The African Union Commission (AUC) celebrated Africa Day on 25 May 2019. The day celebrates the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 by 32 independent African countries. This organisation later became the African Union of today.

Speaking on the urgent need for the African continent to come together and forge a common front in order to promote the building of the Africa, Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, the deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, said, “We celebrate this memorable day under the AU 2019 theme ‘Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa’.”

In his address, which is posted on the Africa Union website, he further said the theme in itself sufficiently demonstrates the acuteness of the continent’s challenges, and the urgent and imperative need to work together to ensure all African citizens have the inalienable right to live free, dignified and productive lives.

As part of the celebrations, the AU unveiled a memorial wall in honour of the fallen, gallant heroes and heroines of Africa, for their contribution to the wider Peace Support Operations (from peace building to enforcement) as mandated or authorised by the AU’s Peace and Security Council. These include AU mandated and AU authorized missions such as; the AU Mission in Comoros, Ethiopia-Eritrea (2000), Liberia (2003), Cote d’Ivorie (2003), The Sudan (2004), DRC (2005), the Comoros (2006), Burundi (2006), Somalia (2007 – to date), Sudan – Darfur (2007 – to date), the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lords’ Resistance Army (2011), Mali (2012), the Central African Republic (2013), the Multi National Joint Task Force against Boko Haram (2015 – to date), the G5 Sahel Joint Force (2017 – to date), the Kingdom of Lesotho (2018 – now closed).

“The memorial wall will immortalise the names of the continent’s heroes and heroines for future generations to know.”

The memorial is at the Peace and Security Building named after Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, former president of Tanzania, who made a great contribution to the struggle against colonialism.

Read: African Union contributes US$350 000 to Cyclone Idai disaster efforts

The Peace and Security Commissioner, Ambassador Smail Chergui, said, “We remember all their contributions where there was no peace to keep. In most cases they worked under very difficult conditions, with insufficient equipment, in violent and unpredictable environments: preventing the escalation of crises, facilitating humanitarian assistance, protecting vulnerable civilians, supporting the extension of state authority, the training of national security forces, and in some cases even protecting critical installations of host governments and personnel. Because of their sacrifice, at the end, there was peace to celebrate and new lives to build.”

He noted that they performed great acts of bravery and paid the ultimate price through their feats of ingenuity, bravery and strength.

“Today, we gather here to bear witness to some of the bright stars that lit and continues to light Africa; stars whose lights gave and continue to give guidance and hope to millions in our beloved Africa. To us these stars, who remain alive in our minds, were men and women of courage. They gave us the greatest sacrifice possible,” the commissioner said.

“They will inspire us for years and years to come. We give honour to them for holding high the flags of their member states and that of the African Union for the sake of peace, stability and prosperity on our continent,” he added.

Read: African Union set to unveil commemorative statue of Emperor Haile Selassie I

The celebrations also featured a plenary session on the topic “OAU – AU history and testimony”, where panellists discussed the journey and the transition from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union, and the progress achieved thus far. The panel discussion centred on the AU’s theme for the year: “The year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”.

This discussion highlighted the role that member states, the AU Commission and regional economic communities are playing in solving the issue of refugees by ensuring that their human rights are not violated.

Other events held during the 2019 Africa Day included a bazaar and a fashion show, with various African countries displaying their cultural attire, music and cuisine, reflecting the richness and diversity of African culture and traditions.