On 25 May 2022, the Geneva Graduate Institute was graced with an array of vibrant colours and distinctive designs worn by African students. Not only were these students dressed to represent their own countries, but they also incorporated designs and patterns from other countries across Africa. Thus, from the boubous of Senegambia, dashikis of Ghana, vitenge of East Africa and Ndebele patterns of Southern Africa, the African continent was well represented.
Through the seemingly simple medium of clothing, African students highlighted several aspects of the continent. These include its beauty, diversity, complexity and unity. However, the acts of African students on this day served a wider purpose.
Mobilised by the Afrique Student Association (ASA), African students sought to celebrate Africa Day. Since 1963, African countries have observed this day on an annual basis to commemorate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was later transformed to the African Union (AU). Given its links to the OAU, Africa Day represents several of the values embedded in the organisation and the period in which it was established.
Pan-Africanism is arguably the most important of these values. It refers to the belief that people of African descent have common interests and should therefore be unified.
Prior to the establishment of the OAU, Pan-Africanism was expressed through the Pan-African Congresses of the 1900s. These Congresses provided platforms for people of African descent to meet and discuss matters of common concern, the biggest of which were African liberation and decolonisation.
Thus, Pan-Africanism came hand-in-hand with the African struggle for self-determination. To many African leaders, Pan-Africanism was the only means by which the continent would be truly liberated. Yet, Pan-Africanism would not be fully achieved unless African nations were free. This belief is best exemplified by the words of the first president of Guinea, Sékou Touré:
National independence is…what African unity is for each of our nations, and what soil fertility is for a tree. Indeed, none of our nations taken in isolation could validly represent Africa or completely rehabilitate its peoples.
Upon its establishment, the OAU became the embodiment of Pan-Africanism and its goal of decolonisation, and to many, it was successful at achieving this goal.
Indeed, by 1999, more than 50 African countries had become independent and the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa had fallen. However, many pointed to the enduring colonial structures and limited regional integration to highlight gaps in the OAU’s performance. Many also underscored the organisation’s limited action against conflict and the relatively low living standards afforded to Africans to highlight the need for improvement. Thus, the OAU was relaunched in 2002 as the AU, placing African peoples and their interests at its core.
Since its establishment, the AU has accomplished many things, including the adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) agreement and the development of an effective institutional design for promoting peace and security.
African countries have also made significant achievements through regional economic communities (RECs) and other multilateral efforts, bilateral collaborations as well as their own unilateral actions. However, African countries and institutions continue to face challenges, many of which are linked to the continent’s colonial history.
As time passes and the world changes, African countries and institutions are also faced with new challenges and opportunities. On Africa Day, Africans look back and appreciate these developments. We remember the continent’s difficult past and recognise its progress. We acknowledge the continent’s challenges while celebrating its victories. Furthermore, we look to the future with hope and determination, mapping out various possibilities for Africa.
It is in the spirit of such reflection that African students closed the day by attending the “What Future for African Multilateralism?” panel discussion. This discussion was held at the Maison de la paix and was organised by the Global Governance Centre as well as the African Division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
The keynote speaker was former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Benin and former Permanent Representative of the AU to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Jean-Marie Ehouzou. In line with the tenets of Pan-Africanism, the discussion highlighted the need for African countries to work together in meeting the demands of recent global developments.
Inspired by similar reflections, ASA is organising the Geneva Summit on Africa from 13-14 October 2022 with the main aim of bringing together various stakeholders from Africa and its diaspora. In doing so, the summit will act as a platform for the exchange of ideas, amplifying African voices and encouraging innovative strategies for Africa’s continued advancement.
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Learn more about the Geneva Summit on Africa.