The OAU was transformed into our present day African Union (AU) in 2002 in Durban. The leaders of our continent came together in 1963 because they saw the need for Africans to unite and fight for their freedom, independence, dignity, development and prosperity together. The African leaders realised that without unity, Africa would not move far in achieving her goals.
On Africa Day we celebrate the triumph of the African peoples against slavery, colonialism, apartheid and other political ills and forms of subjugation. We are also celebrating the progress we are making in building a better Africa working together within the ambit of the African Union.
On Africa Day, we pay homage to the great African men and women who fought tirelessly to ensure that Africa is freed from bondage, and to ensure the return of African dignity. These were selfless leaders who wanted to see only the best for the African continent, and wanted to see freedom reign in every corner of Africa.
Kwame Nkrumah proclaimed on the day that Ghana gained independence: “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa”. It is this selflessness that we must remember and cherish always in their memory.
Africa has partners in all the regions of the world – Asia, North America, South America, the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia and indeed all over. Together with our partners in these regions, we seek to build a better, and more just world, and to build a prosperous Africa, free of poverty, unemployment, disease and underdevelopment.
We want an Africa with modern infrastructure, where one can fly from one country to another within the continent, without having to go via Europe. We want an Africa where people are able to drive or ride by rail from one country to another with greater ease.
It is for this reason that we are working, under the auspices of the African Union, to build infrastructure that will boost economic development in our continent. We are also working to achieve regional integration and to promote trade amongst ourselves as Africans, as intra-trade remains very low, standing at a mere eleven percent. In this regard, we envisage concluding the negotiations for a Continental Free Trade Area next year.
In doing so, we are fulfilling the wishes of our forebears. Kwame Nkrumah outlined the vision of a prosperous Africa. Kwame Nkrumah said at the founding of the OAU in 1963;
“We shall accumulate machinery and establish steel works, iron foundries and factories; we shall link the various states of our continent with communications by land, sea, and air.
“We shall cable from one place to another, phone from one place to the other and astound the world with our hydro-electric power; we shall drain marshes and swamps, clear infested areas, feed the undernourished, and rid our people of parasites and disease."
It is up to us now to work harder than ever, to achieve this vision that was outlined by the founding fathers of our continent. The African Union socio-economic blueprint, Agenda 2063 perfectly captures the vision of where we want to take Africa and to build the Africa we want.
There is synergy between Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals that we adopted as member states of the United Nations in September last year. Most importantly, their sterling work has put continental self-reliance at the centre of our collective endeavours.
We cannot continue to be producers and exporters of raw materials. We need to strengthen the manufacturing capacities of our national economies through industrialisation. More importantly, the beneficiation of our raw materials remains of paramount importance. The mineral wealth of Africa must help eradicate poverty in the African continent. And we do have the mineral wealth in abundance.
Kwame Nkrumah pointed out in 1963 and this remains relevant today;
‘’It is said, of course, that we have no capital, no industrial skill, no communications, and no internal markets, and that we cannot even agree among ourselves how best to utilise our resources for our own social needs. Yet all stock exchanges in the world are preoccupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ore.’’
Africa cannot be left behind in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The sustainable development we seek will come about through the use of modern technology, and also through improving education in the continent. We must take advantage of the global digital revolution so as to create employment and better the lives of our people. The situation which we find ourselves in can be changed.
We are a very youthful continent and investment in education and skills development will take Africa closer to the goals of sustainable development and an end to hunger, disease and deprivation. Furthermore, our energy needs in the continent have increased. According to the International Energy Agency, sub-Sahara Africa witnessed a 45 percent rise in energy needs since the year 2000.
The electrification of the continent thus remains a key priority, and one of the most important infrastructure goals. Remarkable advances have already been made in solar and wind energy, among others. These efforts will not only enable us to satisfy our energy needs in the foreseeable future but will also assist us to reduce carbon emissions.
We can achieve all these goals. We need to draw inspiration from the word of our iconic leader nelson Mandela who said:-
“It always seems impossible until it's done.”
We can confidently say that Africa led the way with practical actions towards the realisation of the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, long before the said agreement was signed in April 2016.
We are proud of the contribution of the COP17 Climate Change conference in Durban, as the Durban Platform of Action led the way towards the signing of the agreement in Paris. This was significant progress by the African continent. We also need to diversify our economies in order to be globally competitive.
I do believe that unlocking the full potential of Africa’s ocean economy is overdue. South Africa is already investing in the ocean economy in a big way. We have already unlocked R17 billion worth of investments in the ports and other aspects of the oceans economy.
Agenda 2063 is very clear about the importance of our ocean economies and states that Africa’s Blue economy, which is three times the size of its landmass, shall be a major contributor to continental transformation and growth.
Pockets of conflicts in the continent have potential to limit the realisation of our socio-economic development goals. It is for this reason that the AU has prioritised peace and security. We have taken a resolution that the guns must be silenced in the continent by 2020. We want an Africa that is at peace with itself. An Africa where women and children live without fear of attacks. An Africa where there are no displaced people and refugees. The continent is doing something to end the conflicts. What has been of concern is the ability of the continent to respond with speed when conflict breaks out in order to protect lives.
The African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises which was established in November 2013 to fulfil this goal will remain in place. This mechanism will be replaced by the African Standby Force at a time to be decided by the continent’s leadership.
While we work hard to address challenges faced by the continent, we cannot turn a blind eye to challenges faced by humanity in other parts of the world. We are thus troubled by the tragic migration crisis in Europe which is being exploited by criminal elements to commit various crimes. The European Union (EU) Commission has recently released a report which links increased human trafficking to the current migration challenges in the region. The seriousness of this matter requires our urgent collective action.
I am certain that we all have realised that there is a need to resolve the challenges in countries where migrants come from. We will be short-sighted to believe that migration crisis can only be managed, whereas it can actually be prevented.
As Africans we have the responsibility to move Africa closer to the goal of prosperity. We are making steady progress towards that goal, with the support of development partners from all over the world.
By Jacob Zuma,
President of The Republic ofSouth Africa.