During this year’s celebration of African Freedom Day, the African Union set itself to celebrate some landmark achievements of the Union on various issues such as peace and security, continental integration, women and youth empowerment, eradication of diseases, inter alia. The celebration was also used to reflect on the Union’s transformation and achievements and also renew commitments to realize the “Africa we want” as embedded in Agenda 2063.
Yes, today Africa is totally different from the Africa of the 60s and 70s. There has been so much transformation that has occurred at various levels of human endeavour as Africans sought their way to progress. The epoch of the 1950s and 1960s was marked by attainment of independence by several African countries for self- rule and determination, which presented a lot of hope and joyful expectation for a new and prosperous Africa.
However, just a little more than half a century later, questions regarding Africa’s freedom remain: how much and whose freedom is to be celebrated? While there is truly so much that has been achieved that represents growing freedom in Africa, there is still a lot to be concerned about that represents lack of freedom. This year, the Jesuits launched a guiding framework for their apostolic engagement that has been termed the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP). UAP number 2 engages Jesuits to walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, those that are far from being truly free in a mission of reconciliation and justice.
Do we find any whose dignity has been violated in Africa who look like outcasts? Yes, we do! We still meet populations lacking access to basic health and education services, rural women with problems around maternal health and also lacking access to means of survival. We think of numerous refugees and internally displaced people who are not only exposed to disease but also to security risks and in many cases whose human rights are violated. Others include young people lacking access to basic education, job opportunities and face bleak futures. Africa today is a continent with one of the most unequal countries in the world. Most of the global poor live in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, while poverty declined in Asia between 1990 and 2015, people living in poverty in Africa grew from, 278 in 1990 to 413 million in 2015.
Africans cannot truly celebrate freedom from want. They are painfully aware that one cannot eat a nominal celebration of freedom from white rule and of nominal self-rule. Formal political independence and equality is rightly celebrated as an achievement by those who suffered under colonialism, dictatorship, minority rule and other forms of oppressive regimes that denied them basic rights. But real democracy can only be celebrated if it puts food on the table, provides education, health, decent shelter or secure a dignified living.
Therefore, the end of minority and colonial regimes does not equate freedom. Liberation movements and new governments run by Africans are no guarantee of good governance ensuring equal rights and benefits for all. New regimes often just create space for privileges to a new elite in cohorts with earlier vested interests. In many cases they have not lived up to the promises made to the ordinary people. Rather, they have disclosed the limits to freedom.
In his 1941 famous speech to Congress, President Franklin Roosevelt identified four freedoms: those of speech, of worship, from want and from fear. By freedom from want he meant anything that helps secure for a nation and its people prosperity and peace. This means that political rights by themselves are inadequate to warrant a dignified human life worth celebrating. Attention is now paid to social, economic and cultural rights, which focus on the social and economic standards needed in a society to give people a comfortable existence. They are based on equality and on the fact that human dignity would be compromised if these rights are not fulfilled.
But all these ideals, have, to a large extent, remained remote goals. The AU recognizes economic and social rights including the right to food, health care, shelter, water and education. But there is a huge gap between setting norms and implementing them in the various member countries of the AU.
In the face of the challenges that Africa is facing, one cannot even be oblivious to the fact that deliberate measures to eradicate poverty, sustain peace, democracy and political and economic stability and food security remain a daunting task for Africa sometimes due to factors beyond Africa’s control. For example, most African economies are still dependent on the international system that appears to have the power to dictate the pace at which Africa progresses economically.
But Africa should not be despondent, On Africa Freedom Africans must still celebrated the good progress made so far; so much has been achieved. So, the focus of African Governments as well as regional blocks should be to make African economies work for the common person. It is important that the youth and in particular young women are given opportunities to access to empowerment programmes that prepare them for life. To attain total economic emancipation and social progress, it calls for hard work and investment in innovation. And individual Africans themselves must get involved and in the spirit of President Kennedy ask themselves: what can I do for Africa rather than what can Africa do for me.