Beyond Rhetoric: Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance

By Osuolale Alalade

It was in 1787 that Richard Allen and Absalom Jones established the Free African Society in Philadelphia. This constituted a revolt of these men of the collar against discrimination against blacks and segregation in the white Church. In 1787, this act was infinitely courageous. It took another century, in August 1893, for the landmark meeting, the Chicago Conference, that some dub as the beginning of pan-African conferences, to be held. Four years later, Henry Sylvester Williams established the African Association.  The next major gathering was the Pan-African Conference in London from July 23 to 25, 1900. For the first time, four Africans from the continent joined twenty-eight others from the United States, Europe and the Caribbean to give birth to the Pan African Association that was responsible for building the Pan African Movement. The Movement, along with kindred African souls in the Diaspora, such as Marcus Garvey, was to give practical expression to the cardinal credo that all peoples of African descent share not only a common history, but also a common destiny. The tribulations of the race had made this a civic theology and the axiomatic foundations of an emerging Black consciousness. Pan-Africanism thus galvanized black humanity to assert the legitimacy of its struggle for respect at par with other races and the reassertion of its dignity as a race.  Independence was won on this platform.

The success of the pan African vision in driving the independence struggle was a major victory. Yet, independence along colonially demarcated lines and spheres of influence laid the seeds of the long-term derailment of the true emancipation and independence of black humanity. The character of the independence of the many infeasible projects of statehood that emerged compromised the larger vision of pan Africanism and may today, if not properly managed, sabotage the resuscitated dreams of an African renaissance. As usual, opportunists who had exploited pan Africanism entrenched themselves in power. They did this either in alliance with the old colonial forces or mainly to service their personal aggrandizement or both.  In all cases, it was at the expense of the increasingly pauperization and immiseration of black victims.  The ultimate outcome was the betrayal of the pan African dream. Whether from the perspective of western liberal orthodoxy or the radical Marxist traditions, the integrity of the pan African project was compromised by the mix bag of opportunists that ended up in many of the emerging capitals of the post-colonial African state.  A hallmark of this betrayal was the divide even in black Africa around the fight, of the proportions of a Kilimanjaro, against the Apartheid regime. Many African leaders turned cold and crafted the most invidious rationalizations to sabotage the decision to boycott the Apartheid regime. These historic horrors are being hailed in western capitals, sometime with fatuous honors instituted in their names, in the attempt to sanitize their legacy and foist them as the beacons of puritan values to be emulated by other future black stooges.

African progressive minds should open a hall of infamy to remind coming generations of historic treachery of western stooges to the historic cause of Africa. This is one way of the African taking back the narratives of his/her life as part of the project to revalidate the core values of the African credo. Some of the opportunist leaders acting on behalf of western colonial forces undermined the resolve of those determined to dismantle Apartheid. The major historical challenge to pan Africanism therefore has been how to effectively infuse the cardinal theology of pan Africanism and the African renaissance into popular consciousness and translating them to the motor driving the action of the black race as a global community.  That evidently is the challenge of moving pan Africanism and the African renaissance from rhetoric to positive activism.

This challenge is in mobilizing the will to begin a fundamental realignment in all facets of life of black humanity. This requires the will to forge from the messy circumstances of Africa in the last half-century new beginnings that would lead to a radical restructuring of our African firmament. That is where the contemporary resuscitation of the African renaissance comes in.

In 1946, Anton Lembede adumbrated the core principles of African nationalism in the context of an African renaissance. He wrote that all over the world nationalism was rising in revolt against foreign domination, conquest and oppression in India, in Indonesia, in Egypt, in Persia and several other countries. Among Africans he observed that clear signs of national awakening, national renaissance, or rebirth were noticeable on the far-off horizon. For him, a new spirit of African nationalism, or Africanism, was pervasive through and stirring the African society. He saw that a young virile nation was in the process of birth and emergence. His vision of African nationalism was that out of the heterogeneous tribes, must emerge a homogeneous nation. The basis of national unity was the nationalistic feeling of the Africans, the feeling of being Africans irrespective of tribal connection, social status, educational attainment or economic class. This nationalistic feeling could only be realized in and interpreted by [a] national movement of which all Africans must be members. This continues to have resonance for our time and coming generation. As Kwame Nkrumah observed exactly 50 years ago, no independent African state today by itself has a chance to follow an independent course of economic development. This position, Kwame Nkrumah predicted, will not change unless we have a unified policy working at the continental level.  The challenge remains the same in 2013- half a century after.

The fundamental challenge of moving away from pan Africanist and African renaissant rhetoric is to begin the process of consolidating Africa’s 54 states into one continental state of one people with a common destiny. In short, Africa must begin to repair the damage of the destructive accomodations made in 1963 that derailed the vision of African unity. At the heart of the travails of the continent and its peoples since the euphoria of independence has been the heart rendering consolidation of the partition of Africa into little fiefdoms of petty rulers, autocrats and kleptomaniacs of various hues. Africa has produced some of the most horrendous monstrosities in the Idi Amins, Sese Seko Mobutus, and the Abachas, longest serving benign autocrats like Houphouet  Boigny, Omar Bongo and Paul Biya and famous jesters in African courts as Bedel Bokassa. One trait running through this inglorious pantheon of African rulers is their kleptomania. Yet, these monstrosities have been possible only because of the character of the African state and its state system. As the highly respected Mo Ibrahim recently highlighted, the objective of people (Africans) in power is to have power forever!, instead of mentoring young people to lead their countries.  Against this background, it is the duty of every African, particularly young Africans, to join in undermining the prevailing unreasonable motley collection of states and structures in the crowded firmament in order to move Africans and black humanity forward.

Meanwhile, Africa must strengthen its pan African and pan regional economic structures and institutions that must wean Africans from their dependency syndrome. The African state should be displaced as the economic unit of interaction. The state must have a diminished place in the expanding space and frontiers of African consciousness in the third millennium.  Africa must begin to break down colonially inspired walls that separate its peoples. To demonstrate a new found seriousness, the African Union must undertake to repay back to China the humiliating donation of $200 million dollar it shamelessly collected for its headquarters. If the continental body had looked well enough, its headquarters project could have been financed by just one Nigerian or South African business tycoon. The recent rejection of Jean Ping, a French acolyte who was responsible for the miasma of inspired errors that humiliated Africa in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya, as President of the African Commission was one good step in moving away from the rhetoric of pan Africanism and the African renaissance. For now, Africans keep waiting for the promise of pan Africanism and the African renaissance.


About africapeacesupport

Former Representative of the United Nations SecretaryGeneral in Guinea-Bissau and Head of UNOGBIS.
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