Africa Day: The Origin
Celebrating Africa Month, the history of the African Union is reviewed
This article is exclusive to Edition 2 of VARSITY Online
by Ilhām Choonara
On the 25th of May, each year, Africa Day is celebrated across the continent as a celebration and reflection of African unity throughout the global environment. The theme for Africa Day 2021 was “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa we Want”. Virtual events took place as people in Africa and the African diaspora dedicated the month of May to sustainably recognizing the significance of each individual African in the world.
Africa Day acknowledges the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963 which was propelled by the importance of driving decolonization movements in countries such as Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, and Southern Rhodesia. This followed a Conference of Independent African States in Ghana which took place in 1958 and was the first Pan-Africanist liberation conference held in Africa. Among its many undertakings, the conference called for the commemoration of African Freedom Day (later becoming Africa Day) to mark “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.” The forming of the OAU was hosted by the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, who declared “May this convention of union last 1 000 years”.
South Africa was only able to join the OAU in 1994 after the Apartheid regime was dismantled. South Africa was a founding member of the African Union (AU), which evolved from the OAU in 2001. In 2013, AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma led the African Union’s ‘Agenda 2063’. This entailed the 50-year vision for the continent, to build “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”
As one of the first countries to gain liberation from colonial rule, Ghana’s independence witnessed the success of powerful notions of political and economic African unison. This reflects the fundamental notions of Pan-Africanism that people of African descent and across the diaspora have extensive commonalities that need to be celebrated. Recognition of these commonalities, the pride that the continent fills us with and post-independent cultural regeneration all demand celebration and reflection.
Africa Day serves as a time to acknowledge the potential of unity in diversity as well as to reflect on the successes and challenges faced in efforts of years gone by. The 2021 theme of “Arts, Culture, and Heritage” further exhibits the diversity of cultures across Africa. There is an exuberance of cultural expressions and heritage which is a great asset for progression. Of the many Africa Day celebrations taking place, UCT held a virtual symposium focusing on youth participation in continuing the notions of political and economic African unison, including: decolonisation of our education curricula, peace and security during Covid-19 as well as developing the Continental Free Trade Agreement. The African Union Development Agency-NEPAD, also held an event showcasing efforts by the continent’s youths towards building the Africa we want in arts, culture, heritage, innovation and entrepreneurship.
In whatever way we commemorate Africa Month, I implore every individual to reflect on what differentiates you as a proud African? How do you preserve the many cultures of Africa and celebrate its cultural diversity?