Africa Day: AU is “world’s biggest social experiment” – interview

bird story agency Kenya May 27, 2024

Ebba Kalondo, is the Spokesperson for the Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission. Her background is in international journalism and development, with a strong focus on the security and humanitarian sectors. She has held leadership roles at the World Health Organization, Fondation Hirondelle, France24, and Reuters.

Q: If this was a superhero origin story, what was the AU created to fight, and how has that fight evolved over the years?

A: The AU’s story begins with the struggle for freedom from centuries of suffering. African World War II veterans were a powerful voice for independence movements. Imagine how it changed them, having to fight in distant lands, to stop another oppressor from conquering and controlling their oppressor?

The realisation that all humans bleed, dream, and fear could not be forgotten, minimised, or erased for those who survived and returned home, where they were not treated as equals, or with gratitude and respect.

The AU was created to consolidate and support the African push for human dignity and inclusion in the global community and conversation. The fight continues. Now, the AU battles entrenched and sophisticated political, economic, and social exploitation. We are still viewed by much of the world as failed, helpless, and as prey or low-hanging fruit.

Q: Africa Day is a celebration, and also an opportunity for a progress report. If the AU could get a grade on its performance so far, what would it be?

A: The AU is the world’s biggest social experiment. It’s been the greatest honour of my life to contribute to this multi-pronged effort to pool and synchronise the aspirations, needs, and efforts of 55 countries into initiatives and advocacy that promote peace, health, progress, and sustainability. Africa is not a country. The AU is not a government.

This social experiment is constantly under review and adaptation, because everyone seems to know what the AU should be and what it should be doing. The onus of turning that into action rests on our member states and their leaders to be honest, accountable, progressive, and contribute to the greater good.

Do we, as ordinary citizens, know what our leader prioritises or how they vote to act when they meet with other Heads of State under the umbrella of the AU? The power and impact of joining forces towards a common goal is key and worth promoting.

Q: What are your favourite things about being African?

A: Africa has 99 problems, but loneliness isn’t one. Our communal resilience and connection is now globally recognised.

COVID-19 taught the world how cooperation and the lack of it can exacerbate global insecurity. Africa taught the world a lesson in the power of solidarity in action despite the reality of the inequity that the continent was faced with in accessing the same global resources and therapeutics as soon as they became available at the same price and time as the Global North countries. Africa led a continental response where we pooled our meagre resources to ensure no one was left behind. It is this sense of Ubuntu, the building block of what it means to be human, and strong political leadership in the face of a global pandemic that became our biggest strength.

Others pay a high price for these things, or can’t seem to figure out how to create them, we own them already at even the most basic level. And at the AU level, initiatives like the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) are an actualisation of our desire and ability to integrate our economies and resources towards our legitimate aspirations for a peaceful, integrated Africa.

Q: Some young Africans may struggle to relate and engage with events and themes like Africa Day. Why should they bother this year?

A: Africa is not a country and no one country on this continent can fight alone against the world. Our collective voice and its intentions voiced as one is our greatest strength notwithstanding, the many challenges facing each of our 55 Member States.

The expectations of our citizens are high, and the African Union can and should do more to meet those expectations, from political liberation, to true statehood, economic emancipation and the goal of continental integration through intra African trade and the free movement of goods and people within a world that still views an entire continent with the world’s youngest population as a danger to be contained rather than an innovative and vital member of the human community.

The majority of Africans on the continent today were born free, in their own countries, where they can grow and prosper without permission or hindrance. I was not born free. I was an adult when my country Namibia gained independence in 1990. So the past is still very present. In fact, not all of us are free even in 2024. Western Sahara remains occupied. The fight must continue until we are all free to be citizens of our countries in our countries.

Now, I’ve worked in Addis Ababa for seven years, as part of a long, concerted, wide-ranging effort for Africa by Africans, since 1963, to have its rightful place in the world. The significance of these changes should not be lost on us, and are worth celebrating.

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