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African Union Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The African Union (AU), the single largest organization of states in Africa, marked its 50th anniversary from May 25 to 27, 2013 at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, sparking debate among Africans throughout the continent over the organization's relevance and effectiveness.

The AU began as the Organisation of African Unity, founded on May 25, 1963 with 32 members. Though often criticised for the inability to enforce its decisions, the organisation played a key role in ending colonial rule on the continent through its aid to rebel groups.

After the African Union replaced the Organisation in 2001, many of the same criticisms – that the union had little real power to tackle the poverty and conflict afflicting the continent – have followed. The AU now has 54 member states.

African Union 50th anniversary logo. Image from African Union Website: http://www.au.int/

African Union 50th anniversary logo. Image from African Union Website: http://www.au.int/

The anniversary celebrations encouraged discussions among Africans who followed the events online and dignitaries, civil society, and the youth present. These discussions explored challenges faced by the AU and the successes that it has had.

Webster Madanhi in a blog post at Freedom Trapped commented on AU's successes:

To many Africans, the greatest achievement of the organisation in 50 years has been its ability to stay together at all. If anyone thinks that mine is a harsh verdict, let him be reminded that Africans still need visas – often expensive and time-wasting – to visit each other’s countries.

During an assembly on intergenerational dialogue for children and youth, which was part of 50th anniversary celebrations, Zambian president Michael Sata opposed the idea of one passport for African citizens arguing that it will encourage crime on the continent.

A number of Africans used Twitter to talk about the successes and challenges of the African Union.

Student and amateur photographer Abdul Sharif (@Africathinker) wondered about a single African passport:

@Africathinker: Imagine having a single African passport and currency? #AUat50 #Africaday #Panafricanism

Writer, speaker, and teacher Sunny Bindra (@sunnysunwords) noted that Pan-Africanism means more than getting together for conferences:

@sunnysunwords: #PanAfricanism is not about more conferences; it’s about fewer controls, more exchanges of knowledge, capital and products.

Analyst Abdi Hakim (@Abdihakim) refuted claims that the AU has not achieved anything:

@Abdihakim: False the assertion that @AUC_DPA hasn't achieved anything. Look Somalia it basically pick up from the scratch. Proud #panafricanism

However, others such as financial consultant Ngarawa Gichumbi Sam (@GichumbiSam), were critical of the AU:

@GichumbiSam: To me, AU is the best organ to shape Africa into Pan-Africanism but today's congregants at Addis Ababa are MISPLACED to make [International Criminal Court] an agenda.

His tweet came after some African leaders accused the court of targeting African leaders:

@IamEtiks: AU leaders accuses #ICC of race hunting…..

African leaders have urged the ICC to refer back to Kenya the crimes-against-humanity case against its leaders. ICC President Sang-Hyun Song has refuted claims that the court is targeting African leaders.

Michelle Rosentall, a citizen journalist based in the US, sent the video below to the African Union to be viewed during the celebrations:

Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance is a bold step towards “providing Africa with a chance for renaissance and outline its vision and mission for 2063,” the AU boasted ahead of the celebrations.

Only time will tell whether the African Union will promote unity, solidarity and cooperation of African States to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa.

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