Celebrating a continent

By Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, May 29, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Africa turns 50 in style and with it capturing the imagination of a continent. The air of celebration and renewed sense of purpose has been contagious. The African media dedicated whole programmes and editions of print supplements for this special and memorable occasion. There have been musical concerts, art exhibitions, storytelling, special lectures, interviews and historical conferences throughout the continent. It has been a week of celebrating pan-Africanism, its future and infinite possibilities.

Africa has undergone significant changes in the last fifty years. By all account her transformation has been nothing short of incredible. The resilience and triumph of her people amidst innumerable obstacles, crises, drawbacks and challenges is laudable and a marvel for the rest of the world. Africa has done well and has many reasons to celebrate in this golden jubilee year.

As more countries became independent after Ghana in 1957, the roots of Pan-Africanism were sown and the first generation of African Leaders founded the OAU on May 25, 1963. This development, based on the premise that most African States were small and not economically viable, was to empower Africa's voice and position in the international arena in all 'spheres of human endeavour.'

Furthermore, in 1981, with the support of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the foundation of the African Economic Community (EAC) was established as a strategy for the regional integration and accelerated transformation and sustained development of the African continent. Established under the 1991 Abuja Treaty, the EAC also provided for the establishment of Regional Economic Communities as building blocks for the realization of the EAC, of which eight were officially recognized by the African Union in 2006.

This recognition inspired the founding fathers of independent Africa to demand and fight for the full independence of African countries from the yoke of colonial hegemony and exploitation, for the control of political and economic power to benefit the continent and its citizens.

The ideals envisioned half a century ago have been successfully embraced by most countries and today, Africa stands closer and better equipped in realizing her development goals than any other time in history.

The African Union has been the torch bearer of Africa's development agenda through forward looking leadership, deliberate policies and programs at continental and national levels. There have been many landmarks from settling and enforcing standards, economic prosperity and improving social services like health and education.

Fewer countries today are in civil conflict compared to those living and enjoying peace and stability. Healthcare has improved across the board for men, women and children. Immunizeable Diseases like polio have been eradicated in all, but two countries while epidemic diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, malaria have been brought under control due to among many access to continually improving health and medical services.

The continent has also done well in universal primary education ensuring that more than ever before, millions of her children are in school.

The status of an African woman has improved significantly in the last 50 years, particularly life expectancy, increased primary education enrolment and greater labour force participation. Africa is home to two sitting female heads of State Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi. The continent also boasts of three African women Nobel Laureates. The AU adopted a 50% gender representation policy, replicated by Regional Economic Communities while a growing number of countries are taking legislative and/or constitutional measures to ensure greater participation of women in decision-making.

Africa stands as one of the fastest growing economies in the world compared to other continents. The seven countries with the fasted growing economies in the world are in Africa with a growth rate of as much as 7 percent. Africa is attracting more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) than any other continent. By 2011, FDI projects in Africa grew by as much as 27%. In the first quarter of 2012 FDI inflows stood at USD80 Billion and projected to reach over USD150 billion in 2015.

Among the many achievements that deserve recognition is the improvement of civil rights, upholding the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

As the continent celebrates the achievements of the last 50 years, and maps the way forward for the next 50 years, it is time to take stock of some failures and challenges that the continent still faces.

In Africa's continuing struggles for political and socio-economic liberation, emancipation and freedom, the relationship between governance and development is fundamental. Governance is significant because of its role and consequences for sound economic management and sustainable socio-economic development. The role of governance at the national, sub-regional and continental levels as collective of systems, institutions, legislation and rules cannot be over emphasized.

From the 80's to date, many countries on the continent experienced sustained economic growth rates of about 5 percent throughout the decade preceding the global economic and financial crisis. Sound macroeconomic and good governance policies were responsible for the resilience that African economies demonstrated during the world economic crisis.

Inspite of impressive economic growth rates, Africa still faces challenges in creating gainful and decent employment and jobs for its teeming youth population. The poverty rate still remains high, while disparity and quality of life between rural and urban population remains wide. In fact, Africa will be unable to achieve majority of the MDGs at the end 2015.

Gender inequality is a challenge that Africa still grapples with. Gender based violence, unpaid domestic labour, early pregnancies and access to maternal health care continue to disadvantage women.

The representation of women in decision making positions is still low. Women constitute only 21.2 percent in houses of legislature despite the 50% gender policy adopted by the African Union.

Africa is on the path towards the much needed structural and economic transformation. Africa's high growth rate, increasing trade and high prices of its natural and mineral resources is largely due to implementing good corporate governance principles and practices. In the words of the Kwame Osagyefo Nkrumah one of the founding fathers of Africa “We have the blessing of the wealth of our vast resources, the power of our talents and the potentialities of our people. Let us grasp now the opportunities before us and meet the challenge of our survival”.

As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the union of the Africa, good governance remains key and central to the future we want.

The UN congratulates Africa and reaffirms its commitment to the African renaissance. Good governance is work in progress that must continually be improved and enforced in all sectors and at all levels - member States, regional economic communities, the private sector in order to make the 21st Century a truly African one.