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Africa Day

Africa Day

“This conference cannot close without adopting a single African Charter. We cannot leave here without having created a single African organization…. If we fail in this, we will have shirked our responsibility to Africa and to the peoples we lead.”

So said Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie at a Pan-African summit  in 1963 at which the continent’s newly independent leaders sought to rid Africa from colonialism once and for all.  The result was the birth of the Organization of African Unity.

Today, May 25th, is Africa Day, marking the 48th anniversary of the founding of the OAU.

While the OAU made significant contributions to the struggle against colonialism, the organization was restrained very much by its own DNA in other areas of progress, and was eventually written off as a forum for dictators.

Nearly half a century later, though, a new chapter is being written for the continent, guided partly by the next generation of African leadership under the guise of the African Union.

Officially launched in Durban, South Africa, in 2002, the AU replaced the OAU as Africa’s premier multilateral institution. Based loosely on the organization of the EU, its leaders from 53 countries were anxious to find common ground on political and economic integration, while seeking to curb conflicts and foster peace.  Fed up with poor leadership and seeking to take advantage of new trends in globalization that had led to economic prosperity around the world, African leaders knew it was time for something new.   Under the umbrella of the AU, democracy became a top priority and civil society had begun to flourish, development initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) gained traction at home and internationally, while the promise of “African solutions to African problems” made by the continent’s founding fathers finally seemed attainable, largely due to the creation of a real peace and security apparatus. The long-awaited but elusive “African Renaissance” once again appeared to be on the horizon.

While most would not yet herald the dawn of an African Renaissance quite yet,  there are positive indicators that Africa is on the right track.

The United Nations, for example,  announced last week that African economies are likely to grow on average by nearly five percent.  Powers old (European countries, the U.S.) and new (China, India, Brazil) are seeking to engage Africa economically at unprecedented levels.  The African Union has acted on more than one occasion as an advocate of democratic principles, both in words and deed, in hot spots ranging from Somalia to Sudan, Guinea to Madagascar.  And this week representatives from the AU meet in an effort to break the stalemate in Libya, where, despite an ongoing NATO bombing campaign, no military solution remains in sight.

There are, of course, multiple challenges facing the body today.  AU forces, operating largely on African derived support, have gone on the offensive to wrest control of Mogadishu, a task that has stymied all parties for the better part of 25 years.   Despite the efforts of the AU special representative to Sudan, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the country seems destined for ‘civil’ war upon its official partition in a matter of weeks.  And democracy continues to evade the populations of countries like Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe continues to rule with an iron fist, with little resistance from the AU.

But a new generation of Africans, connected to the world unlike those that came before it, are working towards a better future.  From the African Diaspora active in every field from finance to medicine to budding civil society organizations across the continent, the upward trajectory of Africa has not gone unnoticed here in the U.S.  This month, the State Department sent officials across the continent to engage with emerging young leaders.  Wall Street gurus increasingly champion Africa as ‘the next big thing’ and Africa is increasingly coming “online.”

It is these trends that we will explore in an upcoming, ongoing interview series featuring the new voices of the continent, and are pleased to announce on this very important day.



Robert Nolan

Robert Nolan is Editor-in-Chief of New Media at the Foreign Policy Association and a writer and producer of the Great Decisions Television Series on PBS. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Zimbabwe and graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, he has interviewed numerous heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, artists and musicians, and policymakers.

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