Thursday, May 25, 2017

Africa Day: What Is It and What Does It Celebrate?
By Kofi Bonsu and Elise Pianegonda

 A lady celebrating Africa Day 2017 in Canberra.

Africans across the world are today celebrating Africa Day in grand style, dressed in beautiful traditional outfits and putting on a colourful display of culture, food and diversity.

Africa Day was first held in 1963 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, when 32 countries formed the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU).

In the more than half a decade since, 21 additional countries have joined the OAU, with South Africa the last country to join in 1994 after Apartheid ended.

The OAU's original mission was to bring freedom to African countries that were still under colonial rule in the 60s, defend their sovereignty, uphold human rights and restore the dignity of the African people.

Nowadays, Africa Day is a national holiday in a handful of countries and is widely celebrated by Africans - but what does it mean in a modern age?

Reaching back to your roots

Obed Kabutey and his wife Keiziah, both born in Ghana in the west of Africa, said Africa Day helped people from different countries come together to share their cultures and celebrate through food and dance.

"Our kids mingle with other African kids and it's multicultural," Mr Kabutey said.

"You learn about different cultures and beliefs. It's definitely worth celebrating."

Ms Kabutey said Africa Day was especially beneficial for their children, who were born in Australia, to understand their roots.

"It will help them understand Africa, its people and the diversity within that continent," she said.
But Mr Kabutey said while many African countries had embraced the idea of unity, others had not.

"Unity was the main objective, but it's sad to see some countries still with xenophobic attitudes," he said.

"The founding fathers of Africa Day would be sad to see that because the main idea was to see Africa united."

Promoting peace and harmony

Research scientist at the CSIRO Dr Samia Elfekih said Africa was a continent "torn apart by wars and colonialism that still carries its past with it".

She said Africa could only move forward if it made peace with that past and united.

Dr Elfekih said while she did not do much to celebrate Africa Day, it was in the front of her mind every year as a proud Tunisian.

And she did not find the concept of African nations, with their own individual cultures, coming together under the one banner unusual.

"Tunisia is at the northern tip of Africa so it's very diverse," she said.

"I have an African background, I am Mediterranean and I have an Arab heritage as well, which makes you connect better with different people.

"To me Africa Day means peace and harmony and it's worth celebrating because it's an achievement that the African Union was formed and that African countries are working together in a peaceful manner."

Empowering Africa's youth

This year's theme for the Africa Day celebration focuses on empowering youth, but Princeton University international studies expert David Kiwuwa said that was at odds with the continent's aging and long-serving presidents.

According to the United Nations, 10 of the world's youngest nations are in Africa and Dr Kiwuwa said Africa had an "age gap disconnect between the leaders and the led".

"To put it into context, 85 per cent of Angolans were not born when Dos Santos came into power in 1979," he said.

"83 per cent of Zimbabweans were born after Mugabe first came into power as prime minister in 1980, while 79 per cent of Ugandans were born after Museveni took over power in 1986."
But public servant Lilian Neuman, originally from Botswana in Africa's south, said she had faith the imbalance would change.

"In Botswana for instance, in the past 10-15 years the constitution has been changed so that a president can only stay in office for two terms," she said.

"To me that's a very good thing and I'm hopeful that other countries will learn from that."

At an official event last night, Tunisian ambassador and dean of the African Group Nabil Lakhal said he was optimistic about the future of Africa.

"We have capacities and we have resources. What we need is to strengthen our relations and economic integration," he said.

"We don't need help ... we need partnership from developed countries like Australia.

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