Today is Africa Day. OK, so that probably means something to planners of prayer vigils, ribbon cuttings or planners of ceremonies in those big white buildings that many Africans only enter if they have to deal with the administrative offices in capital buildings throughout the continent. But what does it mean to those of us who are average everyday Africans? What does May 25th mean to a child sitting in the classroom in Kampala or to an African woman heading off to work in Johannesburg so that she can provide for her family? What is Africa Day and how does taking the time to celebrate it in some little way affect the lives of millions of Africans and non-Africans across the planet?
I am not sure if you know this or not; but if you take the time to search a bit, you will quickly learn that there is a day dedicated to all kinds of things: The International Day of large green dogs, of tornado survivors, of chocolate, of butterfly catchers…. OK, maybe I made up a few of those; but the list is endless. So, why bother writing about this day and not others? Well, here is why I think it matters:
Africa Day began on May 25th, 1963 as a celebration after 30 (of the then 32) independent nations of Africa sat down to form the Organization of African States. The headquarters, it was decided, would be in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Next year will mark the 50th year since it was founded.
Some refer to Africa Day as “African Independence Day”. This is because it was the first time that leaders of African nations met free of colonial powers. We all know that African nations gained independence one by one and that we’ve even recently welcomed new members of the African Union, such as South Sudan. But, this was a first. One of those monumental events that is second only to a nation’s individual independence from colonial powers. If you talk to a village elder, they will likely remember the day with joy. It was the symbolic unification of Africa. It was a declaration to the world that we were free and that we would begin to work together toward the betterment of all Africans.
Fast forward now, to today and its 53 member states: Africa is still rife with problems, many of them incredibly serious. We still see extreme poverty and diseases such as malaria, AIDS and others still threaten the future of our children. We still see tyranny (only now it’s most often done by the hands of Africa’s own sons). We have so much to work on that for those of us who are in the business of helping Africans live healthier, safer and more prosperous lives; well, it feels overwhelming at times.
BUT… the reason that I took a few minutes today to celebrate is this: I am an African woman. I am a woman proud of the continent of my birth. I am most proud of how far we have come. You see, I have children who only understand our sad and sordid past as something they’ve been told, something they’ve read or seen in documentaries or books. For them, Africa is a continent rich in resources and people. It is a place where women like our friend Janet from Uganda can build a great future for herself and her son through her talents and hard work. It is undoubtedly a vast land of squandered resources and opportunities. But at least those opportunities do exist for so many.
Africa in 1953 was someone else’s property. It was, in major part, a land of oppressed people who were treated like animals more often than like people. It was a place where children were denied education in order to keep them down. It was a place where many good leaders were deposed because it was feared that they would continue to do good for their people. It was a land detached from its roots and the wisdom of its ancestors because the European powers knew that our history was rich and our ancestors were wise guides. So, languages were outlawed, freedoms extinguished and rights removed.
Today, we have a long list of problems to solve. Every child does not yet have the true opportunity to flourish in the way God intended him to. And, unfortunately, in many countries my brothers and sisters are living under the heavy hand of dictatorships which aren’t renounced formally by the very organization that we are celebrating today.
Yet, here I live, free to talk about it. Here I live in the West as a proud African woman who has been able to get an education, network with hundreds of others who love my continent as much as I do, to see a full house when I am invited to speak or set up an exhibit at a museum. You see, all of those things are success in my book.
If I were alive in the early period of the 1900’s, I’d never have been able to dream of moving freely and being treated not just equally; but having my knowledge and love of Africa actually be respected by those in the Western world.
As far as I’m concerned, Africa Day is a way to celebrate not just our independence from colonization; but the many, many steps we’ve made towards that future that we all dream about. Something tells me that our ancestors might not have planned for it specifically, or even had an idea to dream the details… but they are certainly happy looking down on me sitting here on the other side of the planet drinking my cup of fair trade African coffee while typing my appreciation for all of their sacrifice; so that I can spend the rest of my life giving back in ways that makes me a future ancestor who is worth her weight in salt.
Africa I love you. Ancestors I appreciate you with my whole heart and soul. God, please allow me to be a good neighbor, friend and the kind of person that makes non-Africans know that good things come from my beautiful continent. And above all, let me grow to be an even better servant so that one day, our grandchildren can see me as an ancestor to be proud of.
Happy Africa Day everyone!