I followed with diplomats in Abuja to celebrate Africa Day on May 25. Fifty four African countries rolled out the drums to celebrate fifty four years of African unity.
In Nigeria, African diplomats had kick started the celebration with a visit to the Federal Capital School of the Blind where they donated N4.7 million ($12,300) Then, they rolled into a popular hotel for the main celebration where some guests had in a rifle draw won seven mobile phones, some furniture and seven flight tickets; five of them donated by African airlines operating in Nigeria. The various embassies and High Commissions had taken stands where they displayed the various cuisines from their countries and generously dished them out to guests. It was a day, most shunned the drab dark suits of diplomacy for various colourful African wears. Of course, there were diplomats from non-African countries such as our first cousins from Cuba, Jamaica and Trinindad and Tobago.
I was at the celebrations representing the Nigeria Solidarity Movement with Western Sahara (Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, SADR) As we know, SADR is that small Africa country that mustered enough strength to shake off Spanish colonialism but is today, mainly occupied by its bigger neigbour, Morocco which is currently looting its fishes, phosphate and various natural resources. But the Day was not one to recall the greed of the Moroccan Monarchy and its Western collaborators who put a stain on African independence by seeking to recolonize a free people.
Africa Day was one for celebration. However, there are not a few who will question why with its mountain of problems, the ancestral home of the Black people, will roll out the drums. There is an African saying that whoever is alive during festivities, should rejoice. We put away our sorrows, regrets and problems, and for one day, celebrated our existence as a people; as the centre of the World which gave humanity its current civilization especially through its universities in Egypt, Nubia and various parts. The universities that produced Plato, the Father of Western Philosophy and Thought, and mechanical sciences (Wonders) in the pyramids.
It was a Day, we could honour our own in contemporary history; Marcus Garvey, W.E. Du Bois, George Padmore, Harriet Tubman, Bob Marley, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jnr, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Patrice Lumumba, Felix Moumie, Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Sekou Toure and the Prophet of the Independence generation, Kwame Nkrumah.
Africa Day is a product of the struggles of Nkrumah and other Pan Africanists who organized the continent to establish a single body; the Organisation of African Unity, OAU (Now African Union, AU) on May 25, 1963. It was no mean achievement that a people newly emergent from centuries of subjugation, oppression, repression and brutal colonialism, could quickly establish a sole continental body even where the old European colonizers could not as at then, establish a united body.
The visionary Nkrumah had set off this unstoppable process by convening a meeting of independent African countries on April 15, 1958 in Accra, Ghana where he hosted Ethiopia, Egypt, Liberia, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan and the Union of the Peoples of Cameron. Even in those early days, he pointedly ignored Apartheid South Africa.
Remarkably, even when almost the whole of Africa was still a colony, that Conference which was dedicated to the liberation of the entire continent, called for the founding of an African Freedom Day to “…mark each year, the onward progress of the Liberation Movement, and to symbolize the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.” There were follow-up meetings especially from 1960, the year seventeen African countries broke the shackles of colonialism and became politically free. The African countries coalesced into the Casablanca and Monrovian Groups which came together in Addis Ababa on May 25, 1963 to found the OAU.
It was clear from onset, that it would be no easy walk to emancipation and development. The host, Emperor Haile Selassie had that day, told the African people: “The task on which we have embarked, the making of Africa, will not wait. We must act, to shape and mould the future and leave our imprint on events as they slip past into history… History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity.”
Nkrumah was quite excited that day, but he was clear that the formation of the OAU was just a first step: “We must unite now or perish… We must recognise that our economic independence resides in our African Union and requires the same concentration upon the political achievement…Unite we must. Without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties, we can forge a political union based on defence, foreign affairs and diplomacy, and a common citizenship, an African currency, a monetary zone and a central bank. We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent.”
Many years down the line, the dreams of our Fathers remain unfulfilled. In 1993, I had the privilege of interviewing in Zanzibar, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Vice President of Kenya (1964 -1966) and author of the famous book “Not Yet Uhuru” (Not Yet Freedom) His analysis was that the OAU had become a trade union of African Heads of State. He clamoured for a union of the African people.
Fifty four years after the establishment of the OAU, we, the children and grandchildren of the Nkrumah generation gathered to mark that day. The Master of Ceremony was the Liberian Ambassador, Professor Al-Hassan Conteh who steered us through a seamless celebration. The Dean of the African Ambassadors Group, His Excellency Salaheddine Abass Ibrahim of Cameroun on behalf of his colleagues talked about Pan-Africanism, the AU 2063 Agenda, the challenges of terrorism and immigration, drought, conflicts and the struggle for peace in Africa. He also read the message from the AU.
The Special Guest of Honour, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, advised Africa to advance inter-African trade, end discrimination against women and work on the dual programmes of the Sustainable Development Goals and the AU 2063 Agenda. He talked about the goal of shared prosperity as advanced by the Kagame Reforms Report and posited that:” Now is the time to start transforming our continent, not tomorrow.” His main concern was how to end conflicts in Africa so that we do not “leave a terrible future for our youths.” For this, he said, we must in line with the AU plans, silence the guns within the next three years. As music blared, the challenge was, how to dance the guns to silence.