, be expected to effectively celebrate Africa Day? How can we expect our younger generations to formulate developmental and collaborative ideas? How can we expect the world at large to care about Africa, if we do not lead by example?
Africa Month is about the acknowledgement and celebration of Pan-Africanism and African unity. It is about refining the knowledge that is at our fingertips, being intentional in our strategies to better our societies, and being inclusive in the way that we consider our progression.
The key question when it comes to Africa is oftentimes: “If Africa is so rich, why is it so poor?” This is purely because we fail to work together. This is because there is a lack of unity, cooperation, and Ubuntu. Our continental bonds are being fragmented, and we are not moving in a conducive, favourable manner. Instead we are prioritising individualism, capitalist greed, and Euro-western sentiments that negate the African spirit and the African identity.
The fibre of the African continent is being destroyed. This is my appeal to all the governments of the African continent to commit to the inescapable fact that Africa Day is a vital day across the continent, and it needs to be regarded and upheld as such. It is pertinent to the relationship of African nations, it is pertinent to the promotion of African culture and the fostering of African unity, and as such, it must be acknowledged from Cape to Cairo, Morocco to Madagascar.
- Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist and an MA Ethics Candidate at the University of the Western Cape. She is affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.