Africa, the continent from which humanity fanned out and which begat modern civilisation, is marking its Day on Monday, May 25. It is Africa’s most significant day for it was on that day in 1963, they consciously came together as a people after centuries of divisions, enslavement and colonisation. The meeting in Addis Abba, Ethiopia was no mean achievement for a people newly emergent from colonialism, with strings of self-doubt and disunity being pulled by colonialists perching all around, like vultures waiting for carcases.
Even in those days, many parts of Africa were still under the blood soaked talons of European colonialism. Apartheid was waxing strong, and young liberation fighters, like Nelson Mandela, were receiving military training in countries like Algeria. That was a unique country that just a few years before had been courageous enough to reject French Assimilation. For this, Algeria was almost drowned in rivers of blood; about two million Algerians were killed in the liberation war for independence from France.
Also in attendance at that meeting was Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, whose country, like Algeria, had fought a quite bloody anti-colonial war against attempts by Britain to turn it into a White Settlement like Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South-West Africa (Namibia) and Apartheid South Africa.
Absent at the meeting was the tall, elegant, uncompromising pan Africanist, Patrice Lumumba who had on June 30, 1960, led the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, to independence from blood- thirsty Belgium.
As part of attempts to subject Africa to perpetual servitude, the secret services of Belgium, Britain and the United States had with the assistance of the United Nations (Yes, the same UN!) detained and later executed Lumumba by a firing squad commanded by Belgian soldiers in a forest on January 17, 1961.
However, many African giants attended, including Egyptian President Abdel Gamal Nasser and Guinean President, Sekou Toure, a man of letters and courage who had been the only leader whose country voted against the French Assimilation Policy in West African countries. Leading the charge of African unity was the prophet, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who was such a great leader that many Africans including Nigerians in Europe and the United States claimed to be “from Nkrumah’s country”.
Nkrumah was so intellectually sound that he responded to the debate on African unity with a book: Africa Must Unite(1963). His proposal was the creation of a United States of Africa with a common economy, military, capital and leadership. He had convened the first Conference of Independent African States in April, 1958. It had only eight countries in attendance: Ethiopia, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Liberia and host, Ghana. Most of Africa was still under colonialism. Seven months later, Ghana and Guinea met to form the nucleus of a Union of African States.
Presidents Modibo Keita of Mali, Sekou Toure of Guinea and Nkrumah in April, 1961 met to merge their countries into a single Union of African States, UAS, with harmonised domestic and foreign policies, economy and defence. Nkrumah championed the convening of an All Africa Conference in Casablanca, Morocco from January 3-7, 1961. But only Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Libya attended. Given the city they met, this became known as the Casablanca Group.
At this meeting, Nkrumah warned: “I can see no security for African states unless African leaders, like ourselves, have realised beyond all doubt that salvation for Africa lies in unity… for in unity lies strength, and as I see it, African states must unite or sell themselves out to imperialist and colonialist exploiters for a mess of pottage, or disintegrate individually.”
Four months later, another conference, sponsored by Nigeria, Togo, Cameroun and Liberia was held in Monrovia, the Liberian capital. Basically, the radical Casablanca Group was left out, and this other body became known as the Monrovia Group. The two groups had similar objectives, the main difference was in approach.
The Casablanca Group believed that political unity was a necessary foundation on which to build the desired socio-economic integration of the continent while the Monrovia Group held that economic association and integration should precede political unity. However, under the influence of Emperor Haile Selassie, the Conquering Lion of Judea, a unity conference of the two groups was held in Addis Ababa on May 25, 1963 with 32 countries attending. Thus was born, the Organisation of African Unity, OAU.
The OAU might not have been strong, but it provided an umbrella for the continent. One of its major achievements was the defeat of apartheid and the total liberation of the continent from colonialism. The only challenge in this respect, remains the occupation of Western Sahara by the Moroccan monarchy.
Strong African leaders led by Mouamar Ghadaffi of Libya later tried to steer the OAU towards Nkrumah’s dream of political and economic unity, but the body merely took a few steps, changing the OAU on September 9, 1999 to the African Union, AU. As we mark Africa Day on Monday, our immediate challenges are not economic or political unity, but insecurity, intolerance, greed and external interference. The AU began a campaign in 2013 to ‘silence the guns and end wars and genocide by 2020’ but that remains unfulfilled.
Among its achievements, the AU was able to force the Sudanese military to reach agreements with the civilian populace. But the peace and integration process in South Sudan remains uncompleted, made worse with opposition leader, Reik Machar and wife, coming down with COVID-19. The Al-Shabab Islamic militants are still on rampage in Somalia only checked by Ethiopian and Kenyan troops while its political class bickers.
Ethiopia itself remains quite unsettled with violent ethnic protests and elections scheduled for August 16. Islamic extremists torment Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cameroun and Nigeria.
Meanwhile, civil war rages in Libya with foreign powers supplying all sides, not with needed food, water and medicines, but arms to kill themselves. A virtual civil war is on in Cameroun where near-vegetative President Paul Biya persists on a programme of subjugating or pulverising the Anglophone parts of the country. Meanwhile, dictatorship and uncertainty holds sway in Egypt, and insecurity in Guinea Bissau.
In Guinea, 81-year-old President Alpha Conde is igniting fires with his insistence to contest an unconstitutional third term in office.
It is the same gambit, the darling boy of France in Cote d’Ivoire, President Alhassan Ouattara is engaged in. The plan of France and Ouattara is to continue preventing Ivorien patriot and former President, Lauren Gbagbo, from returning to his motherland.
Beyond these, Africa’s main challenge is implementing the AU 2063 Agenda which promises a shared prosperity and well-being, unity and integration, freedom and expanded horizons, realisation of youth and women potentials, and freedom from fear, diseases and want. Africa’s Day, shall come!