PAN-AFRICANISM: ITS RELEVANCE TODAY

African Union Building, Addis Ababa. [Photo Credit: flickr.com]

I recently read in Premium Times that the Lagos State government with the support of the Federal government are organising the Badagry Diaspora Festival on the 23rd to 25th of August. The festival strives to: bring the issues of Africans in the diaspora to the fore, allow Africans in the diaspora to connect with the motherland and witness the rich cultural heritage of Lagos and Nigeria, and also create an avenue for investment in Nigeria. [1] This event is akin to the FESTAC 77 which took place in Lagos in the late 1970s. [2] Also, according to recent report by allAfrica, the member states of the African Union (AU) have also come to the agreement that in order to facilitate a “new African Renaissance” (called simply new Pan-Africanism from here on) credible reforms are needed to make the AU, which evolved from the now dissolved Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 2002, more beneficial to its member states. [3]

These announcements got me musing on the research I made into Pan-Africanism aptly titled, Pan-Africanism: From Mega-nations to Engineering connections. In view of the aforementioned agendas, it is appropriate to question the relevance of Pan-Africanism today. There is sizable literature on this topic, and I will recommend some useful ones in the notes below. However, I will delve into a few perspective of Pan-Africanism in order to create the context for a meaningful understanding of its relevance today.

One important perspective about Pan-Africanism according to Cheikh Anta Diop is that Pan-Africanism existed prior to the concrete formation of the ideology in the 19th century. He points to the ancient African “mega-nations” such as KMT(Egypt), Kush, Libya, Ghana, Mali, Songhay and other mega-nations that flourished before Trans-Atlantic slave trade as evidence to unity and complexities of African societies. This notion is one that was rarely spoken about, as the dominant impression especially by Western scholars such as 18th century philosopher David Hume, 19th century Scottish enlightenment scholar Friedrich Hegel and 20th century professor Hugh Trevor-Roper was that Africa had little or no culture, political, or economic systems that were of any notable interest to academic pursuit or of any worthwhile value to the world in general. [4] My view, is that when notions of cultural or civilizational contribution are raised, then the the arbiter of power or hegemonic culture in the international system gets to set the standard for what is considered noteworthy or not. Therefore, given the prevalence of Western domination and culture from the 18th century to 20th century, African contribution to the world was then considered non-existent. No wonder, Paul E. Lovejoy, brilliantly argues in “the contribution of Africans to science and technology” that,

Any examination of African contributions to science and technology is hampered by the problem arising from racialized views of history and the relegation of Africa to an “underdeveloped” or “undeveloped” stereotype” [5].

Although, Lovejoy’s article focuses on science and technology, Lovejoy buttress the point that the narrative of contribution is often dictated by the perceived “superior culture”. Notwithstanding, these are some of the noteworthy contributions of Africans to the world: mathematics, monotheism, architecture, medicine, navigation and engineering, astronomy and much more. More importantly, the lack of written “records” was abundantly sufficed by the griots — who symbolised how ancient memories and the history of mankind got passed along for all of Africans and humanity in the main. No wonder it is popularly said that, “when a griot dies, it is as if a library has burned to the ground”. [6]

Another perspective about Pan-Africanism is that it is considered to be the struggle against slavery and systemic discrimination that blacks in the diaspora and Africa collectively faced. Slavery which has always existed among humans in one form or the other, witnessed a radical transformation in the 15th century to become one of the most pernicious forms ever conceived due to the need to supply manpower to the farms and plantations in the new world. This form of slavery was not suffered by Africans at home, at least not in the same degree as Africans who were captured and sent to Europe and the new world. Europeans advanced several arguments to justify slavery and systemic discrimination. For example, in the Bible, the book of Genesis 9:24–25, tells of the story of Noah, who placed a curse on Canaan his grandson because Ham, the father of Canaan, saw Noah’s nakedness. The name Ham according to later interpretation in Hebrew “Ch’m” means black or burnt, so some Europeans cited this story as a justification for slavery as blacks according to them, were designated as a result of this curse to be slaves or serve other races. [7] Also, the colour black in the medieval era was associated to evil, monstrosity, wildness and otherness — so one can see some of the origins of this racialised view of thinking. Other justifications for slavery and racial discrimination were advanced as time progressed. For instance, in the Victorian era, Social Darwinism which applied Darwin’s theory of natural selection to racial groups was applied to explain the inferiority of the black race. In the hieratical categorisation of the races, the black race was considered the least of the races because according to evolutionary explanation the black race was the progenitor of the other races, hence in the bottom of the human pyramid.

Africans both in the diaspora and at home did not submit silently to slavery or systematic discrimination. They actively resisted slavery and institutional discrimination. We owe our freedom to the fearless resistance to slavery and discrimination to the various leaders, people and organisations formed by blacks and whites to fightback. Pan-Africanism as an ideological and political force came as a result of these fightbacks. Haiti, then St. Domingue, marked a significant turning point with respect to blacks fighting back. In 1820, Toussaint L’Ouverture in unison with half-a-million enslaved blacks rebelled against their French slave owners with organisational and tactical skills. This did not only secure their freedom and independence but it also served as an inspiration to other blacks. Another example of the fightback against racial discrimination, well, in this case imperial racism, was Ethiopia’s strategic maintenance of independence in spite of the attempts made by Italy, especially under the leadership of Mussolini who wanted to build an Italian Empire to rival other European Empires of the early 20th century. It also inspired other African states and blacks in the diaspora to forge on with their fight against systemic discrimination.

In addition, blacks who were captured as slaves and their descendants were faced with reconciling their “dual identity” where they felt connected to Africa their motherland in terms of heritage but also felt connected to the place they found themselves in terms of socialisation and acculturalisation. This internal struggle to reconcile these competing realities enabled the conscious awakening of blacks as slave narratives, groups and organisations were formed in order to grapple with the discrimination that the societies they found themselves in mete out to them. Olaudah Equiano was an example of a freed slave who through his writings advocated for the emancipation of black slaves. Yet, as Morgan et al notes, “Equiano adopts many masks — from naıve boy to sophisticated gentleman, from chivalrous warrior to deferential slave, from humble sailor to the first black official representative of the British government” [8] Although, he struggled with his identity, it is clear that Equiano above all considered his life calling to bring to the fore the atrocities of slavery and racial discrimination. There were many leading figures that exposed the hypocrisy and duplicity of racial discrimination such as William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Frederick Douglass, Ladipo Felix Solanke, Claudia Jones and so on. These challenges enabled Africans to connect with blacks in the diaspora to create counteracting ideologies such as Pan-Africanism and Négritude that sort to dispel the inferiority of the black race.

PAN-AFRICANISM IN OUR TIME: A CONTEMPORARY INTERPRETATION

Our Future

Having briefly provided some context, however inadequate, we are still faced with my initial question of the relevance of Pan-Africanism today? Africa and Africans in the diaspora have come far from the days of slavery and have made meaningful strides against curbing racial discrimination abroad. So, other than its present vestigial connections to the continental and regional organisations in Africa, does Pan-Africanism still hold meaning today? Or, does Pan-Africanism reside only in evoking ones’ Africanness (African-personality: the feeling of solidarity and unity among Africans). So is Pan-Africanism today the kickback against systemic discrimination? Perhaps, it is now the fight against neo-colonialism? Has Pan-Africanism become a bygone ideology that was only useful for its radical and then progressive stance that ushered independence and the creation of AU and other regional bodies? The answer from my perspective is that it is still very useful and its relevance today cannot be overstated. Pan-Africanism today is relevant because at its core is the integrating and connecting of Africans especially as the world becomes more competitive and interconnected.

Yet, some Africans have prior to the 21st century attempted to connect and integrate the continent. For instance, Dusé Mohamed Ali, believed that economic considerations must inform their Pan-African vision and maintained that the development of business and trade connections were crucial if “true independence” was to be achieved. So he set up the Inter-Colonial Corporation with six Gold Coasters in September 1920 as a “co-operative scheme to benefit the small African trader deserving a greater scope than was possible under the present system”. [9] The aim was to export produce by bypassing the powerful British export monopolies. Unfortunately, his plan did not work out. Today, on the other hand, presents more promising opportunities for the next phase of Pan-Africanism to begin.

As I noted in my article, “ …integration and connection of infrastructure, human capital and sociocultural integration are essential in the new Africa and are no longer limited by geography”.

Now more than ever, we must learn important lessons from the first phase of Pan-Africanism; as the relevance of Pan-Africanism today must be to reinforce the links between our states by establishing and strengthening common institutions [10], harnessing the human capital by integrating the continent and providing avenues for Intra-African trade. Africans trade more with foreign countries than they do among themselves. The problem with trading with foreign countries is that it presents the challenge of accessing foreign currency to facilitate trade, but in situations where Africans trade among themselves the issue of foreign currency access is lessened.

What Will It Take

In the past, Pan-Africanism was envisaged in its narrow context as the solidarity and unity that existed among Africans and created the environment for mega-nations to flourish. When Pan-Africanism became a concrete concept and ideology, it was used to counter the narrative of black inferiority, it helped in the decolonisation of African states and allowed for the establishment of important continental and regional bodies such as AU, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and others alike.

However, today, the relevance of Pan-Africanism is in its essential doctrine of unity among Africans that is fostered by integration and connectivity.

Achieving the new Pan-Africanism will require: improvement in the seamless flow of intra-African trade in goods, services and ideas; intra-African Investment; creating an enabling environment for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); improving contract laws to be coherent across many regions in order to reduce excessive cost of transactions across the various states and regions; creating incentives for African firms/companies to operate; and taking advantage of several profusions and breakthroughs in science and technology in the 21st century like cloud computing which has redesigned the world of technology where anyone from anywhere can ideally compete in any location on earth. [11]

Several continental bodies are uniting with the understanding that there is fierce competition from nations and regions as globalisation levels the playing field. Yet, African organisations still have weak unions and institutions. Pan-Africanism can serve as a framework to unite us and enable Africans to present a united front when negotiating with other continental organisations. There has to be an emphasis on understanding our history with respect to other continents, as this can better equip our negotiators (ambassadors and representatives) especially when dealing with other regional bodies or within the United Nations. There has to be more emphasis on appointing qualified candidates to man these positions as appointees are often chosen as a consolation price when they are unable to take domestic political positions.

Our shared interest to have a more prosperous continent should enable us to push for the continuous integration and connection of the continent. This will require our leaders to delicately and skilfully balance their national interest with that of the continent and not simply look for ways to score points on the home front. Regional bodies like ECOWAS, East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the continental body AU — need to come with mutually beneficial agendas that harmonises and pushes member states to cooperate with each other. These bodies will also need to find ways to address often overlooked challenges in the differences among states in terms of their: size, military power, political influence and political stability. To this end, there must be a genuineness to accommodate and allow for the inevitable challenges to be addressed as practicable as possible. The fundamental questions and dilemmas that the new Pan-Africanism will need to address with respect to its relevance today is: how to promote growth and innovation across borders and within states? How to develop a coherent vision for the continent? Until we recognise the potential of Pan-Africanism we won’t have the capacity to negotiate for our own good when we confront other bodies. It is when we unite with a single vision that we can industrialise by processing our raw materials instead of sending them abroad and being dependent on the economies of other advanced countries.

Notes:

To find out more about Pan-Africanism you can consult the following books:

Pan-African History: Political figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787

Kwame Nkrumah’s Contribution to Pan-Africanism: An Afrocentric Analysis

To find out about Intra-African trade you can consult this book and follow:

Book: Africa-to-Africa Internationalization: Key Issues and Outcomes (AIB Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) Series)

Follow: Dr. Ebimo Amungo

To find out about Technology and how its impacting Africa please visit and follow:

Visit: tekedia.com

Follow: Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe

Contributions of Africa to the World:

African Contributions to Science, Technology and Development

The Perspective: Africa’s Contribution to the World

SOURCES

[1]P. Times, “Lagos, Nigerian govt plan festival to help Africans in diaspora trace roots,” 17 7 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.premiumtimesng.com/regional/ssouth-west/234367-lagos-nigerian-govt-plan-festival-help-africans-diaspora-trace-roots.html. [Accessed 17 7 2017].

[2]Wikipedia. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FESTAC_77.

[3]”Africa: With AU Reforms, a ‘new African Renaissance’ Is Possible,” 17 7 2017. [Online]. Available: http://allafrica.com/stories/201707180377.html. [Accessed 17 7 2017].

[4]D. Poe, Kwame Nkrumah’s Contribution to Pan-Africanism: An Afrocentric Analysis, vol. A Routledge Series, M. Asante, Ed., New York: Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005, p. 20.

[5]P. E. Lovejoy, “UNESCO,” [Online]. Available: http://www.unesco.org/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CLT/pdf/P_Lovejoy_African_Contributions_Eng_01.pdf. [Accessed 17 8 2017].

[6] H. Alex, Roots The Saga of an American Family, Vanguard Press, 2004, p. 9.

[7] R. Ali, Racism: A Very Short Introduction, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 30.

[8] M. D. Philip and H. Sean, Black Experience and the Empire, vol. The Oxford History of The British Empire Companion Series, C. D. L. F. Wm. Roger Louis, Ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 2.

[9] H. Adi and S. Marika, Pan-African History Political Figures from Africa and the Dispora since 1787, Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003, p. 10.

[10] O. Joseph, Nigeria: Dilemma of Nationhood, Vols. Contributions in Afro-America and African Studies, O. Joseph, Ed., Westport, Connecticut: The Third Press, 1972, p. 390.

[11] N. Ekekwe, “Tekedia,” 1 7 2017. [Online]. Available: http://tekedia.com/65650/comprehensive-valuations-of-nigerian-tech-startups/. [Accessed 2 7 2017].