Fifty-two years ago leaders from 23 independent African countries gathered in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to launch the Organisation of African Unity. Its major objective was for those African countries which had already achieved political independence to mobilise resources to help nations on the continent still under colonial bondage to be free.
That dream came to near fruition with the attainment of majority rule in South Africa in 1994. To date, the Saharawi Democratic Republic, ironically occupied by Morocco, a fellow African country, remains the biggest scar on the road to a politically free Africa. Overall, it is mission accomplished. We have every reason to thank the founding fathers of OAU in 1963, now the African Union.
We are most fortunate in Zimbabwe that one of those present to witness that great event back then was none other President Robert Mugabe. Not only that. He is still with us today to not only connect us physically to that occasion, but to refocus the AU towards greater unity of a free Africa and towards economic independence.
The road to political independence was fraught with danger. Many lives were lost. People made huge sacrifices for self rule. Zimbabwe’s independence war is estimated to have cost about 50 000 lives.
President Mugabe last August assumed the chairmanship of Sadc. In January this year he added the AU chair, making a double.
He hit the ground running, as it were, spelling out the agenda for a truly independent Africa. He noted that it was important for African nations to take total control of their natural resources. He stressed the need for Africa to industrialise fast. That would ensure that Africans are able to add value and beneficiate their natural resources to derive greater value from exports than exporting raw materials. President Mugabe stressed the urgent need for Africa to increase the volume of trade among African states. The importance of this point needs stressing; technologically African countries are unable to compete effectively against Europe even where they are able to manufacture for exports. That means trade will always be in favour of Europe. It makes economic sense to trade among themselves first before they can venture out. The President has also spoken on the need to develop infrastructure as key enablers to investment, trade and economic growth. Road networks between African states are very poor. Those built during the colonial era were designed to serve the mother country.
There is also an acute shortage of power, hence the need to increase generation capacity. Recent power outages in Zimbabwe and South Africa have just demonstrated how vulnerable the regions are. Botswana and Zambia have also forecast power shortages as the region enters the winter season. We cannot overemphasise the need for investment in this important sub-sector if it is to play its central role in the region’s economic development.
In his capacity as AU chair, President Mugabe has been equally clear. Africa should provide solutions to African challenges. He said it was bad for the African Union to have more than 70 percent of its operations funded by donors. Africans will tend to lose ownership of their projects. They will have their priorities set by donors. He who pays the piper calls the tune, he suggested, which is true. He thus challenged African states to commit financially to fund their operations.
All this is encapsulated under the AU’s Agenda 2063, when the continent will celebrate 100 years of the founding of the OAU. The last half of the past century witnessed the attainment of political independence by nearly all African states. The first half of the current century should focus on economic independence.
It is the challenge for successive generations to emulate the courage, integrity, sacrifices and commitment of those who gave Africa political independence in the equally arduous fight for economic freedom. These are the issues which should seize the rest of the continent on Africa Day.
Zimbabwe has already made huge strides by reclaiming its land. It has led by example. It has set the agenda for Africa’s total liberation and independence.