AFRICANGLOBE – On May 25, 51 years ago, 32 African leaders gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The charter of the organisation declared, inter alia, the inalienable right of all people to control their own destiny; that freedom, equality, justice and dignity are essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples and that the natural and human resources of the African continent (should be) for the total advancement of its peoples in all spheres of human endeavour.
The leaders were inspired by a common determination to promote understanding among African peoples and called for the co-operation of states to foster brotherhood and solidarity, in a larger unity transcending ethnic and national differences.
The leaders felt that for the cause of human progress, conditions for peace and security must be established and maintained, and were determined to safeguard and consolidate the hard-won independence as well as the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, and to fight against neo-colonialism in all its forms.
The charter was inspired by the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose principles provided a solid foundation for peaceful and positive co-operation among states.
“Desirous that all African States should henceforth unite so that the welfare and well-being of their peoples can be assured,” the leaders “resolved to reinforce the links between our states by establishing and strengthening common institutions.”
That was the birth of the Organisation of African Unity, now known as the African Union.
Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, on May 25, 1963 in his acceptance speech as the first president of the OAU, said: “Today, Africa has emerged from this dark passage. Our Armageddon is past. Africa has been reborn as a free continent and Africans have been reborn as free men. The blood that was shed and the sufferings that were endured are today Africa’s advocates for freedom and unity.”
“ Today, we name as our first great task the final liberating of those Africans still dominated by foreign exploitation and control. With the goal in sight, and unqualified triumph within our grasp, let us not now falter or lag or relax. We must make one final supreme effort; now, when the struggle grows weary, when so much has been won that the thrilling sense of achievement has brought us near satiation.”
“Our liberty is meaningless unless all Africans are free. Our brothers in the Rhodesias, in Mozambique, in Angola, in South Africa, cry out in anguish for our support and assistance. We must urge on their behalf their peaceful accession to independence.”
“We must align and identify ourselves with all aspects of their struggle. It would be betrayal were we to pay only lip service to the cause of their liberation and fail to back our words with action.”
“To them we say, your pleas shall not go unheeded. The resources of Africa and of all freedom-loving nations are marshalled in your service. Be of good heart, for your deliverance is at hand.”
The organisation has made significant strides, but has also faced many challenges.
The OAU’s great successes included drafting a convention for the protection of refugees, the introduction of the Banjul Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, contributing to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and helping to develop a stronger sense of unity between North Africa and the rest of the continent.
In relation to Africa’s economies and debt crises, it rejected the drastic step of member nations reneging on debt and put in place guidelines to help them pay back capital.
Sadly, not many of Africa’s political leaders did justice to the foundation of the OAU.
The lack of disciplinary powers of the organisation meant that African leaders and member nations recorded varying measures of successes and failures complete with rhetoric and lip service.
Pan-Africanism and African renaissance ideology are still a long way to be fully realised.
The OAU was unable to stop wars between its member states nor did it prevent Rwanda’s genocidal massacre in 1994. Today, the continent is faced with the old challenges of war, famine, poverty and hunger, along with new and humongous ones – terror and the rapid expansion of radical Islam.
Yet we still remember and honour the role the OAU played in giving Africa a vision of peace, co-operation stability and unity.
Each year on May 25, Africans all over the world celebrate “Africa Day” and remember that the aim of its founding were worthy and to be treasured.