A long walk from 1963

The African Union celebrates its Golden Jubilee

In May this year the African Union celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Born on 25 May 1963, its aim was to champion the political liberation of the African peoples, as the founding fathers and mothers of this continent decided to fight imperialism and free themselves from colonialism.

History reminds us that at the 1894 Berlin Conference, the colonial powers had divided the African continent into sectors in the famous ‘scramble for Africa’. This led to the colonisation of Africans under colonial states whose boundaries established their rule and divided the continent. However, it did not take long for Africans to rise up against this imperialist act, and this led to the birth of Pan Africanism.

Pan Africanism had been born earlier and spearheaded by people such as H. Taburman and Silverstre Marcus. Later African students such as Presidents Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba took over Pan Africanism and brought it back home. They worked together with other leaders on the continent, such as Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, to consolidate their vision in what later became the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which transformed itself to the African Union (AU) in 2002.

The initial objective of the OAU was to liberate the entire continent from colonialism. Ideologically, although two schools of thought emerged (namely the Casablanca and the Monrovia), the vision remained the same. The Casablanca school of thought argued that Africa was not yet ready for independence due to its economic dependence, while the Monrovia school of thought argued that colonialism had to be defeated, with or without economic independence. As one can imagine, the independence of the Republic of Ghana in 1957 was a major turning point, and through the solidarity of the OAU, all 54 AU member states were liberated, including the Republic of South Africa, whose fight to end apartheid was won in 1994. The end of apartheid was clear evidence that the AU had achieved 100% of its aim of freeing all its member states, which in itself was no mean task.

Ideology aside, the era of armed struggle had started with the formation of an African Union-led liberation front which was headquartered in Tanzania. Incidentally, talking about the founding mothers, the African Women’s Liberation Front later named as the Pan African Women’s Organization (PAWO) had been born a year before the birth of OAU, in Dar es Salaam, when African Women leaders visited President Mwalimu Nyerere in 1962. PAWO worked with freedom fighters side by side with National Liberation Movements in the continent and the OAU to liberate the continent from colonialism and apartheid.

As we congratulate the African Union on its Golden Jubilee, we also wish to congratulate the Pan African Women’s Organisation, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year (2012), and today stands proud to have brought together the founding mothers of the OAU/AU.

Pan Africanism and Renaissance
Fifty years later, Pan Africanism as an ideology has continued to linger in the minds of many African leaders. During the transformation of OAU to AU the notion of Renaissance also gained currency as a term that encapsulated ideals of rebirth of the continent. The challenge now is to work out how to pass these concepts on to the next generation, as our youth are still struggling to understand the concept in a 21st- century setting. Through ideological reorientation, the people of Africa are now discussing Pan Africanism and Renaissance (the theme of the AU’s 50th Anniversary) in order to better understand it and contribute fully to the AU agenda 2063 in the context of the 21st century.

Although Africa went through an era of doom between the 1970s to 1990s, as the liberated countries succumbed to one coup d’état after another, the African people have been resilient. This period witnessed the eroding of gains made since independence and greatly undermined the objectives of independence, including economic, social and cultural progress that had immediately followed independence. It was not until the transformation of OAU to AU that things got back on track. In particular, the adoption of a people-centred AU 2002 Constitutive Act which among other things introduced new ways of doing business and gave birth to the Eight Organs of the AU, the birth of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) – all of which have demonstrated that this transformation has started to bear fruit.

Looking at the AU, one can see clearly that the Union’s desires to be people-centred, be prosperous and at peace with itself are in sight. At the centre of these desires are the African citizens: men, women, boys and girls. The AU Constitutive Act, for example, under Article 4 (i) enshrined the principle of gender equality and in a span of 10 years, the AU has put in place an elaborate normative framework to address gender discrimination, harmful traditional practices, unequal access to resources as well as marginalisation and exclusion of women from decision making. These include the protocol to the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on The Rights of Women in Africa, the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, (SDGEA) the AU Gender Policy, the Declaration of 2010-2020 African Women’s Decade (launched in Nairobi, Kenya on 15 October 2010) and the establishment of the Fund for African Women.

It is right to say that, at 50, the AU is better poised to ensure that in 100 years, the African continent will be prosperous and at peace with itself. Fifty years from now, African women and girls envisage an Africa that will be fully developed, with all its citizens enjoying equal access to opportunities, resources and responsibilities. They envisage an Africa that will be a global leader in commerce, industry and all areas of society and a super- power, given its endowment of natural resources and human capital. As the AU logo for the 50th Anniversary states, “Africa is on the Rise”.