The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) is 50 years old today, having been founded on May 25, 1963, and later renamed African Union (AU) in 2002. The continental body was formed to address and deal with issues affecting the continent, which was then predominantly manacled by colonialism. The torch for the 50th commemoration of the AU was lit in Liberia earlier in the month, signalling the commencement of events marking the special anniversary. From all indications, the road to the establishment of this body was tortuous.
The founding fathers, inspired by what they described as “a common determination to promote understanding among our peoples and cooperation among our states in response to the aspirations of our peoples for brotherhood and solidarity, in a larger unity transcending ethnic and national differences, “ finally resolved to form a continent-wide body with the aim to, among other things, “promote the unity and solidarity of the African states; defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence; eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa, and promote international cooperation.”
We can all look back with pride and elation that despite multitudinous challenges, the continent and people of Africa have achieved significant progress through this continental organisation. But, there remains a plethora of unaccomplished objectives all around the membership of the association. The AU is one of the world’s most important inter-governmental organisations. It is composed of 53 countries in Africa, and is loosely modelled after the European Union (EU). These African countries work diplomatically with one another despite differences in geography, history, race, language, and religion to try to improve the political, economic, and social situations for the approximately one billion people that live on the continent.
It is, however, regrettable that despite the lofty ideals proclaimed by the founding patriots, there is still a basketful of unresolved sore points: economic disunity; lack of fluidity in the movement of people in the sub-regions, let alone on the continent; corruption among leaders and the sit-tight attitude of some of them; non-materialization of a common currency; fratricidal wars and overall backwardness in all indices of development. Unlike other continents, Africa lags behind in virtually all human transformation variables. As the AU celebrates this milestone, its members should begin to obey the rule of law. Good leaders need to be groomed and corruption must be eschewed, because it draws the continent back. We need to emphasise those things that unite us instead of fanning embers of discord that sacrifice bonding.
The AU must also pursue the extermination of trade policies that make the continent a dumping ground for all manner of toxic items and encourage proliferation of arms. The uninhibited flow of deadly weapons catalyses insurgency, trans-border banditry and general insecurity. The most critical challenge for the AU, however, is the enthronement of credible leaders in the corridors of power. The organisation must strive to improve every aspect of governance and human life on the continent. Its leaders should try to improve educational and career opportunities for ordinary citizens. Citizens of member countries need to get healthy food, safe water and adequate housing, especially in times of disaster.
A mechanism should be put in place to study the causes of problems like famine, drought, crime and war. Africa has a high population of citizens suffering from diseases like the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and malaria. The AU countries should have the capacity to give treatment to the afflicted and provide education to prevent the spread of these diseases. Member-states need to support agricultural projects, improve transportation and communication, and promote scientific, technological, industrial, and environmental advancement. Financial practices such as free trade and customs unions should be encouraged.
Tourism and immigration as well as better uses of energy and the protection of Africa’s precious natural resources such as gold should also engage the AU. Happy anniversary, Africa!