Africa Day (25th May) was celebrated across Australia, with numerous events held to mark the occasion over the last two weeks. It’s an opportunity to honour Africa’s diverse cultures and achievements and is a commemoration of the signing on the 25 May 1963 of the founding charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)—now the African Union. The charter was signed by 30 African leaders, of the then 32 independent states of Africa. The key objectives of the OAU were to unite newly independent Africa states and to free all other African states from colonial rule and white minority governments.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the charter, providing a chance to assess the momentous changes that have occurred on the continent in the last five decades. The African Studies Association of Australasia and Pacific sponsored Africa Day events at both Flinders University and Griffith University. The Australian National University hosted an Africa Update conference which examined Africa–Australia relations. And the Centre for Dialogue, at La Trobe University hosted ex-PM and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd who presented the inaugural Australia–Africa dialogue address, ‘Africa–Australia relations: Challenges and Prospects’.
Rudd had a lot of positive things to say about the rise of Africa. He highlighted the rapid economic growth taking place in many African states and the progress made in improving governance, stability and security on the continent. Rudd stated that “part of this dialogue is to convey this basic economic message to Australia’s businesses: that Africa is open for business.”
It’s estimated that Australian investment in Africa—both current and prospective—is worth over $50 billion, predominately in the resource sector. The Australian Mining for Development Initiative is a $140 million dollar program to assist in developing African mining expertise through courses at Australian mining centres. Rudd shared many positive economic statistics on Africa with the audience; “World Bank analysis shows that about 25% of the countries in Africa, notably Sierra Leone, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Rwanda, grew at 7% or higher, putting them in the league of with the fastest growing countries in the world”.
Rudd discussed our newest embassy in Addis Ababa, which is accredited to the African Union, and explained that Australia is reportedly now seeking membership of both the African Development Fund and the African Development Bank. Australia, he said, is making significant contributions to peace and security on the continent, providing equipment and financial support to the African Union’s Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia, and with Australian personnel serving in the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan.
To conclude, Rudd said that; “I am an optimist for how Australia and Africa can work together productively to secure a strong future for our respective peoples. Over the years and decades to come, I look forward to seeing an Australian–African relationship that is closer, deeper and stronger than ever before”.
It’s evident that Australian engagement with Africa has really taken off and that there’s now no turning back. Africa is rising relatively rapidly and Australia needs to continue to ensure that it is a real part of this growth story.
As a coda to Africa Day, let me finish with an excerpt from Thabo Mbeki’s poetic speech, ‘I am an African,’ given several years ago at the passing of South Africa’s new constitution. The beauty of this speech can be appreciated by people from anywhere in the world;
I am born of the peoples of the continent of Africa. The pain of the violent conflict that the peoples of Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, Burundi and Algeria is a pain I also bear. The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my continent is a blight that we share. The blight on our happiness that derives from this and from our drift to the periphery of the ordering of human affairs leaves us in a persistent shadow of despair. This is a savage road to which nobody should be condemned. This thing that we have done today, in this small corner of a great continent that has contributed so decisively to the evolution of humanity says that Africa reaffirms that she is continuing her rise from the ashes…Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace! However improbable it may sound to the skeptics, Africa will prosper!
Sabrina Joy Smith is a PhD candidate with the Centre for the Study of the Great Lakes region of Africa at the Institute for Development Studies and Management, Belgium. She is currently based in New South Wales. Image courtesy of Flickr user ohocheese.