Celebrating Africa Union rise amid cynicism

What do ordinary people have to say after 50 years of the AU?

African Union
People walk through the main lobby at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa [Getty Images]

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The pomp and ceremony of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the African Union has been marked in Addis Ababa by the noisy cavalcades of delegates, police escorts, barricaded roads and journalists in hot pursuit.

The heads of state that make up the African Union have long been ridiculed for long-winded speeches detailing lofty ideals of pan-Africanism, while the implementation of the organisation’s goals and agreements remains poor.

Despite cynicism surrounding the meeting, and the obvious limitations of the union, many Africans around the continent and in the diaspora choose to see the gains and purpose of a bloc fraught with division, economic and political constraints, and often 54 conflicting opinions.

Many of the world’s fastest-growing economies over the past decade are in Africa. Interest in African development has reached a frenzied pace, as many power players around the globe realise the opportunities available in infrastructure development on the continent.

Al Jazeera speaks to some people who have gathered in Addis Ababa who insist Africa is on the rise.

Charra Tesfaye, 29, Ethiopia, lecturer in international trade law

I think it’s great that people can unite around a certain organisation – be it the AU, or the OAU [Organisation of African Unity], or whatever they want to call it now.

The AU seems to be trying to accommodate everyone now. All of Africa seems to be energised this time round.

It is something to look forward to.The new thing that I have noticed this time round was that some [leaders] actually had some decent things to say.

And they seem to want to be more inclusive towards youth – and I think these are very promising signs for the continent.

Binyam Shimelis, 20, Ethiopia, dance choreographer

I am proud of the role AU is playing to develop the continent economically and politically, and I am happy to be part of this event.

I am a dance choreographer, and I have a dance group who recently won the Ethiopia Idols competition.

What I am saying is that I have options and a chance to now work almost anywhere. 

But Ethiopia and Africa is where I want work and live. Africa is improving in so many ways; politically it is changing and this gives so many of us hope that our future is here.

Malieka Robinson, project manager, Jamaican/UK citizen living in Johannesburg, South Africa

I think that this is an historic occasion – so much so that I felt it was necessary to travel from Johannesburg and take part in the celebrations here. I also wanted to see what the next 50 years might hold for us.

I don’t believe that enough was done from the outset to create a united Africa, in the way Kwame Nkrumah [the AU’s third chairman] and Haile Selassie [the AU’s first chairman] advocated.

History has demonstrated that much of what Nkrumah prophesied about what would happen if a united Africa was not created – like poor resource management, wars, poor health and education has actually come to pass.

So it’s interesting to see if we are going to get on board and build a united continent – something more cohesive – than we have seen in the past 50 years.

I also think the AU has an opportunity to be more than just a symbolic organisation. It can improve practical things like trade within Africa, resource management and dealing with realities like climate change.

Journalists from Senegal and Nigeria

Bethleham and Eyerusalem Alemu, 21, Ethiopia, civil engineering students – and twin sisters

Bethleham: I feel so good and sure about the AU because it is the unity of African countries that help us to be one. I am proud to be an African, and I am proud to be Ethiopian. The AU has improved lives on the continent because it gave people freedom. 

I feel free as an Ethiopian. The fact that we were never colonised has also shaped my mentality as an African. Of course, freedom has a lot to do with perspective and perception, and nothing is perfect. There are some problems with Ethiopian politics but nowadays it’s better.  Remember, this is a country at peace, and this is why we are celebrating our unity.

Eyerusalem: I am proud to be part of this event. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. We have all heard about the African Union and what it means, but to see it at 50 is special. I am not saying that we are completely a union, but as a beginning point, we are making progress. When I think about Ethiopia, I can’t say I am free or not free. But I do want to see more infrastructure development, better health services created in my country.

Source: Al Jazeera