I was pleasantly surprised to see so much talk about Africa Day today (#AfricaDay is even a trending topic on Twitter). After all, it used to be something that only people who were interested in African politics even knew existed. One question I keep getting asked today though is: What is it and why do we need an Africa Day? This post is my reply:
Let us begin by defining the terms. What is Africa Day? It is not another “Black History Month”! It is a celebration of the formation of the Organization of African Unity, (OAU), on May 25th, 1963. Although the OAU no longer exists; it was the predecessor to the current African Union (AU). Why should we care about the OAU you might ask? Well, the first meeting of the OAU was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when the 30 leaders of Africa’s newly independent states (all but Ethiopia had just shed the shackles of colonialism) met to set common goals. With this meeting, Africa finally had its destiny in its own hands and our leaders decided to work collectively to accomplish the goal of prosperity for the continent. Africa Day is at its heart, not only the celebration of the founding of the OAU; but the celebration of empowerment and unity. Many years before the European Union existed; the African continent was already working toward common goals and with the greater African vision in mind.
Realistically, I have to admit that the OAU/AU was and is far from perfect! The list of their errors is long and we should hold them accountable for each and every of them. But, there is no denying that their vision is a good one: Africans united to build a better future. It is only through cooperation both regionally and continentally that we will advance to the levels that we are capable of! We are a rich continent both in resources and human capacity for innovation.
Though diverse in language, cultures, appearance, tradition and religion, Africans have much in common as well. Africa Day is a reminder that we should continue to forge forward in our daily job of building a stronger, healthier, prosperous future for all of Africa’s children. It is a reminder that we need to remember the commonality we share instead of allowing others to tell us how different we are. It is a reminder that like members of a large, extended family, we should remember always that we are sisters and brothers before we are individuals. Africa Day serves to push us in the direction of remembering our common roots instead of our individual preferences.
I have been African since my birth, I was born in Africa (Eritrea to be precise), I am a scholar of African politics and I’ve worked (via MamaAfrika) for African women and children in a dozen countries for 10 years now. I think it’s fair to say that I am African in body and soul. But, I remember that I can only as proud as I am of being an African woman because of all of the sacrifice, leadership and example of millions of other Africans throughout the continent. It is only because of hard-working farmers in Swaziland, fisherman in Senegal, village elders in Zaire, women working their vegetable stalls in Kigali with a baby on their hip, ancient kings and queens of long-dissolved African empires and current kings like those in Ashanti lands, Rwandan kids forming IT start-ups, the vision of men like my grandfather Araya… my pride comes because of their work, their dignity, their kindness, their faith and their desire to build a stronger Africa.
My hope is that this Africa Day, like all of the other 364 days of the year; I can work to accomplish the kinds of things that make the Africans who are part of Mama Afrika’s family proud to be African because of something I’ve done, a choice I’ve made or a contribution I’ve been able to make to their lives or the lives of others on the continent.
The specific things that the African Union does or doesn’t do are not a reason to celebrate Africa Day. Let’s face it; they are simply nothing when you count the potential (still dormant in many places) of the millions of individual African men, women and children. I will dance and sing today because I love the idea of focusing on that potential and knowing that with the right choices… we can all do our parts to awake that sleeping potential. When that potential is unleashed, we will be a continent like no one is even capable of imagining today: strong, unified, and blending the wisdom and traditions of our ancestors and the optimism and innovation of our children!
Africa day matters to me because Africa matters to me.
Happy Africa Day everyone!