We've been invited to the table.
The African Union, the linear descendant of the Organization of African Unity, and the spiritual descendant of governmental leaders who were also Pan Africanists, has called us to the negotiation and discussion table to engage on the issue of Africa's future. Historically, this is the first time we, the Diaspora as a whole, have been so honored.
There is no question that we both want to and need to accept that invitation. Problematic though is how we can realistically do that given the fact that the African Diaspora has not yet firmly defined itself nor thought of itself collectively as a distinct body of Africans.
In order to rise up to the level of the trust bestowed on us by the invitation, we must agree upon and accept some self-imposed boundaries, restrictions and conditions on our existence as a unit of representation called the African Diaspora.
What does that mean? For one, it means we need to agree on and accept a general definition of who we are as the Diaspora. Secondly, we need to agree on a general method of choosing representatives to speak for us at the various AU commissions, meetings, councils and eventually, the Pan African Parliament.
Article 3(q) of the AU's amended Constitutive Act ," invite(s) and encourage(s) the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union." Currently, only one AU permanent organ, the Economic, Social and Cultural Council, has designated spaces for 20 members from the Diaspora. This means approximately four will come from the USA, three from Central America, four from South America/Brazil, three from the Caribbean, one from Canada, and five from Europe and Asia. Once our presence and performance has begun in the AU as elected/selected representatives, there will be places for the African Diaspora in many other advisory committees, subcommittees and working groups, including, ultimately, the Pan African Parliament, which will pass legislation for the entire continent by approximately 2015.
Frequently asked questions about the AU and the African Diaspora:
1. QUESTION: What is the AU?
ANSWER: The African Union (AU) is the linear descendant of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU ceased to exist in 2001-2002 with the birth of the AU. The AU is the African government-centered, continent-wide body of 53 member states (Morocco has not joined) established to represent the joint interests of African countries, and to eventually create a Union of African States/United States of Africa, which will be a single country of Africa to replace the current 54 countries. The AU has laid out, on paper, a roadmap for the creation of a real Pan African unification, and the African Diaspora is a big part of those plans.
2. QUESTION: What is the African Diaspora?
ANSWER: Although the exact definition is still a work in progress, in 2005, the AU defined the African Diaspora as "... peoples of African descent and heritage living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship, and who remain committed to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union." Geographically, this large population, variously estimated as between 150-350 million folk, is to be found in the USA, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America (including Brazil), and Europe, with Asian and Asian-Pacific populations still to be determined.
3. QUESTION: How is the African Diaspora related to the AU's view of Africa?
ANSWER: The AU defines the African continent as being divided into six geographical regions--North Africa, South Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and the African Diaspora (the six region). Pan African unification must include bringing together all six of those geographical regions into one entity.
4. QUESTION: When did the African Diaspora get an invitation to join the AU and where is the verification of this?
ANSWER: In 2003, the AU amended its constitution (called the AU Constitutive Act) to clarify its fundamental relationship with the Diaspora, and to invite the Diaspora to join the organization to help Africa unify. In Article 3(q) of the AU's amended Constitution, the AU hereby "... invite(s) and encourage(s) the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union."
5. QUESTION: How is the African Diaspora to be incorporated into the AU?
ANSWER: Initially, the Diaspora is to be included as voting members of Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), which is a permanent commission of the AU. This was decided at the Interim ECOSOCC meeting in Addis Ababa in March 29, 2005 (in which several members of the African Diaspora were present as non-voting observers). Later, the Diaspora can be incorporated into most other aspects of the AU that are not specifically designated as the Assembly Commission (heads of state) and the Executive Commission (foreign ministers). The African Diaspora should become members of the Pan African Parliament, the AU Commission, various technical commissions, etc.
6. QUESTION: Okay, since ECOSOCC is a group of Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) or community-based organizations, why can't my organization just send me to represent Black folk? After all, I'm African-centered and so is my organization, and we've been out here for a very long time. We know what Black folk want.
ANSWER: There are two reasons your organization cannot just appoint or designate you to go to represent it or to represent all Black folk. The first is that while the AU itself did not lay down any stringent regulations and expectations about Diasporan AU Representatives (except the invitation itself and the AU's definition of the Diaspora), ECOSOCC did identify some conditions that we should adhere to: (1) Diasporan Representatives cannot be currently elected officials in their respective countries (2) African Diasporan Representatives cannot appoint themselves (3) Diasporan Representatives have to represent more than a single organization (4) Diasporan Representatives must come from processes which reflect the voice of their respective communities. (See ECOSOCC Membership Rules.) The second reason is that whether you are from a respected organization such as the NOI, or NBUF, NAACP etc., or a smaller group, you do not represent all Black people in the USA, let alone the African Diaspora. Calling a widely publicized and open Town Hall meeting brings in a variety of Black organizations and individuals. Out of that group, AU representatives are nominated and then elected in a widely publicized and open Caucus. That insures a democratic community process.
7. QUESTION: What does the acronym ECOSOCC mean?
ANSWER: The Economic, Social and Cultural Commission of the AU. It is a grouping of 150 community-based organizations, which are also called NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and civil society organizations. The African Diaspora has been designated 20 members of that 150.
8. QUESTION: When does the African Diaspora deed to be organized in order to accept the invitation to participate as part of the AU?
ANSWER: A date in March 2007 was initially agreed to at the Interim ECOSOCC meeting in 2005, to represent the first gathering of the permanent members of that AU Commission, including voting members from the Diaspora. However, that date has since been changed several times and ECOSOCC has already begun as a Permanent Commission, without the African Diaspora delegates. When do we need to be organized? Right now.
9. QUESTION: What has the AU done to help get the Diaspora organized?
ANSWER: First, the Diaspora has to organize itself. However, in 2005, the AU designated the creation of several new groupings in various parts of the world to educate people about the AU and the Diaspora, to monitor and record how community-based groups organized themselves, and to be a networking resource for all such community-based organizations. That new grouping is called the Western Hemispheric African Diasporan Network (WHADN) in this part of the world. As of the summer of 2008, however, WHADN ceased operating as a credible Diasporan organizing entity. There are several groups that have taken the next organizing steps to higher ground, including the Sixth Region Diasporan Caucus Organization (SRDC), a group more than 65 Pan African-oriented groups into an effective representation to the AU.
The African Diaspora is too big for a single organization to represent it, however, so there are others operating and organizing in the same vein. Eventually, most of those groups should join forces so that altogether there are no more than 25 such unity-without-uniformity African Diasporan organizations speaking for the global Diasporan community inside the African Union.
10. QUESTION: Is the current town hall-caucus method credible in the community?
ANSWER: Yes. The current SRDC Town Hall-Caucus method grew out of a roundtable gathering in Los Angeles in April 2006, that included community activists from across the USA and participants from the Caribbean, Central America and the African continent. Since that gathering, the method has been validated by electing AU Representatives in California and in Central America. Currently, it is being used or considered in 15 other states, Canada, South America (Brazil), the six countries of Central America (all six have already chosen their Diasporan representatives through this method), the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe. Thus far, it is the only straightforward, practical method being utilized.
11. QUESTION: Who has the authority to call an AU-Diasporan townhall and are there minimum requirements or principles that must be adhered to?
ANSWER: Any African-oriented community group willing to step forward, do the work, and call the public meeting including doing all of the necessary coordinating tasks like getting a facility, widely publicizing the event etc.-has the authority/credibility to call the Town Hall-Caucus gatherings. In moving forward, several principles must be adhered to, according to the AU. They are: ( A.) Diasporan representatives to the AU must be elected by and through community gatherings or processes. Representatives are not to be self-appointed by individual organizations.
(B.) Neither one individual nor one organization from the African Diaspora can, or is expected to, adequately represent the diverse interests of the Diaspora at AU Commission meetings. However, it will be through the existing civil society/community-based organizations in the Diaspora that such AU representation will be identified and chosen through elections.
C. African Diasporan Representatives to the AU are not to be officials already elected to governmental positions in their respective territories.
12. QUESTION: Where in the AU's amended Constitutive Act or other AU documents does the AU invite the African Diaspora to join the AU?
ANSWER: Article 3(q) of the AU Constitutive Act, adopted July 2003, as part of the protocol on the Amendments to the Constitutive Act of the African Union, stated the African Union "invite(s) and encourage(s) the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our Continent, in the building of the African Union." Further, the ECOSOCC Statues Article (5) states that," African Diaspora organizations shall establish an appropriate process for determining modalities for elections and elect twenty (20) CSOs to the ECOSOCC General Assembly." Since 2003, the annual Assembly and Executive Council decisions have regularly reiterated the AU want and need for the Diaspora to join the AU. Getting the appropriate method approved for accomplishing that task is still an on-going process, however.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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