[Issues Of Principle]
Pan-Africanism, as an ideology of liberation of oppressed and exploited African peoples, has historically assumed centre stage when racial disabilities and related suffering haunt the lives of African peoples like a permanent nightmare.
Its most dynamic intervention on behalf of African peoples has often coincided with progressive periods in world politics.
With the world-wide revulsion against hegemonic politics and against the deleterious impact of globalization, will Pan-Africanism assume its historic role again? That is the challenge of Pan-Africanism, if it is to be of any relevance to the great majority of African peoples.
It is however a tragic commentary on the state of Pan-African consciousness that the current relationship between and among African peoples is fragmented, haphazard and anemic at the very time when the collective conditions of African people, wherever they are, are more or less as grim in comparative terms as they were at the dawn of the previous century.
A critical contextual analysis of data from all regions of the world shows that, whether the issue is HIV/AIDS pandemic, exploding prison population, ravages of poverty, lack of freedom, civil wars and strives, etc, African people and people of African descent suffer more disproportionately than any other group.
At such a time when the collective welfare of African people is in peril, it should be reasonable to expect that there would be a deep sense of solidarity among African people, in order to confront the various maladies effectively, for the greater and common good of all concerned. However, African elites, under the spell of neo-colonialism, have sacrificed the collective welfare of the great majority on the altar of personal self-gratification. As a result, the present type of relationship between and among African peoples contrasts rather sharply with that which obtained during the heydays of the Pan-Africanism, when the ideology and movement served as a potent force and forum for the mobilization of African and progressive peoples both in the continent and the Diaspora, for collective actions to give hope to a people who had endured racial exploitation and oppression for centuries.
In fact, the currency of Pan-Africanism ideology was put into wider circulation by W. E. B. DuBois precisely to highlight the humiliation and the various types of discrimination which African peoples suffered due to race consciousness and prejudice. It is instructive that the formal organization of the Pan-African movement that dates to 1900, when the Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester-Williams convened the first Pan-African Congress in London, coincided with a period of progressive politics in the world.
It was, for example, at the turn of the twentieth century that the Labour Party in Britain came into formal existence, to champion the cause of the labouring poor. In the same year, W. E. B. DuBois made the timeless observation that: “The problem of the twentieth-century is the problem of the color-line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the seas.”
A century later, the observation applies with equal: the racial disabilities that W. E. B. DuBois dissected clinically and fought against have simply mutated and become structural in global societies.
The high tide of Pan-Africanism was at the 1945 Manchester Congress, the year the United Nations was founded, after about a decade of brutal war against fascist ideology that sought to organize the world on the basis of racial purity and supremacy. It was under the leadership of W. E. B. DuBois, Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore and Jomo Kenyatta, that a clarion call was issued for the organization of colonial peoples to demand their democratic rights.
It was this ideology of Pan-Africanism that created in African people a consciousness of solidarity and a conviction that despite the burden of the struggle, in the end they would achieve liberation. Kwame Nkrumah’s declaration in March 1957 that the independence of Ghana would be meaningless without the total liberation of Africa, exemplified this robust vision of Pan-Africanism.
Now 50 years after Kwame Nkrumah’s pronouncement, where is Pan-Africanism? The various organization that have recently claimed to be Pan-Africanist have tended to be betray the very conception and mission of Pan-Africanism. For example, in the 1990s, the intelligence arm of the Ugandan government funded a Pan-African Secretariat in Kampala that served to sing the praises of the militarist regime, which contrary to every Pan-African principle, invaded and plundered the Democratic Republic of Congo and put its own citizens in concentration camps in the north of the country.
Yet the Pan-African Secretariat in Kampala maintained meticulous silence in the face of the obscene brutalization of fellow Africans. Recently to its credit, the African Union (AU) designated the African Diaspora, a sixth region of the continent.
African peoples who are politically conscious must give time to the AU efforts before making a judgment. It must however be made clear, however, that if any form of Pan-Africanism is to be a meaningful vehicle for the transformation of the abject conditions of African peoples wherever they are, it should not be manipulated to lull people to accept the status quo.
Given the various types of disabilities that African people still suffer all over the world, it seem logical that rather than invent a new formula to advance the welfare of African people wherever they might be, we should learn from successful efforts of the past and modify them to take into account the material (political and economic), spiritual and psychological conditions of the present world.
This would call for adapting the strategies of Pan-Africanism that galvanized people for most of the 20th century, which were based on: the necessity to raise awareness, organize and build ecumenical solidarity; the recognition of achievements and pride in black culture and aspirations; campaigns for the uplift of African peoples from oppressive conditions; and the organization of the great majority to claim their democratic rights.
Whether the present lack of focused and purposeful Pan African solidarity can be attributed to the fact that the continent gained formal independence from European colonial rule and that in the Diaspora a percentage of people of African descent has gained upward economic and even political mobility into the inner circle of the ruling elites, is not clear. The fact of the matter is that the sense of dynamic Pan-Africanism that facilitated the freedom of African people all over the world is now no more than faint history, to which African elite play only lip service.
With the avalanche of crises buttering African people wherever they are, it might be an opportune moment for reflection and reexamination of strategies that might provide renewed sense of hope and optimism. In order to do this meaningfully, there is a need to draw on historical experiences of the struggles in the past. For it is not simply a cliché to say that history does not permit people the luxury to escape their inheritance. The fact of the matter is that the globalized world in which we live today is not fundamentally different from the world in which the trailblazers of Pan-Africanism championed the cause of African peoples and people of African descent in the Diaspora.
A review of the preoccupations of the current leaders among African peoples indicates that they have for the most part betrayed the historic mission of Pan-Africanism. If African renewal, as advocated by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, for example, is to be achieved, African youth should take the mantle and torch to form partnerships that can serve as for a for organizing and reinforcing strategies for liberation.
The building of partnerships between the African Diaspora and the continent is necessary on the practical grounds of reciprocal support, solidarity, coordination of efforts, harnessing of resources, and sharing of skills. Significantly, however, such a partnership must, if it is to be effective, be inclusive and embrace progressive forces on the world scene.
The current preoccupation by African elites with petty interests and differences has severely compounded already onerous conditions in which African people find themselves, wherever they might be. To inspire and lift the great majority of African peoples from apparent sense of despair and resignation, there is an urgent need to cultivate a new crop of leaders in the mould of W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Kwame, Paul Robeson, Aime Cesaire, Franz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Robert Sobukwe, and Nelson Mandela.
The time is now for African peoples to forge a genuine sense of solidarity beyond personal parochial interests, if the future is to be redeemed. That is the challenge of Pan-Africanism in the twenty-first century.
Black Star News columnist Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu is UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, Executive-Director of the UConn-ANC Partnership and Professor of History at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His column appears bi-weekly online and in the newspaper.
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