When the OAU (Organization for African Unity) was established on 25th May 1963, in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), the main objective of the founding fathers was the unity and solidarity of all the people of Africa.
This was, nonetheless, not unity just for the sake of unity!
It was in the cause of standing together as one people, in fighting for our freedom from oppression, and the hope for higher standards of living.
However, as the continent commemorates 60 years from the day this organization, now referred to as the AU (African Union), was formed – dubbed Africa Day – what do we have to brag about as a continent?
What have we achieved, as far as the objectives liberty and prosperity for all Africans?
Besides dressing up in so-called ‘African attire’, or showing off our various traditional cuisines and dances – what else do we have to show for this Africa Day?
Of course, there is never a shortage of the usual empty rhetoric about ‘unity, emancipation from colonial dominance, and pride in who we are’ – but, that counts for naught when the initial ideals of the OAU have not yet been achieved on the continent.
As we speak now, surely, how many African people can honestly claim to be free or prosperous – after having gained their liberty from colonial oppression?
Can the people of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Chad, Guinea, Mali – the list is endless – genuinely be said to be ‘free’?
Let us remember one crucial fact – which our post-colonial leaders intentionally want to distort.
When the likes of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, Milton Obote, and others came up with the vision of a united Africa, with a people free from subjugation – they meant exactly that.
Freedom from subjugation!
Freedom is freedom, and oppression is oppression.
It is not defined by the skin color, race, creed, or ethnicity of the oppressor – but the condition in which the people of Africa live.
Frankly, as far as a prisoner is concerned, the color of the jailer does not mean a thing!
As long as he is behind bars, and denied his liberty, he will always be a prisoner and not free – whether the jailer is white, black, blue, purple or pink!
As such, let us not hide behind the fallacy that ‘freedom’ for the people of Africa is defined simply along the narrow view of ‘independence from European colonialism’.
Indeed, that type of independence was achieved on the continent at least three decades ago, when South Africa became the last country to attain her liberty on 27th April 1994.
Nonetheless, can we allege that the people of Zimbabwe were liberated, when they are not even free to peacefully demonstrate against those in power, or the opposition prevented from campaigning freely, or perceived anti-government activists repeatedly persecuted through prosecution?
Where is the freedom when we cannot afford to feed our families, or send our children to school, or access basic medical care – due to the wanton looting of our natural resources by the ruling elite, which has led to a rundown economy, and untold poverty amongst millions?
Are these not the same scenes we have watched, in utter horror, playing out in others parts of the continent – with ruthless dictators becoming worse monsters than the colonial masters they replaced?
Is that not why we even witnessed the wave of so-called ‘Arab Springs’, predominantly in the northern regions of Africa, in 2011 – when Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Algerians, and Moroccans, went onto the streets to push out their cruel oppressive rulers?
Of late, have we not seen military coup d’états in Chad, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and even Zimbabwe – where either military commanders or military-backed civilian leaders have taken over, and ruled with an iron fist?
These military takeovers were been made relatively easy by virtue of the ousted heads of states having been callous repressive dictators – who had become extremely unpopular with their citizenry.
In countries such as Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), and the CAR (Central African Republic) there has seldom been any peace since they gained independence – with power-greed, and the fight over control of natural resources amongst rival factions, being the main cause.
As a matter of fact, even the founding fathers of the OAU were not exactly exemplary leaders themselves – as most of them swiftly morphed into tyrants – accusing any who dared oppose them of being neo-imperialists, seeking to return colonialism.
To make matters worse, some African leaders have become active enablers of a new form of colonialism – this time at the hands of the Chinese.
We have seen how, in countries such as Zimbabwe, natural resources have been freely plundered by Chinese mining companies – which have been allowed to flout national laws and ride roughshod over local communities with impunity – who have been forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands without consent or fair compensation.
These villagers continue to wallow in abject poverty – yet, billions of dollars worth of minerals are extracted from their areas each year – with no significant benefit to those who live on the land.
In fact, Africa is home to some of the poorest people on the planet – with an estimated 460 million living below the poverty line.
Yet, in 2019, the continent earned over US$406 billion from its national resources, through extracting 1 billion tones of minerals – not even mentioning the billions of dollars unaccounted for, due to widespread looting.
According to TI (Transparency International), Zimbabwe alone loses over US$2 billion every year to corruption – mostly through smuggling of our mineral resources, and illicit financial flows.
Yet, this a country where half the population lives in extreme poverty, earning less than US1.90 a day – with most citizens having been reduced to street vending, or turned to prostitution and robbery for survival.
We have over 278 million children undernourished – with 55 million of those under the age of five years facing stunted growth, due to malnutrition.
On top of this, 80 million children have no access to healthy shelter, whilst 16 million live on the streets.
In Zimbabwe, most urban dwellers have no potable water in their homes, whilst rural folk still depend on unsafe sources – placing entire communities at great risk of water-borne diseases, as cholera (which is already claiming lives in the country).
Is that something to be proud of as Africans?
Other continents, such as Europe, also went through their fair share of merciless oppressors – mostly in the form of barbaric colonizers, tyrannical monarchs, and bloodthirsty fascists.
Yet, after the Second World War, the people of Europe made a firm unflinching commitment to end all forms of oppression and economic marginalization – by establishing the EC (European Community) on 25th March 1957, later succeeded by the EU (European Union) on 1st November 1993.
Unlike the AU, which primarily merely pays lip-service to issues of democracy, human rights, and economic development – the EU has a zero-tolerance approach to any violations – thereby, ensuring that all member states religiously adhere to the provisions of European Law (as administered by the European Commission).
Any country that violates these strict legal statutes is sanctioned in one form or another – as an unambiguous way of showing the importance of adhering to such governance standards on the continent.
That is one reason why issues of human rights are held in high regard amongst Europeans.
As much as there can never be any perfect democracy – however, the chances of another tyrant rising, or a military coup d’état, are next to none in the EU.
This is precisely what is lacking on our continent of Africa – where we do not have strong institutions to force governments into adhering to set, agreed upon and enforceable legal statutes – governing democracy, human rights, and economic management.
What we currently have in Africa is a free-for-all – whereby, respective national leaders do pretty much whatever they desire – with no repercussions at all.
Only when the situation has gone out of hand, through military coup d’états or bloody civil unrest – do we see the AU, or other regional bodies, unashamedly running around like headless chickens – in usually futile attempts to douse fires that have already gone out of hand.
The continent lacks the political will and sincerity to foster genuine democracy, human rights, and economic development – with selfish greedy leaders who are more interested in safeguarding their own grip on power and grand looting operations.
At the end of the day, we have to ask again, “What do we have to show (as Africans) on this Africa Day”?
Is it, then, any wonder that most spent 25th May displaying their traditional attires, foods, and dances – since there is practically nothing else for us to boast about.
We have achieved virally zero over the past 60 years – especially in fulfilling the objectives of the OAU.
If we had been serious about the ideals of liberty and prosperity – we would have been excitedly showing off how our countries were now more advanced in the area of democracy and human rights.
We should have been parading how more economically developed than the erstwhile colonial masters we had become – since we are endowed with all the world’s most sought-after minerals.
We should have been showing the world how, indeed, colonialism had held us down – and, how now we were better off.
Needless to say, if anything, we have been moving backwards – with most ordinary citizens now politically and economically worse off than during the colonial era.
In fact, Africa desperately needs fresh winds of change to sweep over the continent, once again!