Chair of the African Union Social Committee Ambassador of Gabon Mrs Aichatou Sanni Aoudou outlines the proceedings
‘Africa Day’ (formerly known as African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day) is the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963. today, this group is known as the African Union.
The First Congress of Independent African States was held in Accra, Ghana on 15 April 1958. It was convened by the country’s Prime Minister Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and comprised representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Cameroon. The conference showcased the progress of liberation movements on the Africa continent, in addition to symbolising the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation. The conference also called for the founding of an African Freedom Day, a day to ‘…mark each year the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolise the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.’
Five years later, on 25 May 1963, representatives of 30 African nations met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By then, over two-thirds of the continent had achieved independence. At this meeting, the Organisation of African Unity was founded, with the initial aim to encourage the decolonisation of Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. A charter was set out which sought to improve the living standards across Member States. The charter was signed by all attendees (except for Morocco), and Africa Freedom Day was renamed Africa Liberation Day.
Africa Day continues to be celebrated both in Africa and around the world. Themes are set for each year’s event, with 2017’s being the year for “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in Youth,” — a driving force for development in Africa that could be empowered through adequate investment in education, jobs, health, employment and good governance. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his Africa Day message: “More than three out of five Africans are under 35 years of age. Making the most of this tremendous asset means more investment in education, training, decent work, and engaging young people in shaping their future.” So, Africa Day presented a unique opportunity to discuss and reflect while celebrating important milestones on youth development across the continent.
This year, in London, due to the snap election and dissolution of the Parliament, the Africa Day celebrations were held later than usual on 30 June, at the Royal Horticultural Halls’ Lindley Hall. The objectives of the celebration were to show the best of Africa by celebrating the whole continent.
The African Union heads of mission group comprises all African diplomatic missions accredited to the Court of St James’s. (In total, there are 39 African embassies and high commissions in London.) Dean of the Group is High Commissioner for Botswana Mr Roy Warren Blackbeard, and this year, I led the Social Committee, which is a subcommittee of the African Union Group. I was tasked with producing social activities and raising awareness.
Our event showcased the best of Africa with exhibitions, dance groups, savoury African dishes, singers and diverse entertainment during the evening of celebration, with a few keynote speeches. Ten countries were selected (Ethiopia, Swaziland, Gabon, Angola, Malawi, Egypt, Eritrea, Morocco, Kenya and Rwanda) to exhibit during the night, each showcasing the uniqueness of their countries. There were also performances from Ethiopia, Gabon, Rwanda, Senegal, Morocco and Uganda, which kept the guests entertained and mesmerised by the beauty of the continent. There were also various other surprises on the evening, such as five raffle tickets presented by Royal Air Maroc.
The 400 attendees included 39 African ambassadors and high commissioners, other heads of mission and members of the diplomatic community, the Commonwealth Secretary General and her Deputy, Secretary General of International Maritime Organisation, plus representatives from the FCO, Parliament, the private sector, media and sponsors, as well as friends and partners of the African nations.
Speeches were delivered by Dean of the African Heads of Missions Group Mr Roy Warren Blackbeard, Head of the FCO’s West Africa Department Dr Rob Dixon on behalf of the Minister of Africa, and I myself spoke to thank everyone involved in achieving such a successful event. Special thanks went to the principal sponsors of the evening: BMCE Bank, De La Rue, Tullow Oil, IDS, Royal Air Maroc, Chacalli, Attijariwafa Bank and Marg Catering.
This year’s Africa Day event provided each African country with an opportunity to showcase their uniqueness and diversity, as well as they welcomed the cooperation that has existed among all the countries and friends of Africa for several decades. As the UN Secretary-General said: “All of humanity will benefit by listening, learning and working with the people of Africa.”