What if the people spoke? 10 other dates that would have made good Africa Days

At one time, the streets in over 30 countries globally were named for Congo's slain leader, while in Ethiopia, powerful images remain.

THE continent Monday marked Africa Day, which has its origins in 1958 when the only eight countries that had attained independence met in Accra, Ghana to strengthen the struggle against colonialism in what was the first such conference on “home soil”.

For five years April 15 was celebrated as Africa Day, before the leaders of 32 African leaders met in Ethiopia on May 25, 1963 to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

The formation of an organisation to articulate Africa’s dreams and aspirations of freedom was seminal, leading to the 1975 independence of Cape Verde as the last African country occupied by a foreign power. There have also been other key liberating events in the continent’s history, and we think if the people, rather than politicians, had to pick an Africa Day, they might vote differently. We pick out 10 alternative Africa Days.

1: End of Rwanda genocide: July 4, 1994

Nearly one million people, mostly Tutsi, were killed in one of the world’s worst massacres triggered by the April 6, 1994 downing of a plane carrying Rwanda Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana as the Kigali government faced a rebellion.

Three months later the Rwandan Patriotic Front took power on July 4, and this is the date the government considers it ended the horror killing spree. 

Marked every year, it continues to remind the world of the consequences of those unimaginable three months, and is also a heart-warming reminder of how a country can successfully pick itself up after what would have been a devastating blow to many others.

2: The killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa: November 10, 1995

Africa’s “prisoner of conscience” and environmental activist Kenule Saro-Wiwa had been in jail for eight months before he was in January 1995, together with others from his Ogoni community, charged with killing four Ogoni leaders.

His real crime was opposing the Nigerian military regime and taking on oil giant Shell.

The military tribunal that tried him sentenced him to death in October for alleged complicity in the deaths, while releasing six of the 15 defendants. Saro-Wiwa was executed on November 10, sparking huge international condemnation and outrage. His work and what he stood for helped place the focus on the relationship between multinationals operating in Africa, and the continent’s vast resources. 

Saro-Wiwa was ahead of his time; today most people agree that if Africa is to face a catastrophe in the coming years, it will probably be an environmental one.

3: Release of Nelson Mandela:  February 11, 1990

ON February 2, 1990 president F.W. De Klerk announced the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela, bringing to an end a major international campaign for his freedom.

Mandela would walk out of the Victor Verster Prison on February 11 following 27 years of incarceration, and out into the adoring and excited gaze of millions of Africans. 

One of the continent’s truly global icons, the ideals he stood for remain strong in the minds of millions.

4: ‘Africa’s’ World Cup kicks off: June 11, 2010

The awarding of the world’s premier sporting event to South Africa had still felt like a dream when it was announced, and it was only on when the match between the hosts and Mexico kicked off on June 11, 2010 that many Africans finally convinced themselves they were not dreaming.

“We can all applaud Africa. The victor is football. The victor is Africa,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced at the bid ceremony in May 2004.  

“This is for Africa. This is for African renewal,” said South African bid chief Irvin Khoza. At that moment the continent felt it was truly one and had come of age. 

5: The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi: December 17, 2010

Seen as the catalyst for unforeseen events that would see long-time leaders toppled, Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi’s act was initially only meant to protest harassment by local authorities, but it quickly gathered pace to become the Tunisian Revolution. 

President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali fled four weeks later, and by August 2011, governments had been popularly deposed in three countries on the continent: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the geopolitical implications of which continue to smoulder to these day. 

While a lot of the momentum has since been lost, the outpouring of pent-up political release and  revolution joy at the time was one unlike any other. At that point, many analysts thought such an uprising - and a resultant democracy - would never happen in a predominantly Arab and Muslim country. Bouazizi’s death was to prove them wrong.

6: The beginning of the slave trade end: August 23, 1791

On this date in what is now modern-day Haiti, an uprising begun that would set in motion a string of events that led to the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

It still took several decades before the astounding trade ended and is a chapter of human history many would rather forget. At least 12 million Africans were sent as slaves to to the New World between 1500 and 1850.

The Americas (North, Central and South America) were the destination for the vast majority of enslaved Africans, and who were mostly put to work in the plantations and mines of the European-run colonies. What was a lucrative destructive trade ended with a whimper, an intersection of the awareness of the insider-outsider divide in Europe and the rising struggle to suppress the trade. 

It however led to elementary pan-Africanism especially among the victims, as non-elite Africans, who had existed without a concept of Africanness.

7: The assassination of Patrice Lumumba: January 17, 1961

The execution of Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister was another key event in Africa’s history, highlighting the murky politics played by colonial powers, and the ineffectiveness of the United Nations. 

Lumumba’s vision of pan-Africanism and of a united DR Congo earned him several powerful enemies, but also provide the continent with a much-needed demonstration of visionary leadership. 

His influence was such that street protests at his death hit several European countries. At one time, the streets in over 30 countries globally were named after him.

8: Ethiopia famine awareness: October 23, 1984

On October 23, 1984 the BBC broadcast a story by Michael Buerk, which carried excruciating images of hungry children in Ethiopia shot by Kenyan cameraman Mohammed Amin.

It went viral, picked up by hundreds of television stations around the world, making it one of the  the most famous of the last century and helping prick the collective conscience of the world.  

Close to a million people are thought to have died during the Ethiopian famine of 1983-85, the ferocity of which at times led  aid workers to describe it as ‘Hell on Earth’.

The powerful pictures changed how governments and agencies respond to international emergencies, especially in Africa, helping shape the existing global humanitarian system, and also, inaugurating the celebrity fundraiser.

An enduring African icon, Fela Kuti

9:  Fela Kuti’s death: August 2, 1997 

A vociferous critic of military dictatorships and proponent of pan-Africanism, Nigeria’s Fela Kuti drummed the message home in a way in which millions of Africans understood—through art and music.

He advocated for African culture in a way few could ever hope to at the time, and is credited with the musical style that is Afrobeat, and which has continued to enjoy a renaissance on the continent. 

He died on August 2, 1997 but remains easily one of Africa’s most-loved musical and political mavericks, with a message that endures on the continent.

10: The giving of life to NEPAD: October 23,2001

After several false starts and competing economic approaches, African leaders on this date fully adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a plan to help coordinate the continent’s growth and put together much needed resources.

Just a year before, the Economist magazine branded the continent “hopeless”, a position it hastily climbed down on a decade later. Nepad is one of the many institutions that have helped helping change such narratives to one of a resurgent Africa.

While it has at times come in for strident criticism including on its macroeconomic liberal leanings, it has also helped promote greater regional integration and trade, while earning it recognition by development partners as a viable continental plan.

-Send us your suggestions for the people’s Africa Day. We shall publish a second list if they are compelling enough: [email protected]

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