Zimbabweans will today join the rest of the continent and those in the Diaspora in marking Africa Day.
On this day, people throughout the continent celebrate their hard-won independence from colonialism.
May 25 marks the annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity, now known as the African Union (AU).
The AU is meant to be a forum for the continent to collectively address the challenges it faces such as armed conflict, dictatorship, hunger and poverty. It is also a celebration of African unity and the continent’s rich culture. Sadly, many Zimbabweans and Africans attach very little importance to this day because of bad treatment by their rulers and unfulfilled promises. Although Africa is fast shedding its tag as the “Dark Continent” on account of its senseless wars, one-party states, life presidents and dictatorships, there is still much work to do. Problem states such as Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Swaziland, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan and Eritrea are some of the places that quickly come to mind. But still in the last year, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya gave us a glimmer of hope that days of political elites holding Africans to ransom are numbered. The bold move by Malawian President Joyce Banda to ask the AU to prevent Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir from attending the bloc’s July summit to be hosted by her country was also another positive sign. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, but some member countries of the global court like Malawi who are supposed to arrest him have abdicated their responsibilities in the past. South Africa was also given a similar test recently when its High Court ruled it must investigate and charge Zimbabwean officials accused of human rights violations.
Contrary to claims by some Zimbabwean officials, it is not unAfrican to bring human rights abusers and murderers to justice.
The way South Africa handles this case will be a gauge of how far we have matured as a continent. What Africa should be reflecting on as it celebrates its independence is the need for stronger institutions to deal with incorrigible countries such as Zimbabwe.
While the ICC is a useful instrument, it will serve a better purpose and win the confidence of Africans if it is driven by the continent’s sons and daughters from their own countries. In other words, the AU must consider setting up its own transnational court that will deal with challenges of armed conflict and irresponsible leaders. Africa, despite its vast resources, remains grossly underdeveloped and an oasis of poverty, largely due to the absence of strong institutions to drive economic development.
As the second-most populated continent, with around one billion people or 15% of the world’s population, Africa has the potential to sustain intra-regional trade and quicken its own economic growth.
However, the continent is still divided into ineffective trade blocs that cannot capitalise on economies of scale. For the freedom that we celebrate today to be meaningful, the AU needs to harness all these strategies that will transform the continent’s people from poverty to prosperity.
Nonetheless, the notable success stories, especially in ending conflicts in post-colonial Africa and the giant economic steps made by some of the countries on the continent, are reason enough to celebrate today.