The Union at 50

African OnionThe 50th anniversary of the African Union – May 25th – marks an opportunity to celebrate half a century of Pan-African ideas. The Union, formerly the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), has managed to last a good thirty years longer than the current European Union – though, during those years, it has never been far from controversy. Based on a compromise between federalism and state sovereignty, its ideals of “peace, stability and security”, “unity and solidarity”, to name a few, have frequently been compromised by accusations of secrecy, of the whitewashing of dictatorial regimes, and by the less high-minded political aspirations of individual member states. Nevertheless, its survival as an organisation encompassing nearly every country on the Continent is testament to the strength of Pan-Africanism. Now that Africa is experiencing such growth as never before, it is perhaps right to see the AU – while not forgetting its flawed past – as symbolic of the strength and potential of a united Africa.

by Alasdair MacKinnon

Pan-Africanism as a concept arose out of the struggle for African liberation. A far back as the eighteenth century organisations such as the Sons of Africa in London were campaigning with European abolitionists for an end to the slave trade. The fight for freedom gained new impetus under colonial rule, with the first Pan-African Conference taking place in 1900. Since the coming of independence – starting with Ghana in 1957 – Pan-Africanism has become associated with the American Civil Rights Movement and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa – which involved the work of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

Today, some of the goals of past Pan-Africanists have been partly or wholly achieved: with the long hoped-for abolition of Apartheid in the early ’90s, a new optimism arose, leading eventually to the renewal and redefinition of the Organisation for African Unity as the African Union. This year, 2013, the AU has declared to be the “Year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”: reflecting the notion that the unity born out of conflict and oppression can help to assuage the social and economic problems they leave behind. Now that many of the Continent’s economies are expanding, and with technology following the sudden upsurge, many see ICTs as the way to turn the Pan-African dream into a reality.

African ICT Week 2012, organised by NEPAD last November, took as its theme “Promoting Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance through ICT”. The week was intended to provide a constant focus on the gains Africa has made, through ICT, towards the establishment of a knowledge-based economy, and to inspire efforts to integrate ICTs into “all our activities, our methods, working tools, our plans and programs of development…  [providing] a platform for creating awareness about the opportunities, challenges and benefits derived by adoption of ICTs in Africa.” The development of infrastructure and acceptance of technology, so prominent during the ICT Week, was also taken up as a key goal at the 20th ordinary session of the AU, on January 27th this year. To ensure the creation of an integrated, people-centred, prosperous Africa at peace with itself, “we must accelerate integration and connectivity” – as Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said, opening the session.

The development of technology has always been something of a Pan-African endeavour – intrinsically requiring co-operation and facilitating communication between states. Launched in February 2009 and now in its second phase, the Pan-African e-Network project, set up between India and the AU, is one example of an infrastructure project which seeks to unite all 53 member states of the Union not just physically – by means of satellite and fibre-optic linkages – but also socially, through the transference of skills, eGovernment, eHealth and eCommerce services, between African countries and the Subcontinent. These links have allowed for tele-education and tele-medicine projects, using Indian expertise, to be extended to 53 hospitals in Africa; and for the health training of 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students in remote areas through Continuing Medical Education.

As a Pan-African endeavour itself, the eLearning Africa Conference is proud to play its own part in helping the exchange of ideas across the Continent. With education and technology playing such a large part in many African countries’ development agendas, and in the final countdown to the 2015 expiry date of the Millennium Development Goals, we hope to see many mutually beneficial trans-African co-operations born out of this year’s conference in Windhoek. The work of keynote speaker Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah and the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society, a civil society organisation operating across Africa, is sure to be of interest with anyone interested in Pan-Africanism and the opportunities it offers: and for those interested in Indian-African co-operation, the plenary and conversation sessions to be delivered by fellow keynote speaker Sugata Mitra, initiator of the “Hole-in-the-Wall” project, are highly recommended.

eLearning Africa applauds the African Union on its 50th birthday, and looks forward to the developments the next half-century will bring.

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