How Africa's 7 Newest Nations Mark Their Independence Days
For many African nations, their independence is so recent that people still remember the day it happened. Here's how the continent's seven most recently independent countries, all of which have declared independence since 1975, celebrate — or, in one case, decide not to hold festivities.
Independence Day: July 9, 2011, from Sudan
The world's youngest nation previously marked its independence day with military parades. But this year, the government canceled its plans for an official celebration. South Sudan's first few years have been marred by ethnic clashes, a return to conflict with neighboring Sudan, civil war and an ongoing economic crisis.
"We decided not to celebrate Independence Day because we don't want to spend that much," said Michael Makuei, the minister of information, according to a report in Al Jazeera. "We need to spend the little that we have on other issues."
The government will mark the day with a presidential statement. Officials are encouraging citizens to hold private celebrations if they can afford to.
May 24, 1993, from Ethiopia
In May, Eritrea celebrated its 25th anniversary in an hours-long spectacle kicked off by the lighting of an Olympic-style flame by its most famous athlete, Zersenay Tadese.
Tadese — a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000-meter run and the only Eritrean to earn an Olympic medal — bowed to the assembled crowd from a two-story-tall platform before he lit the cauldron with the Torch of Independence, which had been touring the country for the previous four months.
Eritrea was officially recognized by the United Nations 23 years ago, after a referendum on independence. But this anniversary celebration was pegged to 1991, when the Eritrean People's Liberation Front captured Ethiopia's capital and formed a provisional government in Eritrea. The diaspora community of roughly half a million Eritreans who have sought asylum from forced labor and military service also celebrated with events from Chicago and Winnipeg to Oslo and Tel Aviv.
March 21, 1990, from South Africa
The crowd at this year's independence celebration in Windhoek was entertained by skydivers, military parades and musical performances of both the Namibian national anthem and the African Union anthem.
President Hage Geingob announced government reforms to increase transparency in the country's "war on corruption." Geingob's predecessors — former president Hifikepunye Pohamba and the founding president Sam Nujoma — were present.
Celebrations in past years have included a week of concerts, boxing and soccer matches and, in 2012, the launch of a currency redesign that put Nujoma's portrait on the N$10 and N$20 bills.
April 18, 1980, from the United Kingdom
It has been 36 years since Bob Marley chartered a plane with 21 tons of musical equipment to serenade the ecstatic crowd on Zimbabwe's first night of independence. That night, he sang, "Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny."
In April, President Robert Mugabe, the man who has been deciding Zimbabwe's destiny since then, was front and center at the stadium events celebrating the nation's self-determination.
The crowd waved flags, wore yellow berets and novelty hats, and displayed birthday banners. The 92-year-old Mugabe lit a towering golden torch called the Independence Flame and delivered an address, asking citizens to pull together for a better nation.
"One of the greatest tributes we can pay to Zimbabwe is to shun corruption, shun regionalism and avoid nepotism," he said. He also bowed to a portrait of himself.
June 27, 1977, from France
Men in suits and ties and women in vibrantly colored head coverings filled the bleachers by the thousands at Djibouti's Independence Day parade this year. They heard military bands, participated in marching songs from parading troops across all branches of the Djibouti military, and watched police perform acrobatics — like saluting the crowd while standing on the back of a motorcycle.
Foreign troops were in attendance as well. France, the country's former colonial ruler, and the U.S. and Japan have bases in the country. China has recently arranged to create its first-ever overseas base in Djibouti.
June 29, 1976, from the United Kingdom
On the 40th anniversary of independence, the streets in and around Victoria, the capital city, were lit with LED displays of blue, yellow, red, white and green, the colors of the nation's flag.
The main island of the 115 in this archipelagic nation also hosted a national trade show to showcase the diversity of the economy. Kids posed with statues of Batman and Superman, got up close to Herbie the Love Bug and rode tiny paddleboats around an inflatable lagoon.
Crowds also paused by the Liberty monument, which was unveiled on the 38th anniversary. The bronze statue, situated on the main avenue in Victoria with the imposing 1,500-foot-tall Trois Frères mountain as a backdrop, depicts a couple holding the nation's flag above their heads, gazing into the future.
Nov. 11, 1975, from Portugal
In November, Angola celebrated 40 years of independence from Portugal, which had ruled it as a colony for 400 years. A civil and military parade passed through Independence Square, the same site where the nation issued its proclamation of independence and raised the Angolan flag to break with Portugal in 1975.
Festivities culminated around midnight in the sky above Baía de Luanda, the beach alongside Angola's capital city. The light show began with the release of 18,000 flaming paper lanterns, symbolizing the 18 provinces, and wrapped up with fireworks.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.