Celebrations on May 25th, crowned as Africa Day, recite the annual commemorations of Africa’s independence, freedom and liberation strife from colonial imperialists. The reinforcement of this liberation was the first union of African countries on African soil; the foundation of the regional integration body; the Organisation of the African Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963, which 38 years later, evolved into the African Union (AU). Today, the continental organisation celebrates 54 years of determined efforts for unity among the African people, and socioeconomic freedom from foreign dominion and exploitation. These are the top 10 things to know about Africa Day.
The end of World War II saw exceeding efforts from Africans over the process of decolonisation of the African continent for more political rights and independence from colonial rule; thus, between 1945 and 1965, a significant number of African countries gained independence from European colonial powers, with Ghana becoming the first African country in the South of the Sahara gaining its independence on March 6, 1957,under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana’s independence, therein, served as an inspiration to other African countries fighting against colonial rule, and Ghana played a central role in this objective.
A year after its independence, Ghana convened the first Conference of Independent African States on April 15, 1958. African countries in attendance included Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan, Liberia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco amongst others, with representatives of the National Liberation Front of Algeria and the Union of Cameroonian Peoples. The conference was a collective platform of the explicit assertion of Africa’s rejection of colonial and imperialist domination of the continent, becoming the first Pan-African liberation conference to be held on the continent, bringing together various African countries. Further, at the meeting, the first African Freedom Day was celebrated, which was later recognised as Africa Day.
Five years later on May 25, 1963, following the sentiments of the conference held in Ghana, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hosted by Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. The OAU was formed in a meeting seating over thirty African nations with the aim to influence the decolonization of African countries including Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, and Southern Rhodesia. The organisation covenanted to support freedom fighters and remove military access to colonial nations, and a charter was established to improve the livelihood of member states across Africa, where Selassie pledged, “May this convention of union last 1,000 years.”
The first Conference of Independent African States convened on April 15, 1958, in Ghana and further encouraged and stamped a common African identity of unity and fighting against colonialism. The conference further called for the observance of African Freedom Day once a year to mark, “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.” April 15th was therein enacted as African Freedom Day or Africa Liberation Day, and countries all over the continent celebrate and mark the commemoration each year, with South Africa celebrating its Freedom Day on April 27th of each year. At the formation of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) on May 25, 1963, this marked the beginning of what would later be known as Africa Day.
Succeeding to the April conference, the All Africa People’s Conference (AAPC) was held on December 8th through 13th, 1958, in Accra, Ghana. The AAPC was attended by both independent and the then non-independent countries, including representatives of liberation movements.
Africa Day continues to be celebrated both in Africa (except South Africa) and around the world, mostly on May 25th since the sitting of the first conference in 1963. Some parts of the continent and throughout the world enjoy longer periods of celebrations stretched over a number of days or weeks, depending on the programme at hand.
For a number of Africans on the continent and part of the diaspora, Africa Day is a day where many different cultures of people from all African backgrounds come together to celebrate the diversity of Africa, the organisation of the African Union in its objectives for a decolonised African state. Although it looks to celebrate how far Africa has come, it is also a day to reflect on how far Africa still has to go in building a unified and decolonised continent.
African countries including Ghana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Mali, and Zambia recognise Africa Day as a public holiday. Other countries have celebrations to mark the historical day, while international cities, such as New York, Dublin, Melbourne, London, and Washington engage in academic gatherings and cultural showcases to mark the day.