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May 25th, Africa Day

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(The following is a post by Angel D. Batiste, Area Specialist, African and Middle Eastern Division.)

Africa. [Washington, D.C. : Central Intelligence Agency, 1998]
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division .
May 25th, Africa Day (originally called African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day) marks the annual commemoration in Africa and around the world of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The organization was created to deal with the continental affairs of the emerging independent Africa states from European colonialism. In 2002, the OAU was transformed into its successor organization, the present day African Union (AU).

The formation of the OAU/AU was strongly influenced by the intellectual, cultural and political movement of Pan-Africanism. Dating back to the 19th century, Pan-Africanism is a socio-political worldview, philosophy and movement stressing the principles of the unity of the African continent and peoples of African heritage in political, cultural and economic matters. Celebrating 54 years of the OAU/AU, the occasion gives an opportunity for Africans and people of African descent to look back on the achievements of the Pan-African movement at national, regional and continental levels in Africa and pay special tribute to the legacy and values of the founding fathers of the OAU. The celebration also provides the opportunity for African nations to look ahead to accelerate socio-economic integration across the continent and assert Africa’s place on the global stage.  The Africa Day theme for the 54th anniversary of the OAU/AU pays tribute to African Youth, “the driving force behind the economic prosperity of the coming decades.”

Following World War II, the process of decolonization of the African continent gathered momentum as Africans increasingly agitated for political freedom and the ending of European colonial rule. In 1945, the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester, England. The Congress brought together a number of important intellectuals and activists who would later go on to become influential leaders in various African independence movements; notably, Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah and Kenyan independence leader Jomo Kenyatta. Also in attendance was the distinguished African-American scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois. The Pan-African Congress of Manchester marked a turning point in the history of the Pan-African movement, demanding for the first time an end to decades of institutionalized colonial rule and an end to racial discrimination. The manifesto given by the Pan-African Congress also included political and economic demands for human rights, equality of economic opportunity, and a new world context of international cooperation.

Kwame Francis Nkrumah was inaugurated president of Ghana in July 1960. In ceremonial robes Nkrumah stands on a pedestal as the oath of office is administered. AP Wide World Photos.

Ghana was the first European colony, south of the Sahara, to become an independent Africa state in 1957, which inspired nationalist movements in countries across Africa. In 1958, the First Congress of Independent African States was convened in Accra, Ghana by independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, who later became the first president of Ghana. In attendance were African leaders and political activists representing the “independent” Governments of Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Union of the Peoples of Cameroon, and the National Liberation Front of Algeria. The Conference of Independent African States marked the formal launching of the Pan-African movement on African soil, and brought together leaders of nationalist movements who proclaimed African solidarity in the struggle against colonialism on the continent.

The 1958 conference was followed by another five years later in 1963, at which representatives of 32 African governments gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to sign a common charter setting up the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The year 1963 has been called “Africa’s Unity Year,” which began the push towards decolonization and the process of continental integration of the African states to secure the long-term economic and political future of the continent.

The Charter establishing the OAU, adopted in 1963, stated that the organization’s goals included the promotion of the unity and solidarity of African states, the defense of their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence, and the eradication of all forms of colonialism from Africa. Member states were to coordinate and harmonize their policies in various areas, including politics and diplomacy, economics, transportation, communications, education, health, and defense and security. Article 3 of the OAU Charter included, among its guiding principles, the sovereign equality of all member states, noninterference in the internal affairs of states, respect for their sovereignty and territorial integrity, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the emancipation of dependent African territories.

Four African leaders arrive at Casablanca airport for African Summit; from right, Modibo Keita of Mali, Sekou Toure of Guinea, King Mohammed of Morocco, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Following the period of decolonization, the Cold War, and apartheid in South Africa, African leaders recognized that the OAU’s framework was no longer adequate to meet the continent’s need for greater socio-integration, and to prevent its marginalization in the era of globalization. In order to better respond to the challenges facing the continent, and to realize the vision of the founding fathers for a peaceful, prosperous and united Africa, the OAU Assembly of African Heads of State and Government issued the Sirte Declaration in 1999, in Libya calling for the establishment of the African Union (AU). The Declaration was followed by summits at Lomé in Togo in 2000, when the Constitutive Act of the African Union was adopted, and at Lusaka in Zambia in 2001, when the plan for the implementation of the African Union was adopted. In 2002, the OAU was formally transformed into a new African Union (AU). Comparatively, the objectives of the AU are more comprehensive than those of the OAU. The AU has shifted focus from supporting liberation movements in the former African territories under colonialism and apartheid, as envisaged by the OAU since 1963 and the Constitutive Act, to an organization spearheading Africa’s development and socio-economic integration. In this connection, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) agenda, adopted by the AU in 2001, represents the new political will and commitment of African leaders and people to pursue new priorities and approaches towards the socio-economic transformation and development of the continent and the vision of an “African Renaissance.”

The Africana collections in the Library of Congress include a rich body of primary research resources chronicling the Pan-African unity movement underlying the institutional history of the establishment of the OAU, and its successor the African Union. Dating back to the First Pan-African Congress held in London in 1900, Africana holdings also include the historical landmark proceedings of the Manchester Congress (1945), the “Conference of Independent of African States” (1958), the “All Africa People’s Congress” (1958), acknowledged as the “true successor to the Pan-African Congresses, and the “Addis Ababa Summit” (1963) at which the OAU was founded.

Africana holdings of speeches and writings by the early Pan-African intelligentsia and founding fathers of the OAU/AU include important political figures such as Frantz Fanon (Martinique/Algeria), Leopold Sedar Senghor (Senegal), Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegal), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Ahmed Sékou Touré (Guinea), Ahmed Ben Bella (Algeria), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Amilcar Cabral (Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) and Patrice Lumumba (Congo). Seminal works on the Pan-African idea by African nationalist leaders of the anti-colonial struggle include Kwame Nkrumah’s “Africa Must Unite,” Julius Nyerere’s “Freedom and Socialism,” Amilcar Cabral’s “Return to the Source,” Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth,” and Patrice Lumumba’sLumumba Speaks: The Speeches and Writings of Patrice Lumumba, 1958–1961.” The researcher will find outstanding holdings of official records of the OAU/AU, including conference documents, declarations and resolutions, reports, speeches, and commissioned studies in the Africana collections. Notable examples include the charter of the OAU and major policy documents such as the “Lagos Plan of Action,” “Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community,” “African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” “New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)” and the “African Union Commission Strategic Plan.” Additional items of interest in studying the history of the formation of the OAU/AU are holdings of periodical titles produced by the OAU, including the “OAU Review” and the “African Journal On Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution.”

Complementing the valuable body of documentary materials on the institutional history of the OAU/AU is the Africana Pamphlet Collection containing important political ephemera items on various African nationalist movements, including nationalist movements in the former Portuguese colonies of Guinea Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique, and in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia.


  1. Very interesting! I remember the big road signs in Ghana celebrating the 1965 summit.

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