By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
The African Union (AU) is an organization which was established on May 26, 2001 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AU has a membership of 54 African states. The AU replaced the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The most important decisions of the AU are made by the Assembly of the African Union, a semi-annual meeting of the heads of state and government of its member states.
The African Union’s secretariat, the African Union Commission, is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the AU, was established on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The OAU Charter was adopted on May 23, 1963 by representatives of 32 governments. Other African states joined the organization over the years, with South Africa becoming the 53rd member on May 23, 1994.
Since then, with the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011 there are now 54 member states of the AU. The OAU was postcolonial Africa’s first continent-wide association of independent states. Many of these states came into being after the arbitrary division of the African continent by European colonizers following the infamous “Scramble for Africa”.
The “Scramble for Africa” began after the abolition of chattel slavery by some European nations, including Britain (August 1, 1834) and the impending abolition by others, including the Spanish (Cuba, October 7, 1886) and Portuguese (Brazil, May 13, 1888). Not being satisfied with the centuries of exploitation of African bodies and labour and the subsequent devastation of the African continent, greedy Europeans planned to continue the exploitation.
In his 1974 published book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa Guyanese scholar and historian Walter Rodney wrote: “From the beginning, Europe assumed the power to make decisions within the international trading system. An excellent illustration of that is the fact that the so-called international law which governed the conduct of nations on the high seas was nothing else but European law.
“Africans did not participate in its making, and in many instances, African people were simply the victims, for the law recognized them only as transportable merchandise. If the African slave was thrown overboard at sea, the only legal problem that arose was whether or not the slave ship could claim compensation from the insurers! Above all, European decision-making power was exercised in selecting what Africa should export – in accordance with European needs.”
Much of the wealth that gives European dominated nations the status of ‘developed’ countries was derived from the unpaid labour of generations of enslaved Africans who were routinely worked to death so that the Europeans could accumulate undeserved wealth.
The “Scramble for Africa” and the decades of colonization of the African continent began with a diabolic meeting of the minds on November 15, 1884 at the Berlin Conference. This meeting lasted until February 26, 1885 and when the dust cleared the African continent had been carved up by the representatives of several European nations.
The masterminds of this atrocity included representatives of Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey and the USA, who decided to carve up the African continent for their benefit. At the time, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal had colonies on the African continent so the other European tribes wanted the opportunity to exploit Africans and Africa.
Chattel slavery, the European 400-year plunder and brutalization of Africans was almost at an end (at least on paper) so these parasites were seeking another method of leeching off of human and other resources of Africa. With no regard for African culture or history, no consultation with any African, this group of White men drew borders that separated families and forced together groups that traditionally lived separately.
At the launch of the OAU on May 25, 1963, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, the late Emperor of Ethiopia, spoke about the European ravishment of Africa and the effects: “The events of the past hundred and fifty years require no extended recitation from us. The period of colonialism into which we were plunged culminated with our continent fettered and bound, with our once proud and free peoples reduced to humiliation and slavery; with Africa’s terrain cross-batched and checkerboarded by artificial and arbitrary boundaries. Many of us, during those bitter years, were overwhelmed in battle, and those who escaped conquest did so at the cost of desperate resistance and bloodshed. Others were sold into bondage as the price extracted by the colonialists for the ‘protection’ which they extended and the possession of which they disposed. Africa was a physical resource to be exploited and Africans were chattels to be purchased bodily or, at best, peoples to be reduced to vassalage and lackeyhood. Africa was the market for the produce of other nations and the source of the raw materials with which their factories were fed.”
The idea for an organization of African nations came out of the process of decolonization in Africa. For decades after the infamous “Scramble for Africa” the continent was occupied by Europeans who stole African land and not only kept the most fertile land for their use by displacing the Africans but they also passed laws forcing Africans to provide cheap labour on the farms/plantations the Europeans established.
Africans were brutalized by Europeans who were protected by well-armed European military personnel provided by the various European nations. The struggle for decolonization gained momentum after the second European tribal conflict which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Many Africans were forced to fight in what was a battle between mostly European nations at war with each other.
Following that conflict, which was mostly fought in Europe, the Africans who returned to their continent realised that White men were not all powerful or immortal and died from bullet wounds just like the Africans the Europeans routinely killed.
The 1950s witnessed the victory of several African nations regaining their independence from the colonizing Europeans. Many of the freedom fighters were inspired by the Pan-Africanist philosophy of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. After gaining their independence these African nations united to preserve and consolidate their independence as a political collective.
His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I said on May 25, 1963 in his greetings to the delegates of the first gathering of the independent African nation states at the launch of the OAU: “We seek, at this meeting, to determine whither we are going and to chart the course of our destiny. It is no less important that we know whence we came. An awareness of our past is essential to the establishment of our personality and our identity as Africans. This world was not created piecemeal. Africa was born no later and no earlier than any other geographical area on this globe. Africans, no more and no less than other men, possess all human attributes, talents and deficiencies, virtues and faults.
“Thousands of years ago, civilizations flourished in Africa which suffer not at all by comparison with those of other continents. In those centuries, Africans were politically free and economically independent. Their social patterns were their own and their cultures truly indigenous. The obscurity which enshrouds the centuries which elapsed between those earliest days and the rediscovery of Africa are being gradually dispersed. What is certain is that during those long years Africans were born, lived and died. Men on other parts of this Earth occupied themselves with their own concerns and, in their conceit, proclaimed that the world began and ended at their horizons. All unknown to them, Africa developed in its own pattern, growing in its own life and, in the 19th century, finally re-emerged into the world’s consciousness.”
May 25 is African Liberation Day and has been observed as such since May 25, 1963 with the launch of the AOU. It is well for us to remember what we have suffered and what we have achieved. As May 25, 2014 approaches let us remember the words of The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey who said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
And also keep in mind the words of His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellasie I: “An awareness of our past is essential to the establishment of our personality and our identity as Africans.”