Pan-Africanism, the notion that people of African descent share common interests and should therefore be unified. This of course was proposed at a time of great racial injustice both in Africa and against Africans in the diaspora. W.E.B. DuBois’s famous statement that “the problem of the 20thcentury is the problem of the color line” was widely believed to be made with the clear knowledge that not only were people of color suffering in America, but even on the African continent under the yoke of colonialism.
To rid Africa of colonialism and fight for racial justice were largely viewed as inseparable. Marcus Garvey took it a step further by calling for the return of Africans back to Africa in his famous Africa for Africans slogan. Not only that, he believed that no person of color will ever have any dignity as long as Africa remained unliberated.
These ideas have picked up steam since then and eventually led to the political independence of African states in the mid-20thcentury.
The idea of pan-Africanism started in the so called diaspora, of course in Africa there were individual struggles against colonialism to liberate specific territories. Names like Martin Delany, Alexander Crummel, and Edward Blyden are cited as early proponents of this idea.
W.E.B. DuBois though stands out more prominent and actually studied African history and culture, a concept he advocated amongst blacks. This gives the idea a more political and cultural outlook.
As the idea grew in popularity, so too were the supporters. The Honorable Marcus Garvey came on the scene with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1919 to 1924. His philosophy was for both economic as well as political liberation, although his Black Star liner wasn’t as successful as he hoped, coupled with his troubles in America, UNIA didn’t register much success, the idea of Pan-Africanism lived on and continued. Through the 1920s and 1940s C.L.R James and George Padmore were the most prominent proponents of the idea. By this time the idea was gaining a foothold on the continent.
Jomo Kenyatta, who was influenced by the teachings of George Padmore, in fact believed to be his disciple went on to lead Kenya to independence. There was Leopold Senghore, father of Senegal’s independence. This was by the late 1940s when the ideals were receding somewhat in America and picking up steam on the continent.
The most important figure on the continent for the movement was of course Kwame Nkurumah, who fervently believed that colonialism could be totally defeated on the African continent. To prove it, he mounted a relentless campaign against the colonial institution in Africa and led his country; Ghana, to independence in 1957, the first sub-Saharan African nation to be independent.
Ten years later, all of Africa south of the Sahara will be independent with the exception of the Portuguese colonies and much of Southern Africa as well as the island nations. All in all, only nine out of the 48 nations of the mainland will remain under colonial rule, even then, by 1975, only Zimbabwe, South Africa and Djibouti remained to be independent.
Quite a feat knowing how entrenched the institution of colonialism was in Africa. This goes to show how a well-organized grassroots movement can create an impact, exactly what is needed at this time; a well-organized grassroots movement.
The various independence leaders of Africa can all be said to have Pan-Africanist views.
During his speech marking the independence of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah said; “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is connected with the total liberation of the entire African continent.” To this he dedicated his efforts culminating in the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on May 25th 1963, (today celebrated as African Liberation day).
The OAU aimed to, amongst other things;
· Intensify the fight against colonialism in the remaining territories of Africa, notably South Africa and Angola, two of the most brutal colonial outposts, and to end white minority rule.
· To coordinate and intensify cooperation
· The defense of the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Africa.
Nkrumah’s mantra was “independence today, tomorrow; THE UNITED STATES OF AFRICA, and he was not playing. For him it was much more than winning political independence, economic liberalization and cooperation was as crucial if not more so. Total independence with non-interference and non-alignment as well as the ability to defend African’s sovereignty were his goal. You can see why he had to go. Unfortunately, disagreements on how to go about such a union created division in the OAU which impeded success.
Looking at Africa today, we see why he made the matter so urgent, his prophetic words; “unite now or perish” stand as testament to the urgency of the matter.
So we ask, is that a fight worthy of fighting and if so, what challenges are to be expected?
We are witnessing the rise of the far right in Europe and its move from the fringes into the mainstream. With the immigrant crisis and global terrorism, it is only a matter of time before it dominates the mainstream, especially in Europe. What then in that scenario as they are heavily anti-immigrant (non-white) and often promoting white supremacist ideals? Who would’ve thought people will march in the streets of Europe, in broad daylight, with dressed in Nazi regalia and displaying Nazi symbols and slogans in 2016?
Meanwhile in Africa, we seem to have no direction and our issues are only footnotes in the global mainstream media.
The goals and approach may be different in this day and age, but without some form of unity, Africa’s condition and the suffering of African women and children will never end.