Pan Africanism began as a clarion call from the Diaspora to re-establish African identities for descendants of former involuntary migrants from the African continent.
After the 1883-84 Berlin Conference, which balkanized Africa, Pan Africanism quickly evolved into a consistent call to end European colonization and exploitation of the continent (Du Bois, 1933). From its inception through the era of African independence, Pan Africanism has essentially been recognized as a political ideology associated with intellectual, public mass, and later self-autonomy appeals for change. That initial status as a political ideology became a static, stone-engraved identifier for the concept, and the vast majority of even modern authors have continued to view Pan Africanism only within the range and scope of that narrow political perspective.
However, relatively unnoticed, Pan Africanism over the last hundred years or so has evolved into a much broader and intellectually substantive concept. As a paradigm and world view, for example, Pan Africanism sees the world as a more humane place and as a set of geographical locales that must return to African consensus agreements, mutual respect for each other and for the environments in which we live, and for the recognition of all significant contributions by various groups towards the progress of humankind. As a set of theories, Pan Africanism explains the relationships between man’s ancient and modern origins with the hierarchical, nationalist, and corporate-based world in which we now live, the connections between Kemetic and Nubian civilizations with mankind’s forward progress, the origins and consequences of colonialization and neo-colonization, the evolving relationship between the diaspora and continental Africans, and the relationships of African development and nation-building with the factors relentlessly trying to reduce Africa and Africans to insignificance. As a set of methodological and analytical approaches, Pan Africanism asks questions of African-centered import including how the current and predicted future circumstances can be re-shaped for Africa’s benefit. Pan Africanism is not now, nor ever has been, a simple, one-dimensional concept.
Since at least the latter part of the nineteenth century, Pan Africanists have come and gone advocating a conceptual perspective of Africa’s redemption and restoration. This conceptual perspective led to conferences, congresses, inspiration for an anti-colonial struggle, and eventually two relatively well-known continental Pan African organizations (the OAU and currently the AU). Beyond that, Pan Africanism (a.k.a. Pan Afrikanism) as a theoretical explanation of where and why Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora were and are in the shape they’re in, and Pan Africanism as an African-centered analytical tool to evaluate and measure Pan African progress and problematics, have expanded the range and significance of the conceptual idea of Pan Africanism as a life-changing, world view. But in the 21st century, more than that is demanded and more is required if Pan Africanism is indeed to be recognized as a realistic, viable set of goals rather than as merely a pleasant-sounding fantasy. It is the argument of this paper that Pan Africanism is a practical, achievable and valid objective, but it will be and must be accomplished through an accumulation of small-scale and large-scale interventions rather than as one big ceremonious event.
There is no single version of Pan Africanism–conceptual, theoretical, analytical, or ideological— that has yet proven itself more quintessential than any other. The most consistently accurate determinant of whether one brand of Pan Africanism is as good as or better than another—or whether one version is mere arm-chair Pan Africanism or action-oriented Pan Africanism—is what work or accomplishment has one’s Pan African perspective produced. To effectively evaluate the worth and significance of one version of Pan Africanism as compared to others is to look at the real life consequences of that Pan Africanism. Activist Pan Africanism–combining ideological and analytical— is applied Pan Africanism. It is Pan Africanism in action in the real world.
Based on a summary interpretation of Blyden, Williams, Turner, Garvey, DuBois, Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Toure, Nyerere, and Cabal on the concept, in its various permutations, 21st century Pan Africanism involves the following principles.
1. Africa must be self-sufficient, autonomous, and free of neo-colonial
and capitalist exploitation.
2. Africa must be united, politically, economically and spiritually–a United States of Africa or Union of African States.
3. The African way of life must be redeemed, restored and used to help Africa reclaim its rightful place in world history, world politics and world development. The global Reparations Movement is a distinctive part of modern Pan Africanism.
4. African land and resources must be re-united with African people.
5. Repatriation to the African continent and/or dual citizenship opportunities
must be consistently and seriously explored.
6. Since international and interregional communication between Pan Africanists is crucial, there must be a consistent and reliable network of African-centered and Pan African (Pan Afrikan) nationalist organizations established and maintained. Use any African-centered conference, any meeting to establish and build such lists.
7. Pan Africanism–in large and small scale–will be achieved by a combination of government action, NGO forward thinking, and consistent, principled pressure and activism from community-based organizations and individuals. The task is too enormous and the stakes are too high not to recognize that relying on only one sector will be disastrous.
8. Government leaders will have to choose “short-term interest suicide” several times during the journey towards the achievement of Pan Africanism, and discernible, situational self-sacrifice will be required of all NGOs and community activists to get this job done. An addiction to business-as-usual tactics will not bring Pan Africanism to fruition.
One’s Pan African commitment must be measured by one’s Pan African work.
It must be accepted and acknowledged that Pan Africanism is a viable, winnable movement with a common set of objectives and a common vision.
Whether one is Pan African in orientation and activity (or merely engaging in lip service and specious grandstanding) will be measured by one’s adherence to the ten principles listed above. One’s Pan Africanism should only be measured by one’s consistent work as a Pan Africanist: It is what one does that determines one’s Pan Africanist commitment, not merely what one says.
So engaging in conversations with those who quickly espouse their Pan African credentials, ticking off the names of Williams, Garvey, Du Bois, Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Nyerere, Danquah, Azzikwe, Bethune and others, and adding Fanon, Cabral, Toure, etc., for good measure, should no longer fill the bill. Question them. Hold them accountable for what they claim to be. What have they done for Pan Africanism lately? What Pan African projects are they working on, or have recently helped to complete? How is whatever they are doing contributing to the achievement of a viable Pan Africanism in their own neighborhood, region, school, club, or the world? If they stutter, begin to duck and dodge rather than to provide an answer, then you are dealing with, at best, a Pan African wannabe. And, at worst, a pretend Pan Africanist, a play-actor or masquerader. Pan Africanism is serious business that cannot be left to those looking for style points or who only want to sound hip or cool in today’s political engagements.
If you are working for government, then you should be promoting and advocating the African Union’s 17-point approach to Pan Africanism. If you are working with or are otherwise involved with an NGO, you should focus some important energy on making sure the ECOWAS, COMESA and SADC regional integrations, among others, actually work (currently there are major problems left unattended, e.g., refusal to exchange each other’s currencies for equivalencies, continuing to demand visas or their equivalents for country-to-country travel, etc.). If you are an artist, musician or craftsman, you should include in your daily work some stringent efforts to promote, advocate and/or organize cultural integration events and combined country exhibits, concerts and the like. Pan African cultural arts is an extremely valuable part of the equation. If you are students, demand that your instructors include Pan African courses in your curriculum. Initiate Pan African clubs. Hold African multicultural parties, panel discussions, etc. Confront any attempts to denigrate Africa and its people. In other words, there is no limit to the Pan African activities and creative projects in which we can get involved. It will be the accumulation of all of these small tasks that will eventually lead to the accomplishment of real Pan Africanism in our world.
David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.