Special coverage on the 50th founding anniversary of the OAU


  The audacity to re-define Pan-Africanism


There has not been enough effort in re-defining what Pan-Africanism is for present day Africa and African citizens. Now is the time

Eyob Balcha, Special to Addis Standard (@EyobBalcha)

It is not an easy decision to believe in Pan-Africanism. There are plenty of factual reasons that can keep an African desperate and sorrowful about motherland Africa. Against all odds, one can also remain hopeful of both the present and the future of the continent. Indeed, every hope and despair has its own perceived and dependable reasons. Given the current discourse at the continental level that is revolving around ‘Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance’, it is important to reflect on these two packed concepts, especially the former.

There are a number of conceptualizations and perspectives about Pan-Africanism. The socio-historical processes that instigated the emergence of Pan-Africanism both as an ideology and a movement remain bone of contention. Of Pan-Africanism’s institutionalization, some argue that the 1900 Pan-African congress was a milestone event whereas others locate its roots to the resistance movements by Africans against slave trade and the dehumanization practice of foreigners since the 1500s. Some scholars are known for characterizing Pan-Africanist ideology and perspective based on the geographical location it covers. For instance, the famous African scholar Ali Mazuri presents five levels or dimensions of Pan-Africanism. These are: the Sub-Saharan Pan-Africanism which is limited to the unity of Black people to the south of the Sahara; the Trans-Saharan Pan-Africanism which builds on understanding the Saharan desert not as a divide in Africa but as a bridge that unites the Blacks, Arabs and Berbers of the continent; Trans-Atlantic Pan-Africanism which embraces the solidarity among all Black people of the continent and the African origin in the Black Diaspora excluding the Arabs and Berbers of Northern Africa; West Hemispheric Pan-Africanism which brings all the Black people in the Western hemisphere including those in Latin and Central America; and Global Pan-Africanism which is probably the highest level of Pan-Africanism that transcends the geographical limits and encompasses all Black people of the world regardless of their location.

Not just a division of Pan-Africanism

However, such conceptualization of the term Pan-Africanism faces widespread criticisms for taking for granted the main reason why Africans and the people of African origin are dispersed across the world. Indeed, the geographic dispersal of Africans is the result of the exploitative intervention of the western powers into Africa during the eras of slavery and colonialism. It is argued that Pan-Africanism must center itself on the struggle and determination of Africans against injustice and exploitation before taking the geographic manifestations of slavery and colonialism as a departure point.

The other argument about conceptualizing Pan-Africanism is the simplistic interpretation of the ideology and the movement as a reaction to racialism. Slavery and the inhuman treatment of Africans and descents of Africa are usually seen as exacerbated by the black race. Such conviction falls short of understanding slavery and colonialism as economic systems and institutions which are essentially intertwined with the rise of Capitalist Europe. Economic subjugation aimed at making profit and accumulation of surplus was the prime factor of slavery as well as colonialism, rather than the peoples’ color of skin and race, which is secondary. Hence, rather than limiting Pan-Africanist movement or the African Nationalism as a racially motivated ideology one needs a broader view of looking at the global anti-imperialist movement for freedom, social justice and equality.

The other widely held conceptualization of Pan-Africanism is social constructivist notion of Pan-Africanism that envisions the unity and solidarity of all Africans and people of African descent all over the world. This conviction builds on the common social, historical, economic and political realities that Africans have been facing for centuries which is a vital thread that goes into the blood of almost every African.  The common history is essentially taken as a reason for having common destiny.

 Pan-Africanism of today

There is no doubt that the establishment of the Organization of African Unity 50 years ago was inspired by one of the above conceptualizations of Pan-Africanism. Liberation, freedom and solidarity were common principles particularly against the common historical scar on the African conscience – colonialism.  What about today? Are we just commemorating the achievements of our former leaders or are we determined enough to go beyond that? Who is singing the Pan-Africanist anthem today? Who is defining the commonly shared present reality and future destiny of Africans?

Slavery is abolished and colonialism is over but only in their original forms. The five hundred years of exploitation and injustice cannot be dismantled by fifty years of erratic and less determined political discourse and engagement. That is why France is too close to Ivory Cost, Mali or Central Africa Republic than the AU, ECOWAS or ECCAS. The presence of European and American military bases in many African countries justifies nothing but only African’s disinterests which are more important than African priorities. It is only because we are still in the continued form of colonialism that most European passport holders can freely enter into almost all African countries, save for protracted immigration processes, whereas Africans are not as free as Europeans to move freely within Africa, let alone in the west.

But Africa still remains under the yoke of colonialist system of political economy by providing both skilled and unskilled labour force both for the West and the Middle East and still feeds the greedy belly of its local and foreign exploiters from the revenues of its gold, diamond and oil either through corruption or unfair trade agreements. Nothing can justify why Africa remains poor while every natural resource taken from its land is the prime source of global wealth. What justifies the fact that European cities are known for their diamond and brand chocolate industries while Africans who own the largest portion of the world’s diamond and cocoa resource live under abject and dehumanizing poverty?

Where is the Pan-Africanist ideology in a context where the most important decision making institutions of the continent are funded and housed in buildings constructed by foreign countries that have their own political-economic interest? If African leaders are not committed enough to finance at least 3 million USD per country to build a 200 million dollar headquarter to the AU, then how can they speak about ‘African Renaissance’?

Pan-Africanism may remain in the words of our political leaders. But their actions may not necessarily show a Pan-Africanist conviction. This is mainly because there has not been enough effort in re-defining what Pan-Africanism is for present day Africa and African citizens. Indeed, such mission of re-defining Pan-Africanism is too important to be left to politicians and present day decision makers. What makes Pan-Africanism more important is because it defines our past, determines our present and holds our future. There is no option than to believe in Pan-Africanism though, at least for me.

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