Right at the top of the wall in my office is hanged a plaque in reminiscence of the founding fathers of African Unity who met in Addis Ababa in May 25, 1963.
The plaque contains passport size pictures of the 30 African Head of States who assembled at Africa Hall, in Addis Ababa to establish the OAU. Their names and the countries they led are shown under each picture. In the middle is His Imperial majesty, Haile Selasie’s picture with the declaration of the establishment of the OAU. I hanged the plaque just opposite to my desk in such a way that my eyes easily rest on it every time I look up on the wall so that I do not forget the historic day of May 25, 1963.
The plaque boosts my Pan-African feeling. Besides as an Ethiopian it reminds me my country’s survival posturing as the sole independent African State during the colonial era, enshrining liberty and fostering a significant example of independence and self-rule in Africa. It also keeps deep into my heart the contribution my country made to the liberation of the rest of African nations, nearly 25 in number at that time. In particular the support to, Somalia and Kenya that were not lucky enough to attend the summit during that time because they were still under colonial rules was significant. Also the contributions my country made to the independence of African nations, now in the summit was also immense among which the highest regard was to the Libyan independence.
The plaque also refreshes my sympathy to South Africa that was under a cruel apartheid white supremacy rule. Moreover because I am an Ethiopian well aware of what liberty means for humanity and proud of the contribution my leader, Emperor Haile Selassie committed to make the May 1963 summit possible and to solidify its outcome thereafter, the contents of the plaque have special message to me.
“In the august assembly under the chairmanship of Emperor Haile Selassie I, 30 African Head of States and Governments performed the impossible” run the words in the second paragraph of the plaque. And further in the 7th paragraph the plaque states, “To Ethiopia the nation honored by such a historical gathering, the glory of playing host to many of her illustrious sister African nations remains vivid. She will cherish it forever and will guard it selfishly as a priceless treasure destined to occupy pages in her national and international annals.”
In the biography of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, I remember to have read how he felt when he learnt Mussolini had invaded Ethiopia, the only independent state and thereafter how the two leaders, emperor Haile Selassie I, and Nkrumah worked on the promotion of Pan-African sentiments among Africans in the Diaspora while the Emperor was in asylum in Great Britain. The idea of Pan-African was conceived by Nkrumah and he, without doubt was the prime mover of the movement. Nevertheless the contributions of his collaborators to make the dream come true are undeniable. Theories were formed; meetings were conducted in foreign lands and in situations that were very difficult to manage. But equally difficult was to bring together Africa that was linguistically divided by colonial masters after attaining independence and before the May, 1963 Summit.
It was at this time that the Emperor took the lead of bringing Africa together taking advantage of Ethiopia’s neutrality from the lingua -phone divided Africa. Nkrumah being Anglophone he was categorized with English speaking African Countries by the Francophone African nations who wanted their own organizations. Haile Selassie being an Amharophone speaking leader, with a unique language spoken in Africa before the English and the French languages were known to the world and from a nation that has never been colonized was regarded as “neutral” & was respected by both parties. Thus could manage to convince them at least to come to the table to form the Organization of African Unity the purpose of which would be at first to liberate those that were suffering from the yoke of colonialism. This was done successfully but not easily. The Emperor had to scamper forth and back the contradicting parties and the sabotage by their former colonial masters was not easy. Even in the May 1963 summit, the confrontation between the conflicting parties was enormous and the Emperor had to say in his opening speech and I quote from the plaque on my wall, “This conference cannot close without adopting a single African Chapter.”
Yes it could not, thanks to the insistence and wise leadership of the august emperor. As proudly witnessed in the concluding statement of the plaque, the world had to watch each leader signing the charter. Here is how the plaque expresses the historic performance and how may have the Emperor felt it. “How discerning he must have been! For only three days later, one by one, in a dignified ceremony, amidst tumultuous applause, each African leader proceeded to the rostrum and affixed his signature to the charter of the African Unity in Africa Hall, in Addis Ababa, on that memorable midnight of May 25, 1963.”
And now 49 years later the organization being transformed to follow its original path of creating the “United States of Africa” as per the aspiration of Kwame Nkrumah two episodes have taken place in the history of the organization; the construction of a splendid twenty story building to house the AU which is a gift from the Government of China and the great monument dedicated to Dr. Nkrumah greeting at the gate, the present generation and the generation to come. On the body of the monument it is said the famous biblical statement of the Psalm “Ethiopia Stretches its Hands to God” is written. While these are wonderful dedication to Dr. Nkrumah who undoubtedly deserves it, and the people of Ghana whom I respectfully salute, it is also sad that they fall short of paying gratitude to the Emperor Haile Selassie I and the people of Ethiopia without whose dedication the AU would not have happened.
It is true that the OAU has not been without controversy. Those who restrain abhorrence to Ethiopia and the emperor have demonstrated overt and covert adversity in spite of the fact that Ethiopia struggled for their independence and the Emperor utilized his majestic influence to speed up their liberty. Libya and Somalia are some of the cases in point here. The Libyan leader, Colonel Gadafi for example had not concealed his emotion that openly discredited the Emperor and Ethiopia but never were such obstinate forces entertained by the OAU before as they were today by AU, denying the right place that the Emperor Haile Selassie and the people of Ethiopia should hold in the history of Africa. It seems to me that this happened today because both Ethiopia and Africa are defenseless as incompetent and self serving leaders are in power.
In spite of the deficits however, the plaque on my wall will remain at its honored spot. It will profoundly pass to my children and grand children as well as to my great grand children. For, as quoted above and as I repeat the quotation here. “To Ethiopia the nation honored by such a historical gathering, the glory of playing host to many of her illustrious sister African nations remains vivid. She will cherish it forever and will guard it selfishly as a priceless treasure destined to occupy pages in her national and international annals.” So, shall I!