Africa Day and its Discontent

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Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU

Africa Day held on Monday.

.The Theme for 2020 manifestation was : “Silencing the Guns in the context of the COVID19”.

Any terrestrial body from the outer space reading about the chosen theme would be right to define the continent almost in terms of double jeopardy of scores of wars of attrition and global pandemic devastating the continent. And she would definitely not be wrong even as she has been misguided. Of course many avoidable armed conflicts are truly suffocating the African continent.

They include South Sudan war with estimated 400,000 deaths, the decade-long senseless Boko Haram killing spree which had claimed some 30,000 people with more than two million displaced. Congo wars had caused 5.4 million deaths, principally through disease and starvation, presumed the deadliest conflict since World War II.

The historic conflicts were as wasteful of human lives as the ongoing ones, namely Nigerian Civil War—1967-70 with over 1 million deaths, mostly civilians, Rwandan Genocide—1994, Civil War was an internal conflict in Liberia from 1989 until 1997. Liberia, a country of less than 5 millions, lost 250,000 with many thousands displaced. Nigeria reportedly spent $12 billion and lost over 1000 troops on Liberia peace campaign within the context of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the 90s! Certainly a renewed sermon on “Silencing the Guns” is in order for a bleeding continent in which the notorious war lord, Eastern Libyan forces commander Khalifa Haftar urged his troops to battle harder to take Tripoli even during the month of Ramadan! Covid: 19 Africa has also definitely increased the noise level of devastations.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) hysterically announced that about 250,000 million people in Africa would be infected with the deadly viral disease out of which some 190,000 could die in the first 12 months. If North African countries like Egypt, Sudan and Libya were added, the scenario for the continent in terms of statistics of potential mass burials under COVID 19 is better imagined. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) had given fillips to the notion of life expectancy with it’s projection that over 300,000 Africans could lose their lives due to COVID-19.
With these grim figures of self inflicted wars and ubiquitous Virus, it is understandable why the twin-theme of war and disease captured the imagination of AU’s bureaucrats in Addis Abba. However the vision of the founding fathers of AU was transformative and revolutionary rather than managerial of issues of the moment. The motivation was unity as a means as much as an end.

Founded in 1963, the aim of the Organization of Africa Unity, the precursor of Africa Union (AU) was to safeguard the interests and independence of all African states, encourage the continent’s development, and settle disputes among member states. In fact, AU at 57th anniversary invokes the nostalgia of the great speech of Ghana’s then president, Kwame Nkrumah.

On 24 May 1963, the then 32 independent African countries met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, “to find ways to unite the continent”. Nkrumah’s speech has been defined as “the definitive blueprint” for a strong, but so far sadly elusive, African unity”. . “Our objective” he declared “ is African union now.

There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish. I am confident that by our concerted effort and determination, we shall lay here the foundations for a continental Union of African States.”

The theme of unity is a recurring theme for Africa. To what extent as Africans have united against colonialism, neocolonialism, armed conflicts and now COVID :19 ? Even more important to what extent have achieved “continental union of African states” for development Nkrumah had envisaged.

I agree with the President of Namibia, Dr. Hage Geingob, that African Union (AU) had achieved “what some thought would be impossible – a free, democratic, self-governing and most importantly an Africa without incessant civil wars” .

Indeed Africa has come of age as articulated by Nigeria’s General Murtala Ramat Muhammed in his “Africa Has Come of Age” speech at the OAU Summit Summit on Angola which categorically mobilised African Heads of State for the recognition of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) as the authentic government of the Angolan people contrary to the preference of United States of America and the West in general. In 1963 only half of African countries were politically independent.

In 1963, Nelson Mandela and others were out of trail for sedition for standing up against the crime against humanity which Apartheid was.
In 1964 Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment. After spending 27 years behind bars, Mandela was released in 1990, thanks to global solidarity campaign led by OAU. Mandela voted for the first time in his life in 1994 and became the first democratically elected President of non- racial South Africa.

Today the entire continent is politically sovereign with the exception of Western Sahara still under the domination of Morocco reigned by the French.

The chair of the Africa Union, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa hit the nail on the head when in his anniversary speech he observed that “As Africans we will continue to stand on the side of justice and support the people of the Western Sahara in their enduring struggle for freedom and self-determination”. Undoubtedly Africa Day held “in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic”, with 96 000 Africans infected and almost 3 000 dead.
I agree that “COVID 19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on…. the aspiration of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 of a peaceful, united and prosperous continent”.

Coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected both lives and livelihoods.. However the official focus in the continent had been on impact on businesses, employment and incomes with series of bail outs. What of the impact on education of millions of students in Africa ? As the continent gradually eases out, it’s time to critically assess the impact on education. In many African countries literacy level is still low. In Nigeria before the pandemic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicated that the population of children out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world!
Today as many as 120,000,000 children and students are currently out of school in West Africa, most of them from Nigeria.

If measures are not in place urgently, there might be renewed MASS ILLITERACY in Africa.

COVID-19 had once again exposed the underdevelopment of educational infrastructure and the inherent inequalities between the education of the children of well having parents and mass of children in abandoned public schools.
It’s time for genuine collaboration and unity of purpose between African states in combating the impact of the pandemic within the new normal and within the context of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Issa Aremu is a Member National Institute, Kuru Jos.