The 25 May is Africa Day. As this day is celebrated, I would urge/dare you to do one or more of the following:
- Spend 5 minutes or more reflecting on something great about the continent.
- Buy some music from Africa: what about getting the music of Angelique Kidjo, a compilation album from Richard Nwambe or the album Africa, The Essential Album which features the sounds of Salif Keita, Baba Maal and Fela Kuti?
- Grab a bite of something from elsewhere in Africa – find a place near you that serves authentic food from another country or, if you you have no alternative, purchase a heat-and-eat “Moroccan” meal from Woolworths.
- Buy a book by someone who writes in a riveting way about people, “place” and lifestyles in a part of Africa that is unfamiliar to you.
- Contact the Johannesburg-based Film Resource Unit - which aims to nurture an audience for African film - and borrow one of their titles.
Africa is a place teeming with diverse people, it is a festival of different cultures and it boasts abundant colour, vibrancy, sounds and unique ways of looking at the world. It has immense cultural, spiritual and social wealth. But beyond this, you may ask, what are the signs of progress, future-orientation and dynamism in Africa?
Looking at the continent these days, one can see many changes that bode well for the future. We can note:
- The new institutions - for example the African Union and the African Parliament - as well as reinvigorated regional bodies.
- The Nepad initiative - although this programme has lost out on promised development funds from G8 countries as the West’s interest became diverted by 9/11 and the Iraq war.
- Despite the conflict zones, the sustained peace in most regions and democracy is alive and thriving in most countries.
- A new sense of hope, stoked in no small way by South Africa’s liberation and the efforts of South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki to fire up a regeneration.
Of course, the hope is not grounded enough in - or sufficiently backed up by - actions, activities and programmes on the ground. There are not enough breakthroughs in terms of the way countries use their resources, govern themselves, refresh their national leadership and find ways to build sustainable and vibrant economies.
What is different is the better quality of interaction and relationships between countries in Africa. Countries are hooking up better with each other in mediation efforts, peacekeeping missions, engagement with the G8 and in developing tariff-free economic zones.
Through the Peer Review Mechanism, countries are seeking to develop a shared language about what good practice in government is and beginning to evaluate each other’s performance in terms of stated commitment to certain principles.
By and large, government leaders and office bearers in different countries will today be holding stiff ceremonies marked by solemn speeches. To be sure, such pious commemorations do not sit well with many people.
Nevertheless, this day provides much to think about and celebrate. For example, every day, millions of ordinary people on the continent wake up and begin carving out a living for themselves and their families. They till their fields, make crafts and artifacts, engage in micro-selling, go to formal and informal jobs, assist each other, engage in community activities and care for their children. Through these endeavours, they take forward their quest for a life lived in dignity. They don’t have the luxury of skepticism and fatalism – in fact, for many, if they gave in to pessimism they would be dead.
I celebrate Africa Day mainly as a way of saluting the resilience and determination of the mass of ordinary folk who inhabit the continent. I believe we honour these people by continuing to build, by working with what we have and by taking small actions to make Africa a better place.