Pan-African Voice
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Pan-African Voice

Pan-Africanism vs. African Internationalism

The African People’s Socialist Party promotes the ideology of African Internationalism. The position of the African People’s Socialist Party and its chairman Omali Yeshitela is that African Internationalism is distincit from Pan-Africanism. Their position on the difference is summed up in an article titled “African Internationalism is NOT Pan-Africanism! African Internationalism is the theory of the African working class!” The problem is that in making the case for the difference between African Internationalism and Pan-Africanism, the African People’s Socialist Party misrepresents certain aspects of the historical development of Pan-Africanism.

Yeshitela’s position is that “Pan-Africanism was born as an attack on Marcus Garvey’s movement.” This is historically inaccurate. In fact, the abovementioned article itself noted that Henry Sylvester Williams had organized a Pan-African Conference in 1900. How then could Pan-Africanism be born as an attack on Garvey’s movement if Pan-Africanism predated Garvey’s movement? Garvey himself was influenced by the early Pan-African movement.

As I pointed out in my book The Life, Goals, and Achievements of Marcus Garvey, Garvey was mentored by a man named Joseph Robert Love. Love was a Pan-Africanist who worked with Williams to organize a Pan-African Association in Jamaica. Love’s influence on Garvey was such that Garvey wrote: “One cannot read his Jamaica Advocate without getting race consciousness…if Dr Love was alive and in robust health, you would not be attacking me, you would be attacking him…”

The ideological conflict between Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois should not be viewed as a conflict between Garvey and Pan-Africanism. Garvey certainly did not view it this way. It is true that Garvey never labeled himself as a Pan-Africanist, but he also did not explicitly reject Pan-Africanism. Not only was he mentored by Love, but he had made reference to Pan-Africanism in his own speeches. In a 1922 speech, Garvey stated: “The Associated Press reported in January that Reuters had given out the information that a great Pan-African spirit was sweeping all over Africa, and that the propaganda was travelling so fast as to have reached nearly every nook and corner of the Black Continent.”

It seems to me that it wasnecessary for the African People’s Socialist Party to draw this distinction between Pan-Africanism and African Internationalism not only because of the ideological conflict between Du Bois and Garvey, but also because of Yeshitela’s own ideological differences with Kwame Ture and the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party. These differences are expressed in the video below.

I will state here that some of the conclusions which Yeshitela draws regarding Pan-Africanism are accurate. For example, it is true that Pan-Africanism does not represent any particular ideology. This was a point that was made by Kwame Ture himself when he stated that Pan-Africanism is an objective, not an ideology. Walter Rodney stated that “people can run about talking about the ideology of black nationalism or the ideology of Pan-Africanism, as if Pan-Africanism itself is a pure ideology, or everyone who calls himself a Pan-African has the same ideology.” Yeshitela states at the 50 minute mark that anyone can be a Pan-Africanist because its an aspiration. This is true.

Yeshitela incorrectly states that the Pan-African movement came into existence under the leadership of Du Bois. Yeshitela also claims at the 46 minute mark that Garvey stated that he was not a Pan-Africanist. The fact is that Garvey made no such claim. He criticized Du Bois, but he did not oppose Pan-Africanism as a movement. Of Du Bois’ third Pan-African Congress, Garvey stated: “Du Bois had no more right or authority to have called a Pan-African Congress than a cat had to call together a parliament of rats.” The criticism here was clearly aimed at Du Bois, not the concept of Pan-Africanism itself.

Yeshitela’s assessment of Pan-Africanists in power is also inaccurate. He states at the 50 minute mark that Kwame Nkrumah was the only Pan-African leader who moved to unite Africa. Julius Nyerere was a Pan-Africanist who advocated that Tanzania should unify with Kenya and Uganda. Tanzania itself was formed as the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Nkrumah had formed the Union of African States along with Sekou Toure and Modibo Keita. The point here is that Nkrumah was not the only Pan-Africanist who was moving to unite Africa.

Pan-Africanism is a movement which promotes the unification of African people. Yeshitela is correct to point out that the movement is an aspirational one. I don’t think this is necessary a criticism of Pan-Africanism, however. Pan movements which seek to unite a collective group of people often have to be inclusive of diverse ideologies and beliefs. I would argue that this is one of the reasons why the Pan-African movement has been more enduring and successful than other pan movements such as Pan-Asianism, Pan-Arabism, or Pan-Mongolism. Apart from this, I would aslo argue that Yeshitela’s narrative regarding the history of Pan-African movement does leave out some very important information, which gives the listener a very incomplete view of the historical development of the Pan-African movement.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.



Pan-African Voice is a publication dedicated to stories that are relevant to Africa and the African Diaspora around the world.

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