Wednesday 25 May 2022

May 25th 1963: Africa Day | The establishment of the Organisation of African Unity

Kwame Nkrumah speaks as Ahmed Ben Bellah and Gamal Nasser look on

"Africa Day". The Organisation of African Unity (O.A.U.) was formally founded in May 1963 at a landmark summit. The summit was marked by three speeches delivered by Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt (then named the United Arab Republic); Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana; and Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria in Africa Hall, the conference building in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. All three men belonged to the "Casablanca Bloc" of African nations who aimed to have a federation of African countries in contrast to those of the "Monrovia Bloc" who felt that African unity could be gradually achieved through economic cooperation. However, all were committed to the idea of expunging colonialism and Apartheid from the African continent.

1. Nasser called for an All-Africa Charter, periodic meetings of African Heads of State and a total boycott against racial discrimination by "all ways and means." In addressing the issue of past exploitation, Nasser said "we are prepared to forgive the past, but we are not ready to forget." He called on the conference to establish an organisation "to guide a free and united African will."

2. Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the "Casablanca Bloc" and leading exponent of the ideology of Pan-Africanism, developed his theme that Africa must "unite or perish". He proposed that a constitution for "union government of Africa" be drawn up, and that plans needed to be made to integrate economic, foreign and defence policy as well as the establishment of common African citizenship. An overarching economic plan would involve setting up a common market, a central bank, and common currency.

3. Ben Bella attacked Portugal and South Africa. He claimed that 10,000 Algerian volunteers were ready to fight for the "liberation of Angola". "We must all agree to die a little so that African freedom shall not be an empty word". Africa could not tolerate ten million Portuguese insulting with impunity over three hundred million Africans. He called for the adoption of an African Charter. Ben Bella's speech was the shortest one but reported to have drawn the strongest applause.

All heads of state later attended a large reception hosted by Emperor Haile Selassie, the penultimate event before the signing of the All-Africa Charter the following day, May 26th. Calls were made to sever diplomatic relations with both Portugal and South Africa and the institution of a trade boycott.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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