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T. Alemu: Address at the Celebration of Africa Day 2013

Address to the Africa Day Celebration
Organized by the African Union and the Universal Peace Federation
New York, USA - June 26, 2013

The celebration of Africa Day this year is indeed special. It marks a significant milestone in the history of our continental organization. It was fifty years ago on May 25, 1963, that the Founding Fathers, inspired by the ideals of Pan-Africanism, rose to the occasion and created the first and, still the only, Pan-African Organization of independent African States.

The celebration of Africa Day this year is special; not only because 2013 marks the Golden Jubilee of the OAU/AU. It is special also because, in a way, the period we are in is a time of hope and confidence in the future of Africa — the future of a people who were deemed to count for nothing in the 1980s amid the overwhelming pessimism of those assumed to know Africa, with very few daring to contradict that narrative.

Though complacency is hardly justified about the African condition — and indeed for sure damaging and not justified at all because of the so many challenges we still face and for which we need friends — it is nonetheless incontrovertible that times have changed in Africa, and for the better.

It is therefore in this spirit that we express profound appreciation to all those who have joined us here today to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of our Pan-African Organization — the OAU/AU. We are particularly grateful to our Secretary-General — a true friend of Africa — for having been in Addis for the same occasion on May 25, and for being here again today.

What makes the OAU/AU a unique intergovernmental organization — very different from many others — is that it grew out of a century old peoples movement—the Pan-Africanist movement. What lay behind that Movement — the abuse, the so many dehumanizing practices, beginning from the transatlantic slave trade and the colonial experience on the mainland and slavery in the diaspora — are the common experiences of Africans and peoples of African descent. The mission that the OAU later assumed was, at the most fundamental level, the same mission that drove Marcus Garvey, Martin Delany, Edward Blyden, W.E.B. Dubois, and Henry Sylvester Williams in their Pan-Africanist Journey. There were also Pan-Africanists that served as a bridge between that People’s Movement and what later became the OAU in 1963. I am referring here to people such as Kwame Nkrumah and others who were at the 1945 congress at Manchester and who later played a catalytic role in the formation of the OAU.

The OAU did begin with a lot of hope. And it did accomplish a lot, in the freeing of Africa from colonialism, in laying the foundation for economic integration, and for peace and stability in the continent. But we all realize that by the mid-1970s, in economic terms, Africa was by far worse off than during the 1960s. By the 1980s our marginalization appeared to have been sealed.

Part of the theme for the Golden Jubilee anniversary is African Renaissance—and this is not without sufficient reason. We are now indeed in a new beginning in Africa, as is witnessed in the general good performance of many African economies, even during the period when the international economic situation is not so conducive for economic progress. This does not mean that there are no skeptics about how much the current situation justifies optimism about Africa becoming another global growth pole. But there is no question that with a more effective international partnership for development, indeed Africa has a great possibility justifying confidence in the renaissance of Africa. Of course, the global context has also changed, making it far easier for Africa to build partnerships based on the pursuit of mutual interests. And we know where our interests lie. It is an insult to the African intelligence when insinuations are made suggesting that we need guidance when we select partners.

It is my earnest hope that by the time Africa celebrates the centenary of the OAU in 2063, we will have a continent free from the scourge of conflicts and abject poverty where many African countries will have achieved upper-middle-income status and the standard of living of large populations of the African people will have been significantly improved. As previous generations were inspired by the ideals of Pan-Africanism to fight for their freedom and dignity, current and future generations will surely be guided by the same Pan-African spirit to struggle for Africa’s socio-economic emancipation to realize the African Renaissance. It is then that the dignity of Africans, and peoples of African descent, no matter what their station in society, will be respected fully and by all.