Pan-Africanism in our time
16/07/2009, Issue 442
The people of Africa are united by culture, history and identity. However, colonialism and now neo-colonialism seeks to divide and atomise the continent in several ways. However, the struggle for a united Africa, which began years before the Pan-African Movement was aimed solely at uniting a people bound by history. African Unity has come a long way, but every movement needs an ideology. Pan-Africanism has played that role for Africa.
Today some people may regard Pan-Africanism as a throwback to the immediate post-colonial period. Events such as the crisis in the DRC, Northern Uganda, some parts of Kenya, youth struggling for emancipation in the Niger Delta, and the quest of Mau Mau veterans for compensation bind us as a people. We feel each other’s pain. As we struggle to build a Union of African States, it is imperative that we revisit this concept from a political and radical perspective. After all, Pan-Africanism is partly a response to the way Africa and Africans have been treated within the global world since the Berlin Conference of 1884, which divided Africa into tiny enclaves for the benefit of European monarchs and their hangers on.
Pan-Africanism is not a concept that easily lends itself to definition. It is a journey. For me, what is important is to understand and underscore the point that this journey has brought us to the point where the talk of a unity of African states is no longer sneered at by cynics or seen as a dream, but as something that can happen in our life time. Pan-Africanism for me is an idea, a collective understanding of what binds us as Africans – not Kenyan, Ghanaian, Congolese, Ugandan, or Egyptian – but as Africans with a common bond, and how we intend to conduct our affairs in today’s globalised world.
The colonisation of Africa was formalised at the Berlin Conference of 1884, which led to the most brutal genocide against any race ever known in the history of human beings. The export of millions of Africans to the so-called ‘new world’ was also supported by the colonisation process – which was brutal in its execution and inhuman in its sustainability. The colonial enterprise was a form of one party dictatorship in which Africans were treated according to the whims of the colonial overlords, missionaries, their companies and indeed anyone who thought they were superior to Africans. Apartheid was the most extreme form of colonisation. So far, no one has faced the International Criminal Court (ICC) for these crimes against humanity. But as a result of these events – slavery, the colonial enterprise, racism, the brutal economic exploitation of African resources, and so on, African people all over the world realised that they faced a common destiny.
Marcus Garvey’s ‘back to Africa’ movement was largely destroyed as an enterprise, but the ideas behind it were never touched. The basic premise is that all Africans and people of African descent in any part of the world belong to a common African nation, and should work together to address our common problems. The idea of a common front against exploitation, degradation, abuse, racism, colonial exploitation and various forms of slavery, led to the birth of the Pan-African movement as we know it today.
PAN-AFRICANISM: THE EARLY YEARS
Basically, Pan-Africanism is about geo-politics as it relates to the African continent. All Africans and people of African descent are Africans and belong to the African nation. The early years of the Pan-African Movement were mostly dedicated to ending the colonial enterprise, and hence its diaspora origins. Of particular importance in the calendar of Pan-Africanism were the various conferences and meetings: The Pan-African conferences of 1900 (London), 1919 (Paris), 1921 (London, Brussels, Paris), 1923 (London), 1927 (New York), and the last official one in 1949. The All African People’s Conference called by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah in Accra (1965) is also another important landmark in the history of Pan-Africanism. The last global Pan-African Movement meeting was held in Kampala in 1994. Some of the leading lights in the movements history included influential Africans and people of African descent of the time participated in these meetings:
Sylvester Williams, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, etc. The 1958 First Conference of Independent African states, held in Accra, Ghana marked the formal beginning of the Pan-African movement within the continent. The 1963 Organisation of African unity Charter bore the hallmarks of these efforts.
Following the dark cloud of slavery and colonialism in Africa, visionary African leaders realised that it was imperative that all Africans – wherever they might be – to unite to end the African holocaust which began with the 'European Renaissance' in Italy in 1400. Its practical manifestation, however, dates back to 1900 when Sylvester Williams, a lawyer of African descent, named this coming together of Africans 'Pan-Africanism' . But as a movement, Pan-Africanism began in 1776. It was, however, the fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester, England, in 1945 that advanced Pan-Africanism and applied it to the de-colonisation of the African continent politically. Some of the leading lights in the movement’s history included Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), William du Bois, Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Robert Sobukwe (South Africa) and Patrice Lumumba (Congo, now DRC). Pan-Africanism therefore defines the intellectual, political and economic cooperation that should lead, ultimately, to the political unity of Africa.
Unlike other contending ideologies, Pan-Africanism was ‘developed by outstanding African scholars, political scientists, historians and philosophers living in Africa and the diaspora’. It was conceived in the womb of Africa. It is a product made in Africa by Africans. The objectives of Pan-Africanism have changed over time, but not the essence. For instance, while the Pan-Africanist Movement was in its early years concerned with anti-racism, anti-colonialism as spearheaded by Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Ahmed Sekou Toure (Guinea) and the founding fathers of the Pan African movement, it is now mainly focused on the actual political unification of Africa.
George Padmore, considered Pan-Africanism an ‘ideological alternative’ for the liberation of Africa from the shackles of imperialism. The new Africa would create the authentic and independent political, social, and cultural environment, nurturing and reproducing what was uniquely African and thus create a framework for uniting all Africans in the world and for waging a struggle against racial and domination. George Padmore also addressed African leaders when he wrote that ‘African nationalist leaders must resolve their own internal communal conflicts and…differences, so that, having established a democratically elected government, the imperial power will find less danger in passing power to the popularly elected leaders than in withholding it.’ In his words, ‘Pan-Africanism looks above the narrow confines of class, race, tribe and religion, … Its vision stretched beyond the limited frontiers of the nation-state. Its perspective embraces the federation of regional self-governing countries and their ultimate amalgamation into a United States of Africa.’
Apart from George Padmore, another fervent believer in Pan-Africanism was Kwame Nkrumah. In the 1960s, Ghana’s founding father and true Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah argued that ‘the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.’ For Nkrumah, Ghana’s sovereignty was secondary to the pursuit of the Pan-African dream. So deep was his commitment that all independent states in Africa should work together to create a Union of African States that he was willing to sacrifice Ghana’s pursuit of national sovereignty: On the eve of Ghana’s independence on 6 March 1957, Nkrumah declared that so deep was Ghana's ‘faith in African unity that we have declared our preparedness to surrender the sovereignty of Ghana, in whole or in part, in the interest of a Union of African States and Territories as soon as ever such a union becomes practicable.’ Ghana started this process by creating an anti-imperialist front called the Ghana-Guinea- Mali Union of radical African leaders.
In his book I Speak of Freedom, published in 1961, Kwame Nkrumah further reminded all Africans that imperialism had so thoroughly distorted and disarticulated African social formations, that only continental unity could save the region from further deterioration. In Africa Must Unite (1963), Nkrumah enunciated a clear agenda for the establishment of an African common market to complement the Union of African States. Nkrumah argued: ‘The unity of Africa and the strength it would gather from continental integration of its economic and industrial development, supported by a united policy of non-alignment, could have a most powerful effect for world peace.’ This position was supported by various West African nationalist leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), Modibo Keita (Mali) and Sekou Toure (Guinea). However, this version of Pan-Africanism was not without enemies.
The early years of Pan-Africanism were also a response to the emerging anti-colonial movements, and issues pertaining to post-colonial development, and Africa’s relationship with former colonial powers. African leaders (the radicals) demanded that that the riches of Africa be used for the benefit and development of Africa. Such goals were noble, but also an anathema to the former colonial powers, for which Africa’s only purpose was to fill the coffers of the imperial powers. Most of the radical leaders of the movement were therefore hounded and overthrown on the instigation of these powers. In today’s Africa, the continued hounding of Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) exemplifies this trend in all it entirety. The spirit and ideology of Pan-Africanism has moved considerably from what its earlier adherents like George Padmore, Sylvester Williams, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and C.L.R. James had articulated. As the struggle for African independence intensified, and the anti-colonial movement gained momentum, Pan-Africanist ideology gained a further impetus from the contributions of people like Patrice Lumumba, Frantz Fanon, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sekou Toure, and Modibo Keita (Mali).
PAN-AFRICANISM IN OUR TIME
Today, globalisation is a truth which we have to live with. But globalisation has not led to the break down of national boundaries, it re-enforced them, allowing those with the military, economic power and resources to try and re-arrange global affairs to suit their national interest. Neo-liberalism and neo-colonialism are the new instruments which pass off as 'globalisation' . To me, globalisation is nothing but a new form of re-colonisation in which western powers justify their continued dominance using economic and humanitarian arguments as further attempts to consolidate their stranglehold of the continent. Under the guise of ‘humanitarian intervention’, the new global powers can invade and blockade any country within their orbit, and when this fails, they resort to the use of international institutions and courts.
The European Union has united Europe in both a political and economic sense. Where this is not enough, it uses global military alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to enforce its rule by other means. On the other hand, Africa, which requires this Union to protect its interests globally is still pussy footing, while the masses of African people continue to wallow in the ‘quagmire of underdevelopment, poverty, endless border wars, economic domination and the dictatorship of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.’ This problem is further exacerbated by the type of leadership whose interests is sometimes anti national.
We must challenge authoritarian rule, mismanagement, poor leadership and the lack of accountability of our leaders and public institutions. It is the historic duty to Africa of all Africans to do so. It is also the only way to help address the perennial problems of underdevelopment, poverty, deprivation, and the poor deplorable state of our infrastructure when a lot of resources go to private sources. But we must also have the courage of our founding fathers, the pioneers of Pan-Africanism and African liberation, to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that holds the view that corruption and authoritarianism is a typical African problem. This stems from the colonial mindset, allowing international institutions to target African leaders, haul them off to some foreign jail under the guise of answering for impunity. It is inconceivable that the US or Britain will act similarly. That also means that African activists should reappraise and carefully reflect on the sort of activities which passes off as advocacy and campaigning while fuelling anti African actions nationally and globally.
Africa’s shameless dependence on the West, the unproductive disposition of our elite to foreign inspired theories and ideas, the wanton abuse of human rights, the appropriation of state power and its resources, and hostility to popular and progressive forces have not helped Africa to propel Africa’s glory. Even today, Africa remains a continent for denigration, racist jokes, pity, and exploitation. The negative stereotyping of Africa in the western media remains a durable part of the Western intellectual landscape. Jokes about African leaders abound in the bars and conference halls of westerners, with Africans providing the laughter.
Even today (in a globalised world), some westerners still regard Africa as a wild dark jungle, largely preserved to satisfy the lecherous and erotic dreams and fantasies of American and European tourists. Africa remains the huge laboratory preserved to satisfy the academic curiosity of European and American scholars, what with the instability, wars, and strange tales of administrative and political blunders. The personalities of leaders dictators like Nguema, Idi Amin, Kamuzu Banda, Jean Bedel-Bokassa, and Mobutu Sese Seko provide intriguing patterns and models for research into the African personality and idiosyncrasies.
The abuse of African children and hospitality by so-called tourists and preachers is a sad indictment of the sort of leadership we have installed. These tendencies have been reinforced by the inability of the African elite to think independently, and map out a clear and creative agenda for reconstruction and development, mobilise their peoples, develop infrastructures, and generate confidence in Africa’s resources, economies and abilities, rather than ape and mouth theories which have no relevance to Africa’s development.
But for Pan-Africanism to remain relevant to African lives, the creation of the Union of African States should go beyond state-to-state relations and permeate to the people of Africa, who by no means would like to live in peace and harmony with each other. African Union meetings should cease being a meeting of presidents and their accolades (including a few select civil society groups). When African mothers, market women, traditional queens, birth attendants, etc get to attend an African union meeting to put before our leaders, the sort of deplorable lives they lead, it would be a major step. That should move on to farmers, policemen and women, soldiers, children, and so on. Why should African children be transported to New York and not Addis Abba, Tripoli, Nairobi or Kampala?
African economists and intellectuals need their own framework for development, free from the encumbrances of donor requirements. For example, the policies outlined in the African charter for popular participation in development must be seen as guidelines for structural transformation, democratisation, empowerment, accountability and a determined march towards the 21st Century. For Pan-Africanists, the central question remains how Africa should confront its own economic crisis in the context of a highly exploitative, unequal, protectionist and sometimes hostile, global order?
I have argued over and over again that Africa needs first fundamental transformation of the national orders. This transformation has to be people-led, democratic, self reliant, credible, and viable. Once this is achieved, it will be possible to transform the continent through a continent-wide political agenda arising naturally from the national reconstruction projects, and people to people initiatives. Secondly, Africa needs solidarity – we must learn to support each other. According to a recent report by the Ghana News Agency (23 June 2009), Leaders of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to pay arrears owed to the Guinea Bissau armed forces as part of measures towards peace in the country.
In addition, they would contribute to the funding of the 28 June presidential elections to improve the security situation. The decisions were taken at the end of their 36th Ordinary Summit held in Abuja. The leaders would provide US$3.5 million to pay for the arrears and US$350,000 towards the elections, according to a release from the ECOWAS Commission. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) also agreed to assist Zimbabwe with a hefty sum to get the country back on track after the formation of the collation government. These sort of Pan-African arrangements and cooperation is what Africa needs. Pan-Africanism is relevant in our time, but it requires a recognition of the new forms of threats posed to African sovereignty, to African interests, and the future of generations of Africans to come. Any other approach will amount to the usual political posturing, reactive to other people’s provocations, defensive radicalism, and more of the same neo-colonial approach to development.
* Zaya Yeebo is programme manager for the UNDP’s Civil Society Democratic Governance (CSDG) Facility but writes here in his own capacity.