Pan Africanism as a Conceptual Basis for the African Unity

In the modern history of the world, few ideals parallel the sense of solidarity Pan Africanism evoked among the black race in their long struggle against political subjugation, economic exploitation and racial discrimination.  It is no hyperbolae to claim that Pan Africanism is essentially an embodiment of the struggle of the black race for equality and dignity in the society of mankind. From the civil right movements of the blacks in the ghettos of Harlem, African and Caribbean resistance against colonialism, to the struggle of South Africans against apartheid in South Africa, Pan Africanism was the revered ideology of emancipation warmly embraced by the people of Africa.

In the centuries –old struggle of the Black race from the bondage of colonialism, racism, and subjugation, Pan-Africanism has always remained the lynchpin concept and a great force of redemption even when concurrence in the understanding of its major tenets was glaringly lacking.  Also, Pan –Africanism is quintessentially a revivalist philosophy in Africa’s struggle for cultural, spiritual, artistic renaissance that echoes in the poem’s of Leopold Sengore, in the resistance songs of Myriam Makeba, in the Blues of Muddy Waters, in the novels of Alex Halley, in the philosophies of Cheikh Anta Diop and in all that that wailed over the dismal life of the black man and yearned for his freedom and equality. To the black Diaspora, specially, Pan Africanism symbolizes the thin thread that connected them with Africa, and a great force that kept the hope of reunion alive in spite of domination and its accompanying sense of uprootedness.

However, beyond and above Pan-Africanism’s sentimental power as a philosophy of deliverance, the nostalgia it evokes of the glorious days of Africa and more importantly the hope it revives of an African Renaissance, Pan Africanism’s long history as an ideological blue print of African Unity is important. In 1963 , during the formation of the Organization of African Unity both the “integrationist” who called for the immediate political union of Africa and the “gradualists “who saw unity as essentially  incremental  matter , tried to buttress their view by invoking Pan Africanism.

Pan Africanism’s appeal as an ideological blueprint to realize African Unity however has never been the same throughout its long history. It has seen rises and ebbs in the past fifty or more years. A glimpse of its history tells us that, the zenith of it came in the euphoric moments of post independence in early 1960’s while its nadir coincided with the disenfranchisement of the continent due to the ideological contestation of the East and the West camp in the 1970’s and 1980’s and its rise came again with the formation of the African Union along with the coming of the idea of United States of Africa back to the table of discussion. It however, thrived, albeit rises and ebbs, to be the ideological vehicle for African unity evident in the transformation of the OAU in to AU and the subsequent changes in the structure and philosophy of the later while a once mighty nation building ideals such us Marxism, Fascism, fell out of favor only to be buried under the debris of history through passage of time. The fact that the OAU morphed in to AU tells a lot in the deepening of the yearning for a united Africa against all odds that beset the realization of the same.

In as much as we celebrate the strides Africa made in the past fifty years in terms of achieving deliverance, the quest to redefine the concept of Pan -Africanism is burning in the hearts of many Pan Africanists in a different setting where Africans had had enough experience of political independence with the coming in to an end of the struggle for decolonization and Apartheid. In other words, unlike the past where political independence was the main preoccupation of African struggle, nowdays Pan Africanism is rather sought in the back drop of the massive changes that occurred in the global balance of power, phenomenal changes in technology, global finances, the emergence of cross-cutting global challenges such as climate change, terrorism or in general in a world where the forces of globalization are operating in full swing.

Internally, also Pan Africanism is sought in the context where a new hope is rising with rapid economic development in many African states and encouraging signs of improving in what President Obsanjo calls “ the democracy deficit” over the rubbles of , autocratic and predatory African states of the 70’s and 80’s.  When seen in light of the dynamic change happening externally and internally, the question how best Africa can realize its unity and through which ideology remains to be a perennial question of our time which can hardly be eschewed. Therefore when talk of Pan Africanism the question comes as is Pan Africanism still relevant to Africa of today?  If yes, how is it being implemented in the current global context?

This small piece is a reflection on this question – conceptual relevance of Pan -Africanism in realizing African Unity. It argues that Pan -Africanism, is still relevant as the essence of it is making Africa a master of its destiny. In so doing it attempts to lay to rest the view point that takes Pan -Africanism as a relic of the past – an ideology that run out of steam – with the demise of colonialism.  Having said that, in view of this writer, Pan Africanism’s relevance to the present-day Africa comes with the clear understanding of the concept and the troubling water it traversed in the past fifty years of its history and the current challenges it faces.

Panafricanism as a conceptual basis for African unity Yonathan • Now
Panafricanism as a conceptual basis for African unity

To start with what is meant by Pan Africanism,a glimpse at different attempts to define it tells arguably the thread that runs across most of the definitions is linked to its understanding of Africa’s past and future. In that, Pan Africanism can be safely equated as an ideology that takes the black race as one political and cultural unit having a common history in the past and a common destiny in the future. Pan- Africansim is a wieltenshanschung born out of resistance to subjugation, slavery, racial domination and that takes unity of the black race and empowerment of the same as a way to reverse this negative trajectory.

Thus what captures the heuristic essence of Pan Africansim is the fact that it is struggle for self determination of Africa. It is a struggle for Africa to be the master of its own fate and a quest for dignity as a member of mankind endowed with all attributes of a society for self rule.

However, fifty years after independence, most African states are yet to exercise attributes of a full state and Africa as a continent remains deeply marginalized within the current global order. With a meager 1% share of the global trade, Africa has witnessed all kinds of economic domination and arm-twisting over the past fifty and more years. In the era of the cold war, Africa was a playground for a proxy war of the East and the West, which earned it a politically dysfunctional, authoritarian and predatory state.

In the 70’s and 80’s ,the two decades experiment with the polices of the Bretton Woods Institutions polices dubbed as “ “Washington Consensus” caused immense damage to its economy manifest in high rate of unemployment, shocking wealth disparity, capital flight, corruption while it benefited multinational companies through massive privatization schemes. The economic growth in some of the countries that underwent structural adjustment was ephemeral and ended and sadly with a legacy where most African economies continue to be troubled by a persistent problem of structural flaws. Over the years, the manipulative polices of the  Bretton Woods institutions have made African economies dependent on extractive economies and export of primary agricultural products leaving millions of Africans poor while few multinationals amass boundless profit. Poor intra -African trade due to weak physical infrastructure, similarity of exports items, logistical bottle necks ,lack of harmonized trade rules and tariffs and the unjust laws and institutions of the global trade are helping the persistence of under development of Africa.  

The debate on Agricultural subsidies in Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization goes a long way to tell the lopsided trade policies of the world and its impact in enduring the plight African poor farmers.  The colonial legacy manifest in arbitrary colonial boundaries, fragmenting African economies and predatory and rent seeking African states continue to be a major political fault line and a cause for state fragility for the continent.

As can be gleaned in the above paragraphs, it is quite easy to take note of the fact that fair global order that allows policy autonomy is yet to come to Africa. It would not be fair to say that Africa is not excersing its right to self determination in its fullest sense neither in charting out its own development path nor in playing its rightful role in international issues.

Having said this, the natural question that comes to one’s mind is why this happening to Africa and the way out undoubtedly comes on the top.  Obviously, the answer to this question cannot be tracked down in to a single answer. I argue that, the pursuit for capital comes as one and the most important factor for our plight. Congo is condemned to eternal conflict fueled by the demand for Coltan –a rare mineral used for micro chips – while the same can be said about the Darfuri crisis and the involvement of oil multinationals. The global power structure too which favors Africa’s eternal domination is best expressed in allegory to Orwell’s Animal Farm.  Sadly, this structure operates in a manner that further accentuates Africa’s marginalization. Furthermore the increasing role of non state actors in global politics, globalization and its effect of narrowing policy space and standardization of polices and rules will also contribute to reinforce Africa’s marginal role.

In such a situation, Africa can only fight back if it stands in unity. I argue that the ideological vehicle for Africa’s unity cannot be any other than Pan Africanism also owing to its central tenets: ensuring self determination through unity and empowerment of the black people. As an ideology with ultimate goal of making Africans in charge of their destiny through empowerment and unity, Pan Africanism stands without alternative.

Yonathan G President Kwameh Nkrumah & Emperor Haile Selassie I
President Kwameh Nkrumah & Emperor Haile Selassie I

I also believe that, Pan –Africanism is being implemented through its intra governmental state manifestation –the African Union- provides the framework for political and economic and social redemption of the continent.  The fact that African Union’s Constitutive Act recognizes the African Diaspora as the six region of the continent and the continental efforts of addressing underdevelopment through its economic offshoot NEPAD, the encouraging efforts of conflict resolution in its Peace and Security Commission all point out to the practicability of Pan -Africanism as ideological blue print of African unity.

In addition, the establishment of REC’s as a building blocks of the African union further shows the determination to gradually integrate Africa through economic integration by narrowing down social, economic, policy, physical infrastructure gaps and differences. The African Union‘s right to intervention in cases of grave crimes against humanity is also a case in point of a growing sense of convergence in solidarity among Africans and an instance that proves African countries willingness to cede from their sovereignty in favor of the supra national African Union.  The various mechanisms set to improve Africa’s governance problems such as the African Peer Review Mechanism, the African Human Rights Commission and Court are all indicative of the AU’s positive and central role in the realization of African Unity and in redefining Pan -Africanism’s redefinition in the context of the current challenges of Africa.

 All said, I believe that of the belief that, Pan -Africanism above and beyond its history in delivering Africans from the shackles of colonialism and different forms of domination, it still continues to be relevant to African Unity because of its major tenets namely self determination and unity of the black race.  The African Union being its institutional manifestation, the policies and manifold institutions are all testimonies that Pan Africanism is thriving through reinterpretation of itself to stand up to the challenges of the day.  The workings of the African Union and NEPAD tell us that the revered tenets, self determination and unity of the black race are not only relevant but are the true ideals of deliverance against modern day’s challenges of the continent.

In sum, as argued elsewhere, Pan Africanism is relevant to Africa as the continent continues to navigate through turbulent times where forces of globalization are making the cost of a divided Africa is exorbitant. In other words, the assertion that Africa should unite is not a mere rhetoric rather an economic and political rationale that Africa need to follow to make an influence on the global order and continuously work towards a just order that ensures its interest.  On example in this regard is the Africa’s successful negotiation in the Paris climate change which solely happened because Africa came up with a common position and which in turn gave it a leverage to influence the outcome of the negotiations.

In the same token, the developmental state paradigm that declared the neo-liberal as dead end in Ethiopia and proved to the world that with the right polices and committed leadership that Africa can repeat the Asian miracle through massive development is none other than a true exercise of the self-determination strand of Pan Africanism. Add to this, the continental efforts of forming trade block ,  dealing with peace and security of the continent in its own and growing convergence on the idea that Africa problem is best solved with African solution all attest not about the relevance of Pan Africanism but the fact of its being implementation in tackling challenges.

As Nkrumah said Africa political independence is a means and not an end and Africa needs to be a master of it destiny through the realization of self determination by implementing Pan- Africanism as a panacea to the fight against the vestiges of neo-colonialism.  Today’s Africa proves that, though far from the 1960’s perhaps it even more requires Pan Africanism as a path of deliverance and the African Union, the NEPAD and countries growing push for political and policy autonomy all-tell that indeed the ideal is thriving more than ever.

Disclaimer: The views in this article represent only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia. scan0002

Samuel Addis Alemayehu is the Director of Digital Diplomacy at the Public Diplomacy and Communications Directorate General.  He occasionally writes on local and regional issues.


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