Years ago, I attended an African conference in Rwanda on the impact of war on women and children. As is the case with most summits, delegates break from plenary into various commissions to flesh out key aspects of topics, with rapporteurs later reporting on findings and resolutions. The commission I sat in could hardly start before delegates spent valuable time in a fierce debate on which language should be used. Had a delegate proposed Swahili, Oromo, Igbo, Yoruba, isiXhosa, Herero, isiZulu or Mande – among some indigenous languages spoken in Africa – such an intensity of debate would have been...
Years ago, I attended an African conference in Rwanda on the impact of war on women and children.

As is the case with most summits, delegates break from plenary into various commissions to flesh out key aspects of topics, with rapporteurs later reporting on findings and resolutions.

The commission I sat in could hardly start before delegates spent valuable time in a fierce debate on which language should be used. Had a delegate proposed Swahili, Oromo, Igbo, Yoruba, isiXhosa, Herero, isiZulu or Mande – among some indigenous languages spoken in Africa – such an intensity of debate would have been understandable.

Instead, the room was divided into two, with French-speaking delegates insisting on the use of French, and Anglophone countries pushing for English. Around me, all the delegates were black Africans, with no one from Europe.

Ultimately, a compromise position was adopted: discussions were conducted in English and translated into French, with minutes noted in both languages.

If I were a conference delegate in Cuba, China or France, there would be no argument about the use of Spanish, Mandarin or French, translated into English, for my benefit.

After years of being liberated from colonialism and apartheid, it is an indictment on the African Union (AU) that there is no strong campaign to encourage and entrench the use of indigenous languages in a continent endowed with a very rich cultural heritage.

You often hear of cultural, linguistic and traditional exchanges between African, European, American, Chinese and other countries, but the missing part is the AU championing the breaking down of linguistic barriers.

After decades of freedom, Africa is seemingly still shackled to its colonial past – marked by man-made borders and separate development.

From Nelson Mandela to Cyril Ramaphosa, SA leaders who have presided over the AU have played their part in the political and economic invigoration of Africa.

During his tenure, Thabo Mbeki popularised the concept of African Renaissance – to ensure African people and nations overcame challenges confronting the continent and achieved cultural, scientific, and economic renewal.

Under the stewardship of Ramaphosa, the AU is poised to make inroads towards realising an economically independent Africa, if the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is anything to go by.

The agreement will certainly go a long way in easing trade among African countries.

The operational phase of the AfCFTA, launched last year, will be governed by five operational instruments: rules of origin, online negotiating forum, monitoring and elimination of nontariff barriers, a digital payments system and the African Trade Observatory.

Trading under the agreement, which was to start next month, has been halted due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Another milestone has been the launch of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform – a continent-wide strategic plan for a centralised coordination, procurement and distribution of Covid-19 supplies.

Africa is now realising the importance of working together as one powerful block to redress the past.

To borrow from the late SA poet, Ingoapele Madingoane, there is "no easy way to freedom".

Africa is learning to work together to redress the past


Brian Sokutu.

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