The 25th of May is here again, and for these precious 24 hours, Africans across the globe come together to celebrate what really makes this continent great. Some countries – like Zimbabwe and Ghana – are lucky enough to have the 25th as a public holiday. Most of Africa does not.
Whilst it’s important to have the usual festivities, whipping out the traditional clothes and revelling in some African culture, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what this day is really about. 25 May is essentially the anniversary of the ratification of the OAU charter, which was passed all the way back in 1963. It was an exciting time for Africa. The Winds of Change were blowing, and the tide of liberation was coming in. It was in this atmosphere of positivity that the Organisation of African Unity was formed, it’s main purpose being:
“To promote the unity and solidarity of African States; to coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa.”
Lofty goals, and sadly, more than 50 years on, have not been achieved. In the years since the OAU’s inception, there have been at least 35 officially recorded wars in Africa, and this figure only takes into consideration official wars with militias and armies. Xenophobia, genocide, juntas, tribalism, corruption, extremism: the list of Africa’s ailments is as long as it is depressing. What is evident is that, in 2015, the feel-good attitude that led to the creation of an organisation for African Unity, has largely failed to unite a fractured continent plagued with problems.
Celebrating the diverse and vibrant cultures that make up Africa is important in asserting and owning our identity as Africans, but once a year, when 25 May comes rolling again, it’s even more important to remember the goals that the original OAU wanted to achieve: African unity and cooperation. As citizens of a continent that is growing in size and potential, keeping that goal in mind wherever we are in the world is vital to Africa’s survival. Relying on bureaucracy to instill a sense of unity and pride in the 21st century simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. African Unity starts with each individual African making a conscious to make the dream of African unity and cooperation a reality.
At the end of the day, after all the celebration and reflection, we should collectively, as Africans, always remember where we’ve come from, the progress we’ve made, and the road ahead. Our continent has not had the smoothest journey post-Independence, but the bad days we’ve had must not overpower a bright future. Because no matter what comes our way, our hearts will always beat for Africa.