Analysis: How Africa Day started and what it means today

OAU Charter Conference, May 1963. Source: Derek Bishton)

What is Africa Day?

Formerly known as African Liberation Day or African Freedom Day, Africa Day began in 1963 to commemorate the establishment of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) known today as the African Union (AU). Africa Day takes place annually on 25 May, the anniversary of the OAU’s formation when 30 African leaders of independent states joined together to sign the organization’s charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The charter outlined the OAU’s goal of Pan-Africanism highlighting “the inalienable right of all people to control their own destiny” and freedom, equality, justice and dignity as essential for the success of African people. Africa Day celebrates this goal and is also a day to reflect on the current state of the continent whether that be through an analysis of the AU and Agenda 2063 or the diaspora and the global Movement for Black Lives.

The transition from the OAU to the AU

39 years later, the OAU officially became the AU at the 2002 Durban Summit in South Africa. The need for “a broader mandate to meet the challenges of a rapidly globalizing era” sparked the transition but the core goal of Pan-Africanism and uniting Africa still remains. Furthermore, the OAU was founded as a political organization but in order to respond to globalization, the AU focuses on economic integration as a means of achieving the political unity that the OAU set out in its charter. Like the OAU’s charter, the AU also has an important document that helps to set out its goals called Agenda 2063.

What is Agenda 2063?

A key framework of the AU is Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. Created in 2013, Agenda 2063 is a blueprint of what the AU and African leaders want for Africa by 2063 — the 100th anniversary of the OAU — in terms of social and economic development, continental and regional integration, democratic governance, peace, security and similar pressing issues that will decide Africa’s global positioning by 2063. The agenda also reaffirms the Pan-African drive of its predecessor.

While the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area is a promising commitment to the agenda’s goal of continental and regional integration, more time is needed to see the positive effects of this new continental market which only went into effect at the beginning of 2021 after being delayed due to COVID-19. Other pillars of the agenda like democratic governance are failing throughout many parts of the continent, the reelection of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda and the closing of civil society spaces in many countries like Nigeria and Burundi being prime examples of this worrisome trend. Peace and security is another area that the AU has not yet advanced substantially since the creation of Agenda 2063. The rise in violent extremism in the Sahel and Mozambique and the lingering presence of Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram in Somalia and Nigeria respectively, reveals the need for updated security policies by the organization. Although the World Bank had reported a promising economic outlook for the continent, the fallout of COVID-19 changed this and growth fell to 3.3% in 2020 causing Africa to enter its first recession in 25 years. According to the World Bank, “the road to recovery will be long and arduous and will require policies and investments that focus on connecting people to job opportunities…” with a specific focus on investing in the digital economy and infrastructure. These are clear cut areas that the AU should address in order to help actualize the economic and social development goals of its agenda.

Africa Day is a reminder that the AU still has a long way to go in order to achieve the objectives set out in Agenda 2063 despite how far the organization has come since its inception.

Diaspora Discussion

Beyond Agenda 2063, the concepts of African unity, freedom, equality, justice and dignity can be explored in the current state of Pan-Africanism which is reflected in the global Movement for Black Lives. Africa and its diaspora mobilized jointly during the pandemic in response to inequalities experienced by Black people globally reminding us that Pan-Africanism comes in ebbs and flows and the youth are largely leading the way initially set out by leaders such as Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and many others. Today also marks the anniversary of George Floyd’s death which sparked protests throughout the diaspora a year ago. Although Africa Day is a reminder of what still needs to be done for Africa to achieve its goals, it’s also a reminder of the resilience of Africa and its diaspora, exemplified through the events of the past year.

Who’s Doing What to Celebrate

Check out the upcoming events section of this week’s US-Africa Policy Monitor for a list of Africa Day events that you can attend this week.

Temi Ibirogba
Program and Research Associate,
Africa Program

The Center for International Policy Africa Program analyzes U.S. foreign policy toward the nations of Africa to promote greater positive U.S. engagement