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Why Africa Day? 10 facts you need to know

Each year, millions of Africans around the world celebrate Africa Day on May 25th. Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity on 25 May 1963.

Here are 10 facts you need to know about Africa Day:

1. South Africa’s Rise in African Union

From South Africa, the liberation party against Apartheid Rule, the African National Congress (ANC) could not formally attend the first Conference of Independent African States in Ghana as it was prevented by the ruling apartheid government.  However, a memorandum was sent to the conference.  On behalf of the party, was a member of the ANC in the Transvaal and a 1956 Treason Trialist, Alfred Hutchinson, who left the country after his acquittal, and attended the AAPC (All African People’s Conference), which was held a few months later.

South Africa only became part of the Organisation of the African Union (OAU) in 1994 following the end of Apartheid rule, where 21 more member states had joined the OAU since its foundation in 1963.  Thirty-eight years after its formation, the OAU evolved into the African Union (AU) on May 25, 2001, where South Africa paved the way as a founding member. Although the organisation of the AU remains headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, its legislative arm, the Pan-African Parliament, is situated in Midrand, South Africa.

2. Inspired by Ghana’s Independence

The end of World War II saw exceeding efforts from Africans over the process of decolonisation of the African continent for more political rights and independence from colonial rule; thus, between 1945 and 1965, a significant number of African countries gained independence from European colonial powers, with Ghana becoming the first African country in the South of the Sahara gaining its independence on March 6, 1957, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana’s independence, therein, served as an inspiration to other African countries fighting against colonial rule, and Ghana played a central role in this objective.

A year after its independence, Ghana convened the first Conference of Independent African States on April 15, 1958. African countries in attendance included Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan, Liberia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco amongst others, with representatives of the National Liberation Front of Algeria and the Union of Cameroonian Peoples. The conference was a collective platform of the explicit assertion of Africa’s rejection of colonial and imperialist domination of the continent, becoming the first Pan-African liberation conference to be held on the continent, bringing together various African countries.  Further, at the meeting, the first African Freedom Day was celebrated, which was later recognised as Africa Day.

3. “May This Convention of Union Last 1000 Years”

Five years later on May 25, 1963, following the sentiments of the conference held in Ghana, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hosted by Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie.  The OAU was formed in a meeting seating over thirty African nations with the aim to influence the decolonization of African countries including Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, and Southern Rhodesia.  The organisation covenanted to support freedom fighters and remove military access to colonial nations, and a charter was established to improve the livelihood of member states across Africa, where Selassie pledged, “May this convention of union last 1,000 years.”

4. Common African Unity and Identity

The first Conference of Independent African States convened on April 15, 1958, in Ghana and further encouraged and stamped a common African identity of unity and fighting against colonialism. The conference further called for the observance of African Freedom Day once a year to mark, “The onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolise the determination of the People of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.” April 15th was therein enacted as African Freedom Day or Africa Liberation Day, and countries all over the continent celebrate and mark the commemoration each year, with South Africa celebrating its Freedom Day on April 27th of each year.  At the formation of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) on May 25, 1963, this marked the beginning of what would later be known as Africa Day.

Succeeding to the April conference, the All Africa People’s Conference (AAPC) was held on December 8th through 13th, 1958, in Accra, Ghana. The AAPC was attended by both independent and the then non-independent countries, including representatives of liberation movements.


5. The Developments of the African Union

At the African Union’s 50th Anniversary celebrated in 2013, AU Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman chair of the AU Commission (the AU’s administrative arm), spearheaded the launch of Agenda 2063, a long-term vision of where Africa should be in 50 years, great developments were seen.  Themes are often set for each year’s Africa Day commemoration, with the most notable theme being 2015’s being the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063″.  This theme was to hoist and inspire the role of women in the leadership and policy-making of the African Union and in their work on Africa Day.  At an event in New York City, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jan Eliasson, delivered a message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, stating, “Let us…intensify our efforts to provide Africa’s women with better access to education, work and healthcare and, by doing so, accelerate Africa’s transformation.”

6. Women Empowerment in the African Union

Upon welcoming the sitting of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the first woman chair of the UA Commission, many argued that the continent was not ready for a woman to take that position.  However, Dlamini-Zuma has managed leaps in her tenure and has cracked the assumption that women are incapable of being involved in the continental organisation.  This year has brought opportunity for two more women out of five candidates, who are in the running for succeeding Dlamini-Zuma’s position as the AU Commission’s Chairperson.   This indicates that she has laddered up on the advocacy of women’s involvement in the AU and in continuing the fundamental objectives of Africa Day.  During her tenure, Dlamini-Zuma made women’s rights the theme of two consecutive AU summits, where the continental body started a major campaign to end child marriage, which has seen notable results. While the success of the campaigns rely on the implementation by member states, she did manage to get political buy-in for the plan and popularise it.  Following up to the implementation plans, the President of the Republic of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, hosted a high-level breakfast in January this year on the Implementation of the Common African Position on Ending Child Marriage in Africa in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC). The event was held in line with the 2017 African Union theme – “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth.”

7. Continent-wide Disease Control and Prevention

January of 2017 marked the launch of Africa’s continent-wide public health agency, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), which was established to help African member states of the African Union to respond to public health emergencies. The African Union Assembly of Heads of State authorised an annual contribution from the overall African Union operating budget for 2016 to safeguard Africa’s health, seeing the importance of public as an impactful element on national, social and economic development.

The need for an Africa CDC is to safeguard the required support to African countries in their monitoring and response methodologies to public health threats as was recognised by the African Union in 2013 and formalised in 2015.  President Alpha Conde of Guinea, one of the  Ebola-affected states between 2013 and 2015, attended the launch ceremony in his capacity as the Chairperson of the African Union, accompanied by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, along with other senior officials of the Commission. As an African-owned institution, the Africa CDC is distinctively positioned to help protect the health of the continent.

This follows the meeting of the African Union Ministers of Health in Malabo, where the Statute of the Africa CDC was adopted in July 2015 and urged for its fast implementation.   Five Regional Collaborating Centres that will work with the African CDC Coordinating Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, have been selected. An Emergency Operations Center has also been set up at the Addis Ababa Headquarters, where 10 highly qualified epidemiologists are ready to monitor for disease threats across the continent. The epidemiologists will be responsible for disease surveillance, analysis, investigations, and reporting trends and anomalies from the continent, and all information on the surveyed public health threats will be shared with international networks.

8. Africa Day as a Public Holiday

Africa Day continues to be celebrated both in Africa and around the world, mostly on May 25th since the sitting of the first conference in 1963.  Some parts of the continent and throughout the world enjoy longer periods of celebrations stretched over a number of days or weeks, depending on the programme at hand.

For a number of Africans on the continent and part of the diaspora, Africa Day is a day when many different cultures of people from all African backgrounds come together to celebrate the diversity of Africa, the organisation of the African Union in its objectives for a decolonised African state.  Although it looks to celebrate how far Africa has come, it is also a day to reflect on how far Africa still has to go in building a unified and decolonised continent.

African countries including Ghana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Mali, and Zambia recognise Africa Day as a public holiday.  Other countries have celebrations to mark the historical day, while international cities, such as New York, Dublin, Melbourne, London, and Washington engage in academic gatherings and cultural showcases to mark the day.

9. Africa Day Celebrations

The theme for Africa Day commemorations last year was, “Building a Better Africa and a Better World,” where member states across the continent emphasised the founding objectives to the formation of the African Union, and remembering the efforts of the member states in their lived fight for freedom and unity.  Each year, a number of different initiatives, celebrations and commemorations are being enacted all over Africa and the rest of the world, marking the relevance of Africa Day in our lives today.  From the international community, Irish Aid and The Irish Times have joined forces to promote aspiring, emerging and established writers in a competition for Africa Day.  The Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Joe McHugh, announced last month that Irish Aid has, again, teamed up with The Irish Times on an African-themed short story and poetry competition for writers of all ages, as reported in The Irish Times.  The competition is running for its third year.  Initiatives from Africa include the JM Busha 54 Races Initiative, which stands for peace and unity in Africa.  The JM Busha 54 Races Initiative has called to action all 54 nations, governments, leaders and individuals to make their pledge for peace on Africa Day.  Further, JM Busha 54 is running races on the 28th of May in South Africa and on the 25th of May in Zimbabwe to enhance the objectives of peace and pledge across the continent.  Initiatives by JM Busha 54 are to raise funds for the African Union’s peacekeeping missions, mediation, reconciliation, conflict resolution, and crisis management work in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

10. Decolonisation at Centre of Africa Day Theme 2017

The Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa, has themed Africa Month 2017 as “The Year of OR Tambo: Building a Better Africa and a Better World.”  This is to honour the contribution of the historical ANC President and statesman, OR Tambo.  The theme is centred on the need for radical socioeconomic and cultural transformation and decolonisation, a topic that has received heightened traction in recent years.

While the existing programmes of the Department of Arts and Culture seek to instill an African identity through the propagation of the national flag, continental flag, the National Anthem, and the African Union Anthem, importance has been placed on inaugurating a full month-long programme, a festival of ideas, and a celebration of what it means to be African.  The department explained that this is to expand our knowledge, engage in cultural exchanges, to sharpen our ideas, and to face our continental destiny together. The celebratory events during the 2017 Africa Month celebrations include  A Festival of Ideas – A series of colloquia by prominent Africans on decolonisation; !Kauru – Contemporary Art from Africa with a focus on the African Liberation Heritage Route in the SADC region; We Are Africa Film Festival; and the African Women Writers Symposium.

The Ministry of Arts and Culture will further host a Southern African Roundtable on “The Roads to Independence: African Liberation Heritage” programme from May 23 to May 25, 2017. The roundtable panel discussion is geared towards the re-invigoration of the implementation of the UNESCO (2005) and African Union (2011) Resolutions, which recognise liberation heritage an outstanding universal value. Hosting and implementing the programme is the United Republic of Tanzania with the support and assistance by other AU member states.  The discussions will bring together government representatives and policy experts, who will focus on the Roads to Independence African Liberation Heritage Programme and the establishment of national chapters in the Southern African Region.