On this day in 1963 the Organisation of African Unity (‘OAU’) was founded with the aim of uniting African states. At the inaugural session, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President spoke about the “indomitable and irresistible surge of our peoples for independence” and that “the struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence.”At the time of the speech and the formation of the OAU, only 32 African states had gained independence. By the time the OAU was reconstituted to form the African Union in 2002, 53 independent countries were members and today there are 55 African states in the African Union.
Five years after that the OAU was formed, Mauritius gained independence from the UK on 12th March 1968 and on the same day joined the OAU. Membership of the United Nations followed on 26 April 1968. Despite decolonisation being one of the stated aims of the OAU and the UN—through its ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” of 14 December 1960—the Chagos Islands, a territory of Mauritius was not included in the independence. In 1965, the British had agreed with the leader of pre-independent Mauritius to separate the Chagos Islands from Mauritius territory. The British subsequently leased the Islands to the Americans to use as a military base.
As set out here, in February 2019 the International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’) advised the UN that the leaders of pre-independent Mauritius could not have expressed the free and genuine will of the people when they agreed to the separation of the Chagos Islands in 1965 as they were still under the colonial power of the UK and that the UK’s continued administration of the Chagos Islands was a wrongful act and should end. On 22 May 2019, the UN General Assembly voted to adopt the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion. By 116 votes in favour, 6 against and 56 abstentions, the UN voted that the UK should end its colonial administration of the Chagos Islands within 6 months.
Remarkably and symbolic of Africa
Day, all African countries voted with Mauritius, with only Morocco absenting
the vote. This is the unity and determination that Kwame Nkrumah spoke of in his
speech 56 years ago. While challenges
on the African continent still abound, the determination of African
countries to chart their own course and solve those challenges was the dream envisioned
at the formation of the OAU. As Nkrumah put it “How, except by our united efforts, will the
richest and still enslaved
parts of our continent be freed from colonial occupation and become
available to us for the total development of our continent?”
Happy Africa Day!