opinionBy Paul T. Shipale
IN July 2011, the African Union (AU) took a decision to convene the Global African Diaspora Summit on Africa Day, on May 25, 2012, in Johannesburg, South Africa, following the 2003 AU's decision to recognise the Diaspora as its sixth region. The AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government declared this year as the Year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.
This declaration reflects a purported determination of AU member states to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which has continued to represent a symbol of the struggles by Africans against colonialism and apartheid rule.
According to the 412 (XVIII)'s Declaration of the AU Assembly, the primary driver of the celebration of the year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance is to 'enhance the awareness of the new generation of Africans about the ideals of Pan-Africanism'.
As we reflect on Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance, it is pertinent to revisit what these dual concepts actually mean to the 'new generation of Africans' that it is intended to educate. Is the pursuit of Pan-Africanism an illusion or a reality? In view of the current peace and security challenges in Africa, how can the Pan-African vision be articulated and advanced? How can African states claim to have collective 'shared values' when there are still gaps in democracy and governance? Is African Solidarity synonymous with African repudiation of external influences? If so, how do we reconcile Africa's solidarity with the external resource dependence? Are there renewed thinking about Pan-Africanism from African civil society? How can Africa rid itself of the historical structural imbalances especially in its pattern of incorporation into the global political economy in order to transcend its problems of insecurity and underdevelopment?
A seminar, organised at the margin of the AU Summit, sought to answer these questions through leading experts in the policy, diplomatic and civil society sectors. The intended outcome of the seminar was to generate innovative thoughts on how to promote contemporary Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance through frank, open and provocative interactions between experts and participants in order to inform the just ended 20th AU Summit in January 2013 and the 21st Summit AU Summit scheduled from 20 May 2013 to 27 May 2013.
While generally agreeing that Africa has the resources to rise above its current challenges, most went further to stress that with a resurgent imperialism, there is an urgent need to bring back the African national project through the triadic notions of Africa-Nation, Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance. These they see as necessary, both as narratives for development and as counter-strategies for the current drive towards hegemony and re-colonisation.
The birth of Pan-Africanism can be traced to the founding of the African Association in London in 1897 and the convening, in the same city, of the Pan-African Conference three years later, by lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams of Trinidad and Tobago in 1900. Sylvester Williams named this coming together of Africans 'Pan-Africanism'. But as a movement, Pan-Africanism began in 1776. It was, however, the fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester, England, in 1945 that advanced Pan-Africanism and applied it to the decolonisation of the African continent politically.
Indeed, following the dark cloud of slavery and colonialism in Africa, visionary African leaders realised that it was imperative that all Africans - wherever they might be - should unite to end their holocaust which began with the 'European Renaissance' in Italy in 1400. Pan-Africanists from the African Diaspora such as Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, George Padmore, Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon and many others played a crucial role in advocating for African solidarity and unity which paved the way towards the intensification of political resistance against the colonial occupation of the African continent.
These pioneers from the Diaspora defied the dictates of supremacy and advocated African solidarity and unity. For instance, the Trinidadian George Padmore worked with Kwame Nkrumah and probably helped to draft the famous speech in which Nkrumah said: "Ghana's independence is meaningless, unless accompanied by the total liberation of Africa."
The Guyanese Walter Rodney was in Tanzania when the African liberation
struggles were taking place and wrote his second major work
during this period, "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa".
Frantz Fanon left the West Indies and abandoned his French citizenship to join the Algerian revolution. He maintained that solidarity among the colonized is a form of absolute praxis, a true act of commitment. When the Algerian revolution appointed him ambassador of the Algerian interim government in 1961, he visited Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghana of Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea Conakry with Sekou Touré, and Mali with Modibo Keita, and attended the African conferences, all the time making preparations to smuggle weapons to southern Algeria in order to rally solidarity with national liberation movements. This is how our Founding President, Dr Sam Nujoma, acquired two PPSH machine-guns and two TT pistols from Algeria under Prime Minister Ahmed Ben Bella. With these weapons we were able to launch our armed liberation struggle on the 26th of August, 1966.
The underlying tenets of Pan-Africanism are both a philosophy and a quest for concrete leadership and institutional processes from within Africa to effectively address insecurity and underdevelopment. The transition from the OAU to the AU, which started on June the 3rd in 1991 with the Abuja Treaty followed ultimately by the AU in 1999, was therefore to further advance the Pan-African vision. The question, however, remains about whether there have been concrete achievements of Pan-Africanism especially since the establishment of the AU, which was formally launched in Durban, South Africa, on July 9, 2002.
Today Africa is beset with difficulties rooted in its inability to unite territorially. Africa is still wallowing in the quagmire of underdevelopment, poverty, endless border wars, economic domination and the dictatorship of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank because African leaders are dragging their feet on the implementation of Pan-Africanism. Some of these leaders have become agents of neo-liberalism and neo-colonialism, whose instrument is 'globalisation'. These are the 'black-skin, white-mask' that Fanon referred to or what Cabral called the African 'comprador bourgeoisie' or class that was well assimilated and integrated not only in the francophone culture but also the British Empire of the 'Common Wealth' and 'American way of life' where they went for further studies abroad.
In 1961, Jean-Paul Sartre in a preface to Frantz Fanon's the "Wretched of the Earth", said: "The European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture, they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed..." what was said in Paris, London, New York, Amsterdam, copying from each other including their 'dissertations', and now some of them serve as our 'Advisors in international relations'. What advice will they give if they despise our liberation struggle heroes?
Admittedly, we are profoundly and deeply disconcerted to witness the deteriorating situation in the Sahel region which seems to have turned into a cauldron of conflict since the declaration of the 'independence of Azawad', the northern region of Mali, by the rebel group of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), of the Tuaregs. However, the triumph of Pan-Africanism will come out of the sweat and blood of the African people themselves and not by begging aid, including military intervention, by the foreign troops. As Nkrumah put it: "Only a united Africa can redeem its past glory, renew and reinforce its strength for the realisation of its destiny."
The goal of the Pan-African Movement was to get Africans to think of themselves as one people, no matter where they lived, who shared a bond with each other and in order to work together for the betterment of all Africans and not as Angolans vs. Namibians or this tribe or ethnic grouping vs. the other.
We are reminded that all Afro-centric analysis is a critique on domination, on hierarchy and patriarchy because the analysis stems from all forms of oppression. It is for this reason that Padmore wrote long ago that Pan-Africanism was a clear alternative to tribalism, white racialism, black chauvinism, and reverse racism of any form. In his words, "Pan-Africanism looks above the narrow confines of class, race, tribe and religion."
Indeed, Pan-Africanism is not about racism or tribalism. That notion is at best 'ill-informed and at worst disingenuous' said the learned African Scholar, Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah. We cannot speak of Pan-Africanism when there are those who brag that they will use all their resources to go and find out who is a Namibian and who is not or those who think that people from other ethnic groups should not rule over them. Similarly, we cannot speak of Pan-Africanism when only some benefit economically forgetting that Pan-Africanism is a system of equitably sharing and the privilege of the African people to love themselves and to give their way of life respect and preference.
As for the term 'African Renaissance', when Colonel Muammar Gaddafi echoed the Pan-African call for a United States of Africa in Libya in September 1999, in August, the same year, a prominent Nigerian political scientist reminded participants at the fifth Pan-African Colloquium in Ghana of the historical context of the 'European Renaissance', from which the so-called 'African Renaissance' is trying to borrow and transpose its rationale, and cautioned against borrowing from this concept which serves as the foundation of slavery, colonialism and racism.