50° Anniversary of the African Union | Live from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

50° Anniversary of the African Union | Live from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Live from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: The city of Addis Ababa was bursting with joy and pride from May 25th through May 27th, as hundreds of visitors descended on it to participate in the 50th anniversary of the founding of the OAU/AU. There was rejoicing on the streets as well as at official AU sites. Bob Marley’s song “Africa Unite” blared from sound systems, radios, and taxi cabs. Ethiopian people spoke glowingly about the history of Addis Ababa’s role of welcoming and entertaining Africans from all over the continent They seemed content with putting up with the inconvenience of traffic jams and blaring sirens caused by over 50 heads of states and numerous dignitaries traveling in rushing cars through their streets. Programs on Ethiopian television spoke of the crucial role that Ethiopia played in the Pan African liberation movement and the fact that Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been under the yoke of colonialism. They highlighted Emperor Haile Selassie 1’s contribution to the founding of the OAU and that through his instrumentality Ethiopia had donated lands and money for the headquarters of the OAU and his role as a mediator between the two factions among the African states that made it possible for them to unite.

The name of Emperor Haile Selassie 1, long submerged by Ethiopian politicians and ignored by most members of the AU, became a symbol of Ethiopian nationalism and was on the lips of many Ethiopians from the grass roots up to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Chairperson of the African Union, H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn himself. He closed his address to members of the AU, delegates, distinguished visitors and the public at the Millennium Hall with a quote from Emperor Haile Selassie’s speech at the first OAU session on May 25th, 1963.

Side by side with the city’s exuberance of being the capital of Africa and the center of Africa’s historic celebration of the golden jubilee of the OAU/AU was the astonishing love for the Jamaican people it demonstrated and along with that love a focus on the role that the Rastafari have played in fueling the Pan African revolution. Former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Hon. P.J. Patterson began his much appreciated speech at the opening of the AU celebrations with Peter Tosh’s “As long as you’re a Black man, you are an African” and ended it by quoting the Wailer’s Peter Tosh’s song, “Stand up for your Rights.” That gave rise to a competition on the grass roots level as to which of the reggae songs would get more play “Stand up for your Rights” or Bob Marley’s” Africa Unite.” I think “Africa Unite” won, as I heard it more frequently. This acknowledgment of Rastafari as freedom fighters led to us with dreadlocks who were attending the celebrations being hunted down for photo ops. In the AU headquarters, an AU security officer inquired if my eldest son and I were Jamaicans. When we said yes, he wanted to take a photo with us. My eldest son and I went into the auditorium that was closed for security clearance. After being shooed out, one of the security clearance guards called us back and inquired if we were Jamaicans. When we said yes, he wanted to take a photo with us. And this scenario was replayed time and again in the AU building, outside the AU building and in the streets of Addis Ababa. A young Ethiopian woman who gushed,’ I love Jamaicans. I love the Jamaican people,’ reflected the prevailing mood.

Oddly enough, this mood did not seem to have registered with members of the local Jamaican community people I met who lived in Addis or with the repatriated Rastafari. Prime Minister Portia Simpson met with them and they outlined the problems they were experiencing with living in Ethiopia and the need they had for a Jamaican Embassy to help with their immigration problems among other pressing matters. On the other hand, Prime Minister Portia Simpson’s short, simple and spicy remarks at the Millennium Hall that ended with a quote from a Bob Marley song was a fitting tribute to the role of Jamaicans in the Pan African struggle. She named three outstanding Pan African freedom fighters/individuals, Marcus Garvey, Ambassador Dudley Thompson and Bob Marley. These Pan Africanists are celebrated by the masses of Africans as translators of the relevancy of Pan Africanism to their lives and are responsible for the the love that I saw demonstrated for the Jamaican people in Addis Ababa during the celebrations of the golden jubilee of the OAU/AU and the AU mandated year of Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance.

Nana Farika Berhane