25 May 2018 Photo Rulanzen Martin
UFSAfricaWeek Make this Africa Day a day of reflection - Dr Stephanie Cawood
Dr Stephanie Cawood is the acting Director of the CGAS

On 25 May 2018, we celebrate the 55th Africa Day since the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed on this day in 1963. The conception of Africa Day, however, goes back to 1958 to the First Conference of Independent African States held in Accra, Ghana, hosted by Kwame Nkrumah. It was at that conference where Africa Freedom Day was first proclaimed and celebrated on 15 April to commemorate the progress of the African liberation movement as more and more African states gained independence. When more than 30 heads of state of independent African countries met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to form the OAU (now the African Union) on 25 May 1963, African Freedom Day was dubbed African Liberation Day and moved to May. Today, known as Africa Day, it is commemorated across the African continent and the diaspora. 

What is the significance of Africa Day more than 50 years after its inception? African countries may have been liberated, but freedom is often qualified and limited by poverty persistent conflict, poor governance, neopatrimonialism, intolerance and other social injustices? Seen through a gender lens, one may well ask whether we have anything to celebrate when African women and sexual minorities carry such a heavy burden in daily struggles for survival and bear the brunt of persistent conflict. 

On this Africa Day, let’s rejoice in all the progress made since that very first commemoration. Let’s revel in all the vibrant cultural diversity in Africa and its diaspora, but let’s make this Africa Day a day of remembrance and reflection. As a day of remembrance, Africa Day should remind us of the liberation struggles that came before and it should prompt us to reflect on the struggles that remain in areas like gender equality and LGBTQI rights, poverty and sustainable livelihoods, social and environmental injustice, economic dependency, and conflict and what we can do to help effect change for the better. To quote an African proverb, “Use your tongue to count your teeth” for it is only through deep reflection that one will realise what needs to be done and how one should do it.    

This article was written by Dr Stephanie Cawood from the Centre for Gender and Africa (CGAS) Studies at the University of the Free State

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