May 25 is commemorated in the African continent as Africa Day. It is a day that marks the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The day was previously known as African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day. During the 2022 commemoration, an African Union Extraordinary Summit will be held from May 25-28th. It will be taking place in Equatorial Guinea. The 2022 African Day’s theme is “Strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security on the African continent”.
The OAU is the organisation that preceded the African Union (AU). The AU was formed out of the OAU on July 9 2022 in Durban. However, African Day continues to be commemorated on May 25 in respect to the formation of the OAU.
The OAU was an intergovernmental organisation established on May 25 1963 in Ethiopia. There were initially 32 signatories to the organisations. Kwame Nkrumah, the prime minister of Ghana was one of the main reasons behind its establishment. The OAU’s final chairman was former South African president Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki disbanded it on the day the AU was formed.
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Some of the key aims of the OAU were to encourage political and economic integration among member states, and to eradicate colonialism and neo-colonialism from the African continent. The OAU emerged from a congress that was held in Ghana on April 15 1958. Nkrumah conceived the First Congress of Independent African States. It comprised representatives from Egypt (then a constituent part of the United Arab Republic), Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon and of the host country Ghana. The Union of South Africa was not invited.
During the conference, there was a call for the founding of an African Freedom Day. It would be a day to “…mark each year the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolise the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.”
However, the day would only come into being five years after the conference. In 1963, emperor Haile Selassie hosted the representatives of thirty African nations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At this point, around two-thirds of the continent had achieved independence and decolonisation. During this meeting the OAU was formed. It had an initial aim to encourage the decolonisation of Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. There was a pledge to support African “freedom fighters” with finance, arms, volunteers and training bases and to close off their airspace to colonial forces. During the meeting, Selassie said, “May this convention of union last 1,000 years.”
On May 26, the charter was signed by all attendees, with the exception of Morocco. This was because Morocco had sent an observer instead of an official because of the presence of Mauritania with which it had been having a border dispute.
The 2022 Africa Day will focus on nutrition because the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the economic vulnerability of the African continent as well the weak food systems. The AU hopes the “2022 theme of the year will be a good opportunity for continued advocacy to ensure gains made over the years in eliminating nutrition and all its forms are not reversed”.