Q&A: Celebrating Africa Day with Pact leaders across the continent

May 24, 2021
Marianna Balampama, Amanuel Dibaba, Ranahnah Afriye, and Nosipho Gwebu Storer.

On May 25, 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was founded as the precursor to the African Union (AU). Each year, Africa Day commemorates the OAU’s founding and celebrates African unity and identity.

"Oftentimes, the media’s portrayals of Africa are negative and not reflective of the myriad of experiences, cultures and innovations that make Africa a formidable force in the global economy,” says Ranahnah Afriye, Pact’s Africa Regional Director.

“Africa Day offers an opportunity to provide an accurate representation from the voices and visions of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora.”

Today, we celebrate Africa Day with an interview with four of our leaders in Africa: Ranahnah Afriye, newly appointed Africa Regional Director and former Country Director in South Africa; Marianna Balampama, Country Director in Tanzania; Amanuel Dibaba, Director, Horn of Africa; and Nosipho Gwebu Storer, Acting Country Director in Eswatini.

Q: What does Africa Day mean to you on an individual and professional level?

Nosipho Gwebu Storer: Africa Day is a day to commemorate and celebrate the lives of those who fought for the continent, protecting its right to be recognized as a legitimate world player with a rich and diverse source of cultures, ethnicities and beautiful languages. Africa Day is symbolic of the unique contribution that this continent has made to shaping global advancement.

Amanuel Dibaba: Africa is an opportunity for the world. Africa Day is when Africa renews its commitment to share its limitless potential and oldest civilization with the world.

Q: How do you work together to support unity across the continent?

Marianna Balampama: A famous motto that Tanzanians grew up with is “Kila binadamu ni ndugu yangu na Afrika ni moja,” or “Every human being is my kin, and Africa is one.” It fostered a spirit of affinity and collaboration. Under the AU, this spirit continues, but I think it requires more political will and resource investment to succeed. Times have changed – it is not so much a liberation from external forces, but a liberation from the chains of fear, unproductive competition, inequities and inadequate integrity.

Gwebu Storer: As Pact leaders, one way we support unity is by promoting learning exchanges, especially across the other Africa-based offices. We use the learnings and best practices and apply and tailor them to our unique contexts.

Q: With a rich diversity of culture and ideas across the African continent, how do you harness that for the work that you do?

Gwebu Storer: By firstly recognizing that what makes us diverse and different is our most valuable asset and our greatest source of wealth.

Dibaba: The rich culture and ideas across Africa serve as good foundation for our work. It remains a constant reminder that whatever we do in community development in Africa, we start from somewhere, and not from scratch.

Afriye: I am proud to work as a “convener” rather than a “fixer.” Pact’s model of development does not bring together external parties to “solve problems.” We convene critical partners at the community level in a shared effort to harness local talent, define shared goals and generate solutions. Pact’s initiatives emanate from within communities themselves, hence our tagline, “building local promise.”

Q: This past year has been particularly challenging due to Covid-19. What do you see as most important for international development organizations like Pact as we continue to fight the pandemic? What about as we seek to ‘build back better’ post-pandemic?

Balampama: Currently, equitable vaccine provision is urgent for Africa. Pact should continue to invest in tools and capacity to support the promise that underserved populations can access essential preventive services when they need them.

Afriye: 2020 was a deep reminder of how vulnerable and interconnected we truly are as a global community. As an international development organization, we must remember to put the mission and people first in all that we do. Community engagement for grassroots-driven solutions will prove central to our ability to build back better. With 70% of Africa’s population under 30, youth must be meaningfully engaged, so they have a voice at the table and can drive the changes envisioned for 2063 and beyond.

Q: If you could leave readers with one thing to know or remember this Africa Day, what would it be?

Dibaba: Africa is a wealthy continent. For instance, it has approximately 30% of the earth’s remaining mineral resources. Our work in Africa is not so much about bringing new resources to the continent but rather about promoting fair utilization of the existing wealth.

Balampama: Harnessing the potential of Africa lies within Africans themselves.

Gwebu Storer: There are African heroes who fought grave injustice in Africa in order for us to be where we are today. Each day, we need to make that count in the decisions we make for our families and communities. In Siswati/isiZulu we say, “umuntfu ngumuntfu ngabantfu,” or, loosely translated, “I am because you are.” We all share a common humanity. We are what we are as Africans, because of other Africans.

Afriye: The vision of a unified Africa is within our reach and can be achieved within our lifetime. We must work to build shared understanding and generate solutions across externally defined boundaries and borders. This is the key to achieving the AU Agenda for 2063.