Africa day is celebrated annually on 25 May and commemorates the founding in 1963 of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which became the African Union (AU) in 2002.
On this day in 1963, the leaders from 30 of the then 32 independent African states signed a founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The OAU was created to help bring about change, freedom and independence to many African countries.
Europe colonised all of Africa – except for Ethiopia and Liberia – and after gaining independence, they kept the language of their coloniser as one of their official languages.
About 2,000 languages are spoken on the African continent. Yet, despite this linguistic diversity, every African country has English, Portuguese, French, Spanish, or Arabic as one of their official languages, except Ethiopia.
Liberia, having been founded by African-American settlers in 1847, already had English as its official language.
Ethiopia was not colonised, though it was briefly conquered by Italy ahead of the second world war, and its official language is Amharic.
Africa Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the history of the continent, its heritage and culture.
The day also serves as a platform for the AU to highlight pertinent issues, which impact the lives of ordinary Africans who are afflicted on a daily basis by the harsh realities of life on the continent.
This is evident in the annual themes under which Africa Day is celebrated, which always bear relevance to the development of Africa.
The theme of Africa Day in 2022 is: Strengthening Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent.
According to the African Union, under-5 mortality rates in Africa reduced by over 50% from 1994 to 2019 and fertility rates declined from 6 to 4 children per woman.
However, compared to the rest of the world, malnutrition remains high across the continent and undernutrition is the underlying cause of almost 50% of child deaths.
Malnutrition refers to an unbalanced diet – including excessive eating – whereas the term undernutrition refers more specifically to a deficiency of nutrients, according to international humanitarian organisation Concern Worldwide.
As the AU points out, food and nutrition security can enhance the resilience of entire economies by improving the health and productivity of individuals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exposed the economic vulnerability of African countries and the weaknesses of their health and food systems.
The price to pay for keeping the virus at bay has, in many African countries, been at the expense of the gains previously being achieved in reducing malnutrition.
It is vital that these gains are protected by increased and well-targeted development assistance.
For years, many observers have wondered why Africa seems unable to feed itself, despite having much of the world’s remaining unutilised arable land.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s spiralling food import bill—which stood at $43 billion in 2019—has attracted mounting attention as a worrisome trend.
However, according to research organisation Brookings Institution, only four countries—Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Somalia—account for most of Sub-Sahara’s net agricultural import position.
Moreover, food imports in the region have not risen in the last decade, and the rest of the countries in the region are actually net agricultural exporters.
In fact, the region has recorded the highest rate of agricultural production growth of any region in the world since 2000, and Africa’s agricultural exports are rising too.
Brookings notes that Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Kenya, have become agricultural export powerhouses, with a net agricultural trade surplus of more than $5 billion a year.
Top African exports are mainly tropical commodities such as cocoa, coffee, tea, and cotton, while its main food imports are wheat, rice, soybeans, other oil seeds, and frozen meat products.
Trading between African countries has averaged a mere 20% for several decades, with South Africa accounting for over a third of it.
Trading within countries that fall under regional communities such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have contributed to the distribution of food produce in their respective areas.
The 15 members of ECOWAS are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
Recent military coups in West Africa and the inevitable resulting ECOWAS sanctons are creating major barriers to local cross-border trade.
For example, prior to the recent coup in Mali the country was exporting vast quantities of livestock and meat produce to its neighbouring countries, but ECOWAS sanctions have locked the country in.
Conflict is the major driver of food crises in Africa. According to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, nine of the ten countries with the most significant increases in food insecurity in 2020 are facing active conflict.
Another key driver of food insecurity is climate change. For instance, in 2020, Sudan had its worst flooding in a century, and in recent years, the worst locust outbreaks in decades have plagued parts of Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti.
This caused the loss of cultivated land, livestock, and the destruction of tons of grains. As a result, food prices skyrocketed, causing households to have less purchasing power for adequate food supply.
As the continent grapples with food security challenges, it is imperative to speed up a rapid transformation of the food system, as pointed out in a report on the Africa Liberty website.
That is where the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents an exciting opportunity for Africa.
The growth of trade comes with challenges, but it presents tremendous opportunities for all countries involved and their citizens, if and when it is done right.
The World Bank has estimated that the AfCFTA alone could add more than $450 billion to the continent’s GDP, and lift more than 30 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035.
Regarding food security, free trade will help African countries to focus on agricultural goods where they have a comparative advantage.
The AfCFTA will remove barriers to moving agricultural products from regions where they are in surplus to places where they are most needed.
It also promises to lower food prices, which will help the poorest Africans.
This will go a long way to ensuring the end of food insecurity and hunger across the continent.
However, a lot still needs to be done to make this happen. Among other things, African states will need to reduce the cost of cross-border trading within the continent by removing tariff and non-tariff barriers and streamlining customs procedures.
They will also need to radically improve infrastructure and regional transport links to realise the full potential of the AfCFTA.