Africa Day: Celebrating Unity and Freedom Day

Celebrations on Africa Day look at  the annual commemorations of Africa’s independence, freedom and liberation 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).

Annual on this day the AU celebrates 54 years of determined efforts for unity among the African people and socio-economic freedom from foreign dominion and exploitation.

These are things to know about Africa Day, sourced from

1. Inspired by Ghana Independence

The end of World War II saw great efforts from Africans aimed at the decolonisation of the continent and 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 south of the Sahara to gain its independence on March 6, 1957 under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah.

Ghana’s independence 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, with representatives of the National Liberation Front of Algeria and the Union of Cameroonian Peoples.

At the meeting, the first African Freedom Day was celebrated, which was later recognised as Africa Day.

2. “May this convention of union Last 1000 years”

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 30 African nations.

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 1000 years.”

3. Common African unity and identity

The first Conference of Independent African States convened on April 15, 1958, in Ghana. The conference 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 15 was 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 27 of each year.

The formation of the OAU on May 25, 1963, marked the start of what would later be known as Africa Day.

4. South Africa’s rise in the AU

The ANC could not formally attend the first Conference of Independent African States in Ghana as it was prevented from doing so by the ruling apartheid government. However, a memorandum was sent to the conference.

There on behalf of the party was Transvaal ANC member and 1956 treason triallist Alfred Hutchinson, who left the country after his acquittal and attended the All African People’s Conference (AAPC) a few months later.

South Africa only became part of the OAU in 1994 following the end of apartheid rule, where 21 more member states had joined the OAU since its foundation in 1963.

Thirty-eight years after its formation, the OAU evolved into the AU on May 25, 2001, where South Africa paved the way as a founding member.

Although the AU remains headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, its legislative arm, the pan-African parliament, is situated in Midrand.

5. Development of the AU

At the AU’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2013, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the first female chairperson of the AU Commission (the AU’s administrative arm), spearheaded the launch of Agenda 2063, a long-term vision of where Africa should be in 50 years.

Themes are often set for each year’s Africa Day commemoration, with the most notable one being 2015’s “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. This theme was to hoist and inspire the role of women in the leadership and policy-making of the AU and in their work on Africa Day.

6. Women empowerment in the AU

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was welcomed as the first female chairperson of the AU Commission. During her tenure, Dlamini Zuma made women’s rights the theme of two consecutive AU summits, where the continental body started a major campaign to end child marriage, which has seen notable results.

7. Continent-wide disease control

January 2017 marked the launch of Africa’s continent-wide public health agency, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), which was established to help African member states of the AU respond to public health emergencies.

Five regional collaborating centres that will work with the African CDC Co-ordinating Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, have been selected.

8. Africa Day as a public holiday

Africa Day continues to be celebrated both in Africa and around the world, mostly on May 25 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.

African countries including Ghana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Mali and Zambia recognise Africa Day as a public holiday. International cities such as New York, Dublin, Melbourne, London and Washington engage in academic gatherings and cultural showcases to mark this special day.

9. Africa Day celebrations

Each year, a number of initiatives, celebrations and commemorations are enacted all over Africa and the rest of the world, marking the relevance of Africa Day in our lives today.

This year the theme is “The year of Nelson Mandela: Civil Society Dialogue with African Migrants”.

Gauteng celebrations take place tomorrow in Yeoville and include a carnival parade. –

Share you comments on what Africa day means to you and what is means to be African. 

Photo Credit- Getty images

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