African leaders yesterday opened extravagant celebrations for the 50th jubilee of the continental bloc, with Africa’s myriad problems set aside for a day to mark the progress that has been made. African Union Chairman and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told leaders as he opened the celebrations they should seek to “create a continent free from poverty and conflict, and an Africa whose citizens enjoy a middle income status.”
Today’s 54-member AU is the successor of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), established amid the heady days as independence from colonial rule swept the continent in 1963. “While our founders met for the formation of the OAU at the dawn of the independence period 50 years ago, it is fitting that we are meeting here today at a time when Africa is rising,” Hailemariam added, speaking in the modern Chinese-built AU headquarters.
Leaders said the celebrations would boost the movement to support pan-Africanism. “When we therefore talk about African solutions to African problems, it is because we know that we can only permanently silence the guns if we act in solidarity and unity,” said AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
But while speaking optimistically about ‘the bright future of Africa’, she also noted that “the self-reliance and economic independence that our founders spoke of remains a bit elusive and social inequalities remain.” African leaders were joined by UN leader Ban Ki-moon, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and US Secretary of State John Kerry, while French President Francois Hollande and China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang were expected to attend celebrations later.