May 25 represents the 57th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), later renamed the African Union (AU) in 2002.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
This year the continental organization of 55 member-states with numerous auxiliaries and agencies addressing issues related to peace and security, economic development, finance, gender equality, healthcare, among others, is struggling against the advent of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) which has become a pandemic threatening the stability and well-being of Africa’s 1.2 billion people.
The theme for Africa Day (Africa Liberation Day) 2020 is “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”, which undoubtedly is a worthy focus considering the degree to which national reconciliation and mutual cooperation between AU member-states is essential for qualitative growth and societal advancement. These guns to be silenced often have political and economic interests behind them that are at variance with the interests of the workers, farmers and youth making up the majority within Africa.
AU Peace and Security Commission Director H.E. Smail Chergui of Algeria is leading the agency in seeking solutions to questions of conflict prevention and early warning, crisis management, defense and security, along with peace support operations. In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic these issues are of utmost importance in order to provide the healthcare workers the space needed to carry out testing and treatment related to the virus as well as a host of other ailments impacting AU member-states.
Most African governments have imposed lockdowns and other measures designed to halt the spread of the pandemic. Countries such as Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa are continuing to impose restrictions on movement both within and outside of their territories. COVID-19 cases are being confirmed in significant numbers in South Africa and Egypt. However, overall Africa has not experienced the level of widespread outbreaks witnessed in Europe, the United States and in various Latin American states.
The African Center for Disease Control (ACDC), an affiliate agency of the AU, is charged with monitoring the health status of member-states. Its website says that:
“Africa CDC strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programs….. Established in January 2016 by the 26th Ordinary Assembly of Heads of State and Government and officially launched in January 2017, Africa CDC is guided by the principles of leadership, credibility, ownership, delegated authority, timely dissemination of information, and transparency in carrying out its day-to-day activities. The institution serves as a platform for Member States to share and exchange knowledge and lessons from public health interventions.”
Statistics published by Africa CDC indicate that as of May 23 there are 108,109 confirmed COVID-19 cases within AU member-states. The number of recorded deaths is 3,260 and those listed as fully recovered are 42,937.
In comparison these numbers are far lower than the U.S. and Brazil which are considered the epicenters of the pandemic during this period. The U.S. has nearly 1.6 million cases and the death toll is rapidly approaching 100,000.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that African states can relax the safeguards adopted since March when the pandemic came to the attention of the world in a dramatic and forceful way as infection rates grew exponentially in Europe and the U.S. Africa’s vast population remains vulnerable to a potential rapid spread of the virus particularly in consideration of the lack of adequate healthcare infrastructure emanating from the legacy of colonialism which has not been fully overcome since the gaining of national independence beginning in mid-to-late 1950s.
In Egypt for example, which has vied with South Africa for the largest numbers of cases on the continent, the health ministry noted recently the degree to which the virus has infected people inside the country.
According to the state-owned Ahram newspaper,
“Egypt’s health ministry reported 727 new coronavirus infections on Saturday (May 23), bringing the country’s total number of confirmed cases to 16513. Egypt’s first case was confirmed on 14 February. While it has taken the respiratory virus 50 days to reach 1,000 detected infections nationwide on 4 April, it only took two days to rise from 15,000 to 16,000.”
Therefore the lessons being learned from the COVID-19 pandemic portend much for the future of the continent. Unification of AU member-states in response to the current crisis is imperative since the possibility for a burgeoning medical emergency will place enormous stress on all governments along with existing continental agencies.
Mass Communications, Mass Struggles and the Imperatives to End Neo-colonialism
Africa Liberation Day traditionally has been celebrated across the continent and the world with large summits in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where the AU is based, in addition to mass events such as demonstrations, rallies, cultural events and festivals. In Europe and the U.S., commemorations are held which continue the political traditions related to transnational solidarity and a further consolidation of the Pan-African movement globally.
However, in 2020 many of these events will be conducted online through various media teleconferencing platforms which can link people across the world. This technology has been utilized effectively by the World Health Organization (WHO) based in Geneva, Switzerland which is the focus of a negative propaganda campaign by U.S. President Donald Trump.
WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivers detailed briefings at least twice per week to update the international community about the status of the COVID-19 pandemic along with other related healthcare issues. The Trump administration has attempted to silence medical scientists and practitioners in order to advance a conservative program which mandates that workers return to their jobs even in unsafe conditions.
The White House attacks on the WHO are related to its ongoing Cold War against the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Trump has consistently blamed Beijing along with the WHO for failures during the early phase of the pandemic. These allegations are routinely refuted by the Chinese government and the Director General of the WHO. In response to the suspension of funding from Washington to the WHO amid the pandemic, Beijing has offered to enhance its contributions to the organization by $2 billion.
More people throughout the world including journalists and academics are relying on media sources originating from Africa where updated reports from those on the ground are delivered unfiltered. Today the audience for African media specialists extends throughout the planet and therefore the influence of these sources is limitless.
At the same time African cultural workers are rising to the occasion to fashion representation and expression capturing the social and psychological dimensions of the crisis which is continuing to unfold. Concurrently, several leading African musicians from the continent and the Diaspora have fallen to the dreaded disease.
Moving forward the AU member-states will be driven to develop policies independent from the imperialist countries. Under the present circumstances where the terms of value and exchange are largely determined by an international market dominated by the western capitalist states, continental resources including extracted commodities, land, waterways and human labor cannot reach their full potential related to adequate compensation which guarantees genuine development.
As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah noted in 1965 with the publication of his book “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism”, the imperialists are merely utilizing different methods to realize the same ends aimed at the perpetual exploitation and oppression of the African people. Being the founder of a mass revolutionary movement led by the Convention People’s Party (CPP) of Ghana, Nkrumah understood clearly the role of the world capitalist system in undermining the African liberation struggles. After his accomplishments as a transitional leader and head-of-state during 1951-1966 and afterwards as co-leader of Guinea-Conakry and a pioneer in theoretical contributions related to the African unification and socialism, Nkrumah himself had been overthrown by a Washington-backed coup which utilized right-wing elements within the military and the police in February 1966.
Nkrumah within this document states that:
“In order to halt foreign interference in the affairs of developing countries it is necessary to study, understand, expose and actively combat neo-colonialism in whatever guise it may appear. For the methods of neo-colonialists are subtle and varied. They operate not only in the economic field, but also in the political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres.”
This same passage from the work continues emphasizing that the West:
“Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is ‘giving’ independence to its former subjects, to be followed by ‘aid’ for their development. Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism. It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom’, which has come to be known as neo-colonialism.”
These words hold true even today during the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century where with the economic depression facing the leading economies of the capitalist countries could very well result in renewed military interventions and occupations. The experience of Somalia which is regularly bombed by the Pentagon through the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) under the guise of fighting “terrorism.”, illustrates the potential for broader war. Zimbabwe and Sudan remain under sanctions by Washington and its allies despite the objections of regional organizations, the AU and the United Nations Secretary General.
Consequently, the upcoming decade provides formidable challenges for the African continent and its people. Only revolutionary solutions can upset the international balance of forces resulting in the victory for the masses.