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Illustration of African Union member flags in Kampala, Uganda/AFP


Africa to celebrate progress and 50 years of ‘unity’

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Illustration of African Union member flags in Kampala, Uganda/AFP

Illustration of African Union member flags in Kampala, Uganda/AFP

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, May 25 – African leaders gathered on Saturday ahead of extravagant celebrations for the 50th jubilee of the continental bloc, with Africa’s myriad problems set aside for a day to mark the progress that has been made.

Mass dancing troupes are set to perform musical dramas to some 10,000 guests in a giant hall in the Ethiopian capital, home to the African Union (AU).

Today’s 54-member AU is the successor of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), established amid the heady days as independence from colonial rule swept the continent in 1963.

African leaders are expected to be joined by French President Francois Hollande, China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the “celebration of all Africa” was “historic”, and that it was a time to both look back at the past and consider how the continent can tackle the many challenges ahead.

“The future is in our hands, its bright.. the opportunities are great for the continent to be prosperous,” Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement late Friday.

South African choreographer Somzi Mhlongo, who organised the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 World Cup as well as this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, said the celebrations he had organised would be “an extravaganza”.

Musicians playing include Congolese music legend Papa Wemba, Mali’s Salif Keita and British-based reggae band Steel Pulse, with giant screens set up across Addis Ababa also showing the festival.

The AU has budgeted $1.27 million for Saturday’s celebrations, according to official documents seen by South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

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AU Commission deputy chief Erastus Mwencha said he did not have the exact figure but that some $3 million would be spent on Saturday’s festivities and on other events over the coming year.

The AU took over from the OAU in 2002, switching its name in a bid to shrug off its troubled past.

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