Pan African thought and Practice

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The meaning and content of Pan-African nationalist thought and practice
 
B.F.Bankie
Juba, South Sudan
December 2007
The Pan-African nationalist movement as a vehicle of protest that accommodated diverse dehumanising experiences of people of African origin and descent, with reference to both the East and West Diasporas has no single founder or particular tenets that can be used as a definition (Ackah 1999: 13). Esedebe states that insinuations about the alleged permanent inferiority of the black man and assertions that he had contributed nothing to the comfort of humanity posed a challenge that some educated Africans took up
.
According to Thompson (1969: 38), considering the factors that led to its birth as a socio-cultural movement of a people who were fighting to assert themselves in a world that was hostile to their existence, Pan-Africanism may be seen as an idea that:-
 
…was concerned not only with protest but also with the fashioning of a coherent philosophy which would enable the African as well as ‘Negro’ man not only to enhance his material welfare but to elevate him from the centuries of humiliation which has been his lot and thus enable him to re-establish his dignity in a world that has hitherto conceded him none.
 
The five themes that can be said to have contributed in the conceptualisation of Pan African thought and practice are:
 
i.                     Pan-Africanism: A Universal Expression of Black Pride and Achievement: In a process to subjugate and dominate people of African origin and descent imperialism alienated and marginalized the African cultural heritage. Two of the chief exponents of the notion of black pride are the Negritude poets, Aime Cesaire and Leopold S. Senghor. Around 1934 Cesaire and Senghor found a journal of their own named L’Etitudiant Noir, which they used as a vehicle to propagate their literary conception of Negritude. In South Africa the notion of Negritude was expressed through the Black Consciousness Movement that was led by Steve Bantu Biko (Ackah 1994: 14). Biko (1978: 91-92) explained the Black Consciousness ideology as ‘…an attitude of mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time.’
ii.                   Pan-Africanism: A Return to Africa by people of African Descent Living in the Western Diaspora ( ie Americas, Europe etc): As a way of protest against the merciless shipment of Africans to Europe and the Americas Martin R. Delany, visited Africa in 1859, which he referred to as ‘the land of my ancestry,’ and later he published his call for Afro-Americans to emigrate from the USA. Though the National Emigration’s Re-emigration Project was not a success, it was of historical significance in that amongst other things, it produced a clear and politically well-founded statement of Pan-African nationalist ideas.
iii.                  Pan-Africanism: A Harbinger of Liberation: The brutal occupation of Africa by the Western powers, especially after the Berlin Conference in 1885 was unacceptable to the people of African descent and a host of their intelligentsia. This epoch was characterised by activities of physical exploitation of Africa accompanied by the ideological torture of racism. One of the chief exponents of this expression was Frantz Fanon whom Ackah (1999: 16) describes as ‘the revolutionary Pan-Africanist, from Martinique’- who took the liberation call personally to heart and to show his commitment he became physically involved in the struggle to end colonial rule by the French in Algeria just after the Second World War.
iv.                 Pan-Africanism: The Political Unification of the Continent: Closely linked to the theme of the liberation of the African continent is the clarion call for the ‘…unity [of Africa] in the form of political and economic unification, [which] became the theme of Pan-Africanism’ (Ackah 1999: 17). Kwame Nkrumah became the chief exponent of this expression, ‘he believed that the only way to resolve the problems of imperialism and neo-colonialism in Africa was the formation of a unitary socialist government’ (Ackah 1999: 17). Contientalism ( ie Continental unity ) gave birth to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963 and in 2000-2001 the African Union (AU). The attempt in Accra, Ghana, in July 2007, to convert the AU into the United States of Africa failed.
v.                   Pan-Africanism and the Eastern Diaspora ( ie Arabia, Gulf States, North Africa etc): Pan-Africanism and African Nationalism, in essence the will to unite, were the motive forces for decolonisation; they brought real development (e.g. land ownership). In a changing world, like any liberatory philosophy, Pan-African nationalism demands continuous review, assessment and update. In the struggles against racism and settler colonialism in the South, most did not know or ignored the problems in the Afro-Arab Borderlands stretching from Mauritania on the Atlantic, through Mali, Niger and Tchad to Sudan on the Red Sea.
Whereas change in the South had the support of the funds and publicity of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, geared to ensuring the safe transfer of investment, the enslavement of Africans in places such as Sudan was ignored. Few African internationalists, except the Ugandans, were found fighting alongside the African Nationalist  Anya-Nya ( Ga’le 2002: 349 ) in Sudan, who were precision bombed by the Khartoum government.
 
Arab-Led slavery of Africans, which is generalised in the Borderlands, is important because it affects directly contemporary Afro-Arab relations. It is an issue, which has been hushed-up in the past by both sides. Symbolically Arab-led slavery of Africans provides the dividing line for the aspirations of the African and Arab people for a better life through unity. Reparations for it, if pursued democratically, will assist the emancipation and development of both peoples. Reconciliation through reparations requires the end of denial and the admission of guilt. Nkrumah’s vision of continental unity ‘now’ remains a distant prospect, so long as both sides defend the status quo. Segal in his book on the ‘Other Diaspora‘ states that the Arab slave trade began some eight centuries before the Atlantic slave trade. Its numbers were much larger. Its gender ratio was two females to one male and it concentrated, and still does, on the children.
 
The campaign for reparations for the slavery of Africans in the Western Diaspora has been lead by the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’Cobra). Its work has connected with the on-going struggles for reparations in, for example, Namibia and Arabia.
 
Cheikh Anta Diop established that from the Cape to the Nile Delta Africa had been originally populated by Black people and that the Egyptian civilisation, which proceeded Greece, was at it’s inception Black African. Sharawy calls the relations in the Borderlands today ambiguous, at the point of the Afro-Arab cultural inter-change. The Sahara was a supposed melting point. In point of fact it is a low-intensity war zone. Adwok Nyaba tells us that Arab enslavement of Africans was ‘either ignored, minimised or completely rejected on false account that the Arabs either were ‘brothers in Islam’, equally colonised and oppressed by the West, or participated in the decolonisation struggles of the African people’. The longest wars in Africa, which have been ongoing since the arrival of the Arabs, in Sudan, was not discussed in the OAU, as the Arabs considered them ‘own affairs’, only for discussion in the Arab League. There was an unspoken understanding amongst African states to remain silent on issues such as Sudan and Arab slavery.
 
K.K.Prah in his research work on culture, language and history, in February 1991 stated :-
 
there is a need to distinguish between citizenship and nationality –citizens of a state can be of various nationalities. While citizenship requires the acknowledgement of equal rights for all nationalities within the state, nationality per se transcends citizenship and transcends often-state borders, especially in the African case.
 
Blyden, Garvey and Du Bois mentioned the African Nation ( Prah 2006: 223 ). The lessons of history teach us that the African Nation is constituted by Africa south of the Sahara and the African Diasporas. This is to be organically realised as incorporating both the Western and Eastern Diasporas of Africa. Africans in the zones of Arab influence, both in Africa and Arabia, were Arabised and deliberately de-nationalised, as was the case in Darfur in Sudan.
 
According to Bulcha, Africans in the Middle East and Asia remain ‘a disjointed Diaspora‘, although he goes on to clarify that records indicate that our people in those places show a persistent desire to repatriate. Their African identity/personality was never in doubt. In the East, there are, according to the United Nations ‘Africans and Afro-descendants communities in Asia’. The Afro-descendants are those Diop described as having ‘ a common soul ‘. These are the descendants of the first wave out of Africa, such as the Aborigines of Australia, the Papuans and the Agta/Sakai of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines ( Rashidi.1995: 331 ). Rashidi made a presentation at the University of Juba on the 24th May 2007 entitled “ The global African presence’.  For example, the Pacific Islanders today hold dearly their African Nationality, as do the Papuans.
 
The issue of the mergers of the Diasporas and Africa needs to be addressed squarely. In the AU context this issue was decided at the meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 17th - 20th April 2000 of the Legal Experts and Parliamentarians on the Establishment of the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament (ref CAB/leg/23.15/6/Vol IV), when, due to Arab influence, African descendants were excluded from the affairs of the Parliament. The Arabs have consistently opposed the linkage of Africa to its Diaspora. Indeed it is something they see as a doom signal. Yet they had formed their Arab League in 1945, some forty years before the OAU, from which Africa south of the Sahara was excluded. The linkage of Africa to its Diaspora is central to the Pan-African project. The Diaspora today has Observer Status at the Economic and Social Council of the AU (ECOSOCC).
 
Here it should be clear, the problem is not one of religious intolerance and anti-Muslim sentiment, but the issue is the deliberate racist policy of denationalising and Arabising Africans, in order to take their lands, as seen in Darfur today.
 
Ackah’s (1999) thematic description of the Pan-African nationalist thought and practice shows that the meaning and content of the concept was shaped mostly by historical events that confronted the people of African origin and the Diaspora. This means the fight against European imperialism and racism, and Arab expansion and racism were and remain the propelling forces in the development of the Pan-African movement.
 
Due to its complexity as a thought that emerged as an emotional, political and intellectual response of the African to European and Arab colonisation of Africa and the racism that accompanied it, Pan-African nationalism is/can be defined in both a narrower and broader sense. In the narrower sense the definition of the ideology is limited to a political movement for the unification of the African continent, and the broader definition includes the cultural and intellectual movements of all Africans all over the world. ( ie the global African presence ).
 
Pan-African nationalist thought in the narrower sense can be specifically identified with both the First Pan-African Conference in 1900 and two distinct conferences, which were held both in Accra in 1958 (Thompson 1969: 24; Pheko 1999: 10). The First Pan-African Conference initiated the organised promotion of the concept. The latter were distinct in that they were the first conferences to be held on African soil and as such signified the Pan-Africanist movement’s second phase in its historical and intellectual development. The Accra Conferences initiated the Continentalist phase of the movement lead by Nkrumah. It sort the unity of the Continent as the primary objective. The OAU excluded the Diaspora from its work.
 
The First Pan-African Conference of 1900 and its significance in the ideological development of Pan-African nationalist thought and practice
 
The First Pan-African Conference in London, from the 23 to 25 July 1900, was the first ever held to propagate these ideas, and it was attended by a small group of African men and women.from the New World. The idea of such a meeting was the brainchild of Henry Sylvester-Williams, who was a West Indian barrister. ‘This conference was the beginning of a structural, ideological concept of Pan-Africanism’ Clarke 191: 105 ).
 
The Roles that W.E.B Du Bois and M.M. Garvey played in shaping Pan-African Thought and Practice after 1900
 
In the list of names of African-American intellectuals who attended the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 was that of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963). Earlier on, in 1897, he is reported to have made a statement to the effect that, ‘if the Negro were to be a factor in the world’s history it would be through a Pan-African movement’ (Legum 1962: 24). Considering this pronouncement it would be right to conclude that for Du Bois the First Pan-African Conference was a dream come true and a step-forward by people of African origin and descent in their struggle against Western colonialism and racism. Like a prophet of old, at the first Pan-African Conference he declared that:-
 
‘The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea (Legum 1962: 25)’.
 
The Afro-Jamaican Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940) in his objectives and programme of action is reported to have:-
 
sought to unite all Africans the world over, to establish a bridgehead on the continent of Africa from which to fight colonialism and weld the whole of Africa into a united nation (Thompson 1969: 42).
 
 
Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was the first Pan African mass organisation, which established branches wherever Africans were to be found, dispersed around the world, including Africa. In the early 1920s. it introduced African nationalism for the first time as a uniting factor in Southern African politics. It serves no useful purpose within the unity movement to make comparisons between Du Bois and Garvey. Both dedicated their lives to the struggle of the African people as a whole.
 
The Du Boisan Congresses between 1919 and 1927
 
Following the First Pan-African Conference in 1900, between 1919 and 1927, Du Bois organised four Pan-African Congresses that became known as the Du Boisan Congresses, and as such marked the first phase of Pan-Africanism. The Congresses were:
i.         The First Pan-African Congress: Paris (1919);
ii.          The Second Pan-African Congress: London, Brussels and Paris (1921);
iii.        The Third Pan-African Congress: London and Lisbon (1923); and
iv.                 The Fourth Pan-African Congress: New York (1927).
Thompson (1969: 55) indicates that, the first and the second Congresses showed promise for ‘the growth of the Pan-African idea’, but the last two are reported to have been ‘…disappointing and revealed a diminution of its forces’.
 
The Fifth Pan-African Congress and the role of George Padmore
 
After several attempts by the ‘Father of Pan-Africanism’, Du Bois and other leaders such as Dr Harold Moody, the Jamaican leader of the League of Coloured People that was described as the conservative component of Pan-Africanism, the Fifth Pan-African Congress assembled from the 15 – 19 October 1945 at the Charlton Town Hall, Manchester, and was attended by over two hundred delegates from all over the ‘coloured world’ (Thompson 1969: 58).
 
It needs to be noted here that the meeting of the Fifth Pan-African Congress was in the main made possible by the collaboration of the Pan-African Federation (PAF), which was a federation of several groups that had emerged between 1927 and 1944, and George Padmore’s International African Service Bureau (IASB). The leadership of Padmore was outstanding. This was the last Pan-African Congress held outside of Africa.
 
A new breed of African nationalists who attended the Congress made it their business to clarify issues. ‘They rejected assimilation, demanded independence outright, and tried to organize mass movements to secure these ends’ (Gann and Duignan 1967: 97). As a result, the aspirations of Africans were clearly articulated in Kwame Nkrumah’s Declaration to the Colonial Workers, Farmers and Intellectuals, were he opted for non-violent struggle such as strikes and boycotts.
 
The transplantation of the Pan-Africanist movement to Africa
 
After the Manchester Pan-African Congress of 1945 with its powerful resolutions that were intended to totally uproot European colonialism and its racist practices, Pan-African nationalism remained in the realm of ideas (Thompson 1969: 126). It was only thirteen years later that the Pan-African political movement landed in Africa in 1958 after Ghana’s independence. The event of the independence of Ghana was of historical significance in that it:
            ‘removed one of the disabilities under which the [Pan-African] movement had                         operated in the first phase, namely, the absence of a base from which propaganda             and ideas could be disseminated’ (Thompson 1969: 126).
 
The idea of the African personality became one of the main pillars in the process of the revitalization of African cultural values that were eroded by European cultural domination. The first two Pan-African conferences to be held on the African soil were held in Accra, Ghana in April and December 1958 (Thompson 1969: 126). Eight African governments that were independent at that time, namely, Ethiopia, Liberia, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Ghana, attended the April conference. These governments on behalf of Africa as a whole issued a joint declaration condemning colonialism and the apartheid system in South Africa. In December of the same year, 1958, the first All-African Peoples’ Conference was held. It purposefully linked itself with the Pan-African tradition. ‘The wider implications of the first two Accra Conferences of 1958 ushered Pan-Africanism into the realm of realpolitik’ (Thompson 1969: 126), leading to the formation of the OAU/AU  in May 1963, inspired by Nkrumah, with their annual/bi-annual meetings, thus institutionalising Pan-Africanism.
 
 
The Sixth Pan African Congress, Dar Es Salaam, June 1974
 
52 delegations representing Independent States in Africa and the Caribbean, Liberation Movements and communities of people of African descent in North America, South America, Britain and the Pacific met at the University of Dar Es Salaam’s Nkrumah Hall to open the 6th Pan African Congress (PAC).
 
The 6th PAC represented the first in the series convened in Africa, in a self-governing African state.. The Congress nevertheless, made a big impact on the Liberation Movements of the African countries still under colonial domination, especially the former Portuguese colonies of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau and settler colonialism in the then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Shortly after the Dar Es Salaam meeting, the bulk of these countries rid themselves of colonialism.
 
There were sessions on economics, national liberation, culture and education and science and technology. The most remarkable event was the paper of Walter Rodney. The lucidity of analysis, especially on the hostility to Pan Africanism ( ie the surrender of their sovereignty ) by the Governments of the independent African States, provided an understanding, which is as valid today as it was in 1974. Rodney asked, which class leads the national liberation movement; how capable is this class of carrying out the historical tasks of national liberation and; which are the silent classes on whose behalf national claims are being articulated? 
 
Rodney saw Pan Africanism as internationalist and a brand of nationalism. Those who came to lead the self-governing states were incapable of transcending the inherited territorial boundaries. Indeed the African petty bourgeoisie leadership since independence had been a further obstruction to African decolonisation Finally Rodney asserts that the neutrality and unity of nationalism is illusory and that in practice particular classes of strata capture nationalist movements and chart their ideological and political directions.
 
The Seventh Pan African Congress, Kampala, April 1994
 
The 7th Pan African Congress was the second to be held on the African continent in the one hundred years of history of the PAC. At this Congress President Y. Museveni of Uganda was the Patron, Col. K. Otafiire the Convener and Dr. T. Abdul-Raheem the Secretary General. Congress set-up a Post-Congress Secretariat under the leadership of the Secretary-General, which continued to function in Kampala into the late 1990’s. The late A.M. Babu will be remembered for the active role he played in the convening of the Congress.
 
The theme of the Congress was ‘Facing the Future in Unity, social progress and democracy – perspectives towards the 21st century’. Seventeen African Governments were represented either by their diplomats accredited to Uganda or by official ministerial delegations. More than thirty African countries were represented by different political forces and groups, especially opposition, pro-democracy, youth and women activists.
 
Pan-African nationalism  in it’s Broader Sense
 
The 7th PAC closed with a re-invigorated Pan African movement. So much so that the dynamism coming from the 7th PAC impacted at high level leading to the re-structuring of the OAU into the African Union (AU) under the influence of the Libyan leader Momar Gaddafi. Yet the AU and the promotion of the African Renaissance concept by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, despite their apparent promise, in the final analysis failed to meet one of the cardinal principles of the Pan African movement, the integration of the Diasporas and the Continent. In the Borderlands the AU was paralysed, being unable to go to the root of the Darfur issue and advance solutions, merely separating the belligerents.
 
In the period post 1994 events in the Borderlands such as the status of the Sahara, claimed by Morocco, have increasingly received focus, demanding attention. Mauritania is a case in point, deriving its name from the Moors, otherwise known as Arabs. In 1991 the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated the population as fewer than two million, of which sixty per cent were black Africans. Africans originally occupied the area. Arabs arrived from 570AD driven by drought in Arabia. They had been proceeded by Berbers.
 
Whereas the Arabs originally lived in the north of Mauritania as nomads, with African pastoralists living in the south, drought in the north lead to the Arabs moving south, assisted by a racist Arabist Government in the capital Nouakchott, pushing the Africans off their lands, as happened in Darfur.
 
There are at least half a million Black slaves in Mauritania, a practice dating back to the 8th century. John Mercer in his Introductory Remarks in the Anti-Slavery Society Report of 1982 states that Nkrumah’s friend, Muktar Ould Dada, Head of State of Mauritania from 1960 to 1978, kept slaves behind the Presidential Palace. Groups such as the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM) created in 1983 by Black Mauritanians, took up arms against the government, opposing Arab racism.
 
Garang De Mabior and the impact of Pan-African nationalism in the Eastern Diaspora
 
At the 7th Pan-African Congress held in April 1994, in Kampala, Uganda was Dr John Garang De Mabior, representing the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA/M). Garang’s speech delivered in Windhoek, Namibia in May 2005 at the 17th All Africa Students’ Conference (AASC) replicated that delivered by him in Kampala at the 7th PAC. In Kampala Garang said:-
 
‘Africa must unite not as a continent, but as a Nation, and therein lies our collective survival as a people’.
 
In Sudan people such as the Borgo, Berti and Maali were forced to denationalise and become Arabs. In 1960 these groups were used to fight Southern Sudanese with great ferocity. The African Darfurians were pitched against the Southerners. Later the Khartoum government armed an Arab nomad militia from Tchad and Libya, against the Africans in Darfur. It was at this point the African Darfurians realised they were the subjects of Arab racism, that Islam would not save them and that they were indeed Africans. This process of conscietisation requires further study. It was consequent on the sacrifices of the South, which in point if fact, forced Khartoum, by armed struggle, to the negotiating table.
 
Garang went on to say in his Address to the 7th Pan-African Congress:
 
‘This Congress must consolidate the solidarity, or rather the oneness of the Africans on the Continent and those in the Diaspora. This Congress must call upon Africans in North and South America to play an effective role in the African Renaissance and in building the African Nation….’
 
In the article ‘Iraq in Black‘ by Theola Labbe, published in Crisis Magazine March/April 2004, it is stated that the number of Black people in Iraq is unknown. Many African slaves were imported when Iraq was the capital of the Islamic world. Many descendants of these live in Basra today. They are the subjects of racism and discrimination. Some trace their origins to places in Africa such as Kenya and Nubia in Sudan. Traditions are kept, such as healing and spiritual rituals. A statistic to be kept in mind is that there are over one million Black Saudis in Saudi Arabia. That country officially abolished slavery in 1962.
 
The campaign for reparations, for example, for Arab–led slavery, is at the stage of ‘fence- setting‘. That is the creation of a powerful moral position supporting reparations. The World Conference Against Racism and it’s NGO Forum, both of 2001, showed the way forward for positive action on such diverse issues as slavery and colonialism (Para 99 Conference Declaration) and provides remedies such as reparations. The NGO Forum pronounced on Slavery in Mauritania, Sudan, Cameroon and Niger (Para 99, 236 and 237), colonialism (Para 44 and 95), as well as on Africans and African Descendants (Para 231), providing for reparations. (Paras 238-247).
 
Conclusion
 
The reason the Pan-African movement lost momentum once ‘ independence’ was achieved was the assassination/deposing of able leaders and the over preoccupation with the nation state, which drew it’s inspiration from the Berlin Conference of 1884-5. The same national entity that Walter Rodney in his paper for the Sixth Pan-African Congress identified as the major impediment to African unity. Another cause was the weak sense of national unity amongst us. Here reference is not to the states, created by ‘independence‘, but the supra body, the African Nation. Finally Africa’s inability to fuse, on the basis of strict equality, its AU and Secretariat, with its Diasporas was a major failing.
 
 
 
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