The Liberation Committee of the Organisation of African Unity played a key role in supporting the struggle for independence, notably in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in southern Africa. The establishment of the Committee was one of the first acts of African leaders at their inaugural meeting of the OAU in May 1963. The OAU Liberation Committee was officially dissolved 31 years later in August 1994 following agreement on majority rule in South Africa, and after Zimbabwe and Namibia had achieved independence in 1980 and 1990, respectively.
Below we publish the first part of an address by Tanzania’s founding President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who was the Special Guest of Honour and Keynote Speaker at the closure of the OAU Liberation Committee on August 15, 1994. The second and final part will be published next week.
The Founding Fathers of the Organisation of African Unity set themselves two objectives: the total liberation of Africa from colonialism and racial minority rule, on the one hand, and Africa’s Unity, on the other.
The importance which they attached to the first objective can be judged from the fact that the establishment of the Liberation Committee of the Organisation of African Unity was decided on at the inaugural meeting of the OAU, itself held in Addis Ababa in May 1963.
The Committee’s task was to help the African liberation movements to achieve that first objective.
By the act of winding up this committee we are, in practical terms, celebrating the achievement of that objective.
For when South Africa was admitted to the OAU membership and later, and appropriately, one of our generation of freedom fighters, President Nelson Mandela, took his seat at the Tunis summit in June 1994, to represent a non-racial, post-apartheid democratic South Africa, the first objective of the Founding Fathers had been achieved.
Our continent had been totally liberated from colonialism and racial minority rule.
For me, therefore, it was a great pleasure and a singular honour to receive the invitation to speak at this final meeting of the Liberation Committee of the Organisation of African Unity. It is an occasion to recognise, and to thank, all the dedicated individuals and all the staff of the Liberation Committee who have worked hard and selflessly in Africa’s cause.
No one will ever be able to measure the extent to which the work of this committee contributed to the total liberation of Africa. But measurement does not matter.
What has been important is that this committee served the liberation movements and was always there to serve when called upon to do so.
It gave essential backing to the African people’s struggles against colonialism, against the “rider-and-his-horse” type of racial rule, and against apartheid.
In military terms, this committee constituted a rear base supporting the front-line fighters.
And both directly and through reports to the OAU, the committee was able to rally and channel vitally important support of different kinds from other parts of the world, that is, from non-African opponents of colonialism and racism, of whom there have been very many.
The members and staff of this committee, working together and with the rest of OAU, have played a part they can be proud of in the total African struggle for human dignity, equality and national independence.
Although I can speak only on my own behalf, I think I am expressing the views of many when I say: Thank you all!
I think I am expressing the feelings of all Tanzanians by thanking the Organisation of African Unity for the honour it granted to Tanzania by its decision to base the Liberation Committee in Dar es Salaam; and for the singular privilege given to our country to nominate one of its citizens for appointment by the OAU as Executive Secretary of its Liberation Committee.
Brigadier Hashim Mbita has been the last Executive Secretary and we are very proud of his contribution to the liberation of our continent.
Not every African nation took an active part in the Liberation Committee. That was to be expected. For this was only a committee of the OAU, even though operating under the mandate and with the support of the all-African body.
But we always had a vanguard of African countries which were highly committed to the total liberation of our continent from colonialism and racial minority rule.
That commitment was based on two convictions: first, that while any part of Africa remained under colonial or racial rule, the freedom of each independent country was incomplete; and secondly, that the humanity and human dignity of every citizen of this continent was disputed and insulted by the existence of colonialism or control by racism elsewhere in Africa.
It is that commitment and that conviction which has made it possible for us to come together to celebrate the achievement of that objective by winding up the Liberation Committee of the Organisation of African Unity.
And it is because that first objective has been achieved that I want to use this opportunity to urge Your Excellencies now to give the necessary attention to the second objective of the Founding Fathers.
The importance of the second objective is obvious from the name of our continental organisation. It is the Organisation of African Unity.
Unity is our objective, our purpose, and our instrument of serving Africa effectively. Yet we have not organised ourselves for unity.
All member states of the OAU – even if just by the fact of membership – recognise that unity is strength.
They also (recognise) that only by constant movement towards unity will our continent be moving towards a position where ultimately Africa will be able to become an equal and effective participant in the world economic, political, and social community.
The two tasks which the OAU set for itself were inextricably linked. Our ultimate purpose was always the unity of all African nations. The achievement of that purpose clearly required that the whole of Africa be freed first.
It is through unity in action that Africa is now in a position to celebrate the end of apartheid – which was itself the last bastion of non-African colonial and racist oppression on the continent.
When Africa’s unanimity on the liberation struggle seemed to falter, we delayed its achievement. When we spoke with one voice, and acted as one Africa, the liberation of our continent moved forward.
And when unity among the freedom fighters temporarily failed in one place or another, the struggle for Africa’s total liberation received a setback: it was always one of the tasks of the Liberation Committee to help the Frontline Liberation parties and armies to work in unity.
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