African Liberation Day: Kenyan ambassador reflects on Africa’s gains, challenges and opportunities

By Wycliffe Nyamasege
On 25 May 2024 at 08:50

Across Africa and in communities worldwide, Africans from all walks of life are gathering today to mark 61 years since the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, now known as the African Union (AU). This significant event marked a major step towards African independence and unity.

Celebrated as African Liberation Day, or Africa Day, the annual May 25th festivities signify the progress made by African nations in throwing off colonial rule and achieving self-determination.

In Rwanda, the celebrations are being spearheaded by the Pan African Movement Rwanda Chapter with the aim of taking stock of the continent’s gains, challenges, and future prospects.

Kenya’s High Commissioner to Rwanda, Janet Mwawasi Oben, is among the envoys in the country who have been actively involved in the organization’s events leading to the celebrations today, including a soccer tournament organized to celebrate Africa Liberation Day at Kicukiro on Sunday, May 19.

IGIHE caught up with her in her office at Kacyiru in the heart of Kigali City, where she reflected on Africa’s gains, the issues hindering economic progress six decades after most countries on the continent attained self-rule, and the measures needed to steer the continent toward prosperity.

As Africa celebrates Liberation Day on May 25th, what are some of the key achievements the continent can celebrate after more than six decades of independence?

May 25 is a significant day for Africa because it marks the inception of the Organization of African Unity, now known as the African Union. It’s a big day for Africa. We have a lot to celebrate despite our challenges. Since its inception, we have seen Africa grow from strength to strength, moving past the period of colonialism, with 1963 being the year when most African countries gained independence.

When we look at the progress that Africa has made since then, we can highlight achievements like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfTA), which allows African countries to trade freely. Although this has not been fully realized, there has been considerable progress.

We have the Africa CDC [Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] through the African Union, which has significantly focused on public health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, with member states collaborating to find public health solutions. We have seen women being included at economic and finance decision-making tables, a significant shift from the past.

There has been growth in infrastructure, with improvements in road systems and water access. In education, we have moved from a system purely based on religion to one that has seen substantial growth, although much remains to be done.

Despite achieving independence, Africa remains the world’s least developed region, even with abundant natural resources. What do you think has hindered development across the continent?

Historically, Africa has been heavily colonized, and its natural resources have been exploited by colonial powers and the West, resulting in minimal benefits for the continent. Now that we are independent, we still possess natural resources, although they are depleted. One issue is that countries rich in natural resources often focus solely on these, which hinders progress in other areas such as infrastructure and the digital economy.

Poor governance, corruption, and unaccountable institutions have also impeded Africa’s full growth. We face infrastructure challenges, with underdeveloped roads, railways, air transport, and energy sectors, placing us at a disadvantage. Political instability, disputed elections, armed conflicts, and civil wars have also stalled progress. Our education system needs improvement, and poor quality healthcare remains a problem.

Climate change is a significant issue, affecting countries across the continent. Recently, Kenya experienced floods, while Southern Africa faced drought and hunger. This hinders Africa’s growth despite its natural resources.

What steps do you believe are necessary for Africa to achieve full economic and political independence?

We need to develop indigenous solutions tailored for Africa to foster economic growth, such as building industries to process our natural resources. A workforce with critical skills is essential to compete globally. Modern agricultural techniques are necessary to enhance food security. We must unite to create economic policies that promote socio-economic growth and improve trade.

Peace and stability are crucial; some states remain in turmoil, and we need strategies to address these issues.

The theme for this year’s celebrations is on building resilient education systems. Which areas in education should we improve on as a continent to get to the standards of developed nations?

We should focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Many schools are adopting this approach, moving away from a system based solely on religion to one that emphasizes technological advancement and innovation. By focusing on these areas, we can develop a workforce capable of not only growing Africa but also competing globally.