Sunday, May 26, 2013

AU at 50: 5 Reasons Africa Is Celebrating this Africa Unity Day

A year ago, as the world celebrated the 49th Africa Unity Day, we published an ambiguously received piece titled "What is Africa Really Mad About?" : ambiguous in that it avoided both the high-horsed 'charity case' approach that many external entities adopt when they view the continent; and the hard-headed defiant blindness to reality that several African nationalists will take up in defense of the motherland. Rather, the article outlined both the external and internal factors that were ultimately burdening the continent.

This year, the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity) turns 50. The continent has enjoyed and endured half a century of attempting to right the wrongs of colonialism, slavery and various forms of external disenfranchisement; all the while trying to stay true to herself and advance her children. On any other day, we can draw the endless list of vices that beguile Africa. Today, however, is a day draped in celebration. Here goes: 5 reasons why Africa is (or at least ought to be) proud this May 25th.

5) Africa for Africans: The continuous pursuit of total African independence
Colonialism, Apartheid, slavery and debt have caused more harm to the continent than meets the eye. Even though most of the listed plagues have been lifted from the continent, their legacy endures still and is mostly visible in the psychological and emotional disenfranchisement of Africa.

In recent years, however, there have been a renewed conscientious effort to repel Africa's place as the global 'little brother'. Despite external pressure, African supranational organizations are assuming the important role of overseeing the continent's democratic processes. Where traditional economic partnerships with the West have fallen short, there is a distinct move towards East Asia, and other markets that are more favorable to the continent's well-being.

That same passionate resilience is what led to the various independence movements of the 20th century and ended up bringing Africa's political independence. After independence was attained, however, there was a mixture of complacence and shell-shock as to how we go from there. It seems that, as the union celebrates its 50th anniversary, that same resilience is now back and looks poised to guide the continent from hereon!

4) African Heroes: The growing number of influential figures whose impact is felt beyond the African shores
In years gone, the idea of the African 'hero' was limited to their impact within the confines of the continent. Short of Nelson Mandela and a few others, the world barely had African figureheads to point out as role models: mostly because the continent had been methodically cut out of current and historic media.

Although there is still plenty work to be done, one can barely ignore the global imprint of the modern African hero. We can look to Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi who has been regarded as the most important man in the Middle East to the likes of Betty Makoni and Thulani Madondo who left their mark on the CNN Heroes celebration in recent years. In 2011, Leila Lopes of Angola did the continent proud as she was crowned Miss Universe. Last year, Nigeria's finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was shortlisted to lead the World Bank, and lost out controversially to American Jim Yong Kim at the last hurdle.

The modern day African hero is bigger than one who inspires only Africans, or inspires the world through only their African example. Today's African hero makes their impact, and leaves their inspiration, globally.

3) Permeation onto the Global Scene

In much the same vein as #4, the African has always been the 'other'. His talents were purely for the entertainment and/or economic value of outsiders. Her beauty was no more than an object of sexual and cultural fascination (a la Sarah Baartman.)
As Africa continues to assert itself, the continent is no longer an addendum to the world agenda; but rather a very part of setting it! For example, where African art was usually typecast as a foreign species, it is now commonplace to find African artists practicing in the exact same platform as Western counterparts without being limited to 'being the African." For example, Hip-Hop Artists Wale and Akon are an integral part of the fabric of that culture, yet maintain their second generation African heritage strongly while doing so. Mainstream sport, business and government are the same; The 'Africanness' of someone or something is hardly the first thing noticeable when discussing modern day exploits. The African is no longer here just to play the role of 'the African'; they are here to stand side by side with the rest of the world as fellows.

2) 'Motherland' in Every Way: A slowly-but-surely cracking 'glass ceiling'

As the world continues to grapple with the notion of female leadership, and while Africa battles with ongoing marginalization of women, it is heartwarming to see the strides that the continent is setting in reversing traditional global parochial roles. With Joyce Banda (Malawi) and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (Liberia) holding court as presidents of their respective nations, the number of African women who are assuming influential positions beyond their immediate borders is phenomenal. Whether it Ghanaian Lisa Opoku who currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer for Goldman Sachs or  Maud Chifamba, a 14 year old Zimbabwean University student (possibly the youngest- male or female- in the history of Southern Africa!), African women continue the rich legacy of women leaders that has been with the continent since its conception

1) The Renaissance of Unmatched Cultural Pride

As Africa has taken a beating over the centuries, it is almost remarkable how resolute the culture has remained. From Timbuktu to Soweto, Giza to Casablanca, the continent's cultural robustness has never been deniable. If anything, Africa is Africa's culture. 
While the culture is indeed resolute, the pride thereof has not necessarily been- understandably so, as the aforementioned beating the continent has taken wore it down. It is hard to uphold the utmost cultural pride when politics, economies and languages have been dissected and modeled after foreign ones: when social status has been tied to being able to fluently speak the colonial European language as opposed to the indigenous one etc.

Today, that pride is re-emerging. The African diaspora identifies with the continent beyond just the romanticized "Motherland" concept. Colleges around the world are now teaching African cultural studies beyond just the Pyramids, the geography and colonial history. African leaders dine with those from other parts of the world and can dress in traditional garments, not because they do not know better, but because that is how you best represent yours! As illustrated in my earlier examples, global icons of African descent are actively trying to attach themselves to the continent. Where in the past, the story of Africa has been told through "Coming to America" and the "Lion King", Africa has now risen to tell its own multi-faceted story through a vibrant art industry all round. I mean, did the Vuvuzela not blow loud and proud at the World Cup in 2010? That was the voice of the continent, telling the world "Welcome to our shores. This is us, and what we do. We hope you like it, but in the off-chance you don't, well, just bear with us!"

I do not attempt to view Africa in rose-tinted glasses: there is a lot of work to be done. Today, on this 50th anniversary, it is worth recognizing that there also is a lot to celebrate

Aluta Continua! Pamberi Nekubatana! Uhuru naKazi! Nkosi s'ikeleli Africa! Long Live the Motherland!

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