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Celebrating OATUU at 40

ON behalf of the  working people of Africa, the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU, welcomes you to Addis Ababa the historic city it was born exactly 40 years today! Mother Africa gave birth to OATUU in this remarkable country which rejected colonialism and fought  off the invading colonialists.

OATUU’s umbilical cord was buried here; so in  a sense, this is our homestead, and returning to Addis Ababa, is a pilgrimage; a return to source. Like the African proverb says, a river that forgets its source is bound to dry up. We will never forget our source which  is Pan-Africanism; the guiding ideology developed by our founding fathers.

OATUU’s attachment to Addis Ababa is one of the reasons why we decided to return here to mark our four decades of existence, just as the African Union, AU, is returning here next month to celebrate its golden jubilee with the quite thoughtful and appropriate theme of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.   That will be the biggest celebration in Africa this year, and by God’s grace the African Labour Movement will be here with the rest of the continent to celebrate.

OATUU, like Ethiopia, rejected enslavement and colonialism; like it, we rejected dictation, accepting to work and collaborate only with those who accept us as equal partners and respect us. We have for 40 years guided and guarded with our souls, the independence of  the African Labour Movement and have by  our words and deeds, displayed  before the international Trade Union Movement and the world, that Africa cannot be the playing turf of  any group, institution or power.

Before OATUU was born on April 13, 1973, the  African Trade Union  Movement was balkanized and shared out like conquered territory amongst the major international trade union centres, very much like the colonialists who sat down at the Berlin Conference  in 1884-5, to share Africa as a trophy of  conquest.

So, by 1973, there were three central trade union organisations in Africa, the:

– All-African Trade Union Federation, AATUF, based in Accra, Ghana;

– African Trade Union Confederation, ATUC, with offices  in Dakar, Senegal;  and,

-Pan-African Workers Congress, PWC, with headquarters in Banjul, the Gambia.

Given the fact that these three  organisations represented different trade union tendencies, African workers were split and there was constant internal wrangling. Even then, voices calling for unity  by some labour leaders, could be heard. But the turning point was at the  African Labour Ministers Conference in Kampala, 1972  when a resolution was passed calling on African trade unions to unite and establish a single continental organisation which will not be blown around like chaff by  the ideological winds of the Cold War.

FOLLOWING this resolution, a conference on the unification of the trade union centres was held in Addis Ababa in April 1973. It was at this  historic conference, precisely  on April 13, 1973, that OATUU was born. But there were many sceptics, particularly in the international trade union centres who believed that Africans are incapable of uniting  and that OATUU would collapse within five years. But here we are, 40 years strong, and growing stronger! To be sure, a few  international trade union centres which cannot cure themselves of  the domination mentality are still at work trying to wreck the unity of  African workers. But they under estimate the commitment and resolve of African workers.

Your Excellencies, Our honoured guests, patriotic labour leaders and workers of Africa, Ladies and Gentlemen, permit us at this point to pay tribute to our founding fathers, some of who are here with us, and from who we shall  hear  words of wisdom. One person who wished to be here, but could not make the journey, is the founding General Secretary, Comrade Dennis Akumu who established the OATUU Secretariat in Accra, Ghana. But like I said, there are others here, like  Alhaji Hassan Adebayo Sunmonu who succeded Akumu.

As you know, the latter leadership which included Comrades Demba Diop,  Michael Besha and Mohamed Abuseid has handed over the torch to a new generation which includes Arezki Mezhoud, Ibrahim Abrar Ibrahim, Emmanuel Nzunda and my humble self. This younger generation pledges to build on the quite strong foundations of our predecessors, and to hand over  a far stronger OATUU to the next generation.

The OATUU Journey

Since its establishment 40 years ago, OATUU has:

*Contributed to the attainment of independence by  a number African countries and  the destruction of the Apartheid system in Zimbabawe and South Africa.

*Made unquantifiable contributions to the economic development and promotion of  human rights and democracy in Africa. This includes the attempt at the second re-enslavement of the continent in the name of structural adjustment and other economic deformities.

*Been one of the few Pan-African organisations that have been consistent in promoting Pan-Africanism, fast- tracking Africa’s economic  integration and struggling for  true African agenda in various areas.

*Campaigned for continuous unity  in African trade unions, and the strengthening  the Trade Union Movement in Africa and the world.

*Championed the struggle against oppression and the  suppression  of  peoples rights across the world, including those in the   Palestine and in Western Sahara.

*Developed African workers capacity through workers education, organising, collective bargaining, occupational health and safety, conflict prevention, resolution and management.

*Built the  Kwame Nkrumah Africa Labour College in Accra which includes a 122-room fully furnished hostel with split unit air conditioners. For the take off of this human development centre, we appeal to all those who have made promises, and our partners, to build the block of classrooms.

*Promoted  and  defended  workers issues and interests at the  Africa Union, International Labour Organisation and across the world.

It has not been rosy, and not all have been stories of success, but whenever we stumbled, we have always mustered the courage to get up and trudge on. Today, we are fashioning out the African workers post-2015 agenda which we hope to wrap up a workshop today and tomorrow, as part of our 40th year  activities.

Historical gratitude

OATUU expresses deep appreciation to all those who have contributed to its staying power and success in the last 40 years. These include  various trade union activists and leaders, institutions like the  African Union and ILO, and  our various partners, including the All China Federation of Trade Unions, ACFTU,  which has in words and deeds shown itself as a true comrade of the African Working people, and which has sent  a delegation  to rejoice with us at this occasion.

We are also full of gratitude to  the governments of Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria and Botswana who in the  true spirit of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance, give subvention to the OATUU. We call on other African countries to emulate these quartet by also making subventions to OATUU so as to ensure that our continent’s workforce can play their role in building Africa and defending its interests.

And of course our heartfelt  appreciation to Your Excellencies, respected dignitaries, labour leaders from all over Africa gathered here for this anniversary. To our veterans and workers, we say a big thank you. We have  begun the journey to the next 40 years, and pledge to remain truthful to the trade unions and working people of Africa.

Mr. OWEI LAKEMFA, is Secretary-General OATUU.


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