By Vernon Johnson Mwaanga
IT IS 56 years since our founding fathers got together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 25th May, 1963 to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which 38 years later was transformed into the African Union (AU). Prior to the formation of the OAU, two groups informally existed, namely the Casablanca Group and the Monroviai Group, which formally disbanded in May 1963 and became part of the OAU. Africa Day (formerly Africa Liberation Day and Africa Freedom Day) is the commemoration of the founding of the OAU, now known as the AU.
Africa’s freedom did not come easy. It had to be fought for. Brave men, women and youth paid for it with their blood, life and sacrifice.
Africa Day continues to be celebrated both in Africa and around the world. Many African countries which include Zambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mali, etc, recognise Africa Day as a public holiday. Other countries across the African continent also have different forms ofo celebrations to mark this historic day. Cities such as London, New York, Dublin, Washington DC, and Melbourne engage in academic gatherings and cultural showcases to mark the day.
The end of World War Two saw a redoubling of efforts from the people of Africa to speed up the process of decolonisation and to end apartheid in South Africa.
Thus, between 1945 and 1965, a significant number of African countries gained independence from European colonial powers, with Ghana becoming the first African country, south of the Sahara to gain independence on 6th March, 1957 under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana’s independence, therefore served as a great inspiration to other African countries fighting against colonial rule and apartheid.
A year after its independence, Ghana convened the first Conference of Independent African States on 15 April, 1958. African countries in attendance included Ethiopia, Libya Sudan, Liberia, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco amongst others, with representatives of liberation movements from Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), South Africa, Tanganyika ((now Tanzania), Kenya, Algeria and Cameroon.
This conference served as a collective platform for Africa’s explicit rejection of colonial and imperialist domination. It also became the first Pan African liberation conference to be held on the African continent.
Five years later on May 25 1963, following the sentiments expressed at the Ghana conference, the Organisation of African Unity was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hosted by the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie.
Over thirty states attended this meeting, as well as representatives of liberation movements from the former British and Portuguese colonies and apartheid South Africa. Zambia was represented by Dr Kenneth Kaunda, who was then Minister of Local Government in the UNIP-ANC coalition government.
At that conference, a charter was adopted where the organisation reaffirmed its commitment to support the liberation struggle until every inch of the African Continent was liberated from the yoke of colonialism and apartheid.
The African leaders also made a commitment to improve the living standards of the people of Africa and move towards building greater unity among all the people of Africa. At this very conference, Emperor Selassie declared that “May this convention of union last 1,000 years”.
Subsequently, the OAU formed a Liberation Committee which was based in Dar es Salaam at the invitation of president Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and a sub regional office was set up in Lusaka at the invitation of president Kaunda and based at Chilimbulu Road, which was initially headed by freedom icon Mukuka Nkoloso.
Many freedom movements were based at the liberation centre such ZANU and ZAPU of Zimbabwe; ANC and PAC of South Africa; FRELIMO of Mozambique; SWAPO of Namibia and MPLA of Angola.
This decision to host these liberation movements at the liberation centre in Lusaka came at a high price.
Zambia was constantly being bombed by the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Portuguese colonialists operating from Mozambique and Angola and the illegal regime of Ian Smith in Southern Rhodesia, which resulted in the wanton destruction of infrastructure in many parts of Zambia, death and maiming of many Zambians. It was indeed the high price of principles and I give credit to the gallant people of Zambia, who unwaveringly supported their leaders during this difficult period. It would have been impossible to continue this stance without their support. The people always told the leaders never to give up this struggle until every inch of Africa was was free from colonialism and apartheid.
Africa Day also means a lot more, because of subsequent decisions which have been taken by the African Union to accelerate economic development, integration, gender equality, democratic governance, the holding of free, fair, transparent and democratic elections which would meet international standards and be a true reflection of the will of their people, adoption of Africa’s Agenda 2063, zero tolerance to military coups and undemocratic changes of governments without the express will of their people, disease control and prevention, managing conflicts on the African continent, formation of regional organisations such as SADC, ECOWAS, East African Community, IGAD and the Maghreb, to act as stepping stones towards the creation of one Africa, among many others.
Yes there have been challenges and disappointing setbacks. As the founding fathers stepped aside to allow for generational changes, many of what they represented and stood for have either been abandoned or severely compromised. Unbridled corruption among some African leaders has become the order of the day. Many have amassed conspicuous wealth at the expense of their people.
Some of the new leaders are putting self above service to the people who elected them and many African countries have reduced their people to nothingness, with some saying that they were better off when the colonialists were still in charge. Some African countries have become failed states as their citizens vote with their feet and preferring to die on high seas in search of better lives.
Cruelty, inhumanity, shrinking democratic space and press freedom have become the order of the day in some African countries as the lust for personal wealth and power have taken root. It is the duty of the younger African leaders to arrest this perilous drift away from what was left by the founding fathers.
They should rebuild unity and inclusiveness which have served our continent well in the past. They should encourage innovation and creativity in order to rebuild African economies and make them less dependent on debilitating loans and international aid and make fair trade the corner stone of their economic policies and programmes.
There are many Africans who feel betrayed and let down by their new leaders. They should not lose hope, because our continent still has a lot to offer to its people and the world at large. We still have abundant mineral, human and other resources, which can be put to much better use, provided there is enlightened and visionary leadership.
We cannot erase our ugly and sometimes cruel past, but we can learn from it and make our continent a better place for the people of Africa and I mean all the people.
The Author was Zambia’s first diplomat, as Deputy High Commissioner in London and a founding member of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy and served in various government portfolios.