Africa Day – How far have we come?

 The date May 25 is a significant calendar day for Africans across the continent – from the southern most tip of the continent in Agulhas, the highest point of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in the east, the long Niger River in the west, to the majestic pyramids of Egypt in the north.

It is a day when all Africans – young and old, rank and file – take pride in being unapologetically and distinctly African. But beyond a day full of dancing, singing, traditional attires and indigenous dishes, what lies behind the history of this auspicious day?

On May 25, 1963, it was a monumental occasion when the Organisation for African Unity (now the African Union), which brought the continent together, was established. This led to the commemoration of Africa Day on this date.

Africa Day is celebrated annually throughout the world. The celebrations, amongst others reinforce African solidarity, unity in diversity, challenges and successes, and the economic potential of the continent and its people.

This year’s Africa Day is themed: Accelerating Industrialisation in Africa: Implications for Job Creation and Poverty Alleviation.

The AU’s Agenda 2063 is to lead Africa towards the “Africa we want” – one with a more prosperous future in which all its citizens, young, old, male, female, rural, urban, of all creeds and backgrounds, are empowered to realise their full potential, live with satisfaction and pride about their continent.

The commemoration of Africa Day is an opportune moment to highlight and recognise development progress and diversity in Africa.

According to a 2016 study by McKinsey & Company, Africa is for the leadership of women. The global average of women in Parliament is 21% while in Africa, it’s 24%. The study also shows that East Africa is the top performing region with 35% representation of women in Parliament. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was the first woman elected to head the African Union in 2012, while two African countries – Mauritius and Liberia – had their first female presidents in 2012.

During her tenure, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma made women’s rights the theme of two consecutive AU summits, where the continental body started a major campaign to end child marriage, which has seen notable results. There has been a leap in commitment across Africa to address child marriage, with the launch of a continent-wide campaign as well as national action plans in a small but growing number of countries.

But how far have we come economically? After many decades of relative economic stagnation, a number of African countries are achieving strong economic growth.  Six of the world’s fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa, with Ghana and Ethiopia toping the charts at over 8%.  The World Bank forecasts a 3.2% growth rate in 2018, increasing to 3.5% in 2019 across sub-Saharan Africa.

In September 2017, African Monitor launched the Citizens’ Report initiative, a ten-country programme designed to monitor the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa through citizen generated data. The Citizens’ Report! leverages citizens’ voices through reliable data to strengthen national and regional review processes of the SDGS; and to facilitate policy change.  35 youth champions were trained to conduct research, engage community and produce citizen generated data and key policy asks in order to achieve the programme objectives.

When they held their citizens hearings in Sokone – a rural community in Senegal – among what emerged was that most people depend on Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry as their main economic activity.

In Ghana and Nigeria, it was Africans who adopted the cultivation of cocoa, then an exotic crop, and this initiative was the basis of their economic growth. Ghana has since became the world’s 2nd largest producer of cocoa beans; and Ghanaians achieved higher nutritional welfare and purchasing power as a result.  In Nigeria on the other hand, cocoa is a leading agricultural export, and Nigeria is the 4th largest producer of cocoa in the world.   West Africa collectively supplies two thirds of the world’s cocoa crop.

Through the Citizens Hearings held in Malawi, it emerged that at least two land tenure systems are at work with opposite impact on women’s access to land.

“Women have access to land in Lilongwe and Balaka districts which practices matrilineal system in which property is transferred through the mother,” said Edward Chileka-Banda, our youth champion from Malawi.

The road ahead might still be long for Africa in a number of areas. But there have been significant milestones along the way. And while aspiring to see more, a day like Africa Day offers an opportunity to pause, reflect on and celebrate what has been attained so far.

At African Monitor, we join millions of other Africans throughout the world to celebrate our collective heritage, and our future.  Happy Africa day!


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