Friday, May 29, 2015

Pan-Africanism has no Local Roots in Africa?


Here is an observation on Pan-Africanism from someone in Africa, I wonder what 'continental  Africans' would say:

I have however participated in some discussions recently where Panafricanism was discussed and it was interesting to hear new insights such as that it (Panafricanism) was merely an obsession of the African Diaspora who imagined a return to Africa, anywhere in Africa, as something of unique significance to the completion of the story of their own liberation. 

These people who did not know Africa had no loyalty or attachment or affiliation to any particular place, town, village or country in Africa. The whole continent was home and as such a united Africa possibly under one government presented for them something that was both desirable and possible. 

For the Africans however, the affiliation to village, tribe and country could never be replaced by a new loyalty to a continent made up of enemies and competitors for power and other resources. This means there was always a disconnect in how Panafricanism was understood by continental Africans and Diaspora Africans but it is the unviable Diaspora view that has held sway this far, especially now that the concept has become more of an intellectual subject of debate than a reality of life. 

It should therefore not be surprising that we have talked more and done less or little about this project. 

I thought that was an interesting way to look at the matter and in many ways it explains why Nkrumah was bound to fail as a proponent of a project that had no local roots, really and its main proponents (Diaspora Africans) had neither the resolve nor the resources to make it happen.


What was Pan-Africanism in its all phases? Was it an ideology of liberation, colonial freedom, a continental State creation?Was it an emancipatory politics? Does an emancipatory politics have a location, an identity, a place, a culture, etc? Why did the politics of freedom fail in Africa? Not because it became linked to State, place, culture and identity? Simon Kimbangu was very clear about the prescription that part of the freedom of descendants of slaves was to return, if they so wished, where their ancestors came from. He was a Congolese not someone in the Diaspora and he knew nothing about the US based Pan-Africanist movement. Maybe, if Africans failed to understand this, they did not care about their ancestors taken to the New World and made slaves. It says that Africans have no historical consciousness, other than the identity given them by colonialism.


"These people," as you call us, are AFRICANS. Our Ancestors were STOLEN from Africa against their will. We are the SAME PEOPLE. We don't know precisely where in West or Central Africa we come from because our Ancestors were STOLEN from Africa. We didn't have a choice in the matter. Thus, we have a right to return. We don't need anyone to sanction that. But I think we are obligated to understand and respect that the realities and experiences of our continental brothers and sisters won't be identical to ours. But I am convinced that we have a common destiny.

And there are many examples of organic pan-Africanism. In Benin and Ghana, for example, there are shrines dedicated to the "Lost Ones" who were taken away on slave ships. The Ewe of southeastern Ghana call it Krache Dente. I think of it as a sort of sacred pan-Africanism because the shrines are self-conscious efforts to maintain a link with the continent and the diaspora. And then there was Chief Alfred Sam, a Fante from Salt Pond, Central Region, Ghana. Alfred Sam purchased a ship and attempted to repatriate African Americans roughly six years before Marcus Garvey. As for Nkrumah, he never dies. His vision lives on in us who continue to believe in the necessity of African unity. Yes, Nkrumah had internal problems like his rivals in Asante. But there was also lots of covert (e.g. manipulating cocoa prices and funding coup makers) from the West who stated very clearly that Nkrumah was a threat to the white imperial status quo. 

I'm always disappointed when fellow Africans dismiss pan-Africanism, but it only intensifies my resolve. Those same Africans forget that white people arrived in America with a far more deadly dream eventually called "Manifest Destiny." The romantic idea that America belonged to the white man, not the indigenous people. The key difference between European dream and the African dream is that the former was backed by weapons, a bellicose ideology, and as Jared Diamond has noted, "germs." Wherever Europeans went, death and destruction followed... 

Africa unity should not be confused with African homogeneity. Our diversity is our strength. Nor is Pan-Africanism is not biological, it requires diligence and hard work. And as human beings I should like to think that whatever divisions we have that we can resolve. So-called "tribalism" is not primordial, its historical. History is not a static thing, it can re-imagined for our collective welfare. I agree that pan-Africanism be more dynamic if it came from below as opposed to African elites. That just goes back to the need for hard work and diligence. In the words of the great Guyanese historian, Jan Carew, white historiography always focuses on what divides us. It never considers what unites us. If we agree that pan-Africanism is a good thing, and many of us do, we will just bypass the naysayers and hope that they can catch up at some later date.


Ignorance of history and disinformation, misinformation is not improved by disseminating it. Check [Queen] Nzinga's army how, who what and why... Frontline States = Pan Africanism, Maandamano ya mshikamano = Pan Afrcanism. We are in a battlefield of knowledge. And militant vigilance is our watchword.


Methink that with conscious effort, imagination and communication we can build the missing local roots. As Chinweizu argues China as we know it today came together through conscious effort of visionary political leaders who saw the benefit of a stronger political union. Except if we prefer to throw up in despair, Pan Africanism could provide a strong basis for fostering continental unity and development. Regardless of its limitations, Pan Africanism served as the rallying point for the struggle against colonialism. And it succeeded. We must not wait until Europe or America approves a strategy before engaging such for the development of the continent. The truth is that they won't approve of any strategy that will help in advancing African development.

I see no way out of the poverty traps that most micro and unviable states in Africa are historically consigned. Pan Africanism could well be the way out.


Let me add that whatever the name we choose to call it, African unity is a sine qua non for development. Despite the contradictions in late Mwalimu Nyerere's commitment to African unity and Pan-Africanism, I remember reading him on the fact that he is first an African before being a member of a nation-state and that when he arrives in Europe or America, he is seeing first as an African. Many folks out there don't even know that Africa is not a country. While we cannot deny the reality of the nation or ethnic groups, I dare say what unite us as a people is more than what divide us. We are a people defined by geography, culture, history, and above all, a common experience of predation, exploitation and oppression. As you know, the Weberian State on which we hope to develop is an externally devised contraption, lacking in both autonomy, hegemony and rootedness in the society enough to have legitimacy-another necessary requirement for development. Despite their relatively high level of development, Europe and the USA are now talking about a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. When the deal is concluded, this bloc will move to other forms of cooperation, possibly leading to a uniform government. How can then can a Benin Republic or Niger negotiate with such a powerful bloc. Our salvation lies in our unity.--


That reminds me of Charles Tilly's work on state building or creation and how the nation-state came into existence in Europe i.e., it was a deliberate project. It also reminds me even for a country like the US which started as thirteen different colonies, the work that people like Alexander Hamilton did to unify the country and lay the foundation for an integrated economy, --- a project that Thomas Jefferson resisted.

It is amazing that a ruthless colonial officer like Cecil Rhodes will think of a rail line from Cape to Cairo, in effect an attempt to unify the continent even if for selfish reasons. At least he had a vision beyond just Southern Rhodesia. But today, I cannot get into a rail or bus from Dakar to Addis Ababa and feel free and safe. There is no direct lines or road that go through different countries in the continent. And I wish from Addis Ababa there is a road or rail line straight to Cape Town or Johannesburg, assuming the South African people will allow it. We need some degree of consciousness and awareness of our shared humanity in spite of national, religious and ethnic differences before we can have a solid Pan-Africanist project of uniting the continent to solve our development and existential challenges; but when we interact more with each other across religious, ethnic and national boundaries as communication is improved among different people, it will bring us close to each other. I truly agree that the primary inspiration and commitment to solving the continent's problems must come from within.

But there is one concern I have. The capacity or ability to oppress another human being is not a uniquely European problem or Western problem. It is a human problem. Because of "libido dominandi" Africans as part of the human family can easily be tempted to treat their fellow brothers and sisters like trash when they achieve power and wealth, while others have not. 

When power and prosperity gets into people's head, it changes their behavior and attitude towards others and life in general. Those familiar with the Hebrew tradition can attest to that in the Old Testament. When the Hebrew people were comfortable and at the top, they begin to treat others like trash and forget even about the person they claim is their God, Yahweh. We should critique the West but we should also be aware that by our very nature as human beings in Africa, we are also subject to the same temptations.

What makes some Africans commit themselve to the humanity of other Africans even when one group feels more endowed than the other in several ways? This is a human problem and question and not just simply European or Western. The tragedy we see in many African countries today is a situation where many people with more education, power and wealth use it to empower and entrench themselves, their relatives and friends, while ignoring the welfare of the general public. People get educated just to take care of themselves, ignoring the common or public good. In this case we are not in any way special, we have deal with the fundamental questions of human existence in a diverse community, like any other people.

In this case, PAN-AFRICANISM must be inspired by a call to service and sacrifice for the transformation of the lives of the African people for the better, and in that process, changing the world as we know it.

Nyerere was a Pan-Africanist by words and by deeds. He used our resources to liberate other African nations.

It's hard to come together without a threat. When life is good people tend to don't care and live individualistically. But when disaster strikes it is when we start looking to each other.

In the pre-1960s we were living with a disaster in the form of colonialism and slavery. We had to do something, and that's when Pan-Africanism arose.

This is nonsense because it's akin to saying continental Africans had no desire to free themselves from the clutches of colonialism.

The situation was also worse for diaspora Africans especially in America. The spirit of unity during MLK days was stronger than today.


Again because of a disaster. Persecution. Oppression.

Nationhood is a different topic. We are natives here. We weren't a nation even before the events that led to Pan-Africanism.

Look at Europe. It's more balkanized than Africa. Only in foreign lands like USA and Australia where Europeans had to stick together, did they succeed to form supernations.


What I see as missing on our Pan-Africanism and our unification processes is what progressively binds us.

History alone does not bind us as history keep changing with events. Cross-border trade, Tarime selling millet to Migori and Mtukura sending Matoke to Mbarara and the such, vice versa, could be what lead us to further unification. I don't see where Nyerere was wrong.

What bound U.S. was Interstate trade that also was sealed by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and its following various amendments. What brought EU together though still crawling was Coal and Steel community (ECSC) and European Economic Community (EEC) of six countries back in 1951 and 1958 respectively.

We are not that far in our unification if we keep and further strengthen our inter-regional trade, that is what I see dearly binding us today. ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, COMESA, IGAD, UMA and harmonizing them progressively is what would unite us though it will take some time.

Pan-Africanism is mainly an idea from our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora started by Marcus Garvey and carried forward by Nkrumah's Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr William Dubois. It seemed to fail because then what was binding us was only our History. Today, it's not only that. With our adept human resources, further exploitation of our physical and natural resources for our advantages as well as access to capital and securities markets, TRADE is what will unite us.


 [O]ne of the most significant events of [Thabo Mbeki's] presidency was his visit [along with his comments] to Haiti in 2004. Hence, on the question of 'the African diaspora'; there are many diasporas and now, many waves of diaspora. The Caribbean, North America, Brazil, et al. All of these point to the challenge of Pan-Africanism as 'movement', as 'idea' and as I would add, as a political construct.

If the disconnect noted ... is the end of the story, then let's get rid of the AU, etc, and get back to tribe/family and try to secure our own means and resources for survival. Let's stop debating 'Africa and China', etc. Well of course not.

So I am also reminded of an earlier Tana Forum discussion on 'Managing Diversity' [2012]. My take is that 'Africans' have not only failed to manage the diversity of their localized entities, but equally the continent. Paradoxically, the solution seems to rest firstly, in a recoignition [and knowledge of] of that diversity, within and beyond family, tribe, nation, and globally. This of course brings us back to the challenge of the current century, with significant knowledge gap which exists alongside the apparent intimacy and proxmity of the global village.

[T]here is also another archaeology that needs to be ongoing in terms of reconciling the idea of being African with an ethnic [tribe?] or national identity. How does the diaspora experience assist in this? Why should anyone on the continent be concerned with Haiti? Why should a South African be concerned about Timbuktu? When should a Tanzanian be concerned about the return of Benin's stolen bronzes? You can guess my train of thought... and the ironies that undelined our histories: like the way in which the Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 boosted the Pan-African movement in the disapora, and at the same time helped to persuade many in the diaspora to join the WWII effort and to ensure a victory for Europe and America, while leaving the business of Africa unfinished and even more muddled... 

The struggle is ongoing. 'Forums' though useful are only one front and often not the most productive front.


No doubt on the contribution of Diaspora Africans to the project Pan Africanism. And the whole idea of Africa... I think it was Kwame Appiah (?) who aptly argued that Africa has always looked at herself through a European gaze (something like that). 

There is truth in the author's take, but for me the 'real issue' is not entirely about where the idea emanated. My argument thus is there is a need for continental Africans to redefine, own and decide the direction of Pan-Africanism. Lest we forget that Pan Africanism aside, neither our celebrated 'nation-state' has its roots in Africa. 

Therefore Pan-Africanism as an idea is as foreign to Africans as the idea of Kenya, Nigeria or Tanzania. This is where we need intervention... one that will redefine us as a people. This will involve, among other things, restructuring our political organization by recreating and resurrecting political spaces - some of which will take our 19th century history to task...

It could be a painful process but a necessary one. Beside, aren't we living in pain already?


Here is what one African wrote in June 1960 and would likely have repeated today (he wrote specifically of Federation but he viewed Federation as a stepping stone towards greater African unity and as a path towards achieving the objectives of what he referred to as the broader Pan-Africanism):

“I repeat...the case for a Federation...stands on its own merits. It cannot be marred or helped by the motives, the character, the status, or the colour of its advocates. The value of diamonds does not depend upon the character or motives of those who mine them. A mineral is a diamond or it is not.

If the Devil himself appeared in person to support this scheme for Federation, that fact would not change my views on the Federation or the Devil himself.”

- Julius K. Nyerere in Freedom and Unity, Oxford Universiy Press, p.94.


Itibari M Zulu May 29, 2015 at 3:51 PM  

Thanks for the review statements of Pan Africanism,

Anonymous May 31, 2015 at 9:11 AM  

Brilliant, insightful and encouraging piece of writing that offers up a prescription and outline plan for growth. Perhaps a united committee needs come together to access what each region can offer - in resources, talent, etc. - and where it need building up is the first step. But as Asia has shown time it will take an investment in education - teaching various trades, science, math, etc. - and general infrastructure - and the logistics that go along with it - to take these ideas and make them a reality.

Vimax Asli June 2, 2015 at 1:01 AM  

thanks for sharing, nice blog and good information

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